Spiritual Decline and the Answer (Part 1)
R. M. Rae, Prestwick
The State of Decline. The testimony of God, since its original commencement, has been subject to fluctuation. There have been times of shameful departure from divine principles—times when solitary voices were sounding out protest, often unheeded, against such departure. In contrast to this, there have been days of revival, as with good king Hezekiah, Josiah and others. Nor can we forget the precious heritage of long lost truth recovered to us during the early part of the last century, when the Spirit of God raised up men of God to bring us back to assembly principles with all the glorious attendant truths that focused the vision of the Lord's people on a risen, glorified Head and soon coming Saviour. Yet who among us, who love Him, would deny that generally speaking we are in a period marked by decline? That, I believe, is where we are today. I say it, not to engender pessimism—on the contrary, rather, in laying these things before spiritual men, so to produce an exercise that will lead us in some measure to both the divine answer to such decline and our response to it.
The first book of Kings opens up in chapter 1 with a sad statement. "Now king David was old and stricken in years", indicating the physical decline in David, normal in an old man. It goes on to tell of one of his own sons, Adonijah, attempting to exploit this situation by taking over his father's throne. It is interesting, at this stage, to see the contrast between this and events as recorded in the closing chapter of 1 Chronicles. There, in the events leading up to his death, David is energetically involved in two things : (i) Preparation for God's house, and (ii) Perpetuation of Israel's throne, called "the throne of the Lord", 29. 23. In these we have two inseparable truths, dwelling and reigning, brought together time and again in Scripture, for where God dwells He must reign. Psalm 114. 2 tells us, "Judah was his sanctuary (dwelling), and Israel his dominion (reigning)". Or, respectively, John's Gospel and Matthew's. The contrast between the two accounts would be that in 1 Chronicles we have the David of purpose, and in 1 Kings the David of responsibility—hence the emphasis on decline. We are going to pursue this thought in 1 Kings 1-2.
We should note two scriptures that have a bearing on our theme.
(i) Psalm 37. 25 where David says, "I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread". Here we have God's faithfulness honouring moral likeness in His own. Observe the conditional element.
(ii) Acts 13. 36: "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep", showing David's faithfulness. In Psalm 37 we have the limits, the extremities; in Acts 13, the gap in between and how he filled it. Can I ask in passing, "How are we filling the gap?”; "How are we serving our generation?". Let me speak to our younger readers. Hear the comment of the Spirit of God on the same person in 1 Samuel 16. 12, "Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to". He is no longer this ! The passage of years has left its mark! "Now king David was old and stricken in years". Truly, time passes, "youth and beauty pass away". What are we doing with it? Of course, on the spiritual level it should be a movement onward to a deeper knowledge of Christ, His Word and His ways. Such was Jacob, with the climax in Hebrews 11. 21, "when he was a dying, blessed . . . worshipped", leaning on his staff.
So far, we have observed that a condition of decline exists—whether physically as in David, or more seriously, of a spiritual character as we take into account conditions abroad in the church and in this we must, with shame, acknowledge our own contribution. Before looking at the passage to see what God used to secure the situation and prevent disaster, there are one or two details that should not go without comment. First, in 1 Kings 1.1-4 there were the efforts of the king's servants, genuine no doubt, but futile to produce a vitality that just did not exist. Are we concerned today as to diminished vitality in assembly and personal witness? Does it never strike us that so much of our activity may be mechanical and formal, rather than vibrant, Spirit-controlled in its nature? We shall not dwell on this. The fact is, that the time had come for David to make way for another man. It is against this background that verse 5 becomes so significant, "Then Adonijah . . . exalted himself, saying, I will be king". Alas! How often the weakness of a particular situation has been exploited by carnal men seeking to attain to a position that God never fitted them for, and which He had reserved for another. Verse 6 brings in a rather sad touch, "And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?". The implications of this statement are obvious to us all!
The Answer. We have already stated that this lay in David's death, and in the bringing in of another man— God's man. The first took place naturally, as Acts 13 has indicated to us: he fell asleep. Neither the clothes of the servants, nor the young virgin, could avert this. The next, the bringing in of God's man, Solomon, (typifying a securing of the rights of Christ), depended on the urgent and timely intervention of three men. We wish to dwell on this, feeling that the process of decline affecting God's testimony today requires the same answer to halt it. The three men are, Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest and Benaiah the man of military prowess.
In these we have respectively:
(i) Communicating fearlessly the mind of God with a view to ousting the usurper.
(ii) The capability of turning the affections of the people to the man whom God had chosen.
(iii) In Benaiah, willingness to defend what has been secured.
We shall deal with each of these men in the order set out, and with the essentials necessary for preservation linked with each. Nothing less than leadership, rule over God's people was at stake, and who among us would question the fact that this is a vital function? Woe to those who would despise government by Spirit-appointed, Spirit-prepared men, and clamour for a "Jack's as good as his master" line of things—all right maybe on the shop floor, but this is grave disorder in the house of God !
To be continued