Watchfulness and Discernment
If all the brethren who worked among the people of this movement were the same as these spiritual brethren, I would be in unity with them yet, but that was not the case. “False brethren unawares” (Galatians 2:4) were brought in, and “men arose” from among the congregations, “speaking perverse things,” (Acts 20:30) and these people accurately represented the lives and heart conditions of the people who gave them a place. They were good politicians and their loyalty was to the group, rather than to God. Most of them only knew about God; their hearts were not taught of Him. However, there were others who had once tasted of the heavenly gift and had been blessed with light from heaven. One of these said, “I have found that I must leave my God-given convictions to go along with the people.” There were others who fell away from a spiritual standard and became the church’s man (or woman) instead of being God’s alone. One of these (we had been close) said to me, “The church is my whole life!” This particular brother put his faith in personal influence, and eventually we came to parting of the ways, for he followed the ways of knowing and being known after the flesh, and I followed the ways of the Spirit. As Brother C. E. Orr put it,
Holy living is to live unto God though all the world might oppose. Our dearest friend on earth must not be allowed to cause us to deviate one hair’s breadth from trueness to God. Here is one of the places in the Christian’s life that should be closely watched and guarded.
The rise of fleshly wisdom in the group of people among whom I labored had consequences in their lives and in their meetings. Two different focuses were presented to the people, and people made their choice. The fleshly living, preaching, and testimony prevailed more and more, but this was only discerned by the spiritually-minded. The ones who followed this path were not interested in the history of things before. They did not want to be stirred by a sense of coming short. One said to me, “Don’t you think that the folks before just wrote about the highlights?” He was implying that things now were pretty much as they had been before, and that the history of those things was actually a little dishonest—just kind of skimming the cream off the top and presenting it as milk. Another said to me, “That was so long ago and there is so much that we cannot verify.” He was speaking of events of only a hundred years ago. A brother, upon hearing of his comment, said, “If we have difficulty with investigating a matter a hundred years ago to determine truth, what about the Bible? That is much further back.” And so it went. The very seeds of doubt and skepticism are sown in fleshly reasoning and thinking, and people end up with a great lack of faith in God.
Early in my ministry, it was my privilege to be in a ministers’ meeting with a couple of ministers (husband and wife) who had fallen away. I was about fifteen at the time, I think. The couple in question pastored a congregation. Their children had grown up and gone to college, where they had embraced a standard of thinking that was the product of fleshly thinking. Then they came back home and exercised themselves in the congregation of these two ministers, their parents. The couple, who had been true to God in the past, allowed themselves to be affected by the spirit of their children, and had changed. Eventually this bore fruit in their lives, and the sister had come to a place of decision. God had taught her to trust her body to Him and to avoid the arm of flesh, but she had changed. When her eyes were afflicted with cataracts, she went to get an operation to have them removed. The minister brethren who met with them had not changed on this point of Bible teaching, and so I was privileged to see a confrontation between apostasy and truth.
The ministry were very kind to her and her husband. The emphasis was on acknowledgment, regret, sorrow, and repentance. They wanted to see her restored to her prior walk with God. In every way, all dealings reflected that scripture, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) But she and her husband didn’t see it that way. She sobbed and said they were being so hard on them. There was no compromise in the brethren, but they were kind and gentle. Neither she nor her husband were minded to regret or acknowledge wrong, and no changes were made. The meeting closed with the ministry regarding them as fallen, and they were. The reality of the congregation’s condition was thus publicly established. Eventually some of God’s little children escaped from that place.
I saw that it is possible to hold the truth clearly and firmly without taking matters into our own hands if we are led of God. And, at that time, the spirituality of the minister body was such that they were able to walk that fine line, so to speak. Eventually they lost that ability, and their decisions became more and more a trade-off of one political consideration against another.
Just as the apostasy of the early morning light church adopted the prevailing form of political government (imperial) around them, so the apostasies of the evening light church reflect our prevailing political government system. It is not imperial; it is rule by the majority with representation of minorities, etc. Trade-offs and compromise make it work. God holds before us an ability to change us to fit His standard, but human reasoning in our time tends to embrace accommodation. There is no real spiritual unity from the heart out of this approach, just a negotiated union that constantly needs adjustment. The will of the people expresses itself, rather than the will of God.
Many years later, the minister body of this people was so changed that they dealt with a brother who was inclined to excess by limiting him to preaching in a local setting. He was forbidden to preach beyond that among them. Now, if he was not right with God, what was he doing preaching at all? And, if he was right with God, then why was he limited?
As God removed from among this people His spiritual ministers to their eternal reward, things began to change for the worse. The new generation of leadership and a number of those from the old held the same form with a different spirit, and a great loyalty to the form arose. What had been held from the heart began more and more to be held from the mind and thus the power of God that makes it really work was denied. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:5)
In A True Story in Allegory, an allegory of the apostasy of 1910-1915, Sister Jarvis presents the fall of Father Discernment as a result of compromise and how he acted afterwards:
Daily he could be found upon the walls of his castle, calling out in boastful tones warnings against those who had escaped to the mountain. And to those who had not yet escaped he cried, “Ho! Fools, can’t you see everything is all right, and just as it always has been? See this great camp which we have founded. Let none escape, lest we put you in chains.” (For in this castle, which was called Influence, was a dungeon in which they bound discontented ones, and refused to let them go.)
There was a time when there was no dungeon among these people. The ministers made themselves of no reputation and received none who did, and God saw to it that they had sufficient trials and persecutions to keep them very humble. To receive such brethren, you must put no confidence in the flesh. All, ministers and all other members of the body alike, were voluntarily kept prostrate in the dust by the Spirit of God. It was the watchfulness and discernment by the Spirit of God that enabled men to hold such a standard and the obedience and sensitivity of men to the Spirit of God, for it is flat out impossible for men to hold it by themselves. “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.” (Psalms 127:1) Over the years, many things try to find a place among the people of God, but the Spirit of God will defend the work as long as the children of God hear the voice of the Spirit and allow themselves to be guided by Him.
God easily deals with human weakness and makes up for our lack of judgment and how easily we can be fooled. He weaves human mistakes into His dealings and works all things for good to them that love Him. What He will not abide is rebellion. If we refuse to hear His voice, He will leave us to our own devices. “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.” (Hosea 5:15)
A spiritual brother preached on this text, “Arm yourselves.” (1 Peter 4:1) He foresaw the “changing of the guard.” He saw the trouble that was coming. And he was right.
Just as people backslide in their hearts and go on professing, movements of people do the same with just as little self-realization of their condition (Revelations 3:17). They are not stirred because they do not want to be stirred.