Scattered Sheep Among Splinters
“In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” (Jeremiah 50:4-5)
This scripture prophesies of a time of recovery, of getting back to what has been lost. It acknowledges that the children of God of that time were divided, and the prophecy describes the effective way of return. It perfectly portrays what is necessary to get help from God. There must be a melting down, a great humbling. It will be marked by weeping. It will be marked by a determination to get what God has for us that is described as “[asking] the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” It is characterized as a determination to enter into “a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.”
Alas! In the Old Testament, it never happened. The division of the people of God was permanent, and each kingdom failed, one before the other. Both were eventually carried into captivity. Only one returned; but they only possessed it for a short time. A pattern of failure evolved into two parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the fanatical and the worldly, both struggling for control of the nation. Then they rejected Jesus, the Chief Corner Stone, and they were dispersed among the nations.
The prophecy in Jeremiah 50 finds its fulfillment in the New Testament. It is a lesson to spiritual Israel in its divisions. It points the way of escape from the religious chaos and confusion of our time. It has worked for all those who sought God to this depth in the past.
The first step in this process is the step of acknowledgment. Weeping is a form of acknowledgment. The scripture in Jeremiah 50:4-5 tells us that the way to Zion will be rediscovered when the children of Israel and the children of Judah together go and weep. This will never happen as long as group loyalty prevails. There must be an acknowledgment of what has happened to us as a result of group loyalty insomuch that we weep, before we can ask the way to Zion. Almost all of the little and big groups, even little splinters, are proclaiming their virtues, striving in rivalry with all the others. If they obtain to a certain size, they boast of their numbers. Each will tell you that their merchandise is better. Where is the weeping? They see no need for weeping. They want to sell you something. They are no more interested in a straightforward, objective appraisal of things than a car salesman wants to discuss all the negatives of the car for sale.
How different this is from the prayer of that man of God, Daniel! “Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.” (Daniel 9:17) Here is an acknowledgment of the truth by one who was in captivity in Babylon. He just came out and confessed that the sanctuary was desolate. Then he went further. “O my God… behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name… O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” (Daniel 9:18-19) His weeping and confessing was not without effect, for we read, “And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.” (Dan. 9:20-22) To find the way out of all the trouble they were in, it was necessary to weep and confess, and the result was that Daniel was given skill and understanding. Now I believe with all my heart that any child of God that will follow this same path will receive skill and understanding from God just as Daniel did. God is able to help us to see through the “the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Ephesians 4:14) He is able to help us to “meekly hold the true position, standing firm,”* speaking the truth in love.
How much does it hinder a man seeking salvation to feel that he is a fairly good man? He does not see himself as he should. When he sees himself as he is, a sinner before God, lost and undone, he will weep. Without coming to this place of repentance, he gets nothing. He flounders. He thrashes and wallows. He must be willing to see himself as God sees him. He must be enabled to see himself as God sees him. Then the tears will flow. Remorse will crush him. Horror will seize upon him. He is getting to godly sorrow; he will be able to repent. He will have a firm foundation from which to believe. God has something for him, and this is the way to get it.
The bright promise of the Evening Light Reformation has been lost. As a people, who believe in the doctrine of salvation from sin, subsequent baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the oneness of God’s people, we are a reproach to the trueness of these Bible teachings. We have every cause to weep. Satan has succeeded in turning the body of people who came out of Babylon into a new “church of God” Babylon with more divisions than ever before. As one brother said, “We don’t have a split today; we have a splintering!” Thousands of little church-of-God splinters, all claiming to be a true representative of those people purified and unified by the power of God in the reformation of 1880. Those were an accurate sample of what the people were, who were purified and unified by the power of God in the early days of the New Testament.
Some of these splinters are so far removed from the teachings of the Bible that saints have followed throughout the New Testament, that one shakes one’s head in unbelief. How could a people claiming to possess that same blessing and light be so far off? Many of them are almost blasphemous in their claim. They out-Babylon Babylon.
“My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” (Jeremiah 50:6) I am continually amazed at the lack of spiritual life in the “church of God” movements, the lack of spiritual vision, the shallowness, the lack of acquaintance with the history of Zion, and the lack of interest in doing anything about it. There is a massive resting on the lees; there are appalling contradictions. I have seen more man-rule in some of those so-called church of God movements than there is in the Catholic Church, the mother of them all. Some of these groups are incredibly lax; others are places of fanatical bondage. One minister told me that he had never read Birth of a Reformation, and it was obvious from his tone that he thought it was a virtue to be uninformed and didn’t plan to become acquainted with this aspect of church history from that standpoint. Now one certainly doesn’t have to read that book to get to heaven, but I will certainly state that one must have the experience that is described in that book to be right with God and to know how to behave yourself in the church of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of the truth.
Human nature is such that one does not need a written creed, a formal membership roll, or a formal scheduling of who preaches and who doesn’t, to make a sect. All these things can be accomplished by unwritten creeds. It can be “understood” by the majority of a group, and be just as binding as a written creed. An unwritten membership roll can track who is accepted and who is not just as efficiently as a formal membership roll, especially if the group is small. All of these things do not rise from the spiritual way of dealing with each other that the Spirit of God teaches to those who are led by Him. They are a denial of Him. How easy it is to be led by something other than the Spirit of God! And, if we are not led by the Holy Spirit, we will be led by something. It is not possible to set up a tradition or custom that will fulfill the place of the Holy Spirit. There is no substitute for actually being governed by the Holy Ghost.
A minister who had preached church-of-God doctrine for years told me that there was no difference between the ministerial assemblies of ministers of the truth and ministers of a denomination. He was appallingly wrong. He was referring to the outward practices of the meetings. Both assemble in a building; both deal with questions of import to the entire body of people whom they serve; both follow the same basic practices of parliamentary procedure for orderly discussion, etc. But this is a shallow and superficial analysis of the two kinds of ministerial assemblies. One might as well say that saints and sinners live alike. They both go to grocery stores and buy groceries. They both drive vehicles, etc. Why did the minister make the statement? He wanted to excuse, to smooth over. There was a lot to smooth over. There were a lot of unspiritual people who held the position of preacher in his group. Their dealings and thoughts arose from the state of their hearts. It was not business-as-usual for spiritual people. They were not spiritual people.
We do not get anywhere with God until we acknowledge where we are. Some see, but are unwilling to acknowledge; others are ignorant, and unwilling to acknowledge their ignorance. Shepherds such as these do not know the way to Zion. They are pretty good at declaring peace where there is no peace. They heal the hurt of God’s children, slightly (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). They are usually likeable and possess to some extent the arts of the politician. But they know little of the way to Zion, nor have they walked about her walls and towers (Psalm 48:12). They will look at you strangely if you start to weep about conditions as God deals with your heart. They will think you are strange and not quite trustworthy about church matters. Yea, “their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” (Jeremiah 50:6) O child of God, beware of false shepherds!
The church of God as founded by Jesus is the rightful resting place for each soul that loves Him. The life of the church is the same as the life of each individual member. It is where I belong, just as my kidney, my stomach, my ears, and my eyes belong to my body. The same life that is in my body is the same life in my members. It is artificial for my eye to be in another body. It does not belong there. In the same way, it is artificial and inappropriate for a child of God to be in something other than the church that Jesus built. His spiritual life comes from Jesus, and he should be surrounded with other members who share the same life.
How can I find where I belong? This is the question addressed by the scripture at the beginning of this discourse. I must realize that I am out of place before I can get stirred to find where I must go. I must get closer to Jesus, the Head of the body, before I can recognize and identify the other members of His body.
Many want to find the church so that they can get help. This is the wrong approach. You cannot find the church while you are unsaved or backslidden. You cannot see it in that condition. You may remember people whom you respect, and you may trust that they are right where they ought to be, but you cannot see the kingdom of God yourself. There is something wrong with an attitude that wants to see the church while being less than what one knows that one should be. God has designed His church, Zion, as a place in heaven and on earth, for His children. Unsaved people “cannot see the kingdom of God,” (John 3:3) because God governs it in such a way that you cannot grasp it if your heart is not right. It will not look like the priceless treasure that it is if you have not sought truth for the right motives. It just looks like still another mountain. Just another group of people. As was said of the Founder of the body, “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Jesus only appears beautiful when the eyes of our understanding are opened, and the church that Jesus built only appears as something different and superior when we see it by divine help.
“Remove out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he goats before the flocks.” (Jeremiah 50:8) The he goats were those who always run to the head of the flock, giving the example for others to follow. Being a he goat yourself will make you fit with the other he goats that have been “a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7) before you. For you, too, God has in mind a removing from the unspiritual. He is still calling His children out of Babylon, even the “church of God” Babylon of our times.
The church of God is geared to the all-consuming consecration and supreme love of God of the wholly sanctified in Christ Jesus. It is necessary to get something in abundance from God to be a part of those who possess abundance in Him. God is calling you to be a he goat, too. He is calling you to leave the entire land of the Chaldeans, not just the capitol city of Babylon in that land.
Notice again the weight of this command: “Be as the he goats before the flocks.” God makes each of His children an example of how to do it. Each one is as the he goat. Each one is a pattern of good works. Each acquires a testimony that blends with the other he goat examples. It does not matter who does it first; it does matter whether you did it right. Every child of God is called to forsake Babylon and the entire land of the Chaldeans.
“Have you heard a voice from heaven,
Calling in a solemn tone,
‘Come, my people, from confusion,
This is not your native home’?
Yes, I heard, and to my vision,
Zion’s glory brightly shone;
Then I rose and fled the ruin,
Taking not a Babel stone.”*