Priorities in the Assembly - Exodus Chapter 25
J. H. Hughes, Nutley
In connection with the tabernacle, Moses was enjoined to make all things after the pattern which was shown him on mount Sinai. There are about fifty chapters concerning the sanctuary and its teaching, from which we learn the wonders of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man, Heb. 8. 2.
Moses was instructed to make the ark of the covenant, then the table of shewbread, and finally the golden candlestick - in that order, Exod. 25. All speak of Christ, and the whole sanctuary was but a passing shadow of the eternal reality, and we do well to observe this divine order of precedence. The ark of the covenant symbolised the presence of God in the midst of His people; the table of shewbread was that at which the priests fed, and the golden lampstand shed the light of testimony in the sanctuary. From this we learn that the first requirement in an assembly of God’s people is to be assured that the Lord is indeed “in the midst”; secondly, that the “table” is established, standing for the whole body of truth as we hold and profess it; and lastly that the lamp of testimony shines brightly to all around. The natural man reverses the order, and many find it easier to witness than to worship. We use our endeavours to get sinners converted to God, but can we always bring them to a sanctuary in which the new life is nurtured and brought to maturity? A large church was in course of erection when a passer-by remarked, “This is going to be a fine House of God”, to which came the humble reply- “It will be if we can get God into it”. The vicar in a village once made this rather searching remark to me, “You people are all right: perhaps you get two or three people converted but they do not come back to worship”, and we may well ask what proportion of the many professions of conversion in our own experience have continued in fellowship with assemblies as we know them. With this in mind one trusts that the following notes may be helpful.
The Ark in the Midst.
This article is not to expound, but only to state that this symbol of the divine presence was placed first in the Lord’s instructions to Moses. We need first to know experimentally the fact of the presence of Christ in our midst. The ark contained three memorials of Israel’s failure in the wilderness: the golden pot of manna; the two tables of the ten commandments, and Aaron’s rod that budded. Thus notwithstanding their sin and rebellion He was there with them, holy, unchangeable, in the blessing and power of redeeming love.
Therefore we need to be sure that He is indeed “in the midst” when we meet in His Name. There is more in Him than recorded of Jesus in the Gospels: He is the Lord, crowned with glory and honour, God over all, blessed for ever. He bears in His body the scars of a finished work, the badges of eternal love. How lovely is the law when enshrined in such an ark! He magnified the law and made it honourable, Isa. 42. 21, and in Him we learn to love and keep it. May this ever be our first consideration as we gather in His Name.
The Table of His Presence.
Briefly we may remember that with the twelve loaves upon it, it became the symbol of the fact that by faith Israel fed from it. God was their food and all their resource. He was their life, and from that table His life was intended to flow through them to the nations round about them.
For us there is only one fellowship, 1 Cor. 1. 9, the table being the symbol of it. There is a distinction between the table which is permanent, and the bread and wine partaken at it, the frequent yet passing expressions of the fellowship. In our homes we speak of “my table”, meaning all that the home stands for as distinct from the meals placed thereon. “The Lord’s table” stands for the whole truth, the faith, while the breaking of bread is the weekly meeting of fellowship around it.
Here again the natural man reverses God’s order, and the candlestick is placed before the table in the order of precedence. Too often the Lord’s supper is relegated by men to the end of a ministry or preaching service, often to occupy but a few minutes, with only a few people troubling to stay to it. Too often the attention of the people is focussed on a man-appointed “minister”, whoever he may be, and not on the Minister of the sanctuary in heaven. There may be much to receive and enjoy in the service, but how little time in which to give thanks, and express the gratitude of a humble heart! The whole meaning and import of the Lord’s table is so often missed in this way. This is not the place to expound even a small part of the teaching behind this central gathering of the churches, and one is content to say that here is spread before the saints in symbol the whole story of redeeming love, and only eternity will reveal the wonders of what we do there in so simple a way.
The Lamp of Testimony.
The candlestick, all of gold, provided the sole and sufficient light of the sanctuary. The seven lamps typified its divine origin and manifestation, and the unseen oil produced the light. Now the Holy Trinity reveals the Light in the New Testament, first in Christ in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”, Col. 2. 9, and now through “the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all”, Eph. 1. 23.
The lamp of testimony has been passed to the church. The Lord first delegated His authority to Peter on his confession, Matt. 16. 15-19 and confirmed it to them all on the resurrection evening, John 20. 22, after He had breathed on them saying “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”. In the upper room He had promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, followed by His saying “ye also shall bear witness”, 15. 27. To accomplish this we have the whole Christ in the written Word. “I have given them thy word” He said to the Father, 17. 14, and our task is to communicate it to the world by every means at our disposal. “Preach the word”, said Paul to Timothy. “Holding forth the word of life”, he wrote to the Philippians, and to the elders of the church at Ephesus he said “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God”, Acts 20. 27. Finally we remind ourselves that the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”, Matt. 5. 14.
Like Paul, we are glad to know that the Gospel is being preached by very many, and in many ways. The Lord will accomplish His purpose in calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His Name, and He will do it, either with or without us. The saint who is exercised as to his own witness will observe the work of other workers, not to criticise, but to learn how best his own gift may be used of the Lord in the salvation of others. One notices however a strange lack of authority in presenting the message. He spake “with authority”, as did the apostles as they witnessed to the resurrection. Why not ourselves? God “commandeth all men everywhere to repent”. In our affluent society we are witnessing an almost total indifference to established religion by most people, and some try to interest them by means which often have in them a measure of entertainment. The underlying thought is to reach people, whether few or many, and the basic intention is to the good. But should any be led to think they are doing us a favour by responding to such invitations then such efforts are defeated right from the beginning.
“Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary”, Ps. 77. 13. The Saviour came preaching the Gospel, and in so doing never for a moment was He outside the eternal sanctuary. “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven”, John 3. 13. He lived out the divine order we have indicated. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”, John 1. 14. Here first was the Ark of the new covenant. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven”, 6. 51, and from that table He fed the multitude who came to Him in a desert place. This was second in the narrative of divine blessing. And third, the Light shone in the dark world of sin, at the same time revealing grace and mercy to the humble and penitent, 8. 1-11. “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”, v. 12. A long experience has shown that where the inspired pattern of the sanctuary is followed the blessing of God is assured.