The Assembly and its Sons Part 1
J. E. Ostell, Bebington
Some embrace the dead—others neglect the living.
1 Kings 17. 8-24; 2 Kings 4. 8-37; Acts 20. 7-12.
In the passages of Scripture mentioned above we have three pictures which, I believe, are figures of the Assembly and its care for the Young.
In each story we have a servant of God—Elijah, Elisha, and Paul respectively,—and in the two Old Testament passages a woman, the type of the Assembly in the Acts.
Further, in each passage we have mention of a son who dies, and is brought to life again by the servant of God; the restoration bringing an acknowledgment of the truth from the widow of Zarephath, worship from the great woman of Shunem, and comfort to the saints at Troas.
WHAT IS THE LESSON THE LORD WOULD HAVE US LEARN FROM THESE INCIDENTS?
1. For the welfare of the Assembly, the ministry of all these servants is necessary. The servants here are types: Elijah a figure of the Lord now ascended; Elisha of the Holy Spirit sent down after the Lord’s ascension; and the Apostle the Master of Assemblies ministering the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. That the Assembly who, out of a pure heart, seek the Lord’s help for His flock, find Him anxious to meet their need in the saving of souls (1 Kings 17. 22), establishment of the weak, and restoration of the indifferent.
1 Kings 17. 8-24.
Elijah is sent to stay with the widow of Zarephath and finds her gathering sticks with the intention of making a fire to bake a cake for herself and her boy, and “then die”—a dreary prospect indeed. The Prophet requests of the woman a “cup of water,” no small request in an Eastern country in those days. As the woman turns to fulfil his request, he calls, “Fetch me a little cake also”; then she turns to the servant of the Lord and pours out the tale of her poverty and sad prospect; nevertheless, Elijah bids her to make him the cake first, and then for herself and her son, for the Lord God saith, “the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail.” However, with the return of security to the widow after God’s manifestation of His care, “the son of the woman fell sick, and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him” (v. 17). The grief-stricken mother, clasping her child to her bosom, comes to the Prophet with the words, “Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance and to slay my son?” (v. 18). Elijah takes the child from the mother, ascends to his chamber and there prays God to restore the child. What is the lesson that underlies this incident?
The mother represents an Assembly in a low spiritual condition, thus her plea of poverty—“I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse,” and so the thought of “making a cake and dying” (v. 12). Is not this the gloomy prospect before some of the older and weaker Assemblies; we will have a Mission, a special effort, and if that does not prove a success (sic), we will close the doors. What more could the poor soul want than that which she already possessed? The handful of meal mingled with oil, represented the offerer’s fullest appreciation of his offering to God (Leviticus 2. 2). Why! She possessed the fulness of a soul’s appreciation of Christ, but did not recognise it was hers already; but there was one thing lacking—“frankincense”—“praise.”
But what of the Assembly that has this precious possession and still anticipates a “dying” testimony. The Prophet bids her make him the little cake first, “the husbandman must be first partaker of the fruits” (2 Tim. 2. 6); he must know something of this fulness of Christ himself to minister blessing to others.
It is after the period of blessing that the tragedy comes: the son dies. This was once a sad possibility, now it had become a stark reality, but the mother still clasps the dead child to her bosom.
How many communities of saints, with the desire of keeping the young people, are found clasping to their bosom those dead in sin? Aye! children of Christian parents, but nevertheless “dead”—the grief-stricken mother then cries, “Art thou come to call my sin to remembrance?”
There is no record of the Prophet mentioning sin, but it was evidently very real in the conscience of the mother, and is not this “unconfessed sin” the reason for death and spiritual poverty in many an Assembly?
Yes! there are Assemblies conscious of their sad state, who persist in leaving undone this salutary though painful business of confession.
Elijah takes the child from the bosom of the mother and lays him upon his own bed in the loft; here in the secret place of the Most High the Prophet wrestles for the child and his soul came into him again—he was “born again.” likewise, if we and the Evangelist take our children to the Lord in prayer, will we not also know the joy of sons being born again? Then let us clasp them to our bosom, for, alas, so many think that all is done when once a child is saved. Hence so many weakly young Christians. When blessing like this visits our midst, will we not, like this dear woman, say: “The Word of the Lord is truth,” and act accordingly?
2 Kings 4. 8-37.
Here we have a great (wealthy) woman, yet, alas, no son. Her silence is about this very thing, in contrast to the woman in the former narrative, whose silence was about concealed sin.
In this woman we see spiritual discernment, for she evidently recognised the man of the double portion (the power of the Spirit) on the first day of his visitation; for on that first day she constrained him to eat, and from that time, whenever he passed that way he turned in thither.
Further, thoughtful preparation was made for his welfare when visiting, and for “all this care” the desire of her heart is granted—a son is born. He develops, for it says he grows, walks, talks and goes out with the reapers (verses 17, 18).
When in the field he sickens from a head complaint; is taken back to his mother who nurses him, but he also dies. However, this far-seeing spiritual woman takes her child and places him in the high place, the prophet’s bed, and then seeks the aid of the Prophet himself (not even his servant, Gehazi, would satisfy). At her urgent request Elisha comes to the place of death, closes the door upon the faithful mother and the unspiritual servant, and alone with God he restores the child to life.
This great woman bows herself in worship and takes up her son.
In the interpretation of this vivid narrative lies our edification.
The great (wealthy) assembly is one with spiritual discernment, and one recognising the power of the Spirit, and making preparation for His pre-eminence (v. 10).
I take the point of v. 10 to be: spiritual rest (the bed), spiritual food (the table), communion or learning (the stool), illumination (the candle-stick). These are the happy experiences of the heart and soul that open the door to the Holy Spirit’s control.
The answer given to the Prophet in v. 13 is most instructive, “I dwell with my own people”—only a contented heart would say this. No desire to be with the eminent (the King) or the mighty (the Captain). Happy the community of saints who are satisfied with their lot, however humble it may be.
The few details in verses 18 and 19 indicate the development of the child: growth, walking, and talking, but the head became affected and the child became cold.
A little parable in itself of the early history of many a son in the Assembly; a measure of growth, the ability to walk and talk, and a desire to go with the reapers, but trouble begins with the head and where head knowledge predominates, lack of warmth in the heart often follows.
Many who bid fair in the early flush of spiritual development come to an untimely end from this same head and heart trouble.
Happy is the Assembly that deals with her sons as this woman did, placing them before His Throne above and taking no rest until the Spirit’s work of restoration is complete; neither the husband (who appears to have had little interest) nor the unspiritual servant can meet the need—the Spirit alone Can.
The child who wishes to go with the reapers must have a mouth like the Spirit-filled Elisha—speaking the Words of the Lord from the heart (not the head alone)—eyes that are anointed with eyesalve for spiritual discernment, and hands ready to labour at His bidding.
Under the ministry of Elisha, the child waxes warm and is restored to life. What does this mean to us?
That full development must be spiritually controlled. The food—the Word of God—is sadly neglected in these days of hurry; many young Christians who spend hours each evening studying to make their way in the world are poorly furnished for the wilderness journey. Parents are anxious to see them well launched in the world, but if Moses had been placed in the middle of the stream as a babe he would have floated to destruction; it was in the obscurity of the bulrushes that blessing was to come to him; and if later in life he had continued under the patronage of Pharaoh’s daughter instead of the concealment of the desert, there would have been no “recompense of reward.” A word to the wise is sufficient:
Art thou weaned from Egypt’s pleasures?
God in secret thee shall keep,
There unfold His hidden treasures,
There His love’s exhaustless deep.
The joy of the mother found expression in worship; such will be the attitude of the Assemblies when those cold of heart are warmed and restored.
Acts 20. 7-12.
The final picture graphically recalls early Assembly life.
The young man Eutychus has placed himself at a vantage point to listen to the ministry of Paul the Apostle. Precious privilege: but there are many lights in the chamber, and being overtaken with deep sleep he falls from the window of the third loft and is taken up dead. He is embraced by the Apostle (who has ceased to minister orally), restored to life, and given back to the great comfort of the Assembly.
Eutychus had certainly placed himself high enough (in the window), but, alas, one cannot hear much ministry while sleeping; possibly the labour of the day may have told on his young frame or may be the lack of air or the dazzling lights.
I wonder if there are many lights in some of the Assemblies where the young fall to sleep these days; I mean, does the ministry of the many gifted dazzle rather than meet the need of the weary young souls, so that they fall off to sleep because the ministry is beyond them?
I can visualise the disturbance when Eutychus fell. Can you imagine the Apostle telling the men to get the young man out of the way quickly and let the meeting proceed, and appealing to the saints not to turn round? How well the “Beloved Paul” saw the need and knew the remedy.
Ecclesiastes 3—“There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence, a time to heal, and time to embrace.”
Immediately ceasing to speak, he went down and ministered to the need of the young saint. Oh! pattern Elder, a tender Shepherd!
Restored to life by that loving embrace, the saints find comfort.
The lesson here is brief. The ministry should meet the need of young as well as old, and there is a time when lip service (though gifted) will not do what the kindly embrace will; there should be understanding and deep affection between young and old.
The companies of God’s saints have not escaped the spirit of the age, and there is, too often, a conflict between youth and age.
The Word of God far from recognising such cleavage offers striking examples of partnerships of old and young.
(We have asked the writer to develop the theme suggested in the closing words of this, article, and he has consented to do so in a later issue.) .