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By Harry Ironside

Objection is often raised—even by some sound in the faith—regarding the exposure of error as being entirely negative and of no real edification. Of late, the hue and cry has been against any and all negative teaching. But the brethren who assume this attitude forget that a large part of the New Testament, both of the teaching of our blessed Lord Himself and the writings of the apostles, is made up of this very character of ministry—namely, showing the Satanic origin and, therefore, the unsettling results of the propagation of erroneous systems which Peter, in his second epistle, so definitely refers to as “damnable heresies.”

Our Lord prophesied, “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” Within our own day, how many false prophets have risen; and oh, how many are the deceived! Paul predicted, “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch” (Acts 20:29-31). My own observation is that these “grievous wolves,” alone and in packs, are not sparing even the most favored flocks. Undershepherds in these “perilous times” will do well to note the apostle’s warning:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers. (vs. 28)

It is as important in these days as in Paul’s—in fact, it is increasingly important—to expose the many types of false teaching that, on every hand, abound more and more.

We are called upon to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), while we hold the truth in love. The faith means the whole body of revealed truth, and to contend for all of God’s truth necessitates some negative teaching. The choice is not left with us. Jude said he preferred a different, a pleasanter them:

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3, 4).

Paul likewise admonishes us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

This does not imply harsh treatment of those entrapped by error—quite the opposite. If it be objected that exposure to error necessitates unkind reflection upon others who do not see as we do, our answer is: it has always been the duty of every loyal servant of Christ to warn against any teaching that would make Him less precious or cast reflection upon His finished redemptive work and the all-sufficiency of His present service as our great High Priest and Advocate.

Every system of teaching can be judged by what it sets forth as to these fundamental truths of the faith. “What think ye of Christ?” is still the true test of every creed. The Christ of the Bible is certainly not the Christ of any false “-ism.” Each of the cults has its hideous caricature of our lovely Lord.

Let us who have been redeemed at the cost of His precious blood be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” As the battle against the forces of evil waxes ever more hot, we have need for God-given valour.

There is constant temptation to compromise. “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). It is always right to stand firmly for what God has revealed concerning His blessed Son’s person and work. The “father of lies” deals in half-truths and specializes in most subtle fallacies concerning the Lord Jesus, our sole and sufficient Savior.

Error is like leaven of which we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). Truth mixed with error is equivalent to all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture, calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Christ died.

Exposing error is most unpopular work. But from every true standpoint it is worthwhile work. To our Savior, it means that He receives from us, His blood-bought ones, the loyalty that is His due. To ourselves, if we consider “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt,” it ensures future reward, a thousand-fold. And to souls “caught in the snare of the fowler”how many of them God only knows-it may mean light and life, abundant and everlasting.

 

Why is the Church Powerless?

Part 1: Missing the Connection

By Pastor Anton Bosch

Anyone who is half-honest will admit that the church of the 21st century is powerless when compared to the church in the first century and at other times of great blessing. The problem is that making such a statement is akin to saying the emperor has no clothes since most feel quite content with their situation.

I know generalizations are exactly that, and I also freely admit that there are differences between the church in the West and other places where there still is a visible sense of God moving amongst His people. In broaching this topic we also have problems with terms, so allow me to define what I do, and do not, mean by power.

Power is not measured in noise, hype or even large numbers, just as the “anointing” is not measured in shouting, sweat and spit. Power cannot be measured in statistics, budgets, buildings or programs. A telling statement comes from a Third-World believer after visiting churches in the West: “It is amazing what the church in the West has been able to achieve without the Holy Spirit.”[1]

Power must be defined by the Scripture itself, and the definitive text is Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

This promise of the Lord Jesus is made manifest by the disciples in the book of Acts as “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the

Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). This power is visible in sinners powerfully transformed, powerful preaching and, yes, powerful miracles. And yes, I am painfully aware that my own church and ministry fall into the category of the powerless!

The Greek word for “power” is dunamis. Many point out that the word “dynamite” stems from this word. While that is true, I do not believe that dynamite is what Jesus had in mind when He used this word, simply because

dynamite results in a huge explosion, the release of great power, and then destruction and silence in its wake. The word “dynamo” also comes from

the word dunamis. A dynamo generates a constant flow of (electrical) power. The dunamis of the Spirit should not result in a momentary explosion (as in some questionable “revivals”) but in a constant empowering from within –driving the individual and the church forward in the face of difficulties and attacks, empowering lives that powerfully witness to the power of the Gospel and the power of the Cross.

This stands in stark contrast to modern conversions that seem to be more about joining, behavior modeling, and superficial assimilation; preaching that is clever, eloquent and impressive, but that leaves the sinner and the rebel unconverted; and a reliance on medical science, hype and advertising as a replacement for miracles.

The decline in the manifestation of God’s power amongst His people cannot be ascribed to Cessationism, or Hyper-Dispensationalism. That there is a decline is beyond dispute, but the weakening of the church cannot have been part of God’s original design since the power of Acts 1:8 is intimately connected with the Great Commission, which has not yet been fulfilled. If the dunamis was specifically given to empower the witness of the church, and the Great Commission has not yet been withdrawn nor fulfilled, then the power must still be available.

Concerning the gifts, Harry Ironside said:

There are commentators who insist that some of

these gifts have absolutely disappeared, but I do not

know of any Scripture portion that tells us that. I

do not know of any passage that says that the age of

miracles has passed and I would not dare to say that

the sign gifts all ended with Paul’s imprisonment. I

know from early church history that this is not

true… Therefore I do not think it is correct to take

the position that these sign gifts have necessarily

disappeared from the church. I do, however, believe

that many of the gifts are not often seen today, and

I think there is good reason for that. In 2

Corinthians 11:2 the apostle wrote, “I have

espoused you… as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Paul

was writing to a separated company, the affianced

bride of the Lamb, and it was the delight of the

blessed risen Lord to lavish upon her gift after gift.

The Corinthians “[came] behind in no gift,”…

However, it seems to me that we can see in the

book of Acts that as time went on and the church

began to drift a little, and as dissension and other

things that grieved the Lord arose, there was more

reserve on His part in bestowing gifts. That, I

believe, explains the lack of many of these gifts

today. The church has gotten so far away from what

she should be and there is so much strife, division,

worldliness, and carnality that the Lord no longer

delights in lavishing His gifts as freely as He did in

the beginning.[2]

 

Before I continue I also need to make it clear that while we are solely responsible for our anemic state, God remains sovereign, and we cannot manufacture a revival by applying a formula by which God then becomes obliged to fulfill our wishes.

In a church I recently visited I was rebuked by an elder for not believing that we could absolutely bring about a revival as long as we simply prayed and believed hard enough![3] But we cannot control, manipulate or force God into doing anything. At best, we can simply obey Him and then trust Him to do what He alone wills. The revivalist who touts various formulas for revival is no different than the prosperity teacher, who believes we can bribe God to prosper him, or the Word of Faith evangelist, who believes that God is subject to his faith. To all these God simply becomes a puppet on a string that dances to the tunes of men.

But, at the same time, it is very evident that we can do much that would hinder the work of the Spirit and that would prevent the Lord from pouring out His blessings on us. One of the misconceptions taught during the last century is the idea that the Holy Spirit and the attendant power is a gift and, since a gift cannot be earned, God will pour His Spirit on anyone who asks, irrespective of the individual or church’s spiritual condition. Thus there have been accounts of unbelievers, drunkards, and other vile persons “filled with the Spirit”.

This is not the truth. There are clear conditions set for the receipt of the power of God.

Conditions to the Outpouring of the Spirit:

God does not give His Spirit to those who are disobedient to the Divine will. The Bible does not teach that God will bless and empower those who are disobedient but, on the contrary, there is a clear connection between our obedience and God’s blessings in general, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit in particular:

“… the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts

5:32).

Obedience obviously covers a huge area and would include things like holiness, obedience in ministry, and obedience to any of the many commands contained in the New Testament. The prime reason for a lack of power in the lives of individuals and churches is clear when one looks at the general disobedience so prevalent in churches today.

In John 14:15-16, Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” Jesus Himself predicates the giving of the Spirit on loving Him, and the consequent obedience that flows from such love.

Believers that love themselves, the world, pleasure, ease and comfort are clearly excluded from this promise, as are those who do not love Him sufficiently to obey Him.

These two principles – love and obedience – cover everything else. But under these main principles there are a number of other more specific conditions.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Notice again the conjunction “and” which indicates that receiving the Holy Spirit will happen once the conditions had been met. Baptism here is symbolic of obedience. However, repentance seems to be the first condition.

By repentance Peter was referring to two main areas in which repentance is necessary. We need to repent from religion void of the Cross. Peter was preaching to religious Jews but calls them to repent from their religiosity and to believe on the Lord Jesus. But clearly implied in the word “repent” is repentance from any form of sin and disobedience.

It is interesting that all great and true revivals are always accompanied and preceded by deep sorrow for, and repentance from, sin. The notion that the Lord will give His Spirit to a rebellious, sinful and unrepentant heart is utterly contrary to both Scripture and the holiness of God.

Also, leaders cannot demand that their followers repent if they themselves are not truly broken before God.

The connection between obedience, sanctification, and the presence of God is illustrated in Exodus 40:18-38 where the Tabernacle is a type of the individual believer, and also of the church.[4]

The text explains the final erection of the tabernacle and between verses 19-32; it says seven times that Moses did everything “as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Repeating that many times that Moses did as He was commanded is highly significant. Following these seven repetitions, verse 33 says: “So Moses finished the work.”

This statement is immediately followed by: “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, emphasis mine).

Note the clear connection between Moses’ obedience, completing the work as he had been commanded, and the descent of the Glory of the Lord.

One of the very real reasons the believer and the church are powerless is because of our disobedience and sin. God will simply not anoint our disobedience, laziness and sin. Many who desire the power of God in their lives, ministries, and churches also do not have it because they want it for the wrong reasons:

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).

Some want God’s power to make them look good, others want power over people, and others want power so their churches can grow for selfish reasons. While any reason other than the Lord’s will is bad, nothing is worse than those who want God’s power so they can make money out of it. This is not new.

Simon the sorcerer seemed to be motivated by ego and money, and was even willing to offer money to purchase the gift of God (Acts 8).

Even without the real anointing of God, there is still good money to be made in selling books, videos and conferences on revival. If the peddlers of such books were serious about wanting revival they would give the books away. Yet it is a lucrative segment of the Christian market.

Amazon.com lists over 1500 titles on “revival” and over 6200 on “renewal.”[5]

The Lord will never bless our greed, lust for power, or desire for the honor of men. The thousands of prayers going up every day for power for the sake of power are a stench in the nostrils of God and will forever go unanswered.

Only the desire for more of Him, and not just His gifts, will be answered. Once again there is little difference between those who follow the Lord for financial riches and those who follow Him for spiritual gifts – both are rooted in selfishness, a lack of gratitude for the Cross, and lack of true love for the Lord.

Those who have a pure motive pray that they may be consumed, broken and humbled in order to gain more of the Lord. They understand that when God’s fire falls, all of the flesh must be consumed. They are not only willing to pay that price, but they desire the loss of all that they may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Only those with the right motive pray John’s prayer: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Part 2: Blessed are the Thirsty

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…” (Isaiah 55:1)

In addition to the need for obedience and holiness, our attitude also affects whether or not the Lord will pour His Spirit on us. The only attitude the Lord blesses and anoints is that of humility, brokenness and utter dependency on Him.

Just as those who are well do not need the physician, so are those who are self-sufficient. They feel they can make God do what they want and have no need the Lord’s power. Yes, they ask for the Lord’s blessing, but they do not really want it since deep down they feel quite adequate to do things for themselves. To make their situation worse, not only does God not support them in their self-sufficiency, but He is actually opposed to them: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

The problem is that if you feel you are humble then, by definition, you are not! Only those who recognize their pride have any chance of finding true humility, and thus receive the Lord’s blessing.

In the Beatitudes Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

(Matthew 5:3). The state of poverty of spirit is not only critical to receiving the Kingdom, but is vital to receiving anything from the Lord. Of course, all are poor, and there is no one who has anything to boast about (Romans 3:23). But the problem is that very few recognize their poverty and how much they need the Lord. This applies to every area of the Christian life, whether it is the sinner who recognizes his need for a Savior or the believer who understands that he has no strength in himself.

Sadly, the spirit of our age is that of the church of Laodicea which boasted, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” but of which the Lord said, “[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

It seems most believers and churches are quite content in their lukewarmness and, like Laodicea, “do not know” how spiritually bankrupt they really are. Like the blind person who compensates for his disability though attuned senses of hearing and feeling, so the church compensates for its spiritual poverty through programs and hype. Like the bankrupt businessman who distorts his accounts and spends lavishly to hide his poverty, the church changes the way it evaluates its spiritual state and embarks on propaganda campaigns to speak of the “great blessing”.

Living in a false state of security and comfort is an old scam of false prophets: “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11).

In like manner church leaders assure their congregations that they can see when they are blind, that they are rich when they are poor and that they are healthy when they are sick unto death!

Paul had learned that the real secret to power was not becoming more charismatic but realizing his great need and utter dependence on the Lord:

“And He said to me… My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:9-10).

May we, too, face our desperate need, and may it drive us to Him Who alone has any strength.

The first Beatitude (poor in spirit) inevitably leads to the second: “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Once we see ourselves the way we really are (the way the Lord sees us) it must lead to a great sorrow over our emptiness and lack of power and blessing. But no church wants to be in mourning– we all want to be celebrating and speaking joyfully about the non-existent “move of God” amongst us. Yet there is nothing more inappropriate than being joyful when mourning is required, and I see no reason for cheerfulness amongst the vast majority of churches today.

The gross sin in the church of Corinth should have reduced them to tears and repentance but instead they felt quite good about themselves (1Corinthians 5:2).

So, too, the powerlessness of modern Christians should bring them to a state of mourning over what has been lost, or never found. But rather there seems to be a general state of euphoria in spite of our utter poverty.

Mourning of a godly kind leads to comfort (Matthew 5:4). There is no better way to be comforted than through the comfort (strengthening) of the Comforter.

Just as knowledge of our poverty leads to mourning, so mourning will inevitably lead to hungering and thirsting: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

This beatitude speaks of thirsting for righteousness but the principle also applies to the Holy Spirit. Jesus also said: “‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (John7:37-39).

It begins with thirsting. If there is no acknowledgement of our great thirst, no awareness of our poverty, no sorrow over our spiritual bankruptcy and sin, then there will be no drinking at the Living Fountain. Yet churches are kept artificially satisfied through endless programs, events, entertainment and feel-good pep talks. They are dying of thirst but don’t even know it. It seems that the leaders are in cahoots with the devil to keep people from being divinely dissatisfied, remaining unaware that they are spiritually hungry and thirsty, lest they turn to the Lord Jesus for satisfaction.

In defense of leaders, many feel they must keep people happy to prevent them from going to the next church. Meanwhile the people don’t understand that the

solutions are not in the church down the street, but in the Lord Jesus alone.

Oh, that we would just recognize that the void within cannot be filled with more meetings, mindless entertainment, or anything else the world, or a worldly church, has to offer, but that God through His Spirit alone can satisfy the deep longing within. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalms 42:1-2).

“O GOD, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Psalms 63:1).

Thirsting must drive us to Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).

Jesus, and not the pastor, conference or Internet, is the source. How often when we thirst do we inevitably run to the counselors so they can affirm us, assure us that everything is okay, and tell us that there is no need to be stressed. When young Samuel first heard the Lord’s call he ran to Eli who assured him that he was not being called and told him to return to sleep. Every day pastors just as spiritually blind as Eli shush believers to sleep, assuring them that there is indeed no voice from heaven.

Pastors, prophets and visiting evangelists are not dispensers of the Spirit. Jesus alone is, and it is to Him alone we must turn and cry to be filled to overflowing. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (Revelation 21:6).

In coming to the Lord Jesus there is a need to wait (tarry) until we receive what we need. In Luke 11 Jesus teaches on the need for persistence in prayer (the man asking bread from his neighbor). He then tells us to ask and keep on asking, to seek and keep on seeking, and to knock and keep on knocking, which He then relates to the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).

The message is clear; we need to ask until we receive. The problem is that most believers ask a few times, and maybe for a few minutes, and when they do not receive, they move onto the next thing on their agenda. Yet, it is clear from Luke 11 that we need to be persistent.

Jacob understood this principle when he wrestled with the Angel at the brook and said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:26). I do not see that kind of persistent wrestling with God anymore. Our instant religion has made us believe that if we don’t get what we want immediately and easily then we just need to move on to the next fast-food place or item on the menu. But God is not into fast food nor is He into instant gratification. It is not because He does not want to bless us, but because He knows we are fickle and often not really serious about our need for His blessing.

When He does not respond immediately, and we simply stop wrestling with Him, he says: “See, I did not give it to you because I knew you were not desperate and by giving up after five minutes of prayer you have proven that you are not serious about this.”

Just before Jesus ascended, “He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father…” (Acts 1:4). Previously, he had commanded them to go into the entire world, but now He told them not to move until they had received the Promise. They would wait for ten days and then, at the appointed time (when the day had fully come – Acts 2:1), the Promise was fulfilled.

I have often wondered what would have happened had they given up after a week or nine days. Ten days is a long time to wait, and others have waited even longer. Yet most believers cannot wait ten minutes, let alone ten hours, ten days or ten years. Unfortunately many Christians are like King Saul, who could not wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice and so resorted to taking matters into his own hands, thus incurring the wrath of the Lord (1Samuel13).

As we persist in prayer, as we wait on the Lord, He in due time, will hear us and will pour out His blessing. Even if He does not, the time waiting on Him is not wasted but is precious, refreshing and empowering:

“He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. ” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

Endnotes:

[1] The origin of this statement is unknown but is variously attributed to

a Chinese and African believer.

[2] HA Ironside – Commentary on 1Corinthians 12 – 1938.

[3] In spite of these leaders regarding themselves as experts on revival

this church is literally falling apart at the seams. The less than a dozen

people are divided and bullied by the leaders who constantly berate them

for their lack of prayer, faith and results. The leaders are directly

responsible for this sad state of affairs, yet are arrogant and abusive as

they blame the church for failure for which they are personally

responsible.

[4] The Tabernacle is primarily a type of Jesus, but also of the church

and the believer.

[5] Searched by “Christian revival” and “Christian renewal” in order to

filter out secular books containing the terms “revival” or “renewal.”

 

Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside

Pastor Harry A. Ironside

Chapter 9 – REPENTANCE IN THE APOCALYPSE

The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ fittingly closes the volume of Holy Scripture. It deals with both the present age and the coming era, climaxing all God’s ways with man, and bringing before us the eternal issues of the long conflict between good and evil. It is the Lord’s last word to mankind until the voice of the returning Saviour is heard from the heavens, calling His redeemed to meet Him in the air, preparatory to taking His great power in order that the kingdoms of the world may become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. And, significantly enough, it contains a most urgent summons to repentance. In fact, the call to repent is found seven times in the letters to the seven churches, and four times we are told of men whom God had visited in grace and in judgment who repented not, and thus refused to give Him glory.

Time was when comparatively very few Christians paid much attention to the book of Revelation. As a result of the great revival of Bible study in our day, however, this is no longer so evident. Ministers and people are now studying the Apocalypse, eagerly seeking to find in it some explanation of the present difficult times and some clear light on the impending future.

Many believe that in the letters to the seven churches God has not only given a message that had a direct, literal application to the assemblies named in John’s day, but that there is a hidden, prophetic meaning in them, outlining in a very striking way the state of the church from apostolic days to the end of its testimony on earth. All, however, are not agreed as to this.

But one thing is very evident, and that is, that in these letters the Lord has given us a diagnosis of every state or condition in which His churches may be found at any time throughout the Christian epoch.

Looked at in this way, we see in Ephesus a thoroughly orthodox church that has failed because it has left the freshness of its first love. Smyrna is a suffering church, true to Christ despite persecution and poverty. Pergamos is a worldly church, yet reasonably sound in doctrine, though tolerating much that is very unsound in practice. In Thyatira superstition and gross immorality prevail, save among a very small minority who grieve over conditions, but do not seem able to remedy them. Sardis is cold and formal, with very little evidence of divine life, though even in it a few are found whose garments are undefiled. Philadelphia is a true Bible church, where the authority of the Lord is owned and His name revered. Consequently there is an open door for testimony and faithfulness is manifested in maintaining the truth of God. Laodicea is lukewarm and latitudinarian. Its members play fast and loose with eternal verities and, while professing to have Christ in their midst, He is actually seen outside the door.

Now to all of these churches there comes the voice of the Lord, declaring, “I know thy works.” Everything is open to His searching gaze. It is noticeable that in each letter the order is the same: First, the Lord presents Himself in some special way suited to the spiritual condition of the church addressed. Second, He gives His own diagnosis of the state of that particular assembly. Third, there is a special exhortation or warning, as needed in each case. Fourth, we have the promise to the overcomer and the summons to harken. In the first three letters, however, the call to hear precedes the promise. It is the opposite in the last four. That there is a divine reason for this is evident, but it need not detain us at the present time.

In five out of the seven letters we find the exhortation to repent. Smyrna and Philadelphia are both without rebuke, so there is no such command given to them. Let us note carefully, however, what is said to the other five.

Ephesus is rebuked because of having left her first love. Orthodox to the core, this church seemed to pride itself on its jealousy for fundamentals. But there may be great zeal for doctrinal standards where there is very little manifestation of the love of the Spirit. It is a grievous mistake to suppose that the Lord delights in correct dogma and ignores the lack of love. A cold, hard, censorious devotion to a creed, however correct, will never make up for lack of brotherly kindness and a tender Christlike spirit. So we get the exhortation, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (2:5). How affecting and solemn is this! It is not a question of one who has been a Christian losing his soul, but of a church that once witnessed boldly for Christ now in danger of losing its testimony.

Mere doctrinal correctness is not enough to keep the Gospel light brightly burning. It is as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that our words count with others. Emerson said once, “What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.” And an inconsistent, un-Christlike church will cause the world to turn in scorn from its message. So the Lord calls for repentance. That this is more than a mere change of opinion is evident, for He adds, “and do the first works.” He would have them turn from their supercilious self-satisfaction to the love and earnestness of their early days, when He Himself was precious to their souls and for love of Him they could toil and suffer that others might know Him too. Surely to many of us today the same call comes, coupled with the warning that unless there be a new attitude, a turning back to the Lord in contrition and confession, He will take away the candlestick, and we shall be useless so far as witnessing for Him in a dark world is concerned.

The condition of the Pergamos church is even worse. For there positively evil things were tolerated and unholy alliances formed, which were an affront to the One they professed to serve. Again comes the call to repent. Note the words, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (v. 16). What a solemn alternative! Repent, or I will fight against thee! He cannot tolerate unjudged iniquity in His professed people. He will be sanctified in them that come nigh Him. To boast of salvation by grace while living in sin is detestable to Him. The sword of His mouth is His Word. That Word is positively against all who make a pretence of godliness while walking in unholy ways.

Could anything be more needed today than such a message as this? Is not the church in many places dwelling comfortably on Satan’s throne, settled down in the world, with no thought of separation to Christ? Balaam of old taught Balak that, if he could break down the wall of separation between his own wicked Moabites and Israel, their own God would have to punish them for their backslidings. The iniquity of Baal-Peor accomplished what Balaam’s attempt to curse could not do. It is indeed a serious matter when the Lord has to take sides, as it were, against His people. But He refuses to condone sin in His saints. Surely we all need to heed the call to repent.

When we turn to consider the Thyatira church we are confronted with conditions so grave and wickedness so shocking that we might naturally hesitate to recognize it as a church of God at all. Yet the Lord addresses it as such. It bore His name. It professed to represent Him in the world. Yet it condoned iniquitous practices that were below the level of ordinary decency. On the other hand, this church had once been characterized by love and devotion of an unusually high order, and there were in it still a faithful remnant who mourned over its fallen condition and who were as the salt preserving it from utter corruption.

Are there not many such churches at the present time? Is it not true that in scores of instances known evil of the vilest kind is tolerated in Christian communities, and no attempt made to cleanse the leprous house? How often have wealth and prominence protected wrongdoers and seemingly made it impossible to deal with them, lest whole families be disgraced or the church be actually disrupted. But desperate diseases require drastic treatment. The voice of God is still calling to repentance. Until there be a changed attitude toward unholy practices there can be no blessing.

In Thyatira there was open immorality, and that of the most revolting type. Like the licentious orgies of the heathen Nature worshippers, it was often practiced under the guise of pretended piety. That wicked princess Jezebel, who brought her hateful Phoenician idolatry over to Israel and grafted it into the perverted worship of Jehovah, is used as the symbol of what had crept into this church. Degrading and revolting behavior was thus linked with the holy Name of Christ.

It had gone so far, and the proponents of this corruption had been so persistent and so determined, that the Lord says, “I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds” (Rev. 2:21-22). The last words indicate that there was hope still. He had not utterly rejected them. But blessing and restoration were conditioned upon repentance. How marvellous is the long-suffering of the grieved and offended Spirit of God. And if today the churches would heed the call, and repent, honestly facing every wicked thing in the light of the Word of God, there would come, we may be sure, revival and renewal that would make the once powerless assemblies a living witness for Christ in the world.

In the church in Sardis we see a very different condition prevailing. There all is outwardly correct. There is no intimation that vile practices of any kind were being tolerated. But all is cold and formal. It is the respectability of spiritual death. Yet it is evident there was a time when this church was aflame with passionate devotion to Christ. Hence the admonition, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Rev. 3:3).

One thinks of many churches founded in revival days or reformation times where the light of truth shone brightly and the members were marked by intense zeal and energy. Evangelizing the lost and building up believers were characteristic under a Spirit-filled ministry that made such churches centers of blessing for miles around. But little by little all this has been changed. Formality has taken the place of living power. Coldness has succeeded the old time spiritual fervor. Academic pulpiteering has displaced the Bible preaching of the olden days. And smug self-complacency now holds sway where once deep concern for the souls of others was manifest.

O that in such former strongholds of evangelicalism and active evangelism there might be a great turning to God, a repentance that would again fill nearly vacant prayer rooms and bring the churches to their knees in brokenness of spirit until God should open the windows of heaven and pour out life-giving showers to revive the barren wastes and give the world to see again a mighty movement of His Holy Spirit.

“Revive Thy work, O God,
Disturb this sleep of death.
Quicken the smoldering embers, Lord,
By Thine Almighty breath.”

Such a revival is sorely needed, but it can only come in the wake of sincere repentance.

With the church in Philadelphia the Lord finds no fault. He commends it for its faithfulness and promises rich reward, so we find here, as in the letter to Smyrna, no call to repent.

But it is otherwise with lukewarm Laodicea. Another has remarked that “a lukewarm state is not a passing from cold to hot, but from hot to cold” (Russell Elliot, in A Last Message). And this is what has so often taken place. Moreover, it is a state easy to fall into. Most of us realize that true, spiritual fervor is maintained only where there is a constant sense of our weakness and the need of much prayer and of nourishing the soul upon the Word of God. If private devotion be neglected we will soon become lukewarm, and the church itself is just what its members make it. These Laodiceans did not seem to know that their condition called for any rebuke. Like Israel in Hosea’s day it could be said, “Gray hairs are here and there upon him, but he knoweth not.” Like Samson, their strength had departed and they wist it not. Backsliding begins so insidiously that one may get far from God in heart and mind before some terrible failure reproves and arouses him. Hence the need of constant watchfulness.

The believer out of fellowship with God may be quite satisfied for a time, boasting of being rich and increased with goods and needing nothing. Yet all the while the Lord detects the sad lack of practically everything that makes for vital godliness. In His grace He sends trial and affliction to draw the wayward heart back to Himself. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (3:19). No halfway measures will do. There must be positive, earnest endeavor to trace the evil to its source and to take the right attitude toward it and to the One who has been so grievously wronged. For He stands outside the door — and mark, it is the door of the church, not merely of the individual — knocking and seeking restoration of fellowship. The door is unlatched only by repentance; it can be opened in no other way. So long as there is pride and arrogancy He remains outside, for He has said, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2). He delights to dwell with those who fear Him and cleave to His truth, but he knoweth the proud afar off.

How touchingly He speaks to His disciples, as recorded in John 14:23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” It has often been pointed out that the word translated “abode” here is the same as that translated “mansions” in verse 2. He has gone back to the glory to prepare an abiding place for us. Meantime the Father and the Son delight to find an abiding place in the hearts of the redeemed while still in this wilderness-world.

Oh, the shame of keeping Him outside the door! Like the bridegroom in the Song He cries, “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night” (Cant. 5:2). But we coldly slumber on, or if barely awakened find some flimsy excuse for not giving Him admittance.

“Be zealous therefore, and repent.” Conditions are worse than we know. Lethargy and drowsiness have blunted our sensibilities. The hour is late. The end of the age draws on. And we are indifferent and lukewarm still. Repentance, if it be worth while, must come soon. Otherwise it will be too late, and He will say of us as of Thyatira, “I gave her space to repent … and she repented not.”

Oh, what God might yet do with a truly repentant church, aflame with loving devotion to her adorable Lord!

Mr. Sunday, the eccentric evangelist so recently gone to his reward, used to relate a graphic story of a well known village atheist who was seen running vigorously to a burning church building intent on joining with others in subduing the flames. A neighbor observing him, exclaimed facetiously, “This is something new for you! I never saw you going to church before.” The atheist replied, “Well, this is the first time I have ever seen a church on fire.” Who can tell how many might be drawn to the people of God if they were only on fire for Christ and burning with zeal to win the lost?

“O kindle within us a holy desire
Like that which was found in Thy people of old,
Who valued Thy love and whose hearts were on fire,
While they waited in patience Thy face to behold.”

A lukewarm church is a powerless church. There is nothing about it to make unsaved men believe its testimony is worth while. But a church characterized by fervent love for Christ, and energetically reaching out after the lost makes an impression even upon the most ungodly that it is hard to ignore. When the churches themselves heed the command to repent and get right with God, we may expect to see repentant sinners flocking to their altars.

[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]

Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside

Pastor Harry A. Ironside

Chapter 2 – THE BOOK OF REPENTANCE

“Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11).

If asked to give the primary theme of the Book of Job in one word, I should reply, “Repentance.” As Genesis is the book of Election, Exodus of Redemption, Leviticus of Sanctification, Numbers of Testing, and Deuteronomy of the Divine Government, so Job, possibly written by the same human author and at about the same time, is distinctively the book of Repentance. I know all will not agree with me as to this. Most, perhaps, will insist that the outstanding theme of this ancient drama is, Why do the godly suffer? or something akin to this. But they mistake the secondary for the primary theme when they so insist. Unquestionably this book was divinely designed to settle for all time — and eternity too — the problem of why a loving and all-wise God permits the righteous to endure afflictions such as those from which the wicked are ofttimes shielded. But behind all this there is another and a deeper problem; it is the evil in the hearts of the best of men and the necessity of judging oneself in the light of the holiness of God; and this is repentance.

To illustrate this theme in such a way as to make evident to every man the importance and necessity of repentance, God takes up the case of Job, the patriarch of the land of Uz, and gives us in detail an account of the process that led him at last to cry, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

How different is God’s method from the one we would naturally follow! If I had to write a book on repentance, and I wanted a character to illustrate properly this great subject, I fancy I would select a very different man from Job. If searching through the Holy Scriptures for such an illustration I might possibly think of David — so highly exalted, so greatly blessed — yet who in a moment of weakness and unwatchfulness fell into so grave a sin and afterwards repented so bitterly. The sobbings of his heartfelt penitence and self-reproach, as breathed out in the divine ear in the language of Psalm 51, is indeed the classical passage on the repentance of a child of God who has failed.

Or I might select Manasseh, the ungodly son of a most pious father, whose horrid vices and unmentionable wickednesses dragged the name of Hezekiah into the dust and brought grave reproach upon the honor of the God of Israel. And yet Manasseh was brought at last to repentance and humbled himself before God, and was eventually saved in answer probably to that dishonored father’s prayers offered so long before. What a fine picture of a truly repentant soul does Manasseh present as he bows low before the throne of God confessing his manifold transgressions and seeking forgiveness for his scarlet sins.

Or I might turn to the New Testament and endeavor to tell again the story of Saul of Tarsus, blameless indeed outwardly before the Law, but a bitter persecutor of the church of God until the risen Christ appeared to him, as he fell stunned and blinded by “the glory of that light,” on the Damascus turnpike, crying when convinced of his error, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” His after life proved the sincerity of his repentance and the depth of his contrition.

Or if one turned from the pages of holy writ to those of history and biography, he might cite the repentance of the man of the world as seen in Augustine of Hippo or Francis of Assisi, the genuinely changed profligate, or as in the cases of John Bunyan, Ignatius Loyola, John Newton, or, in our own times, of Jerry McAuley, the river thief. In each of these men, when brought into the presence of God, we have a change of attitude indeed that lasted through life.

But if any or all of these were cited as illustrations of the necessity of repentance, how many there would be to say: ‘Yes, we quite realize such men needed to repent. Their sins were many, their wickedness great. It was right and proper for them to repent in the agony of their souls. But I, thank God, am not as they. I have never gone into such depths of sin. I have never manifested such depravity. I have not so far forgotten what is right and proper. I am a just man needing no repentance.’ Do you say that none would literally use such language as this? Perhaps not, yet the spirit of it, the inward sense of the words, has often been uttered in my own hearing, and I am persuaded in the ears of many others of God’s ministers.

Now, in order that none may so speak, when we turn to this ancient book in our Bibles, we find that God searched the world over, not for the worst man, but for the best, and He tells us his strangely pathetic story and shows how that good man was brought to repentance — that thus “every mouth might be stopped,” and all the world of men might be brought in guilty before Him. For if a man of Job’s character must needs repent, what shall be said of me, and of you, who come so far behind him in righteousness and integrity and have sinned so deplorably and come so far short of the glory of God? Can you not see then the wisdom of Jehovah in selecting such a man to show forth the need that all men should repent?

Consider then the case of Job. A wealthy Oriental sheik, apparently, he lived in the days before the knowledge of God had been lost, though it is evident that idolatry, particularly the worship of the heavenly bodies, already had supplanted in places the older worship. For, be it remembered, paganism is not a step upward in the evolution of religion from the lowest fetichism to pure monotheism. It is rather a declension, as Romans 1 shows us. Men turned from the living and true God to these vain idols, and “for this cause God gave them up” to all sorts of unclean practices. But Job had escaped all this. He was perfect in his behavior, upright in all his ways, one who reverenced God and detested iniquity.

In the first and second chapters we get a remarkable revelation of things in the unseen world. Job is the subject of a conversation between God and Satan, the accuser of the brethren who accuseth them before our God day and night. The Lord challenges Satan, asking, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth … one that fears God and eschews evil?” Remark, Job was all that God said he was — a saint, a man of faith, a true child of God. This book gives us, then, not the repentance of a sinner, but the repentance of a saint.

Satan denies the truthfulness of the divine estimate of Job and particularly declares that Job does not love and reverence the Lord for what He is in Himself, but for what Job received at His hand. To prove the contrary, the devil is permitted to wrest from the patriarch all that he possessed. Instead of renouncing God, Job exclaims, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Thus far Satan is defeated, but he is relentless.

On a second occasion he reiterates his implication that Job does not love God because of what He is, but because he really loves his own life most and recognizes that he is indebted to God for it. Permission is given Satan to put his corrupting hand on Job’s body, filling it with a loathsome disease, so that death is really to be preferred to life. In his dire extremity, as he sits mournfully in the ash heap scraping the horrid filth from his open sores with a piece of pottery, when even his wife bids him renounce God, he rises triumphantly above his very great trial, exclaiming, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” He glorifies God in the fires. Satan is defeated. Jehovah has made manifest the fact that this man is loyal to Him and loves Him for Himself alone, and not simply for His gifts. It is a marvelous thing thus to find one to whom God means more than all earthly possessions, yea, than life itself.

Thus the first scene ends with Satan baffled and defeated. In what follows we need to remember that Job knew nothing of that which had transpired in the unseen world. Had he done so, he would never have gotten into the deep perplexity that ensued after his friends came with their bitter accusations against his character.

In the next part of the book God has another object in view altogether. Job was a good man. He was altogether righteous, as God Himself knew and declared. But Job knew it too — knew it so well that he did not realize the actual corruption of his own heart. And after all, it is what a man is by nature that counts, not simply what he does. To repress one’s nature is one thing; to be free of inbred sin altogether is quite another. Job’s life had been such that he had apparently forgotten that he was as sinful in himself as any other, though wonderfully preserved by divine grace. God therefore designed to bring this good man to repentance, to give him to realize that his nature was vile, though his life had been so well regulated, so that thus he might magnify the loving-kindness of the One who had made him His own.

So Job’s three friends, all men of importance like himself, came to condone with him. Each proved true to his own clearly indicated character. Eliphaz of Teman was distinctly the man of experience. An observant student of natural law, he again and again declares, “I have seen.” Bildad of Shuah was the typical traditionalist. Ask the fathers, he says; they are wiser than we. They shall teach thee. Zophar of Naamah was the cold, hard legalist who considered that God weighed out calamity in exact proportion to man’s sin, and dispensed mercies only according to human desert.

For seven days and nights they encamped around the stricken Job, their grief and his too deep for words. But though they spake not, they thought much. Why had these calamities befallen their friend? Could they be other than punishment for hidden sin? Was it not inconceivable that a good God, a faithful Creator, could allow such affliction to come undeserved? Their accusing eyes uttered silently what their lips at first refused to speak.

Job could not stand those eyes. His soul writhed under their implied suggestions that he was suffering for wickedness hitherto concealed. At last he “opened his mouth, and cursed his day,” and vehemently declared his innocence and besought the sympathy of his friends. Then came the long debate. Again and again they charged him with hypocrisy, with overindulgence toward his children, which had brought their ruin, with hidden sin of vicious character, which God was dealing with. They begged him to confess his iniquities and thus give God a chance to show him mercy.

Sturdily, honestly, sometimes ironically, Job answered them, denying their accusations, assuring them of his confidence in God, though admitting his sore perplexity. He even went so far as to declare that, if their philosophies were right, then God was unjust in His dealings with him. At last they were silenced when by his final speech he met all their accusations and vigorously maintained his own righteousness. In three chapters (29, 30, and 31) he used the pronouns “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine” 189 times. But this was before he saw the Lord.

Elihu, a younger man who had listened in silence to the entire debate accepted Job’s challenge for some one to speak on God’s behalf. In a masterly address he showed that affliction may be sent for instruction rather than solely as punishment. He exalted the wisdom of God, who is not obliged to reveal beforehand His reasons for chastening. And he pointed out that the bewildered soul is wise when he asks of God — waiting for Him to instruct, rather than attempting to understand His ways through human reasoning.

As he speaks a thunderstorm startles the friends. The vivid lightnings alarm. Then a great whirlwind moves across the desert, and, as it draws near, the voice of the Lord speaks to the soul of Job propounding question after question which the wisest of men could not answer. He reproves Job for suggesting the possibility of unrighteousness in His ways. And as a sense of the divine wisdom and majesty comes over the patriarch’s afflicted soul, he exclaims: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (40:4-5).

But God was not yet through. He speaks again, bringing before Job’s soul a sense of His greatness and power, of His glory and omniscience. As Job contemplates it all he gets a new conception of the holiness and the righteousness of God. His own littleness is accentuated. That God should look at all upon sinful men now amazes him. “The end of the Lord” is reached at last, and he cries out: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6). We know the rest and need not dwell upon it here. The great object of the Lord has been attained. Job changes his mind — his whole attitude — both as to himself and as to God. Humbled to the dust, he condemns himself and glorifies the Lord. And this is what God had in view from the beginning. And it is what all must reach in one way or another who are saved by His grace.

“That Thou shouldst so delight in me
And be the God Thou art,
Is darkness to my intellect,
But sunshine to my heart.”

Self-judgment is the sure precursor to blessing, and self-judgment is the work of repentance wrought by the Spirit of God.

[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-194

                              

In his homiletical commentary on Ephesians, Harry Ironside tells about meeting an older, very godly man early in his ministry. The man Andrew Fraser, was dying of tuberculosis, and Ironside went to visit him. Fraser could barely speak above a whisper because his lungs were almost consumed by the disease. But he said, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ, are you not?”

“Yes I am,” replied Ironside.

“Well,” he said, “sit down a little, and let us talk together about the Word of God.”

He opened his Bible, and until his strength was gone he unfolded one passage after another, teaching truths that Ironside before that time had not appreciated or even perceived. Before long, tears were running down Ironside’s cheeks and he asked, “Where did you get these things? Can you tell me where I can find a book that will open them up to me? Did you get them in a seminary or college?”

Fraser replied, “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart.  He taught me more on my knees on the mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.”

Excerpt from “Living by the Book”  – Boice

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