In the light of all that has
been said and implied in these chapters, the question arises as
to whether the greater need of our time is revival or
reformation. There is very much prayer being made, and appeal
being pressed for revival. It is said and believed that if there
should take place a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the
people of God, all our difficulties would be overcome, our
defects and deficiencies made good, our mistakes transcended, and
so on. Reference is made to such events in past times and the
inferences or conclusions drawn. We would be far from denying the
truth of this as to the actual period of its duration, but we do
feel that a too superficial deduction or conclusion results in a
delaying or staying of what God is really seeking. What have been
called revivals have really - in the Divine intention, and in
their very essence - been reformations. The high tides of
spiritual life have invariably had the effect of making
ridiculous many of the things of which the Church was proud;
making puerile many things formerly considered essential; ruling
out many things prevailing, and generally upsetting the accepted
and established system of things. Barriers have gone down;
secondary things have been removed from primary place. Indeed the
whole standard of estimates has been changed and turned about.
This is not only true with regard to great "revival"
times, but also true when the Lord's people of all connections
and complexions have met on purely spiritual ground, as at great
Now, the point is this. If the
Spirit of God so either ignores or transcends so much that marks
the Christian system, and makes it as though it counts so little,
(and the Holy Spirit never compromises on what is vital and
really of God), does it not mean that He calls for a
reconsideration of very much that obtains?
There are several ways of
putting this. For instance: The nearer the earth and its temporal
life Christendom has got, the more and greater have such things
as ritual had a place. Ritual, Rites, Vestments, Ceremony,
Formality, and such like externals have always been the marks of
low and poor spiritual conditions, and the measure of importance
given to them is always an index to spiritual measure. On the
other hand, a deep, strong, pure spiritual state has always been
marked by simplicity and an absence of the above. History proves
this beyond a doubt, and tides of the Spirit are outstanding
evidence of it. The days of the Church's greatest spiritual power
and impact were days when ecclesiastical forms, architecture and
ritual were nil, and the Lord Himself was everything.
Then again, although many such
things lie in the background, it is fully recognised and accepted
that, in conventions for fuller spiritual life, they must
be left behind and for the time being regarded as though they
were not. Someone has said what a pity it is that such times and
conditions should only last for a week or thereabouts and then
there should be a coming down to return to all the earthly
distinctions! Yes, and that may very well be the point of all
that we are trying to say. One thing is patent; it is that in
such times the Holy Spirit does not revive and stimulate these
religious things, He very largely negatives them. Does
it not, then, become necessary for us to see and take note of the
effect of a Holy Spirit movement, and by His works does not the
Lord call for some adjustment in this matter?
To put that another way: What
will the Lord revive? What will the Lord take note of? We have
instances of revival in Israel in the days of Josiah and
Hezekiah. The occasion of the revival was a bringing fully into
view of Christ crucified (the Passover). The effect of revival
was the smashing of the empty and false religious ritual and its
objects. But it was superficial; it did not go deep enough, and
when they returned to the old level these things were found to be
still in their hearts. The correspondence may not be perfect, but
there are true parallels. We have referred to ritual and such
things, but this is not all. What is true in that matter is just
as true in respect of sects and "church" divisions with
very much of what characterises them and each one. Here we want
to be quite fair and just, and presently we shall say more in
Our present point is that we
have very much evidence borne by the Spirit of God in true
spiritual movements that He has weighed this whole matter as it
now exists and has written it off as, not only unimportant, but
definitely obstructive and limiting. If, when the Lord's people
are in a tide of the Spirit, some leader or speaker is
unfortunate enough as to bring in something that belongs
essentially to his particular church order or system or
procedure, something akin to a pang, a shudder, or a shadow is
registered in spiritual people, and everyone refers to it as a
pity, a mistake, or a serious bit of bad taste. Often the level
of the meeting is lowered by such, and it is not easy to recover.
The fact is that the Spirit is grieved. We can reason both ways.
To get away from the lesser things we need a mighty visitation of
the Spirit of God; this, and this only, will do it. Most people
agree to this, and we have heard very much said along this line.
What has always perplexed us is that, while things of this kind
have been so repeatedly and strongly stated, the implication
seems never to have registered itself with sufficient strength as
to result in practical adjustments. So, on the other hand, if we
seriously faced the things which the Spirit of God has again and
again ruled out when He has had His way, would not the way be
opened for a more permanent high level of spiritual life,
fulness, and effectiveness?
That brings us back to our
original question. Is not reformation an essential part of
revival? Does not the Lord call for certain drastic adjustments
before He can "open the windows of heaven"? (Mal.
3:10). Are we able to agree that what is needed is not so much a
"visitation" of God in a passing wave of revival, but a
reformation which will make possible a new level of life for - at
least - a long time to come?
need for a new reformation now?
If so, what is the nature of
that reformation? Perhaps the best way to answer the first
question would be to deal with the second. To do this we must
look at the situation as it is in Christianity. By
"Christianity" we do not mean just Christendom in
general, but evangelical Christianity. Three things have come to
characterise it, in the main.
1. A system of Doctrines.
2. Denominational, Sectarian, and Missions Divisions.
3. Forms of Work.
1. A System
Evangelical Christianity has
very largely become resolved into a crystallised and set system
of doctrines. Those doctrines are the Deity of Christ; His
Atoning Death; His Bodily Resurrection; His Ascension and
Exaltation; and - with some variations as to time and manner -
His Personal Return; The Person of the Holy Spirit; The
Inspiration and Absolute Authority of the Bible; etc.
Let us hasten to say, lest
anyone should jump to conclusions, read no further, and go away
to misrepresent us, that we are not implying or calling
for a necessary reform in the essential doctrines of the Church
as above. These things are rightly and truly basic and governing,
and must be maintained in purity and fulness. But when we have
said all that could and should be said for them, we are far from
having solved the problem of the Church's spiritual life and
power. Orthodoxy and "soundness" never was the sign of
spiritual life. Indeed "Fundamentalism" as such can be
as cold, hard, cruel, bitter, dead, and ugly as the Inquisition,
and it often is so. Its weapons are often completely carnal, and
it does not hesitate to resort to physical force. This may be its
extreme form, but even where these truths are held without these
particular features, there is more often than otherwise a rigid
legalism resulting in hardness, suspicion, prejudice, and
exclusiveness of spirit. Many divisions have followed - not the
faithful stand for the truth - but some enforcing of some aspect
of a particular truth - hair-splitting. When we say this, we are
far from forgetting the costly battles for truth in the Church's
history, and how often the situation has been saved by faithful
men in this respect. Our point here is another one. The Doctrines
of Christianity have become something in themselves, and because
this is so a host of unhappy, unholy, and unnecessary elements
have gained a strong place in Christianity. It is so easy to gain
your point and lose the real spiritual value. We are fully alive
to the Devil's age-long work to destroy the Truth and to sow
false doctrine, and we are wholly with faithful witness to the
essentials of the Faith. Reform in doctrine is not our point at
present, but reform in the place or relationship of
doctrine. Be patient and follow through. We have a great and
vital object in view. Christianity is not necessarily or
inevitably established when the sum of its doctrines or tenets is
enunciated and assented to. Here 'the letter may kill' rather
than make alive. There is that which is not apart from the
truths, but much more than they. Without that other and more, the
very truths themselves may lack their right meaning. To that
other we shall come presently.
We have said that Evangelical
Christianity has become a system of Denominations, Sects, and
Sectional Organisations. In fairness and righteousness, we must
remember that many of these had an honourable beginning. As to
Denominations, in not a few cases it was a conscientious start
and for some particular doctrine, doctrines, or form of
expression, costing very heavily, that brought these into being.
And so with many other institutions, movements, missions, and
organisations; some divergence from the truth, or some failure in
the responsibility, obligation, and purpose to which Christianity
is committed resulted in the rising up of these specific and
varied activities. It is no small history of devotion, heroism,
sacrifice and service. The story can fill a library. We take
nothing from it. That is not our object. What we are saying is
that many of these things have now become so largely something in
themselves, and are often ends in themselves. It is the thing
with which so many are bound up; and here again all the
unhappy elements, rivalries, jealousies, competitions,
suspicions, etc. have their occasion. The effect of much of this
is to make organised Christianity the enemy of Christianity, and
a menace to the real work of the Spirit of God.
A peril is discernible very
early in the Church's life. It was in the nature of - on the one
side - a giving pre-eminence to one side or direction of
Christian interest; and, of course, on the other side, suspicion
or reservation where this pre-eminence was not recognised. For
instance, there was a strong Jewish strain in the Church and the
tendency - at least - was to give pre-eminence to preaching the
Gospel to the Jews. When the Gentiles came increasingly into the
picture, these reservations and suspicions became almost acute,
even between Apostles. The Holy Spirit, Who fortunately had a
large enough place and way then, was able to negotiate this
dangerous passage and resolve it into a unity. But the tendency
has persisted, and with the lowering and lessening of spiritual
life, the peril has passed into an actuality, and an established
one at that. Evangelisation of the unsaved has become something
in itself, and often ends with itself. There is often no vision
beyond this. If there are Christians who are not exclusively or
primarily engaged in evangelistic work they are often
regarded with suspicion and reservation, or even worse.
Frequently the Evangelist has no room for or interest in what is
beyond the work of saving souls. On the other hand, it is so easy
for concern with the spiritual life of believers and the building
up of saints to overshadow the Evangel and destroy the
"passion for souls". There is no end to the specific
and particular activities of bodies of Christians. So the
"teachers" and the "Deeper spiritual life"
ministries may have reservations as to the evangelistic, with the
result that much loss is sustained both ways, and the Church is
rendered unbalanced and much weaker than it ought to be, and
could be. We have not gone into these matters beyond an
indicating of them, but fuller thought must lead to an honest
admission that these things are so, and being so they represent a
So we are able to get to our
second question, and free ourselves from the muddy stream of the
things which are wrong, and move out into the clear waters of
God's true and full thought.
What is the
Nature of the Needed Reformation?
In a sentence, it is all that
which is bound up with a new and dominating conception of God's
purposes, object, and method. When we ask what that is, the
There is a chapter in the
history of Israel which almost perfectly fits this consideration,
and that chapter might well have a double title.
"Make us a
king like unto all the nations",
"God hath found him a man"
1 Sam. 8:5. 1 Sam. 13:14.
The fuller statement of the
latter in Acts 13:22 is "I have found David... a man after
my heart, who shall do all my will". The innermost nature of
these contrasting choices may be stated thus. Saul was man's
choice; i.e. the choice of God's people in a day of
spiritual declension. The idea of a king was not in itself wrong,
for it had been provided for by God Himself (Deut. 17:14-15). The
wrong was in the principle of "like the nations"
resultant from a lost immediacy of walk with God. "Like the
nations" may mean a host of things in its system and
outworkings, but it just means doing God's things in the same way
as the world does its things. Imitating the world in the realm of
God's Church. The King must answer to all the requirements of man.
All that this means could be opened out and shown to be just
exactly what has so largely come to be the order which obtains in
Christianity today. Saul had many things to commend him, and God
sovereignly went as far as He could to bless and co-operate with
what was right. But, by His full knowledge of things, the Lord
always had a big reservation, and foresaw spiritual disaster.
"Man looketh on the outward appearance, God looketh on the
heart", was a statement which related to the crisis of this
history, and it fairly sums up the governing standard of
so very much in Christianity. "Man looketh on the
outward". How things appear and appeal: how things impress
and carry weight: how things attract and secure support: how
things imply success and obtain influence. In this direction
there is room for all the publicity, commercialism, competition,
vainglory, display, and much more with which we have become
familiar in Christian work. It is sad to see how many things the
Church must have when its spiritual life is low.
And it is very joyous to note how little is necessary and how
many things are absent when spiritual life is high.
But, from the negative, to the
positive. "God has sought him a man". This goes far
beyond David the son of Jesse. We cannot give space to
considering all that the eye of God saw in David which made him
the man after His heart. All that we will say is that God had
been watching the hidden life of this young man and had taken
full account of motive and standard of values.
We pass on to the full
significance of the word - "A man after his heart". We
are taken by the full revelation in the Scriptures right back
into the Divine counsels before times eternal. There we are
allowed to see the resolve that this universe should ultimately
be centred in and governed by a Man. But not just officially, as
by selection, choice, appointment arbitrarily. The determination
was governed by character, type, nature. It would be a certain
kind of man. He would embody all the Divine features, manifest
them, and determine all values by that standard alone. That Man
would eventually have "all things" gathered
into and summed up in Himself on the basis of His nature. He
would also "fill all things" in the same way. Thus, not
by an institution, organisation, movement, scheme, would God
reach His end, but by an organic being. The next step in the
Divine counsels was "Let us make man in our own image and
after our likeness". This, in principle, corresponds to what
we have said above. So Adam was created, "a figure of him
that was to come" (Rom. 5:14). Then, soon commenced the
history which showed departure from the way to that "One Man";
yet still a long line of men who, by their walk with God, each
embodied and represented some feature which would eventually be
found collectively and in perfection in the One.
At length the One was brought
forth of Whom it was possible for God to say "In whom I am
well pleased". Uniquely, as of no other, in nature and in
measure, this was One after God's heart. Subjected to every trial
and test to which heaven and hell could subject a being; and
tested as to faith in God as no other has ever been tested; while
being "made sin for us", and being "made a curse
for us". He had to be forsaken of God for "a small
moment" - which must have seemed like eternity - He
triumphed, and came out with "Father"!
"Father, into thy hand I commit my spirit". Oh,
marvellous triumph of faith! Have you ever had a little sense of
God being afar off, and having no interest in you? Has your
consciousness of His presence ever passed under a cloud? Do you
not know what a test of faith in His love and faithfulness that
is? Does not the Evil One at such times hasten to accuse God to
you; to malign God; to give all manner of interpretations to the
experience, all with a view to destroying your faith? Intensify
ten thousand fold as though nothing must be left to
destroy faith, for more hangs upon this Case than ever hung upon
one, and then you can see what Christ went through, and how great
was His triumph.
"Wherefore God highly
exalted him". That "Man" has been exalted at the
right hand of God and constituted the Representative
"Man". God has His "Man", the end of His
works, and human destiny is - for good or ill - bound up with Him
- the "Beginning and the End", the "Beginning of
the creation of God". One of the supreme necessities of the
Church is to either recover or have given a new and mighty
realisation of the significance of Christ in God's universe.
Everything hangs upon our apprehension of Him.
Note. From what we have
said earlier no one will think that we are setting aside the
Deity of Christ. And in what we are about to say, let no one
think that we mean that the Church will share His Deity.
But when we have said this we
have not said all. The fuller and further revelation of Scripture
shows that in those same Eternal Divine Counsels the fulness and
completeness of that Man was to be realised in a corporate way,
so that eventually God's universe would be centred in a "One
New Man"; universal and countless, yet one and individual in
the sense that He would indwell all, and He is one and indivisible.
This corporate entity called "His Body" was
"foreordained to be conformed to the image of his (God's)
son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brethren"
(Rom. 8:29). This sets forth God's object, and shows His method.
The Divine object is not an institution, a religion, a
dogma, a fraternity, an organisation, a system of doctrines, a
set of works and activities. It is a spiritual man, an organic
Now, to resolve into one issue
all that has been stated and indicated, what does it amount to?
Just this; that if Christ in His personal significance and in His
corporate expression were really dominantly and overwhelmingly
present to the eye and heart of the Church, on the one hand
numerous things which now limit, hinder, retard, weaken, and
defeat the Church would fall away and just cease to have any
place of government; and on the other hand there would be the
effects - if not the event - of "Pentecost", i.e. life,
power, victory, fulness, and great joy with real fruitfulness.
What we need - we repeat - is not the transient event of "Pentecost",
but the abiding effects; not only revival but reformation.
Yes, the enemy would get busy
again, and all the slander, misrepresentation, maligning,
distortion, "evil report", etc. would be his means of
trying to destroy the testimony. But "the gates of
hades" would not prevail. Whenever and wherever, by a new
revealing of Himself, His purpose and method, the Lord has
secured those who have moved out on to the ground of Christ only
and in fulness, they have always had to meet a great and painful
cost. Usually it has been their own brethren in Christ who have
exacted it. Fake charges of "forming a new sect";
"seeking a name for themselves"; "dividing the
people of God"; becoming "extreme"; "thinking
they only are right", etc. have been levelled at them, and
they have been "cast out". The truth is that - in many
cases - they have only taken the ground which everybody knows is
the ground of spiritual fulness; where questions of "church
connection" and orders, etc. are never raised; where such
things as joining something, or conforming to a special
teaching or practice are never mentioned, but "Christ is all
and in all"; and the one concern has been that He should
have what is His ground and way of continuous increase.
How difficult it is for
organised Christianity to believe that anything very much of real
value can go on without machinery, publicity, and all the
framework of organised work! May it not be well to pause and
consider whether God's mightiest and most fruitful works in
nature and in grace are not done hiddenly, quietly,
unobtrusively, and - in many cases - done before anyone knows
about it? What of the resurrection of nature every Spring-time?
The law of God's highest work is the biological, the law of
life; it is organic.