How do we Stand Approved before God?
Is membership of the one Body coextensive with salvation?
We are sure that there is sufficient in the Scriptures to warrant the belief that the reception of the truth of the Mystery is subject to an elective purpose of God, operating within the wider election unto salvation. Others before us have had the impression that this is so, but have been hampered by not realizing that the present dispensation did not begin until after Acts 28; consequently they have spoken of an inner election to the "headship" of the one Body. This is the result of including the Body of 1 Corinthians with the Body of Ephesians. We believe that our enquiry will lead us to see that membership of the one Body itself is the object of this elective purpose.
There is another system of teaching which compromises with those who perpetuate undispensational doctrine and observances, believing that we who see the truth of the Mystery should not expose the error of the traditionalists. We might as well extend our charity and encourage the Jew in his legalism. It is not for us to assume the sovereign prerogatives of God. Having seen the truth, we must "leave ... and go on to perfection". We have to be concerned with faithfulness, even though it should limit the sphere of our so-called usefulness.
Some may object at the outset to the idea that the Lord may have chosen some (from among those who are saved) to a peculiarly exalted position. These would doubtless have joined Miriam and Aaron in their resentment against the special call of Moses (Numbers 12: 1-14), but they would have "perished in the gainsaying of Korah" if they had continued in their rebellion against the high calling of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16: 1-19). Or further, they would have murmured against the exclusive choice of Peter, James, and John to be witnesses of the Transfiguration (Matt. 17), yet their murmurings would not have altered these facts. It must ever be borne in mind, lest we be ensnared with pride, that the elective purposes of God have no room for "good works".
"When Rebecca had conceived . . . it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger". Why? "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth" (Rom. 9: 10-12).
Human responsibility must never be slurred over, but we are convinced that our God is one "Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will". Human error and satanic guile may be responsible for the eclipse of the truth of the Mystery all down the present age, yet of this we are certain, that none who were predestined by that unalterable counsel of God to "come to a knowledge of the truth" could fail to receive it. Hence we are driven to the conclusion that the time has come when the Lord intends to strip from our eyes the bandages of tradition, and from this time onward to take the graveclothes from many believers who have been marked off to receive the truth so long hidden beneath the rubbish of Christendom's conflicting creeds. The Lord has already given the life-giving command, "Come forth!" and the liberating command, "Loose him, and let him go" (John 11: 43, 44). We believe that "the knowledge of the truth" of the Mystery is only attained by those who are the subjects of this "election within an election". They have received no revelation, they possess no new Bible, and they claim no special holiness or learning: the truth lies upon the page of Scripture possessed by all alike, yet apparently seen by few.
Is membership of the one Body coextensive with salvation? May a man be saved, and yet have never received a knowledge of the truth of the Mystery? These are questions to which we hope to give Scriptural answers as we proceed. In order to manifest more clearly the difference between "faith" (common to all believers), and "knowledge" (possessed by the subjects of this special grace), we venture to lay before the reader the arrangement of the opening verses of the epistle to Titus. It will be seen in the suggested structure (1) that "the faith of God's elect" is described under the member C, d, e, f, and (2) "the knowledge of the truth" under C f, e, d.
It is clear that we are not saved according to our knowledge, yet it is quite certain that none can really believe, hope for, and suffer together with, that which they neither know nor understand. Many have believed with "the faith of God's elect" who have been hopelessly confused concerning the right division of truth. Men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, or of more recent times, Joseph Irons, and Charles H. Spurgeon, have been stalwart champions for the faith of God's elect, but if we examine them upon the next item (the knowledge of the truth), they evidence a lack of agreement which leads to confusion. With them kingdom and the church, Israel and the one Body, Abrahamic promises, Zion, and the earth's regeneration are all spiritualized away, yet none of those to whom the knowledge of the truth has been given would think for one instant that they were better than these men of God named above.
Titus l:l-4 A a Paul (Name) b A servant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ (Title) c According to (1) faith (the faith of God's elect); (2) truth (the knowledge of the truth)
B According to godliness C d Upon hope of eternal life. e Promised by God Who cannot lie. f Before age-times.
C f Manifested in its own seasons Knowledge. e His Word by heralding } nied by most of d Entrusted to me those so called
B According to the commandment of God our Saviour.
A a Titus (Name) b Mine own son (Title) c According to a common faith.
The faith of God's elect is explained as comprising three items (see structure, member C). It has before it (1) the hope of eternal life, (2) which God, Who cannot lie, promised, (3) before the age-times. These items are enlarged upon in the writings of the great Reformers and Puritans. The knowledge of the truth is explained in a twofold way; (a) it is closely connected with "godliness" (a term which we shall examine shortly), and (b) this truth has (1) a peculiar season for its proclamation, which is now, the present dispensation; (2) it is heralded or proclaimed by the word and words given to (3) the special Apostle of the Mystery - Paul.
Orthodoxy makes no distinction between the proclamation announced in Pentecostal days, or "gospel" times, and the present period; it starts its church at Pentecost, and seeks to rule it by Matthew 18. As to recognizing Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, his epistles might as well have never been written, for the place which they are given in study or preaching. If a "text" or a "reading" is wanted, the Gospels, the Acts, the Psalms, etc., are chosen again and again, whereas Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Timothy, and Titus are practically a dead letter.
Before passing from this passage we would like to call attention to the word translated "godliness". The word is eusebeia, and occurs 15 times in the New Testament. Fifteen is 5 (grace) X 3 (divine perfection). The Pauline epistles contain 10 of these 15 occurrences, still emphasizing 5, the number of grace. The average idea of godliness goes little further than piety, but the word means much more than this conveys to the English reader. It embraces the larger meaning of worship, and may be rendered "the act or state of worshipping well or acceptably". Just as euaggelion means good message, and eudokia, good will, so eusebia means good worship. Worship to be good must be in harmony with the will of God in reference to the dispensation obtaining for the time. Good worship once demanded the offering of the blood of bulls and goats, but that would not be acceptable now. Good worship once was accepted only at the Temple at Jerusalem, but such is impossible now.
If we read the literature of many of the "bodies" of Christendom, we shall hear many echoes of the Samaritan woman's words (John 4: 20); it is all about where we may or may not worship - the Lord's reply seems to be overlooked. He disposes of both the Samaritan and the Jewish centers, and tells us that "God is Spirit, and they who worship (This is not the same word as is translated "godliness".) Him must worship Him in true spirituality". While so many sorrow over the so-called worship which must have its solos, living pictures, politics, ethics, etc., they themselves are often involved in a system of bondage to ceremonies, observances, ordinances, and traditions, perpetuating that which belongs to another dispensation, and failing to offer that worship which is in harmony with the time now present. Those who "resist the truth" are in the context brought into close connection with those who suffer persecution for living in harmony with godliness or proper worship.
This failure to appreciate the spiritual character of the present dispensation is the secret that lies at the root of the bitterness that occurs among those believers who retain any regard for the Word of God. Zealous for God, but not according to the knowledge of the truth, they have instituted a miniature Popery; the "central act of worship" is made an occasion of harshness worthy of a Diotrephes (3 John 9, 10), and the true "place of worship" is unrecognized. Worship to be acceptable must be offered where the great High Priest is. That is entirely independent of place, denomination, or circumstance; many have been received into fellowship there who would "defile" some assemblies on earth. "Heaven itself", the true "Holiest of all", is the only place of worship worthy the name. From that assembly none can excommunicate. The binding and loosing of man has no effect there.
We have often felt, when we have heard of some believers who are called "over-sight" brethren, that the word "over-sight" has more than one meaning, and that while many have been keen over trifles comparable to the tithing of pot-herbs, the weightiest matters concerning the unity of the Spirit, and worship consistent with the dispensation of the Mystery, have been "overlooked".
In 2 Timothy 2 and 3 we read of two classes. One class, to whom the Lord may "peradventure give repentance to the knowledge of the truth", and another, who though "ever learning never come to a knowledge of the truth" ("knowledge" and "acknowledge" in Titus 1: 1; 1 Timothy 4:3 (verb); 2 Tim. 2:25 and 3:7 are the same). The first passage occurs in a setting which is of the utmost importance, especially just now. The arrangement of the passage (2 Tim. 2: 14-26) is as follows:
A 14,15 a Strive not b Study c Rightly divide the Word of truth B 16. Shun C 17,18. Illustration, "Canker" D 19. The sure foundation C 20, 21. Illustration, "Vessels" B 22, 23. Flee . . . avoid A 24-26. a Not strive b Instruct c Knowledge of truth, and recovery from snare of the Devil.
It is important that we should realize the purpose of this structural arrangement. It is not merely to excite our curiosity; it is for our instruction. The central member (D) is the important one, and should be studied first. It tells us that in the midst of all the trials and perplexities of this pilgrimage, God's sure foundation standeth. Let those who are troubled remember that and take courage. The door of heaven has not been closed by the shutting of a meeting place; access is still free there.
The foundation of God has connected with it (like a seal) the words, "The Lord knoweth them that are His, and let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity". These words are found in a most significant passage in the Old Testament, and supply the key to unlock the whole of the context. The moment we turn to Numbers 16 we shall see that it is directly connected with the "election within an election", and will throw light upon the much-discussed "vessels unto honor and dishonor". Korah and his company rebel against the thought that Moses and Aaron should be favored with higher privileges than they were, and expressed their feelings by saying:
"Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?"
Moses does not "strive", but falls upon his face. He then speaks to Korah in the words of 2 Timothy 2:19:
"Even to-morrow the Lord will show who are His" (Numb. 16:5, cp. the Septuagint with 2 Tim. 2: 19 Greek).
"Seemeth it but a small thing with you that the Lord hath separated you (sons of Levi) from the congregation of Israel.. . and seek ye the priesthood also?" (verses 9, 10).
Just before the terrible judgment fell upon Korah and his company, Moses uttered the words which form the second portion of the seal of 2 Timothy 2:19, "Depart I pray you from the tents of these wicked men". Surely we can see that the Lord intends us to use this passage in interpreting 2 Timothy 2. The very ones who resented the special choice of Moses and Aaron were themselves specially chosen out of the congregation of Israel. They rebelled against "an election within an election".
On either side of the sure foundation we have the members marked C and C, Hymenaeus and Philetus on the one hand, and the great house with its various vessels on the other. We must exercise care here lest we miss the Holy Spirit's meaning. In the first case we have teachers of error, whose word eats like a gangrene. Are the vessels unto dishonour to be reckoned as typifying the same? Much depends upon the force of the little word "but" in verse 20. The injunction had been, "depart from iniquity", and lest by over zeal the believer should think that such a title could not possibly mean a fellow saved one, the Apostle reminds him that "in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earthenware, and some indeed to honor, and some, on the other hand, to dishonor". In other words, he must be prepared to find within the circle of electing grace two classes.
Some will have, by grace, received a knowledge of the truth, while others, though saved, never get beyond the faith of God's elect. All such will "live", but all will not "reign"; some will be "denied" this "honor". It is interesting to note here that Timothy's name is suggestive, as it means "honored of God"'
Interpreted in the light of Numbers 16 this passage indicates that in the present purposes of God there are some who have been chosen out from the mass of believers; that they have had the eyes of their heart enlightened, that they may know what is the hope of His calling, and the truth of the Mystery, while others are left in the traditions of Christendom, saved, yet not so free as they would be did they but "know the truth" (John 8: 32). Orthodoxy has no room in its creed for "one star differing from another star in glory", neither has it place for the words "more tolerable" in its conception of future punishment. In order better to illustrate that those under the heading "iniquity" are not the "vessels unto dishonor", we will turn for a moment to 2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1.
Both 2 Tim. 2 and 2 Corinthians 6 have been mis-used. From both of these passages Christians have drawn arguments about "being separate" from differing Christians, and have not hesitated to use the words "unclean", "defiled", etc., of those who have been accepted by the Lord. Those who have been urged to "come out from among them" do not seem to have had enough courage to dare ask to whom the word "them" referred, but have helped on the heart-breaking work of judging one another. The context gives a fearful list as the answer, viz., "unrighteousness", "darkness", "belial", "infidel", "idols" (verses 14-16). Are these God's descriptions of His erring children? Such an interpretation is but a murderous, "say now Shibboleth". The true interpretation is lost in this party zeal.
2 Corinthians 6:17,18 is not an exhortation to believers, but is a complex quotation from the Old Testament which supplies the exhortation chapter 7:1, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved (!) let us cleanse ourselves", etc. It is not so humiliating to be busy cleansing others, and removing the motes from their eyes, but dearly beloved, "let us cleanse ourselves". The verb "to cleanse" (2 Cor. 7:1) and the verb "purge" (2 Tim. 2:21) are kindred words. So also is the exhortation; he is to purge himself.
Two very distinct words are used in 2 Timothy 2. Regarding "iniquity" the believer must "depart" (the word is very emphatic, and is literally "apostatize"), but regarding the vessels unto dishonor, he is to "purge himself". The word "dishonor" needs a little explanation. To the English mind dishonor signifies some positive shame, whereas the word atimia means "lack of honor". This can be seen in 1 Corinthians 12:23, "those members of the body which we think to be less honorable" (atimotera). The figure of a vessel suggests the theme - election. "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto no honor?" (Rom. 9:21). "That the purpose of God according to election might stand" (Rom. 9:11). The vessels unto "no honor" are those who have never received the "knowledge of the truth", and who are not among those who, like Paul, look forward to the "honor" of "reigning". We will speak more definitely of this later. The last two verses of 2 Timothy 2 tell us of some who are in the snare of the devil, and that they will "oppose themselves" to those who bear the message of liberty and glory. The servant of the Lord does not strive, he is a vessel of gold or silver, he lets "the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth" if they will. He seeks grace to be "gentle toward all, apt in teaching, bearing up under injury and malice (2 Tim. 3:12), in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God perhaps may sometime give them repentance unto a knowledge of the truth, and that being taken alive by Him, they may awake from the snare of the devil unto His (God's) will" (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Will the reader refer to the last structure illustrating this passage; the first and last members will be seen to answer one another. In verses 14 and 15 we find the injunction not to "strive" about words, while in verse 24 we have the commandment not to "strive" with opposers. He who "instructs" (verse 25) has "studied" (verse 15), but the lesson of lessons for us is that "the knowledge of the truth", which delivers from the snare of the devil, and marks one out as a "vessel unto honor", is the rightly divided Word of truth (verse 15). Here is the secret of faction and strife. Satan not only opposes the Bible as a whole, but lays a snare for the earnest believer, traps him into undispensational practices, blinds his eyes to the "gospel of the glory of Christ", and the truth of the Mystery, and makes him a tool in his destructive work.
Persecution and religion go hand in hand. Timothy is prepared to receive hard treatment at the hands of those who ought to have received him with open arms. 2 Timothy 3:12 has been shorn of its true meaning. "All who are willing to live godly in Christ Jesus (or in a manner consistent with the present will of God regarding worship) shall suffer persecution". Some Christians suffer persecution by their endeavor to live in harmony with the "Sermon on the Mount". They read this verse, and find consolation and confirmation, but this is not the meaning of the passage.
In 2 Timothy 3:10,11 Paul has made reference to the "persecutions" which he endured, particularly mentioning those which came upon him at Antioch, at Iconium, and Lystra. Why does he specially mention these cities? Why not Jerusalem? The reason is that Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra are associated with a ministry fulfilled in absolute independence of Jerusalem and the twelve, and also that the Scripture intimates that it was at Lystra that the Apostle, being stoned to death, was "caught away to paradise" and saw the visions, and heard the words which related to the glory of Christ. Let those who claim consolation from 2 Timothy 3:12 be consistent. Let them follow Paul in his separate teaching, then they will be entitled to the solace of this passage. The endurance of hardship is repeated several times in relation to the special truth committed to the apostle:
"Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:8).
"The gospel, whereunto I am appointed a herald, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For which cause I also suffer these things" (2 Tim. 1:11,12).
"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and the things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same entrust thou to faithful men, such as shall be competent to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:1,2).
This true exclusivism disposes of nine-tenths or more of so-called teachers, for they do not even know that Paul had any distinctive message to be passed on.
Paul continues, "Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (verse 3). Then again, after speaking of the gospel which he calls "My gospel", the Apostle says, "wherein I suffer hardship, as an evil doer, even unto bonds . . . Therefore I endure all things for the elects' sakes, that they may obtain salvation" (verses 9 and 10); yes, but not only salvation, "that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with age-abidingglory". There is no need for us to begin speculating as to the difference between this salvation and the added glory, for the apostle immediately explains, "if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him". This is "salvation"; this embraces every believer, whether he has "the knowledge of the truth", or not. "If we endure we shall also reign with Him". This is the added "glory" and "honor". "Living" is one thing, reigning is another. All who reign will live, but not all who live will reign.
The Lord has been pleased to arrange that the present "light affliction, which is but for a moment" (connected in this epistle in a special manner with the teaching committed to Paul), shall "work for us as a far more exceeding age-abiding weight of glory". Some, maybe, will say; this is works, not grace. One thing we know, and that is, it is Scripture, and further, if the Lord had never told us of this high glory we still could not have resisted the truth when He made us see it, but we should have endured affliction sooner than give it up. Shall we say hard things then, if the Lord is pleased to add more of His riches of glory upon those who for a short season are called upon to suffer together with His despised Word?
Believers will either receive the truth and look forward to reigning, or will reject the truth and be denied this honor. "If we deny Him (if we are ashamed of the testimony of our Lord and of Paul His prisoner), He also will deny us". This in no wise touches eternal life, for "if we are faithless, He abideth faithful, for deny Himself He cannot".
We can now proceed a little further. Both Paul and Timothy looked forward to a crown, which confessedly symbolizes reigning. The Apostle charges Timothy:
"Be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering (cp. 2 Tim. 2: 24-26), and doctrine, for there will come a season when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires will, unto themselves, heap up teachers, (because) they have an itching ear, and from the truth they shall turn their ears away, and unto myths will they be turned aside" (2 Tim. 4: 2-4).
Here we have the prophetic picture of our own days. The evil started as recorded in 2 Timothy 1:15, "All they in Asia "turned away from me", and necessarily it ends with the words, "turn away from the truth". Does the reader wonder why God has laid upon the hearts of some of His children the burden of this rejected truth, and this rejected Apostle? Apart from the contemplation of these false teachers, Paul addresses Timothy:
"But thou, be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist (cp. Eph. 4:11), the ministry that is thine complete" (2 Tim. 4:5).
The Apostle's approaching death is the reason for this final charge. There is no more Scriptural warrant for "evangelistic succession", than for "apostolic succession", the last word in ministry being 2 Tim. 2:2, "teachers". Continuing we read:
"for I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the season of my release has come, the noble contest I have contested, the race I have finished, the faith I have kept, henceforth there is laid up (same word in Col. 1:5, `the hope laid up in the heavens') for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will render unto me in that day, and not to me only, but unto them also that love His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
The hope of the Mystery is to be received up in glory. "When Christ, Who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory". "Looking for that blessed hope and the appearing of the glory". Those who look for the parousia, or who expect to pass through the tribulation, must not be surprised if they miss this "crown", especially if, by ignoring this special messenger Paul, they are found "denying" (2 Tim. 2:12), and "ashamed" (2 Tim. 1:8).
In 2 Timothy 2:5,6 there is another reference to a crown "If moreover any man contend even in the games, he is not crowned unless he contend according to the rules. The husbandman must labour, before partaking of the fruits". To obtain the "glory" and to "reign" (2 Tim. 2:10-12), the believer must "keep the rules". The truths of other dispensations will not suffice. We must regulate our worship, our witness, and our warfare according to the teaching of the epistles of the Mystery, or fail. We must:
"lay aside every weight, and the easily entangling sin, and run with patience the race that lies before us, looking off unto Jesus, the Prince-leader and consummator of faith, Who for (anti, over against, or corresponding to) the joy that was lying before Him, endured a cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1,2).
This crown, this race, make us think of the "prize" of Philippians 3. The realization of "an election within an election" will throw great light upon that chapter. Brethren, do you see your calling? If so, "walk worthy" of it. Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth if they will.
"Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also ye were called in one body, and be ye thankful" (Col. 3:15).
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Today the principles of right division have been almost lost so we offer teachings from the Word of God that will illuminate how to rightly divide the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 2:15 states "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth". Click to learn more.