When I first began to be burdened to write on the New Testament teaching about man rule in the church of God, I realized that the audience for such a writing would necessarily be a small one. For the teaching of the Word of God on this point can only be grasped by those who are wholly sanctified and sold out to Jesus without reserve. Only an individual completely ruled by the Holy Spirit can understand how a number of individuals can, as a body, be ruled by that same Spirit.
Although the comprehending audience may be small, the doctrine is vital. For it is the way of the Lord. He would teach us of His ways, for His ways are far above our ways, and His thoughts are far above our thoughts.
The church is the marriage of the human and the Divine. What is proper and appropriate for the members of the body, and what is the province of the Holy Spirit alone? Or, in other words, what does the Lord mean, when He tells us in His Word that, “the kingdom shall not be left to other people,” (Daniel 2:44) and that “government shall be on His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6)? Without an accurate vision of the proper relationship between the Holy Spirit and the people of God, we shall surely perish (Proverbs 29:18).
It is the common belief of most of the nominal Christian world that God saves men out of the world, but it is the prerogative of men to shape and organize these converts into institutions for Christ. But this position is plainly shown to be false in the Word of God.
“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” (Daniel 2:44-45)
We see plainly from this scripture that God, Himself, hath set up His church in the days of the kings of the Roman empire. Hear again the words of the Lord Jesus at that time, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [a little stone], and upon this rock [the Christ in whom Peter believed—see previous verse] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Again, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” (Ephesians 5:23)
Reader, you may rest assured that God has personally built His own church, that He governs it, that He is the active, living Head, and that He has not left His kingdom to other people. This solid foundation of understanding is absolutely necessary to approach the subject of exactly how God governs His church.
Individual Government and Church Government
The Bible plainly informs us, that “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his…. for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:9,14) A man who is led by the Spirit of God will not knowingly do something wrong, nor will a congregation that is led by the Spirit of God. A man who is not led by the Spirit of God will be led by something; this is equally true of a congregation. A man, led by the Holy Ghost, may make honest and unintentional mistakes by unwittingly following another impulse than that of God, but, by definition, if he is a man who is characterized by consistently following Divine leadership, then it can be fairly stated: here is a man who is led by the Spirit of God. That same Spirit will correct and reprove him, as needed, and again, the overall pattern of his life will be that of a Spirit-led man.
God, in dealing with us, does not take away our humanity and make us more than men or less than men. He simply makes us spiritual men—individuals who walk with God. Therefore, the work of God in the earth—His church overall and each member’s individual walk with God—can be a perfect blend of the Divine and the human if we allow the Lord to have His way.
Now this wonderful partnership is a very unequal relationship. For God is far superior to us in every way. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). How wonderful that God should seek us out, should desire for us to walk with Him. How careful He is in His dealings with us! How loving and kind, how merciful and longsuffering! “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) He knocks, when He has full right to enter unannounced (Rev. 3:20). And this carefulness in dealing is fully reciprocated by all men who enter into this precious relationship to walk with God. A great awe of God and His ways fills the soul (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2). He knows what He is doing, while we do not. The surrendered soul is content to let Him have His way, to readily respond to His dealings, to carefully do as God would have it done. Such scriptures as, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is,” (Ephesians 5:17) assume a majesty and authority to the spirit-filled man which is not apparent at all to one who is not filled with the Spirit of God.
Without this profound respect for God and His ways, we will get out of God’s order, even if we love Him and want to please Him. We must love Him enough—and be emptied of all self-reliance enough—that He can effectually work in us to will and do of His good pleasure. A great number of things are done in the name of the Lord that please Him not and are not according to His will.
In II Samuel, we read how that David determined to bring the ark of God out of Gibeah to Jerusalem. This was done out of love for God. “And they set the ark of God upon a new cart.” (2 Samuel 6:3) They assembled before it with all reverence and honor, and played music before it. They were ignorant that the ark of God was not to be carried in that way. But when the oxen shook it, then “Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it.” (2 Samuel 6:6) This is just exactly what we will do if we are not emptied of all self-reliance enough—we will take hold of God’s ark to help the Lord, and get into great trouble. It will start us down the path that leads to the substitution of human authority for Holy Spirit authority. It will begin the process that becomes characterized by us doing things for God rather than doing things of God.
The pressures of circumstances in our lives are very real, both at an individual level and at the congregational level. They will compel us to act, whether God has directed us or not, when things began to come apart, unless the Lord has helped us to get a clear, definite vision of His way and helped us to die to self to the extent that we will not move without His approval.
We see this in the life of Saul, king of Israel. “And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.” It was all falling apart, so “Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.” He did not feel good about this, but reasoned that the ends justified the means, hence his testimony, “I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.” And then the man of God, who feared the Lord and would not do things without His approval, told Saul, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee.” (1 Samuel 13:8-13)
Avoiding the leadership of men, whether the one(s) leading is ourselves or someone else, is not merely a decent idea or a preferable option, and being ruled by the Holy Spirit is not merely a noble aspiration. The one is death, and the other is life; one is hell, the other, heaven. Oh, “Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17)!
We have met people who downplayed the role of the Holy Spirit in personal guidance. I am convinced that many people doubt that the Holy Ghost actually leads and guides people in this way. One sister replied to a possible course of action, “Oh, however the spirit leads you!” This was said in a light, casual tone, with the implied thought that the “spirit”—i.e., your personal inclination—guides you in many ways. That is, if you felt strongly about something, then (according to her) that meant that the spirit was guiding you. It is impossible for folks in this condition to actually be led by the Spirit of God, or to work the works of God in His order and according to His will. The actual leadings of the Holy Spirit are not real enough to them and cannot be reverenced or awaited with God-given patience. They do not know what it is.
There are and have been many people who claim to be led by the Holy Spirit in their lives. When their lives are tried (1 John 4:1), the pattern of their guidance will reveal whether it is the Holy Spirit or something else. How necessary it is to wait on God! “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) The Holy Spirit will give us grace to wait until the Lord comes in a given matter, and He maketh manifest. Sometimes this is done by the fire of trial. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” (1 Corinthians 3:13)
This waiting on God, this making sure of the mind of the Lord, this refusal to move on our own, this reality of the Spirit—this is absolutely necessary to be governed and ruled by the Holy Spirit.
If we do not accept this as a true and necessary standard, then what do we make of such scriptures as, “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” (Acts 16:7) Do we then attempt to understand these brethren after the flesh, or do we accept and understand that all that has been said above was true and working in their case? They waited on God; they made sure of the mind of the Lord; they refused to move on their own; the Holy Ghost was very real to them; they were governed, controlled, and ruled by the Holy Spirit. To believe otherwise is to believe that the New Testament church is the work of men’s hands and to disbelieve the words of our Lord, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) He was and is still building it.
The Authority of Men in God’s Church
Let us consider now what it means to have limited authority as an officer in God’s church as delegated and backed by the true supreme Authority. All authority in an organization is derived from the head. Jesus is the Head in His church. The manifestations of authority in the subordinate positions beneath the head proceed from Him and are, in a sense, His authority extended through instrumentalities. “The Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” (Colossians 2:19) And, unlike the kingdoms and institutions of this world, the Head of the church, even our Lord and Savior, is able to abide within each and every member, working in them that which is well-pleasing, even the perfect will of God. “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:6) “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) This is plain. The Head works in each member; through the Spirit, He divides, or distributes, as He will. He is in you all, through us, and above all. Could language more accurately state the relationship between the governed and the Governor? Note, these descriptions came from men and women who were actually in this relationship with the Divine Head, actually filled, qualified, and used of the Spirit of God. The closer the record is studied, the more it is apparent: it was not the rule of men; it was the rule of God over His own church, His body, built by Him, subservient to Him, and actually controlled and directed by Him.
It is not that we claim the authority of the Head and presume to act in His name that carries weight here. It is His acknowledgment of us that is significant. It is the unmistakable evidence that God is present—that there is something involved far beyond the efforts of the people.
But we must look much closer at the unique structure of God’s church to fully appreciate what God hath wrought. There is no hierarchy in the human elements, i.e., none of the saved possesses authority over the other saved in such a way that part of the body is subservient to the other part all the time. Only the Divine Himself is dominant always. These statements are true because of the unique nature of regeneration in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit through the blood of Jesus.
Each and every saved soul is directly connected to God through Christ without any other intermediary. As a brother puts it,
Salvation belongeth unto God, and Jesus Christ is His salvation. Bless His dear name! No person can ignore the Son and be saved by the Father, nor despise the Father without rejecting the Son (Luke 10:6). Let it be distinctly understood that God has so arranged the plan of redemption that no man or set of men can monopolize, control, or get a patent upon it. God has offered a free salvation to all the world, and it is impossible for the most crafty to convert it into a means of speculation. It is true there are moneyrun religions many, and hirelings many. But the “hireling [is] not the shepherd” (John 10:12); not sent of God: and the moneymaking religions are frauds. Salvation is “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1); therefore, whosoever would set a price upon it, proves he is not in possession of the article himself, and has but a counterfeit to offer. Every man on earth can come directly to the Author of salvation through Jesus Christ, and be saved independent of all men or angels.
God alone can save people and He alone can “unsave” them, i.e., blot them out of His book (Exodus 32:33).
How often have men presumed to take in or put out! But God does not recognize the efforts of men on this line. He reserves to Himself the right to insert or remove from His church. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47) “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) Note that this is not water baptism, for it is administered “by one Spirit.” This is blood baptism, that is, being immersed in the blood of Jesus by the Spirit of God. “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” (Revelation 1:5) Please note that nowhere does the Bible teach that men have the right or authority to bring in men into the church of the living God. We readily agree that men have the right and obligation to recognize what God has already done. Therefore we read such things as, “they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship,” (Galatians 2:9) but we also read that this offering of the right hands of fellowship was because they “perceived the grace that was given unto me.” The other saved people didn’t give Paul that grace—they just perceived that God had given it unto him and reacted to that fact. Peter didn’t put Simon the sorcerer out of the church when his heart condition was revealed, for Simon was never in God’s church, even though he had been baptized by God’s minister and professed that God had received him. Peter just recognized and perceived that Simon didn’t have God’s salvation, so Peter told him, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” (Acts 8:21) He never got in, even though it looked as if he might have for a while to the eyes of men. But the Divine Governor was never fooled at any time, and in due time, He allowed some of His children to see what He had known all along.
One of the false doctrines that came out of the great falling away that resulted in the formation of the Roman Catholic Church was the doctrine of the authority of the keys. This great error resulted from man usurping the place of God, and twisting the scripture in Matthew 16:19: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The misinterpretation of this text would put men in the driver’s seat instead of God. It would present matters as though God had obligated Himself to respond to men instead of the other way around.
What is the right meaning of the scripture? What does it mean to have the keys of the kingdom of heaven and to know that “whatsoever thou shalt bind” or loose will be backed by heaven’s authority? The truth of the matter is closely related to our essential helplessness. As Jesus said, “for without me, ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The context of the scripture in Matthew quoted above reads, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) Men possess the keys to the kingdom of heaven when they are inspired by God Himself. Then, and only then, do they possess divine authority which God will honor. As Brother James puts it, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” (1 John 5:14) The outward result will appear to be that a person commands heaven, for they ask and God responds; but that is not the whole picture. God is the Author as well as the Finisher. His inspiration started the process.
To misunderstand the scripture in Matthew 16:19 as conferring us with the power and authority to govern and control in the church of God is to launch ourselves on the path of presumption and man rule. It is to forget our place as servants—unprofitable servants at best. For the servant is not given authority to no longer be a servant, no matter how great his responsibilities; but remains a servant, even while wielding great authority in his Master’s name. When all is said and done, he is still just a servant. As one brother put it, “When the ministry expects to be served rather than to serve, then they have stepped over the line.”
In actuality, if a child of God gets exalted and begins to feel that they are something and can do great things, they will soon find that God doesn’t follow what they think He must do. He will leave them to themselves if they persist, “for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5-6) This scripture completely covers the matter, for although a man is highly honoured and exalted (in a good sense) that God hears his prayer and answers from heaven, yet he remains a man. He is just as needy of divine help the next time as he was this time.
Another way of thinking of this wonderful relationship of God to us is that God is just too good to us to confer something on us that would make us independent of Him. In this way, He is a wonderful heavenly parent, originating an inspiration to look to Him for help and satisfying our cry for help. Yet the whole process leaves us still a child—an assisted, helped, thankful child, but still a child.
The true authority of the keys of the kingdom comes from the fact that God moves us to do what He knows is best. Therefore it is God that worketh in us. How marvelous that He would want to use such ungainly earthly vessels! “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
If we do not walk always in this lowliness of mind, then we will grieve the Lord at some point. We will either get ahead of the Spirit of God or behind. Perhaps we will give esteem and recognition to an undeserving brother when the Spirit of God would have us withdraw, or we will reject someone whom the Spirit of God is still using and blessing. How impossible it is to please the Lord without Him helping you to please Him! “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) The Bible teaches submission of all the members of Christ’s body to each other.
One of the prominent distinctions of the great apostasy of 270 A.D. was the exaltation of the ministry above the laity; then the exaltation of some of the ministry above the rest; and finally the evolvement of the man of sin himself. Such a condition would never have arisen if all had stayed subject, one to another, as Brother Peter taught and practiced.
But how can such a thing be? How can the learned be subject to the ignorant? How can the elder be subject to the younger? How can a man be subject to a woman? These are all pertinent questions, weighty and serious, and how thankful we are that the Bible answers them!
Every child of God possesses a pearl of great price—a personal experience of salvation, the wonderful and marvelous privilege of knowing God for himself. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) This brings about a marvelous equality which transcends nationality, social position, or gender. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28) Since our sufficiency is of God (2 Corinthians 3:5), and we are all equally needy and supplied according to our need, we have nothing of true worth to vaunt over each other. For that which is of great value (salvation),all the redeemed possess—it is the common salvation (Jude 1:3); and whereas they differ greatly in education, social position, gender position, mental ability, physical capability, etc., these are deemed of little worth overall. Hear the words of Brother Paul: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8) Dung has some value, of course, but how lowly and small in the scheme of things. What an adjustment salvation brings into the value system of the holder! God’s salvation in the heart is esteemed above all, and the things of earth began to be sized up accurately. How limited they are! How much of this time and place!
Such is the great leveling effect of the gospel. “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.” (James 1:9-10) Some folks are too low. Their position in life has stunted them and their values are of the gutter. They need to come up. Others are high-minded (1 Timothy 6:17-19), and need to come down. They are proud and puffed up, and God wants to take that pride out of them. He wants to cause both kinds to rejoice. Yea, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” (Isaiah 40:4)
The subjection of all of the children of God to each other is possible because salvation is the pre-eminent thing in each of their lives. That is, they esteem a clean heart and a clean life above every other human trait. Well, you may ask, are some not more saved than others? The answer is no—you are either saved or you are not. You are either dead or alive. Well, you may persist, are not the more experienced, more careful, etc., deserving of more honor? The reply to this lies in the nature of salvation as an undeserved gift. If you recall, it was previously stated in this article that God inspires a thing within us as well as completes it, thus making Him the Author and the Finisher. This is as true of salvation and all the depths of salvation as well. No man can come to God except the Father draw him. No man can change his own heart. No man can live and grow in grace except the Lord both inspire him to Christian fruit and bestow upon him increase. “Without me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) “Where is boasting then? It is excluded.” (Romans 3:27) “Lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9) All children of God are saved and keep saved through unmerited favor—the grace of God.
Now it is perfectly true that some of the saved are in better spiritual health. Some are smarter than the others; some are more learned; some are more energetic; some are more gifted at dealing with others; others are gifted in differing ways. Some are more wealthy; some are better disciplined; some have more training and teaching and better family backgrounds and moral conditioning, etc. If these, or anything else, is valued more or even equally with an experience of salvation, then this humble subjection to one another becomes warped and twisted or lost.
As an example, let us consider a congregation of believers who have found the Lord one by one. There are elderly brothers and sisters there, who have been serving the Lord for a long time since He changed them. There are others who have been saved awhile. Still others have only been saved a short time. And there are young children who have really gotten saved. If all are indeed humble and esteem the possession of salvation as meaning more than anything else, then all their attitudes and thoughts toward each other will revolve around their perception that the others are born from above by the power of God. This attitude is usually expressed by a great joy and thankfulness that one is saved. That you are delivered from the power of sin by the power of God. It is not a maturity of perception and comprehension; it is a rejoicing in the reality of regeneration as a personal possession, first personally, and then a rejoicing in the reality of the salvation of each person who seems to really have a like experience. “To them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1)
And so each child of God has a direct connection to the Lord Himself and becomes conscious that there are others who also have this direct connection to the Lord. Upon this foundation, there is a definite consciousness that every saved person has God within him/her, and God can manifest Himself through His earthen vessel in any way that He cares to do so. That is always a possibility. God may speak through a child at a certain point. He may speak through a stammering tongue. As a matter of experience, God usually works through those whom He has called to certain places in His body of believers (and this is in complete accordance with the principle here expressed), but God can and does work outside of the accustomed pattern as He sees fit. Among those who are usually so used and increasingly among those who are just learning the ways of the Lord, there is a consciousness that God can and may work in this way. All this leads to a great deal of waiting on the Lord. A minimal valuation of human gifts and an esteemed valuation of Divine inspiration and blessing. It leads to meetings where the predominant feature is a listening for and a deep appreciation of God working in human lives.
Getting the focus on God and keeping it there is one of the priorities of the Holy Spirit. He strives mightily with us to bring us to lowliness of mind, living faith in God, and a deep appreciation of what it means to dwell with brethren who can characterized as having “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:6) It is natural and human to look at the things which are seen, and to evaluate and react to one another in this way, but the Spirit of God will teach us to “look… at the things which are not seen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
This whole picture agrees with the vision presented in Revelation: “And He had in his right hand seven stars…. The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels [messengers] of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:16,20) God’s messengers to His congregations are in His right hand—thus signifying His control of them and their submission and compliance to Him. Jesus is in charge and is on the job, so to speak. Yea, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Christ has only built one church which consists of only born again people. There is not a single hypocrite in the group that He personally governs and acknowledges. He puts folks in as He saves them, and He blots their names out when they fall away (Acts 2:47; Exodus 32:33).
The efforts of men to organize churches for Jesus have succeeded in dividing the saved from each other in different groups and in mixing them in artificial fellowship with unsaved people. The entire philosophy behind the formal institutions of men is the concept of an absent Christ. This is a false and unbiblical position. Men have usurped the part of the heavenly Governor and have constructed their own churches, but their perfidy will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will not acknowledge their structures as His own. Others are deceived into believing that the Holy Spirit is directing and guiding them when He is not.
Walking in the Light of Regeneration
When a man, woman, or child comes to God under the drawing of His Spirit, heart-broken with Godly sorrow, repenting of all sin, and inspired to believe in Jesus for salvation, our loving Lord works a great, revolutionary change in the heart. Old things pass away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). A great love for God and His ways is implanted in the soul, and the person is filled with a new motivation. A great desire to please the Lord fills the heart. A hunger for the Word of God. All of this is as it should be. God has designed it so that the light that fills the soul at the beginning will increase steadily “unto the perfect day,” (Proverbs 4:18) when our faith shall be lost in sight as we experience for ourselves the perfect wonders of the glory world.
But this increasing victory and triumph in our lives is predicated on one solemn condition, i.e., that we walk in the light that Jesus shines on our pathway (1 John 1:7). We must mind the same rule that God gives us, from the time that we understand it and always thereafter (Philippians 3:16). To do otherwise is to forfeit our blessing and peace.
One of these principles of truth which instinctively arises from the regenerated experience is a clear and definite knowledge that God does not save us from sin to divide us from each other in different groups. He saves us to put us together with all the other redeemed. He intends for us to be with Him, and He with us, now and forever and forever. Therefore, a child of God must not ever fellowship with a group or enter into a relationship with others that would divide him from all other saved people. This is not an easy rule to follow, for everywhere we find some of God’s children caught in this or that, and it would seem that if you join one organization, then you are separated from those in others, and if you stay out of them all, you are still separated from those of God’s children who are within them. We would like to quote here from an account, based on a true story, of how two of God’s children had to contend with this dilemma.
Joe could not be persuaded to unite with them, for he said he could not unite with one body, and therefore raise a barrier to exclude another in whom he had confidence and knew was a child of God as much as he. As this faith believed and practiced close communion, Joe declined to give them his membership.
Alfred was very much surprised when Joe refused to unite with this body of people, and inquired of him his reason for not doing so. “I did not unite with them because I could not break the last tie between us,” replied Joe. “You know that I have confidence in you. I am sure that you are as much a child of God as I am, and I could not come around the Lord’s table and see you kept out. No, indeed; if there is ever a barrier raised between any other child of God and me, it will be one he raises.”
“But what do you mean to do?” inquired Alfred. “You cannot go around all alone, can you? I should like to see you get settled somewhere where you can get in the harness just right and feel satisfied.”
“You ask me what I mean to do,” said Joe. “Well, I shall tell you. I mean to live by ‘every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4) and be guided by it. As to working, I do not see how I could work more with any body of people than I am doing now. I am waiting on the Lord, and what he tells me to do that will I do. Do you not think that I am on the safe track? And do you not think that I shall be satisfied when I do just what he tells me to do?”
“I am sure that you will,” replied Alfred; “and as to a barrier between us, I am sure that I shall never raise one.”
“You have already raised it,” replied Joe quickly, “for I cannot speak with you in the organization to which you belong.”
“But that need not be a barrier between us,” hastily replied Alfred.
“Perhaps not,” said Joe, “but somehow it seems to me there is not the freedom there that has been formerly. I feel that these organizations are dividing God’s children. You know we had wonderful times and God met with us at the little community house when we were all together.”
“That may be true,” replied Alfred, “but there are some things we shall never understand,” and he turned and walked slowly to the house. Joe had aroused something within his soul.
This is a fair picture of one of the perplexities faced by many of God’s little children. The answer to the religious confusion that is all around us is to take a stand on the Word of God. It is to believe and trust that, “according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3) It is to avoid leaning to our own understanding. It is a complete dependence on God.
How Can We Know That the Holy Spirit Is Leading?
If it were not for the opposition of the enemy of our souls, the working of the Lord would be much easier to see. There is nothing like the work of the Holy Spirit, and the devil cannot imitate him perfectly in every respect. There is a basic difference in motivation, as well, for the Lord comes to do us good, to deliver, and to give us victory and help us to please Him, while the enemy comes to discourage, to destroy, to ruin, and to get us to hell. Even when he comes as an angel of light or quotes the Word of God, it is to steal and to kill, but the paths of the Lord are peaceful and happy ones, and He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Almost every genuine manifestation of the Spirit of Truth has its well-crafted counterfeit, but there are two things which the devil cannot imitate. He cannot deliver people from sin and give them real victory, for then would his house, being divided against itself, fall; and, in the end, he cannot completely hide the hideous fruit that sin produces. He can put up a fairly convincing show to the eyes of men for quite a while, but in the end, the tree will bear fruit corresponding to the kind of life within it.
For instance, we might say that the Spirit of God will teach a reverence and high respect for all past dealings of the Lord, in the Word of God and in the known history of God’s little children. So we might conclude that such an element working in a given people or person shows definite evidence that the Spirit of God is guiding and leading. And the Spirit of God does work in this way, but the spirit of formality also puts up an imitation of this characteristic. But in a people under the Lord’s control, that respect and appreciation is used in a vital, appropriate way, while the enemy’s workings produce a deadening effect.
This situation is illustrated in the New Testament in the attempts of God’s children to find the will of God concerning circumcision, the Mosaic law, and the proper instruction of the Gentiles. And in the end, after much trial and refining, a clear and definite standard from God was perceived and grasped by those who were lead by the Holy Spirit, but not by those who were led by something else. Now notice, it was highly confusing to the mind to try to figure out that circumcision was no longer applicable. A long line of teaching, from God, with attendant blessings was involved. But in time, it began to be plain to Spirit-led individuals that the Lord was not blessing circumcision in the flesh as He had in another dispensation. Understanding was given by the Spirit of God, as He manifested Himself in working through His chosen vessels, and it brought the blessing of God to all that received it. To those who did not, they missed that blessing. When all the dust settled, so to speak, the perfect will of God was manifest to all who were led by that selfsame Spirit. The standard that the Governor held was plain: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:15-16) We note that the work of God cannot be reduced to formula or policy without leaving the following of the Spirit of God. Furthermore, the end result of the lives that followed the light of God was an increased blessing, while the end result in the lives of the circumcision was as you may read in Titus 1:10.
“Therefore thus saith the LORD GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16) Amen. “Let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2) Being led by the Lord means much waiting on the Lord. Being governed by the Lord means much waiting on the Lord. Walking with God means much waiting on God. The promise is to those who wait upon the Lord. “For the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18) “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
But this waiting must be waiting with earnest expectation toward God. It is not the spirit of fatalism or cynicism. It is active, living faith in God that He will take care of all things. And this includes setting us to doing what we should be doing, and restraining us from doing what we should not be doing. That is, God has something for each of us to do, and we need to discover where we should labor in His order and be working there. “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:17) Salvation finds us where we are in life, and trueness to God mandates that we should withdraw from things that are wrong. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?… Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14,17-18)
Some of us are inclined by nature to be shy and indecisive; others are inclined to be bold and rash. But God knows what is best and what vessel or vessels He sees fit to use. How blessed to wait upon Him—to let Him have His way! “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.” (Song 8:4) He is the Master of His house; let Him have His way in all. We know that He cares whether we perish, and He will come in good time to His trusting children.
Well, yes, says someone, but what if someone gets out of order? What then?
If we cannot trust God when things go wrong, when can we trust Him? A minister became incensed over the spiritual condition of another minister. He called together a meeting to do something about it. He was nervous and upset. He pleaded with the ministers to do something. He did not realize that they were doing something. They were trusting God, both with the minister in question and the one doing the questioning. Finally, the upset one wound down, and it was very quiet. The others were waiting for the Lord to manifest His will. Finally a brother spoke up. “No one ever got too big for the Lord to spank,” he said. That was it—the mind of the Lord. It satisfied about everyone there, with a few exceptions. We all started to leave. The minister who had called the meeting jumped up. “You’re not going to do anything?!” he said. He was nearly beside himself and in no condition to realize that God had just let everybody know to leave this in His hands. So the brother went into this meeting without a blessing and came out of it without a blessing. In due time, the Lord took care of the matter.
A congregation gathered one night without a minister present—that is, one of the Lord’s ministers. No one realized that a minister did not happen to be there that night. The Lord blessed their singing and it came time for preaching. A false prophet got up. He preached a false message to the congregation of God’s little children. They endured it. Finally he sat down. There was a moment of silence, then someone called a song. It was a song which contradicted the false message which had been spoken. The Lord anointed the song, and souls began to be convicted of their need. A number sought the Lord for salvation. The false preacher left in disgust; God’s little children had the victory.
How capable the Lord is of taking care of His work, His people! How wonderful to serve a wonderful God! He can turn that which seems to harm me into everlasting joy.
Instead of different classes of God’s people, the governed and the governing, all of us are brethren. If someone gets to feeling that he or she is above others, we simply trust God to take care of the matter. Only in this way can all the members of the body submit to each other—because of the workings of God in each other. “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)