The Maintenance of the Truth - FER



Joshua 5

I would not venture to say anything at all, after what has been before us, did I not in some sense feel conscious of having a word from the Lord. And what I first wish to press upon each one is our individual responsibility in regard to the maintenance of the truth. It is very easy to put the responsibility of maintaining the truth on those who minister the truth. It is certainly not given to everyone to minister the truth. Ministry is in the power of gifts from Christ, and He claims to be sovereign in that matter; and it is a privilege to minister in the truth. But I say without any hesitation that it is the responsibility of every one of us to main­tain the truth. We do not maintain the truth by clinging tenaciously to the terms of the truth, but by being, ourselves, exponents of the truth.   You may think what I say is hard, but I judge that we ought to be prepared to surrender everything—whatever we have been in this life, thedearest tiesandassociations, whatever honour or glory or position we may have—in order to be exponents of the truth, which the Lord has given us to maintain.   It is very easy to justify having things agreeable here—and God may allow us to enjoy many things here— but they may readily be too prominent with us, and when they are, the truth has a second place; and which, I ask, should have the first place— the things of this life, or the truth ? Every right-minded person would allow that the truth is to be the first thing, and we are at all costs to maintain it, and the divine way to maintain it, is by ourselves being the expression of it, and everything has to be subordinate to that. So I say that, in a sense, the less a man has in this world the better.  If we have confidence in God, God can care for His people, and He is not limited to human methods.  People make provi­sion for their families in their way, and think that God is bound to that way.   God has His own way, and can make provision in His own way; He is not bound to any particular way. I think we often lack in piety.  Faith is, that we have the light of God's things; piety is, that we bring God into our own things. If you make the truth the first concern and are here entirely for the Lord, the Lord will own you, and He will provide for your things; we have no need to be anxious on that score. For myself, I can say, that it is the line which I would seek to follow.

I only say that, by way of preface, for what I want to come to is this—we have heard of what the Lord has been pleased to give back to us in these last days—the truth that Christ, the glorified Man, is the Head in heaven, and that His body is here. There are thousands of Christians who would allow the body in glory. What I saw long since, was that the practical difficulty with saints lay in inability to realise the truth that the body was here in completeness. I imagine that it is accepted by everyone here to-day, that the body is here, and that Christ is Head to the body. That is the prominent truth, as I should understand, which the Lord has given back to us in this century, and in which we have to stand.

There is another cognate truth, and that is, that the body is derived from Christ. Eve was taken from Adam, that she might be united to Adam.   No other was fit to be a helpmeet for him. So the body has been taken from Christ in the time of His death to Israel, in order to be fit to be His companion in glory—His bride; that is, that she might be for His pleasure and share His honour. I just refer to it, because that is what God has been pleased to bring us to.

I want to say another word in regard to our responsibility to maintain the truth. There are two things here to which we have to return; two things which marked saints at the beginning. Where there has been departure, you are bound to go back to first principles, and you have to go to the outset to find them. If the Spirit of God has opened your eyes in any measure to the true state of things, that is what you have to do. Now the two things to which I refer, are great safeguards; and you must keep within them if you want to be in the truth, and in liberty from what is about. They are the reproach of Christ and the power of the Spirit. If I may speak of them as principles (though they are not exactly principles, for the Spirit of God is not a principle), these are what you must hold to, if you want to be maintained in liberty from all that is about us—that is, from Babylon.

I want to show the working of these principles at the beginning and now. You must remember that at the time Christ came the people of God were under the power of Babylon. Of course, it was the Roman power at the moment, but it was the continuation of Babylon; it was the lower part of the same great image. That is where the people of God were at the moment— captive to Babylon; they had been under captivity in Babylon, now they were not captive in Babylon, but to it. The course of things is prophetically told by the prophet, Isaiah. God brought a remnant of the people back into the land under Gentile protection, in order that Christ might be presented to them. That was the external state of things, and Christ was presented to the responsibility of the people; but, as to ecclesiastical form and order, every­thing was under the protection of the Gentile power. The Gentile power was dominant, and, if it saw fit to set aside the Jewish form and order, it had power to do it. If it saw fit to maintain it, they could have it. They were dependent on the Gentile power. Christ was presented to the responsibility of the people under these conditions, but rejected.

The point is this : the Babylonish power was not set aside. Christ was crucified at the hand of that power. The Gentile was guilty in this. The Jew cast Him out of the vineyard, and put him into the hand of the Roman power, and that power was immediately responsible for crucifying the Lord of glory. The apostle holds that the princes of this world crucified the Lord of glory. God did not come in at the moment to destroy the Romish power ; on the contrary, He allowed it to remain, and to completely set aside the Jewish polity and ecclesiastical order. The whole thing was broken up, Jerusalem became a heap of stones, and it was done by the hand of the beast—the Roman power ; and the ecclesias­tical order—the camp—was completely set aside.

Now I would ask, how were the saints—the remnant of that day—who did not surrender the truth (for the mass had turned apostate), how were they to escape from the Babylonish power ? For Rome was not publicly judged at that time ; on the contrary, it got more complete power. I will tell you how they were set free from it. It was by the acceptance of the two principles to which I have referred, the reproach of Christ and the power of the Spirit. It was thus that Christians were saved in that day from the Babylonish power. In accepting the reproach of Christ they were delivered from ecclesiastical form and order, from dependence on the camp, as we read in the last chapter of Hebrews : " Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him, without the camp, bearing his reproach," and had no longer occasion to look for countenance from the Gentile power.  They might, in leaving the camp, have to come under the reproach of impiety, for that matter, but they did not concern themselves about that.  Their language was, Christ suffered without the gate; we go to Him and bear His reproach.   In thus leaving outward form and order, they became indepen­dent of man, and dependent on a power which man cannot understand at all—on the power of the Spirit of God.   Some may perhaps say: Did not the apostles set up an ecclesiastical form and order ?  I believe the apostles set up nothing but what was in the power of the Spirit of God. Jew and Gentile were builded together, to be the habitation of God through the Spirit; but that is not form or ecclesiastical order, that is spiritual.  The idea of it is that the saints are " a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices."   The whole thing was pervaded by the Spirit.   That is my idea of what was set up by the apostles ; nothing outside the vital power of the Holy Spirit in the soul, and that was the work of the apostles. The point, to me, is this—that Christians were practically set free from the Romish power because they were not dependent on it. They were prepared to suffer, as Christ had suffered, if need be; they had nothing but the Spirit of God. The two things that guarded them, were the reproach of Christ and the power of the Spirit.

Now I want to come to the present time, which is much more difficult. Things are in such confusion. Babylon is now within; not the Romish power, but the popish power, and I want to tell you the character of that power. It is a worldly power. I do not believe in the inherent power of the Pope a bit. He is ruled by the world. How did he get his power ? By trimming his sails to the powers that were, and playing off one against another. It was diplo­macy, by which he maintained and does maintain his power; but he is not the power, the world is the power. The form of Babylon is ecclesias­tical, and there the saints were in bondage; but in being in bondage to popery they were in bondage to the world.

And how have we got free ? On just the same principles as at the beginning, namely, by being apart from ecclesiastical form and organisation and order in the acceptance of the reproach of Christ, and by the power of the Spirit.  I want everyone to weigh these things, to see the immense importance of them. It is only thus that we can be maintained free from the tyranny of the world-power which has come into the professing church.

I do not believe that the Lord intended that the prominent thing with us should be ecclesias­tical form and order. The assumption of this was the first great declension at Plymouth, the evil which sought to isolate the meeting there, and to give to it a certain distinct form. We do not want to fall into the same error. We are in the scene of Christ's reproach, in the place in which He has been rejected, and we should be distrustful of everything which is not the immediate fruit of the power of the Spirit of God. If we look at the things about us, as, for instance, the State Churches, we see that, while they have escaped, in a certain sense, from Rome, they have halted half way, and have set up in some degree, the same thing in themselves. They are not in liberty. Then the various dissenting systems have set up for themselves, a form and order—not exactly on the lines of Babylon, but they have not escaped the bondage of the world, and are fast going back under it. Why ? Because they have not accepted the reproach of Christ and the power of the Spirit. 

We have professedly accepted both, and they are our safeguards. The moment you surrender either, you will get back into bondage to the great world-power. You may get back into it in a greater or less degree, but you will surely end there if you travel away from these two great principles.

What we find in this chapter (Joshua 5) connects itself very intimately with what I have sought to put before you, and I may remark first, that what we come to here is typical of assembly privilege and blessing, that is, of what is not individual, but collective. Where it is a question of the wilderness, everything is indivi­dual. The wilderness regards the saints as individuals; we enter into that path in which we prove God individually. My exercises in the wilderness are not the exercises of another, and the exercises of another saint are not my exercises. The experience of God, which I gain in the wilderness is my own, and the experience which another gains is not mine. As has often been said, the wilderness formed no part of the purpose of God, but of His ways. It is where we learn His ways, where we learn practically what God is to us; and there it is that the manna is the food of our souls. We are sup­ported here by the grace of Christ.  Manna is daily grace for daily need. It was Christ's path as a Man here. The wilderness is where I learn what Christ was in His lonely pathway down here; the lowly grace of the heavenly Man, the perfect setting forth of what is according to God " in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is," as we get it in Psalm 16, and again in Psalm 23.

But here in Joshua 5 we come in type to church associations, to that which is collective and corporate.

The first point to which I want to call your attention is in verse 1. When all the kings on the other side of the Jordan " heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan . . . their heart melted, neither was there any spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel." Mark the connection with this of the next verse, " at that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives and circumcise again the children of Israel." You would have thought that if there was no more spirit left in the kings because of what God had done for Israel, that the way was clear for the children of Israel, and that it merely remained for them to go up and take possession. But a great deal of preparation was needful on their part. The first thing you get is circumcision. Circumcision has to be realised in the saints. Why so ? That they may " keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace." We could not go further without circumcision. That is what we have come to. What is it that brings in diver­gence of feeling and judgment among saints ? Not the Spirit, but the flesh. Before we can get on collectively, you must have " the putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." Without that you cannot keep in the unity of the Spirit. Everyone is responsible to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. What is the unity of the Spirit ? It is a unity of judgment and spiritual affection, and there is no real unity apart from spiritual affections. I cannot understand it without. How the Spirit produces it, I judge, is that He keeps the saints under the influence of God's love and that is the way in which we are bound together.

When I look around at a company of saints it is not unity of doctrine I look for, I should not care for our bond to be unity of doctrine, but I look for unity of affection. Doctrine is not the bond of perfectness but love. We may be lacking as to affection though orthodox as to doctrine. I cannot understand the unity of the Spirit apart from spiritual affection, and it is to be kept in the uniting bond of peace.  Peace is there, on God's part there is no disturbing element.   God has removed every cause of disturbance.  The only thing likely to intrude is the flesh, and it is to be kept out by the power of the Spirit; we are to be maintained in this unity, and to be diligent to keep it in the bond of peace.   To that end there is circumcision: " the putting off of the body of the flesh through the circumcision of Christ."   The body of the flesh I understand to be the weight, the incubus of the flesh ; the whole thing goes.  That breaks the link with Egypt.   If flesh goes, Egypt is gone.  Flesh subsists in the things of Egypt, not of the wilderness or of the land.   Flesh must have its food, and the food of flesh is in Egypt. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life.   If the body of the flesh is put off the link with Egypt is for ever broken. Thus, the flesh is not to intrude at all.   The moment it intrudes it brings in a bit of grit, and so disturbs the peace.   God has been pleased in divine goodness to remove everything that had any title or pretension to disturb.  Now we are at liberty, and privileged to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; let us look to it then that we do not fail in this!   Let us see that our hearts are kept under the influence of divine love, and that thus we love one another, and not watch one another to see if there be evil. It ought to be pain to see evil in one another; we need to be enlarged in the know­ledge of divine love and in love to one another. How can I prove that I love God ? By loving the brethren. " If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen ? " " Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."

That is the first great principle, and so far we have only come to human weakness. If the body of the flesh is put off man has come to the extremity of human weakness, he is no longer supported by natural power. Natural power is connected with the flesh, but I do not accept that support (v. 9). " This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." I cannot attempt to carry out the things of God in the energy of the flesh; there is no resource left now but the Spirit of God, and, in that, man is as to himself weak. As sure as you are in the power of the Spirit of God, you will know that you are weak, " When I am weak, then am I strong." Where the Spirit of God is, there is bound to be the sense of weakness.

In Israel, it may be remarked, the males only were circumcised, because they were the strength of Israel. But it is not so now. The males are not the strength of the church. " By one Spirit we are all baptised into one body." " As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus," Gal. 3 : 27, 28. Everyone now is to have put off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ. It is a principle of universal application: and on it hangs the truth of our being one body in Christ.

We read in verses 10, 11, " And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover . . . and they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the self­same day." Two things go together here, following on the morrow of the passover ; there in unleavened bread, which maintained circum­cision, and, at the same time, the old corn of the land. The first is what the apostle put before the Corinthians, " Christ our passover is sacri­ficed for us : therefore let us keep the feast . . . with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Here you get the two things combined, and if you know anything about the old corn of the land you will be certain to keep the feast with unleavened bread.

You may ask, What do you understand by the " old corn of the land ? " I will tell you— " If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above." If you can tell me what is proper to and characteristic of Christ in the scene where He is, I will tell you what the old corn of the land is. It is not the manna; the manna is the grace of Christ in a scene where all is contrary. By the old corn of the land I understand all that is characteristic of Christ in a scene where everything is congruous. Christ is gone back into that scene from which He came, where all is suitable. There is no change in that sense morally, and Christ is the centre there, and commands and controls all spiritual affections. That is to me the thought of the old corn of the land. If we know what it is to have to say to that scene, we shall not fail to eat the unleavened bread; you may be sure we shall realise that sincerity and truth are suitable if we know anything of the " things above " where Christ is sitting.

One word more; I understand the eating of the old corn of the land to be not individual but collective privilege. Here you are come, I think, on to assembly ground.   It is like the new man, the two (Jew and Gentile), made in Christ into one. I think the old corn of the land has been looked at too much as food individually. It appears to me that it refers to the affections and joys of the holiest, what we feed on in communion. It is spiritual privilege, the appropriation of Christ in what He is before the Father in heavenly affection and order. If you accept that you will understand why the manna ceases. The moment I enter into that scene in which Christ is Head I have done with the wilderness and the individual path, and for the moment I have done with the manna. I have to go back to it; but I enter in spirit on a scene where Christ is all, and for the moment the manna ceases. Of course, you get it pre­sented only typically in Joshua 5, for when Israel were actually come into the land the manna ceased completely. And, for the Christian, when we truly reach assembly ground, when we enter into the scene of heavenly affections, the manna ceases, and you eat the old corn of the land.

The old corn of the land connects itself as we have seen with unleavened bread; and so in Hebrews 10 it says : " Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." " They did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year " (v. 12). The fruit of the land of Canaan is what is proper to heaven.

One point more. All that we have seen is paving the way for conflict. (See verses 13-15.) And in speaking of conflict I may refer to a mistake into which I think we have fallen. We have been accustomed to say that Christ is Head to the assembly, and that He is not Lord to the assembly. I quite admit He is Head to the assembly, but the working of that is that we think when we come to the assembly we have done with the Lord. I admit Christ is not Lord to the assembly as such, but the assembly is privileged to be with the Lord in the conflict. I see in Ephesians we are to be " strong in the Lord and in the power of his might " ; I do not think that is individual. It is a question of conflict and testimony. The privilege of the assembly is to be with the Lord in the conflict against the power of evil.

The mistake Joshua made was in thinking that the Lord was to be with them, as if the captain of the Lord's host was to fight their battles. He asks : " Art thou for us, or for our adversaries ? " The angel says directly : " Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come."  It is not a question of My being with you, but of your being with Me. That is the great point. If we understand anything about collective privilege—that is, if we know Christ as the Head of the assembly, then there is another privilege conferred, and that is, to be with Him in conflict against His adversaries—to be associated with Him against the power of evil. I do not think that is much understood by the saints. I think we know what it is to love the Lord individually, to confess Him as Lord, to love Him, and to look for His appearing, and we rejoice to have the Lord with us in our pathway through the wilderness ; but that is all connected with our individual path, and there is another thing, which is the proper privilege of the church, namely, to be with the Lord in conflict with the wickedness in the heavenly places. "Our conflict is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in heavenly places."

One word more in connection with verse 15. " Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy." The ground is holy. When you are with the Lord in spiritual conflict, you will not do much if you do not follow holiness. You must put off your shoes from off your feet, for it is holy ground you are upon. You are with the Lord. You have known Him in the assembly declaring the Father's name to His brethren, leading the praises there; you have tasted that. But now there is the being with Him in the spiritual conflict; and the ground on which you stand is holy.

I only took up this chapter just to indicate these things; and what we have come back to are the two principles that we spoke of—the reproach of Christ and the power of the Spirit. We have escaped in measure from Babylonish captivity, but the liberty can only be maintained on the principles on which we began; we cannot surrender them for a moment; we must accept the reproach of Christ in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is here; the Spirit has come down, and convicts the world of sin, of righteous­ness, and of judgment. He is the power to maintain for Christ; and if we accept the reproach of Christ we know no power but that of the Spirit.

You have come to spiritual circumcision that every difficulty between one and another may be removed, that we may be able to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ; and in eating the old corn of the land you have come to heavenly association; and the manna, the food of the wilderness, ceases; and you have come to the Captain of the Lord's host; you are occupied with His interests; you are led by Him into conflict with the power of evil—and the place is holy.

Do not make the fatal mistake of supposing that this refers only to those who minister—that no one is responsible for maintaining and guarding the truth but those who minister it. The spiritual circumcision refers to all. We all have to stand to the truth of it. It is not the " males " now, we have all as a company to stand in the truth which we have professed to accept. " We being many are one body." " All one in Christ." Though it may only be given to a few to minister, it is the responsibility and privilege of each one to stand to, and seek to maintain, the truth, and that, not by dogmatism, but by being exponents of it.