"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
The State of Saints Preaching Festival
WRITE-UP OF FESTIVAL MESSAGES
In a five-night spiritual festival October 13-17, 1986, the general subject of "The State of Saints" was expounded. Sessions were held at the meetinghouse of The Church at 78th and In· dependence, Merrillville, IN. Following is a synopsis of the remarks of each speaker.
THE FUNDAMENTALITY OF FAITH
Opening the festival on Monday night, October 13, was Fred O. Blakely with his message on "The Fundamentality of Faith." Salvation from sin, or acceptance by and fellowship with God, is the understood subject with which the faith con· templated in his topic has to do, he explained. Faith is both fundamental and indispensable to that benefit. Without it, accountable men are alienated from God. Their sins form a barrier between them and Him which only faith in the Father and the Son can surmount or penetrate.
The lost and "undone" situation of men (Isa. 6:5), and its utter dependence on faith for remedy, was succinctly set forth by Jesus, it was pointed out. "Except ye believe that I am He, ye shall die in your sins," and "whither I go ye cannot come" (Jn. 8:21, 24). Again, He declared that the world is condemned "because they believed not on Me" (Jn. 16:9; cf. ch. 3:18, 36). So also Paul: "Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6; cf. Eph. 2:8-9).
The Object of this essential faith lies wholly beyond the sphere of the physical senses, the speaker noted. Hence, the indispensability of believing, on the testimony of God's Word, without seeing, if the forgiveness of sins, with all its attendant blessings, is to be received (I Pet. 1:8-9). That simply means that, by believing the record God has given of His Son, men must in their spirit go "without the camp" of flesh and blood to lay hold of the salvation "that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24; Heb. 13:13). Unless they do that, they "cannot be saved" (Acts 27:31). That is because the means of such salvation are not "of the earth, earthy" (I Cor. 15:47); they are "from above," and heavenly (Jn. 8:23; 19:11).
Faith is, thus, the means that connects us with the saving and sanctifying provision and realities of God and His kingdom, it was continued. It gives "substance" to them in our hearts, and so saves the soul (I Pet. 1:9; Heb. 11:1). In other words, faith is the means by which we go to the "dinner" of salvation which God has prepared "before the face of," and for, "all people" (Mt. 22:4; Lk. 2:30-31). By it, we "take the cup of salvation" which God has provided through His beloved Son, and graciously extends to us (Ps. 116:12-13). That is to say, by faith we appropriate to ourselves the justifying blood of Christ (Rom. 3:23-25); are moved to the obedience that unites us with the Savior (Rom. 6:1-4); and so "put on Christ," the "robe of righteousness," or garment "of salvation" (Isa. 61:10; Gal. 3:26-27). So does faith constitute us "the children of God" (Gal. 3:26; cf. Jn. 1:11-13), and" Abraham's seed," or "the children of the promise," or God's elect (Rom. 9:8; Gal. 3:29).
From these considerations, it is evident that faith is the basic work which God has assigned for men to do, the speaker observed. That is precisely as Jesus declared: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom H:e hath sent" (Jn. 6:28-30; cf. Col. 2:12). The whole of our present spiritual benefits in Christ is held by faith, and all our hopes in Him for the future are contingent on our continuance therein. So is it written, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I Jn. 5:4).
In view of faith's fundamentalness and indispensability to salvation, not only the individual's primary work, but that of the church as well, is cut out, it was concluded. As regards the church's responsibility to the brethren, it is, by proclamation of God's Word, to constantly nurture their faith, edifying or building them up therein. Hence, the stress to that effect of Scripture (Jn. 21:15-17; I Cor. 14:12; Eph. 4:11-12, 16; I Th. 5:11; etc.).
"The church that is so occupied with other things that it does not feed God's sheep has abandoned them to the Devil and the world, and will certainly be judged by God as the unfaithful and recreant servant which it.is," the speaker remarked.
THE MAINTENANCE OF DIVINE FELLOWSHIP
Although God has provided the means therefor, man is charged with the responsibility of maintaining his fellowship with God, after it has been established by reception of the reconciliation accomplished for him by Christ. That was the representation of Albert G. Stoner, Jr., in his message of October 14 on "The Maintenance of Divine Fellowship." That has been the situation in all of the dispensations of God's relation to fallen man-Patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian--it was pointed out. Wherever men have "walked with God," it required faith and self-discipline on their part. The changes in dispensations, including that to the new-covenant one, did not abrogate the necessity of such maintenance by men of their fellowship with God.
Citing the exemplary cases of such ancients as Enoch, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and Isaiah, Brother Al had a challenging observation for his listeners. If, with their comparative scarcity of grace and truth, these men kept up their fellowship with God, what shall be said of and done with today's churchmen, who generally are seriously deficient in this respect, though so much more of God's grace and truth is available to them! "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required," it will be recalled Jesus said (Lk. 12:48).
After adducing some of the numerous scriptural references to men's walking with God, or to the devoted life as a walk, the speaker remarked upon the sense in which the term is used. It is figuratively employed to denote men's conduct, or lifestyle as they say nowadays. In its scriptural usage, walking with God stands for one's relation to God and his manner of life ordered in consequence of his fellowship with Him.
In the new-covenant era, such walk is referred to by different expressions, it was observed. It is to "mind the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5); "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (v. 4); abide in Christ (Jn. 15:4); continue in the faith (Col. 1:23); "walk by faith" (II Cor. 5:7); "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16); "walk in the light" (I Jn. 1:7); have and keep "the communion of the Holy Spirit" (II Cor. 13:14, ASV); etc. In other words, for one to walk with God is to remain in His fellowship, permitting Him to dwell in and express Himself through one.
The way that is done is by due use of the means of grace which God has abundantly provided, Brother Al reminded us. We keep ourselves in God's love and fellowship, as Jude says, by, among other things, building ourselves up on our "most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 20, ASV). It is done by also letting "the word of Christ" dwell in us "richly in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16); regular attendance at the Lord's table in the weekly assembly of the saints (Heb. 10:25); the denial of "ungodliness and worldly lusts," and sober, righteous, and godly living in "this present world," as we constantly look for and earnestly desire the coming of Christ (Tit. 2:11-14).
It is by our fellowship with God that our new life in Christ is maintained, and that we have our ability to overcome the world, it was pointed out. Our righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit is also had by that means (Rom. 14:17), as well as the desire and strength to continue and abound in the "good works" and other "work of the Lord," unto which we were "created in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 15:58; Eph. 2:10). The fellowship's maintenance is, thus, of crucial importance.
Brother Al pointed to some of Christ's parables as illustrative of the necessity of such maintenance. That of the ten virgins (Mt. 25:1-13), and of the vine and branches (Jn. 15:1-10), present the need from the subjective view. The individual must have the oil of fellowship with God and must be vitally connected with Christ the vine, if he as a branch is to bear fruit for God. The situation is objectively contemplated in the parable of the sower and the soils (Lk. 8:4-15). The "good ground" was that one which kept the word that had been received, and brought forth fruit "with patience" (v. 15). These and ethers of the Master's parables proclaim the essentiality of which the speaker treated, that of maintaining divine fellowship, it was noted.
The truth concerning the ·necessity with which his subject dealt clashes head-on with a number of prevalent errors in today's churchdom, the speaker pointed out. Among them is the grave fallacy of "once-saved-always-saved-regardless." Another gross error, the source of the first one, is that of full-blown Calvinism, which insists that God has already made the essential determinations for all men. In both cases, the certain tendency is to encourage relaxation of individual concern and effort, which Scripture everywhere represents as necessary for remaining in God's love and fellowship. Modern Pentecostalism is conducive to the same effect, it was added, since it has one spiritually subsisting by present sensible evidence of God's presence and approval, so eliminating the need to live and walk by faith.
Exhortations unto this Maintenance. In one of His final discourses, the Savior declared to His Apostles, and to us as well: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing" (Jn. 15:4-5). Again, John, the disciple, whom Jesus love, echoing those same words in his first epistle, declared: "And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming" (I Jn. 2:28).
THE FREEDOM IN CHRIST
"For freedom did Christ set us free; stand fast therefore [in that freedom], and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1, ASV).
With that as his text, Given 0. Blakely preached October 15 on "The Freedom in Christ." It is a comprehensive liberty, he stressed, spiritually freeing those who possess it from their bondage by nature. In order to have it, however, "the grace of God in truth" (Col. 1:6) must be perceived and fully received by faith. The extent to which one realizes the freedom for which Christ set him free will be in direct proportion to his perception of and submission to the gospel.
On the condition of this freedom's reception and retention, the speaker noted and corrected a widely-prevalent error. It is not a once-for-all-time act, as is insisted by the "once-saved-always-saved-notwithstanding" dogma, it was explained. The reconciliation accomplished by Christ, by which we are made free, is received by the individual through faith (which includes obedience to the gospel). But faith is a continuing function of the heart, not a one-time-only activity. All the new-covenant doctrine concerning once-for-allness has to do with the work of Christ in propitiating sin, it was pointed out. It is wrongly applied to men's appointed work of believing. The justified live by their faith, and as they must live every waking moment of their lives, they must constantly be believing.
The great declaration on the subject of liberty by the Lord Jesus Himself was, of course, brought forward. "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36). In fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of Him, Jesus Game to open "the prison to them that are bound," and "proclaim liberty to the captives;; (Isa. 61:1-3; cf. Lk. 4:17-21). This He did by His death for the world's sins, and His glorious resurrection and enthronement in heaven at God's right hand.
On the various elements of the freedom thus wrought by Christ, the Scripture is specific, Brother Given reminded us. Primarily, it is a freedom from sin, which is a universal enslaver of men. The Savior "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26), and "in Him is no sin" (I Jn. 3:5). Hence, those who are in Him are "free from sin" (Rom. 6:17-18; I Jn. 3:6). As we "stand fast" in that liberty, sin cannot "have dominion" over us (Rom. 6:14).
Closely related to the freedom from sin that we have in Christ is the liberty from the law of Moses as a means of justification; which law gave sin its power, the speaker continued. By our union with Christ ;n His death, we are "delivered from the law," with its impossible demands for justification (Rom. 7:4-6; Gal. 2:19-20). This is in order that we, "being dead to that wherein we were held" in bondage, might serve God "in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6). Thus, it is written, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" from the law (II Cor. 3:17). Again, "If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18; cf. Rom. 8:14). That is an essential part of Christian liberty which much of today's church desperately needs to experience, it was well remarked.
The freedom from the dominion of error which Christ imparts to us is another part of the "glorious liberty" now experienced by the children of God, we were reminded (Rom. 8:21). As we continue in His word, we "shall know the truth," He promised, "and the truth" shall make us free (Jn. 8:32). Hence, we need not be "taken captive" by Satan at his will (II Tim. 2:26), or succumb to "every wind of doctrine" that blows our way, or to "the sleight of men" and their "cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:14-15). In a time when error, both spiritual and moral, abounds on an unprecedented scale, the saints require to participate in this freedom from error available to them _in Christ, having their "loins girt about with truth" (Eph. 6:14), it was observed.
Other freedoms are, of course, included in the blessed liberty that is in Christ, it was recognized. These involve freedom from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15); freedom from the alienating power of a defiled conscience (chs. 9:12-14; 10:1-2); freedom from undue anxiety (Mt. 6:25-33; Phil. 4:6-7, 19); and freedom to serve God "without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him" (Lk. 1:74-75).
On "the perfect law of liberty," mentioned by James (Jas. 1:25; 2:12), a subject of much confusion in some religious circles, Brother Given had some good comments. Strictly speaking, it is not "the Bible" that is referred to, as is commonly taught. Objectively viewed, the "law" can be said to be the gospel, or the "freedom" for which Christ "set us free," per Paul, and as provided for in the gospel. Considered subjectively, the "perfect law of liberty" is the Divine will, written in the heart under the new covenant, and made possible by "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).
It is true that guidelines setting forth the "law's" requirements are contained in the Scriptures. But James's usage of the term involves an inward view of the Christian's state as liberated in Christ. Being in Him, we have been made free, given God's mind, and so are cheerfully-consenting servants of the Most High.
"All things," therefore, are "lawful" unto us, as Paul declares (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23). Our doing of them is restricted only by the Divine nature of which we partake. Possessing the mind of Christ, we "can do nothing against the truth." But, reconciled to the God of truth. we are, instead, always "for the truth" (II Cor. 13:7-8).
The "law" of our mind (Rom. 7:23, 25), or spirit (ch. 1:9), which is that of God written within us (II Cor. 3:3), is thus that "perfect law of liberty" by which we are to walk and be judged by God.
THE ROLE OF AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (II Cor. 5:20).
Although the role of ambassadorship for Christ was, of course, primarily that of the Apostles, it has been passed on to the church, as God's current representatives-Christ's body-on earth. Hence, we today who are identified with Christ are His ambassadors, or representatives, to the world. So declared Dean E. Boelt in his October 16 sermon on "The Role of Ambassadors for Christ."
A dictionary definition of the word "ambassador" was presented by the speaker as strikingly applicable to our role in that capacity. Such a one is "an agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his own government or sovereign." As the "sons of God" and His royal priests under Christ (I Pet. 2:9; I Jn. 3:1-2), we have the high rank, it was noted. The government and Sovereign which we represent are foreign in that they are "not of this world" (Jn. 17:14, 16; 18:36), and actually contrary to it in nature and objectives. Our status as official representatives derives from the fact that both the Father and the Son indwell us and express Themselves through us (Jn. 14:23; II Cor. 6:16). Thus, we function as "oracles" and emissaries of God (I Pet. 4:10-11).
The great task assigned to us as Christ's ambassadors, it was continued, is to make known the reconciliation of the world to God which He accomplished by His death and resurrection. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (II Cor. 5:19). That is the great good news of the gospel. "Christ died for our sins" (I Cor. 15:3), and as a result God will not impute them to us for condemnation (II Cor. 5:19). That is "the word of reconciliation" committed to the Apostles, and through them to us, to be "preached among all nations" (Lk. 24:27; II Cor. 5:19).
The gospel of their salvation having been preached ·to them (Eph. 1:13), we are to call upon and persuade people to receive that salvation (II Cor. 5:20). "Knowing the terror of the Lord" against those who "neglect so great salvation," as well as His saving love and grace, we (with Paul), "in Christ's stead," are to persuade men to be "reconciled to God" (II Cor. 5:11, 20; Heb. 2:3). God has ordained to save people by preaching (I Cor. 1:21). His word and grace are manifested thereby (Tit. 1:2-3). So this "ministry of reconciliation" is our first task as Christ's ambassadors (II Cor. 5:18).
A related function as Christ's ambassadors is that of earnest and diligent contenders for the faith which has been delivered to the saints, Brother Dean pointed out (Jude 3). This is a vital part of our work, since the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15). Christ and the Apostles set the example for us in this valiant work, and we are to unflinchingly follow their steps, as we are faced with the dire necessity of our day (I Pet. 2:20-21).
That necessity stems from the great religious confusion and moral corruption of the times, it was observed. As God's oracles, we are to recognize and clearly define the issues of the time, then bring God's truth to bear directly and forcefully upon them. Those who, for whatever reason, draw back from the discharge of this responsibility are unworthy of recognition as representatives of the God of truth. He has "no pleasure in them" (Heb. 10:38-39), and neither should we.
"Preach the word"; "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine," is the charge (II Tim. 4:2). "Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (ch. 2:3). Remember, "it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" to his charge (I Cor. 4:2), we were reminded.
In this ministry of God's truth and light to our befuddled and bedarkened generation, we are to speak with His authority, Brother Dean continued. That is done as we proclaim His Word and truth in the power of His Spirit. This lays upon the hearers responsibility to God. If ever there were a time when God needs to be authentically represented to a people, it is now, the speaker remarked.
When that is done, the matter is out of our hands, he continued. The reception or rejection of the message is regarded by Christ as of Himself, not us. "He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me," Jesus declared (Mt. 10:40). The same, of course, goes for those who reject God's truth proclaimed by us; they reject not us, but Him for whom we speak (Jn. 12:48).
In view of the exacting demands upon Christ's ambassadors, the Apostle's exhortation of them is highly relevant, Brother Dean noted. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (I Cor. 16:13). The "whole armor of God" is required, if we are to be faithful in our ambassadorship for Christ (Eph. 6:10-18).
The rewards for good stewardship of the trust far outweigh the considerable cost it entails, the speaker concluded. "Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when He cometh shall find so doing," Jesus said. "Verily, I say unto you, He shall make him ruler of all His goods" (Mt. 24:45-47).
THE KINGLY AND PRIESTLY CAPACITIES
In his message October 17 on the saints' "Kingly and Priestly Capacities," Floyd M. Coffman stressed three aspects of the subject. They were the uniqueness of that status, its great possibility for the service of God and man, and the weighty responsibility involved for those occupying the places.
The combined character of king and priest is peculiar to the new-covenant era, it was pointed out. Under the law, the offices were divided, with the king not being permitted to serve as priest, nor the priest to function as king. Examples of instances in which this restriction was violated were cited by the speaker.
One was that of King Saul's offering of sacrifices (I Sam. 13:8-14). "Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God," was Samuel's rebuke of the king (v. 13). Saul was told that his kingdom would not continue, as a result of his sin (v. 14). The other occasion was that of King Uzziah's disregard of the law by burning incense upon the golden altar (II Chr. 26:16-21). For that, he was stricken with leprosy by God.
In Jesus, however, the offices of king and priest, as well as that of Prophet, were combined, Brother Floyd pointed out. As to His occupying the king-priest office, it was prophesied by Zechariah, concerning "the Branch," who was then to come. "He shall be a priest upon His throne," and shall "sit and rule" thereon (Zech. 6:12-13). Since Jesus today sits at the right hand of His Father, as "High Priest over the house of God" and "the Prince of the kings of the earth," the prophecy is, of course, exactly fulfilled (Heb. 10:21; Rev. 1:5).
It is in virtue of this status of Christ as King and Priest that we have those distinctive offices, it was explained. We partake of His nature, being joined to Him. So are we, by Him, constituted "kings and priests unto God and His Father" (Rev. 1:5-6; cf. ch. 5:9-10). In our measure, it can be said of us in this connection, "As He is, so are we in this world" (I Jn. 4:17).
The advancement in position given to the saints, represented by their kingship and priesthood, is a striking portrayal of the betterness of the new covenant over all that went before, Brother Floyd noted. It reflects the progression in relation to God, and so of ability to function more diversely for Him, that is made possible in the era of regeneration. Being "the sons of God" (I Jn. 3:1-2), we are fitted for higher and wider ministries in Christ's Name.
Coming to the intended function of these combined kingdom positions, the speaker both encouraged and challenged us. We are not merely to marvel at the high status of kings and priests vouchsafed to us by our union with Christ. We are to use the capacities with which we are thus endowed, to the glory of God and the well-being of men. This most certainly can be done, it was added, as we rely implicitly upon our glorious Head and yield ourselves completely to His direction.
As king under "the King of kings and Lord' of lords" (Rev. 19:16), we are to be king in the sphere over which God has given us to now rule, it was pointed out. As Christ has "power over all flesh," being "the Head of all principality and power" (Jn. 17:2; Col. 2:10), so are we to exercise God's authority in our domain. "This commandment," it can be said of us, have we received from our Father: "Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies" (Ps. 110:2; Jn. 10:17-18).
The area of our rule is primarily that of our own spirit and life, it was explained. By God's grace, we are to have and maintain dominion over sin, the great enslaver of men (Rom. 6:14), as well as over our spirit (Prov. 16:32). That involves acute consciousness of our justification through Christ and the full use of God's sanctifying power in resisting temptation. As Christ, "by the eternal Spirit," offered Himself "without spot unto God" (Heb. 9:13-14), so may-and so should-we keep ourselves "unspotted from the world" and wholly consecrated to God (Jas. 1:27), perfecting holiness in His power.
In the sphere of outward conflict with 'the rulers of the darkness of this world" (Eph. 6:12), we are to reign by knowing and wielding God's truth, the speaker went on. As we take our stand for the truth, and proclaim it against the errors of our time, we are reigning over those holding and promulgating the errors, though they do not at the moment recognize it. In the final assize, such acknowledgment will be required.
In our capacity as priests, we (as did the Levitical priests and as does Christ, our High Priest) stand between God and men. Our work is to properly represent God to men, and to faithfully represent men to God, in their needs. The office also involves the offering up of "spiritual sacrifices," acceptable to God by Christ (I Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 13:15-16).
As it is written of deacons, so may it be said of the offices of kings and priests, Brother Floyd well concluded. They who use the position well "purchase to themselves a good degree" and great recompense in the world to come (I Tim. 3:13). When the great King and High Priest "shall appear," they shall receive "a crown of life," and be given greater areas of authority and rule (I Pet. 5:1-4; cf. Mt. 25:19-23; Lk. 19:15-19).
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).