Like a wireless set that suddenly comes to its correct tuning-point, or the telescope of the astronomer to its correct focus, how clearly does God speak to us sometimes, as we read the Old Testament Scriptures!
Of Judah it was written, “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love to have it so.”1 We might question who was to be accounted the more blameworthy, prophets, priests or people?
Looking out over Christendom today it would appear that the Divine criticism of Judah is truly applicable in the present. False prophets abound; arrogant priests hold sway and the people love to have it so, for it removes from them the necessity to bother about the welfare of their own souls!
Further, allowing the mistranslation and the modern usage of the word “pastor,” we find that, in place of the shepherd order among the assemblies, “Many pastors have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion under foot, they have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.”2 It is the Lord who pronounces woe “unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture.”3
But there was for those days a remedy. “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where there is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”4 The God of Israel looked back to the day in which He had brought them out of Egypt; to the month that was for them “the beginning of months… the first month of the year.”5 “I remember thee, said He, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wen test after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.”6 That was a situation Jehovah could contemplate with satisfaction, and He pleaded for a return to the ways of simple obedience and humble walk.
An echo to this Divine remedy for evil amongst His people, is voiced in one of the last writings of the New Testament and is particularly applicable to days of Christian decline “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth.”7 “This is the commandment,” said John, speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”8 From which it is clear that, as with the “gifts and sacrifices for sins” of Lev. 1. 1 to 6. 7, the deepest desires and fullest satisfaction are found by God in what He has set “at the beginning.”
Therefore, if true love is to be demonstrated towards the “children of God”9, whatever their connections in Christendom, those commandments are to be observed that were first entrusted to the chosen apostles (Matt. 28. 20) and thereafter embodied in the “apostles’ doctrine (or teaching)” (Acts 2. 42), being passed on to baptized believers of that generation and of the whole Church Age. And, moreover, these “old paths” are those in which alone there is “rest for your souls.”
To reject this Divine counsel, as Judah rejected it, is to have the fruit of our own thoughts brought upon us (Jer. 6. 19); forms of ‘worship’, whatever they may be, being neither acceptable nor sweet to the Lord (v. 20); there will be “stumblingblocks” (v. 21), causing the fall of those in such unholy connections; neighbours and friends together becoming unprofitable to their Lord, whatever their outward service might seem to be. A most solemn picture!
Nevertheless it is strange that many, who are vigorous in their opposition to any suggestion that “it does not matter what we believe so long as we are sincere,” yet appear to find no incongruity in demanding that there should be liberty in the ‘choice’. of Christian fellowship after one has been truly “born again from above.”
“At the beginning” the matter was one of simple obedience to the apostles’ teaching, uncomplicated by so-called “theological knowledge.” They gladly received the word of the gospel, were baptized in accordance with the instructions they received, were added to the number of the saved, and then “continued stedfastly” in that teaching “and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”10
How many neglect the vital teaching in the Divine order of Acts 2. 42!
First, Teaching. So many consider that they know all there is to be known the moment they are saved! But first such should “lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings.” Then, “as newborn babes,” they are to “desire the sincere milk of the Word,” for only thus is there growth.11
Secondly, Fellowship. There is something wrong with the babe that does not cry out for nourishment; there is something wrong with the soul that does not crave the companionship of others who have had a similar spiritual experience. Those who are truly “born of God” not only love “Him that begat” but “him also that is begotten of Him.”12 “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”13 Love of the brethren surely includes getting to know them, learning to bear one another’s burdens, “visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction”? Fellowship is the helping forward of the welfare of the whole company with every means at one’s disposal. We do not have to read far in the Acts or in the Epistles that follow, before we come across the very practical ways in which the early believers interpreted ‘fellowship.’
Thirdly, Breaking of Bread. We may note this is third, not first. They broke bread together, not because they liked that form of worship’ or appreciated its simplicity, but because they had learned much about it as the apostles taught them, and from their fellowship with the Lord’s people; they began to understand that, though many, they were “one bread, one body.”14
Fourthly, Prayers. Those who were submissive to the apostles’ teaching; who endeavoured to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love”15; who were truly together in showing “the Lord’s death till He come”l6; these felt the urgent necessity to get down on their knees with their fellow-believers in “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks.”l7 These were prayer-meetings that shook the places of assembly and helped vastly in pulling down the strongholds of the enemy!
The Lord is calling His people back to these “old paths.” They were paths that led to the most astonishing spread of the gospel that the world has ever known. Let us get back to these simple, humble, God-ordered ways, that “the power of Christ may rest”18 upon all our worship and service.
Jeremiah 5. 30, 31.
Jeremiah 12. 10.
Jeremiah 23. 1.
Jeremiah 6. 16.
Exodus 12. 2.
Jeremiah 2. 2.
2 Timothy 4. 3, 4.
2 John 6.
1 John 5. 2.
Acts 2. 41, 42.
1 Peter 2. 1, 2.
1 John 5. 1.
1 John 3. 14.
1 Corinthians 10. 17.
Ephesians 4. 1, 2.
1 Corinthians 11. 26.
1 Timothy 2. 1.
2 Corinthians 12. 9.