Reading: Zech. 1:16; 4:9; Hag. 2:4; John 2:13-22; Matt. 18:20; Eph. 3:21.
The phrase of Scripture which is really governing all our meditations is in Zechariah 4:6: "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." "By My Spirit".
We brought a considerable number of passages of Scripture together, both in the Old and New Testaments, and from them we saw that there arose certain major issues which govern the whole course of spiritual history, the first of which is the testimony of God, the Divine testimony. In Zechariah 4 we have a vision of a candlestick all of gold, something which appears, as we have seen, in other Scriptures both in the Old and New Testaments. And that candlestick, both in the material of which it is made - pure refined gold - and in the function which it serves of illumination, sets forth or stands for the Divine testimony, the testimony of God. And the testimony of God is the glory of God. To summarise what we have said, from beginning to end, the one thing which is of supreme concern to God is His glory and that is the issue eventually connected with all God's activities and interests.
In our previous meditation, we passed on to the second issue arising, that is, the vessel for that testimony. Here in Zechariah and Haggai the house of the Lord is very much to the fore and that again is no new idea. In various intimations in earliest times, and then in representation and type in the tabernacle and temple, that house of the Lord appears. In the New Testament it comes up in the new form of the church and the churches, and ultimately in the body of overcomers. We were occupied with the object of this vessel of the testimony, the house of God, and we saw that the main object of such a vessel is to make immediate and actual the presence of God for the purpose of fellowship with Him.
Then we went on to see that the house of God, the vessel of testimony, is not a thing. It may be typified and represented in things of old, but supremely it is not a thing at all, it is a Person and that Person is God's Son, the Lord Jesus.
What we have just read in John's Gospel is very impressive when we recognize the connection - the temple at Jerusalem and what was happening there and what the Lord did and the motive behind His action. And then immediately, almost as by a deliberate act of confusing them, He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up", showing how the natural mind fastens upon one idea; the spiritual mind has an entirely different idea of the house of God. The natural mind, even the religious natural mind, thinks of the house of God as some place constructed by man in a certain location. The spiritual conception of the house of God is Christ and what it means to be in Christ, to find God and meet with God in Christ.
Matt. 18:20 is the outworking of that. What is the church? What is the house of God? Where is it? It is where two or three are gathered into His Name, that is all. You need nothing more than that to make the house of God. You have that and you are satisfied. If you do not have that and you have all the rest, it is but an empty shell. The glory of God is in the house of God and it is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
That, I think, is all very simple, but as we were seeing, it carries with it many practical challenges. The vessel of the testimony, the vessel of the glory of God, is Christ and Christ now as imparting Himself to His own, to believers, making them with Him one dwelling place of God, one place for the Divine glory. And, may I say it again, elementary as it is, yet I am sure that constant re-emphasis and reminder is necessary, the thing which is going to prove that any life or any company of the Lord's people really represent the house of God, is not their confession of faith. It is not their doctrine, not their religious practice, their tradition, or any such thing; it is that the glory of God is there. What I mean is this: you and I have to be supremely concerned with this one thing - that there is the glory of God really to be found in our lives and that the glory of God is really to be found in our gathering together. It should be that we immediately, in coming together at any time wherever we may be, if it is only two or three gathered into His Name, make it our exercise that the thing which pre-eminently marks us out as the dwelling-place of the Lord is that His glory is found amongst us.
You remember in the early days of the church, as recorded in the Book, that was a very impressive, a very powerful, feature. In the Old Testament, we are told that when Solomon's temple was completed, all things were made after the pattern, God's prescribed order had been adhered to and everything was as God required it, the glory filled the house and even the priests had to go out; they could not abide in the glory there (2 Chron. 7:1-2). That is a type, a principle. You see, in the old dispensation, although those priests were clothed in garments which represented or typified a condition suitable for God's presence, actually and literally they were not suitable for God's presence and the presence of God was not a type. It was reality and the real presence of God requires more than a typified suitability, it requires an actual suitability, and so they had to go out, they could not abide the glory.
Now, in the New Testament you find such people as Ananias and Sapphira coming into that which represented very truly, very literally and actually, the house of God. The Holy Spirit was there, the glory was there, and everybody was knowing the glory. Ananias and Sapphira came in a condition unsuitable to the actual presence of God and they were smitten and died. And we are told that of the rest no man dared join himself to them. The very glory was the safeguard against an adhesion of unsuitable flesh.
And again, the apostle says to some saints that, given the freedom and right operation and order of the Holy Spirit, the unbeliever coming in will fall down and say, "God is here, God is among you!" (1 Cor. 14:25).
It is the glory of His presence which makes the church, the house of God, what it ought to be and what it is supposed to be. I suggest to you that this is something about which we must pray much and be very much exercised. It is so possible and so easy to get together as the Lord's people and have our regular rota of meetings. The meeting time comes round and we come together and in that meeting a certain order is followed of practice, of speech, hymns and prayers and so on. We can go on and it may become just our Christian procedure and the real impact of the Divine presence may not be registered, not be felt, not be met, and we may go away as we came. Ought it to be so, brethren? Ought it ever to be possible to go into the presence of God and just go away as we came without something impressed upon us? We must have real exercise about this matter that every time we gather, two or three or more, there is the registration that God is in the midst, the glory is there.
I feel very much that what is needed today by the Lord's people is a recovery of the glory with all that the glory means. I do not mean just the ecstasy - there will be the ecstasy and the rejoicing and the gladness - but I mean a solemn impact, the witness that God is consciously among men.
Then we are able to understand clearly the meaning of the early chapters of the book of the Revelation, why it was that the Lord came to challenge the churches as He did. For some He has certain commendations for they have many good points. Some of them are faithful to the doctrine and persistent and energetic and even patient in labours for the Lord. They have His Name and are zealous for it, and other things are there all to the good, but the Lord is not satisfied. Even with these things the Lord does not see fit to give assurance that the testimony, or the vessel of testimony, can continue to stand before Him, and that is very searching. It means this: that you and I can have a zeal for the Lord, can be jealous for the fundamentals of the faith, be very much concerned for the creed, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures and all such things, and we may be very busy and giving ourselves and even unto great patience serving the Lord in much activity, and yet it may all fall short of that satisfaction which the Lord desires and demands and He sees with it all a lack of the glory - the lampstand is not burning with the glory.
I say that at an end time this matter of the glory of the Lord in the midst of His people is a very, very important one and we must ask the Lord very much about the recovery of the glory. It has got to come back. Ah, it has come back. There is a sense in which it seems to have lifted and removed from the church in general, but it is to be found in its fulness in that company of overcomers. Well, that is the object of the vessel. It may do many things, but the thing above all things which justifies it is that it preserves the testimony of God which is the glory of God.
The Basis of the Vessel of Testimony
Now we pass to another thing about this vessel, that is as to its basis, and may I urge upon you not to think too objectively as we are meditating. I mean by that, do not get the church mentally somewhere out there, somewhere either in the Bible or in the world. It is here and it is you, and what we are saying has got to be a matter that comes right home to us now.
Do you remember there was a point in David's life when he exclaimed, "This is the house of God!" (1 Chron. 22:1). Do you remember its connection? The context says that Satan stood up to tempt David to number Israel and David fell into Satan's snare and commanded the numbering. Joab for once was right and came out gloriously. Joab said to David, "The Lord add to you more and more!" In effect he said, "The Lord has multiplied you greatly, the Lord has given you much and the Lord can give you much more, why do you want to do this thing and grieve the Lord?" But David was determined and he thrust the good counsel of Joab aside and pressed on and numbered Israel and took the sum. And then the angel of the Lord came and offered him famine, pestilence or falling before his enemies and he was in a strait, not knowing which to choose. But compelled to make a choice, he said, "I must fall into the hands of the Lord!" and the awful pestilence started and went on, smiting young and old up and down the land, wiping out that grand total, undoing all his census for him and making it foolish, ridiculous, and of no value. At long last David came to the threshing-floor of Ornan and the angel of the Lord met him. David on his face before the Lord appealed to the Lord, "I have sinned, punish me, judge me; not these others, let them go, I am responsible!" The Lord said to the angel, "It is enough, put up now thy sword!"
Well, briefly, there was a threshing-floor of Ornan, there was Ornan threshing with his oxen. David bought the floor and all that was in it, paid the full sum for it and built an altar there and sacrificed unto the Lord and then exclaimed, "This is the house of the Lord!" The context in Chronicles tells us that the ark and the tent were elsewhere, far away, and David could not go to them for fear of the Lord. Now he says, "This is the house of the Lord!" It seems as though it came to him by revelation. Suddenly he realized, "This is the house of the Lord! Whatever that place is, that tent yonder, that is no longer the house of the Lord! This is it; that is only a location, a convenience; that has served a purpose, not in the direct line of the purpose. That is something, but this is it, this is the house of the Lord!"
What is the house of the Lord? The house of the Lord is where sin has been fully judged and the glory of man and of this world has been brought to nought and where God alone, in grace, in mercy, is found. That is the meaning of this threshing-floor. Threshing had been done, an altar had been built, a sacrifice had been made, sin in all its vileness had been seen, recognized, met, and judged in an awful judgment, and man who wanted something for himself to glory in - "See the great kingdom that I have, the great multitudes that I have, see what strength I have!" - the gratification of this flesh, the glory of this world, the whole thing has been broken and ground to powder in awful judgment. The glory of this world and the glory of this flesh - it is laid in dust, judged and put away. Man is out, God alone is there, supreme, vindicated. That is the house of God.
When Jacob came to Bethel, really to Bethel, eventually to Bethel where he could abide, it was no longer as the usurper of old, the supplanter of old. It was now as the man whose strength had been broken under the touch of God, whose glory had been weakened, who went upon his staff to the end of his days and whose name had been changed from an earthly to a heavenly one. "Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel", a prince with God (Gen. 35:10), and that is Beth-El, the house of God.
It is always like that, for Calvary always precedes Pentecost; the Cross always precedes the upper room, the church, the glory. The house of God really has no place for the glory of man, no place for unjudged sin, no place for this world. The house of God is where God in His glory alone is found. What a lot of history there is lying behind such a truth, such a fact. Again we can understand why it is that Christendom, claiming to be the church, is out of the way; God is outside. It is the sporting ground for flesh, the place in which this world has a large standing. Satan has ever and always sought to veil the glory of God by bringing his stuff in. While it is very costly, God needs a few Nehemiahs, overcomers in the form of Nehemiahs, who will turn the stuff of foreigners out of the house of God. Oh, what a stroke of satanic genius that was to get someone of the world outside installed right in the sanctuary and given a compartment to bring in his stuff. Yes, you can undo the very nature and vocation of the house of God by bringing the stuff in from the outside and it wants a Nehemiah to turn it out and turn out, lock, stock and barrel, those who have no right there. "God is in His holy temple" (Hab. 2:20); that is His place.
This has to come home to us and that brings us to the fact that the house of God, initially and continually, is always based upon an altar. The Cross is basic to the house of God, basic to our lives if the glory of the Lord is going to be revealed. The measure of the Cross will be the measure of the glory; the measure of the glory in our lives and in our meeting together will be the measure in which the Cross has done its work in bringing to an end our own natural life, our own natural glory and all that belongs to this world in us. The glory of the Lord will be just in proportion to the work of the Cross in us for the house of God, for His testimony is always based upon an altar. Wherever it is, you will find it so. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." The Holy Spirit has come to constitute a vessel for the testimony of God, the glory of God. The Holy Spirit waits upon the work of the Cross and the Holy Spirit will always demand the work of the Cross. If the Cross leads to the Spirit, the Spirit always points back to the Cross.
At Corinth there is that which claims to represent the house of God but there is strength of flesh, worldly interest there, the natural glory. The first chapters of the first letter to the Corinthians show that so clearly, and the apostle, because he is a man in whom the Spirit is burning concerning the testimony of God, the glory of God and the true sanctuary for that testimony, he has to say, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). It is the only thing for you Corinthians: it is no use my coming to say anything else to you; the only thing to be said to you is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is the only way to change this situation. Christ crucified - the judgment and end of all this that belongs to man by nature, unregenerate, whatever it is." That is the meaning of Christ crucified.
Well, what does it amount to? We are all concerned, I trust, with the glory of God, that God should be glorified in us individually. I am sure that is true. And we are probably also concerned for the glory of God in our assembly life, our corporate life, and in the life of the church as a whole. If so, that glory can only come in as we go out. The glory demands our exit, I mean the exit of ourselves by nature. I know how familiar that is, but I also know that the older we get and the farther we go on with the Lord, the more we realize how we have been in the Lord's way. Perhaps that ought to be a mark of growing up in the Lord, to recognize just how much we have been getting in the Lord's way, how much the glory has been retarded by us. Our note becomes more and more emphatic as we go on. For the glory of God, we have got to get out of His way.
Let me say, as I close, that that is the key to the awful tragedy of Israel. There has not been very much glory in Israel since the fall of Jerusalem, whatever there was for some long time up to the death of Christ and the following sixty or seventy years. There was not very much then, but there has not been very much since. The glory has been veiled; ah, the glory has departed. Why? What is the explanation? I think that it is summed up in one word by Paul, just one sentence - "Being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3), and you can put it all into a part of that last clause - "did not subject themselves". The way of glory is, whatever it means and to whatever it may apply, submitting ourselves. There is no place for the glory if we ourselves, ourselves as ourselves, are there. Submission may be intellectual submission. You never get very far to the glory of God if your intellect is on the throne over against what God has said. It may be the submission of our will. The glory of God will not be there if our wills are dominant. It may be the submission of our desires, our affections. It may be submission on some particular point, to whatever it may apply. There is going to be no glory, no testimony, until we have submitted ourselves, for that is the essence of Calvary - "Not my will, but Thine, be done." "Have not submitted themselves" - that is the key to a very tragic history of the glory departed. I think we will stop there with that solemn warning and exhortation.