If it were asked which is the most important aspect of the Christian life, most would say that Christian witness comes first, meaning of course Gospel testimony. Many indeed sacrifice other aspects of witness for this, but it is doubtful whether the Scriptures encourage such an attitude, and whether simple Gospel preaching, as it is called, satisfies the divine requirements in our witness to God. It is clear that before the Gospel was preached to the nations, the Church was established at Jerusalem. The Lord did not ordain individuals at any time to go forth in independence, and at no time do we find New Testament witnesses acting irresponsibly in relation to local churches, or to the Church as a whole. So we have this New Testament order: first Christ; then through Him the Church, manifested as churches, and then through the churches the Gospel witness. This is the divine order of blessing, and it agrees with the order in which Moses was instructed to make the three most important vessels of the sanctuary, namely, the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Shewbread, and the golden Candlestick. Not that one in itself is more important than the others, but there is a relative importance in their use. The principle of subjection without inferiority is often found in the Scriptures. Even in the Trinity the three Persons are eternally equal, but in the working out of the purpose of redemption, the Son became subject to the Father, even as the Holy Spirit is now subject to the Son. But there is no inequality. So we would seek here to emphasise the value of putting first things first, that the lamp of testimony might burn the more brightly from the assemblies to which we ourselves owe so much.
was the symbol of God’s presence with and among His people, whether in their pilgrim walk through the wilderness, or in the days of triumph and restoration in Canaan’s land. When the Tabernacle and Temple were erected, He dwelt invisible in glory upon the Mercy Seat. When later the Ark was captured by the Philistines the glory departed and there was national disaster. When the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar the nation also was destroyed and taken into captivity, nor has there been any trace of the Ark since that day. It is a historical fact that when the Roman general Pompey penetrated into the Sanctuary there is no mention of it among the vessels described by Josephus, nor is it portrayed on the Arch of Titus at Rome to commemorate his victory of A.D. 70.
From this we conclude that the first thing to be assured of is that God is with us, Tor where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, Matt. 18. 20. Without Him there can be no real witness, and assemblies become like a sanctuary without life or light. How many substitute grand buildings or well furnished halls for the real temples of His people in flesh and blood! This does not mean the existence of the former denies that of the latter, but in Laodicean days there is the ever-present danger that it may be so. In these days when few have an inclination to come and hear the Gospel, we can thank God that there are companies, sometimes very small in number, where to be among them is to say with Jacob, ‘This is … the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’, Gen. 28. 17. We were present in a small country assembly when a passing visitor stood up at the end of the morning meeting and said that he was just passing through and would be unable to be with them again, but before he left he desired to give this testimony to them, ‘that God is with you in truth’. This is a happy condition to which we should all aspire.
was the symbol of God’s provision for His people. Twelve loaves were upon it, and through the High Priest all shared the fellowship of the sanctuary. We may understand this in the sense that God’s presence constituted them ‘the church in the wilderness’, Acts 7. 38, and that the table constituted the centre and substance of their church fellowship. So we see at once the importance God placed on the order of their gathering, and it is just the same for us today. We must be right as to church order and fellowship if we are to be effective and permanent in our witness. Fellowship is shown by partaking at the Lord’s Table, representing the whole truth which we believe and practice, and which Paul calls ‘the faith’, Phil. 1. 27; 2. Tim. 4. 7. The Lord’s Supper is the frequent corporate enjoyment of the fellowship in Christ as we partake of the emblems, and the two emblems together express the whole meaning of that fellowship. We can best emphasise this by speaking finally of
This was in the outer sanctuary, lighting the service of the priests. It was all of gold, and for us it symbolises the divine light of our own testimony to Him. The priests represented the people, so in fact the light shone upon the service of the church of that day. This suggests that witness emanates from the church, and it is regrettable that there are some who claim to be independent of churches, whereas when one gets to know them it is usually found that there is some personal reason why they cannot get on with their brethren, or want to have their own way, and thus they tend to become unacceptable, and their testimony ineffective. It is instructive to note that evangelists past and present have always appealed, and do appeal, to the churches for support in every possible way, and campaigns and radio witness of today are the direct result of Christian churches. The world also always associates the Gospel with the church, however vague its idea may be as to the nature of the one or the other. The writer was preaching with a brother in the main road of a large village when a very irate lady came along and asked me on whose authority we were there. When I said ‘On God’s authority’ she apologised at once and said ‘I am sorry that I spoke as I did. I did not know that you represented the Church’. It struck me as being amusing at the time, but there is a lesson to ponder, for the respect one often notices in people who may have no interest in spiritual matters has its origin in conscience, and it is this which makes one aware of the authority which should be the mark of all true preaching.
May we, therefore, observe these things. We are so perverse by nature; so prone to do the wrong thing thinking that it is the right thing; few of us are given to reflection. The one thing needful is to learn God’s will for us, and then to do it, otherwise we can easily become a hindrance to the work rather than a help. The Lord healed a man of leprosy, and told him to show himself to the priest, Mark 1. 44, and offer the things which Moses commanded. Instead of that he turned preacher at once and blazed abroad the matter. Did it result in blessing all round? By no means, for ‘Jesus could no more openly enter into the city’, and perhaps many went unhealed and unblessed through the misplaced zeal of one man. Even in this the divine order is seen. First, God was there in Christ; then He related His action to the service of the sanctuary, and from Leviticus 14 we see what a lot this man might have learned and experienced had he been patient and obedient. How many of us could give a reasonable exposition of Leviticus 13-14? We think that if he had put his witness last instead of first he might have been a very effective witness among his friends and neighbours. And not one of us ‘liveth to himself’, Rom. 14. 7.
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