Every dispensation of God has proven man in the flesh a dismal failure. It was true when man was left to his conscience from Adam till Noah, when violence and corruption filled the earth and the flood destroyed mankind; the same when human government was entrusted to Noah, but soon after that the building of the tower of Babel was a determined defiance of God’s Authority, and God confused the languages of men. God then chose Abraham to be the father of the nation Israel, to whom He gave the ten commandments, but under this perfect law Israel not only failed, but rebelled against God. Because mankind by then was proven totally sinful, God sent His Son to be a sacrifice for sinners, and since then the long dispensation of the grace of God has been wonderfully active in saving countless precious souls and making them members of the body of Christ, the Church, as the Lord Jesus said, “On this Rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).
The work of the Lord Jesus is absolute perfection. What he has done can never be touched by all the power of the enemy. But what about the testimony of the church as committed to people on earth? The fact is we have failed miserably, and that testimony lies in utter ruin, being divided into hundreds, if not thousands of segments. For in God’s sight the church is “one pearl of great price,” “one body,” “one flock,” its unity emphasized in many ways; but in our practice that unity is far from evident. The ship on which Paul was sailing in Acts 27 is a picture of the church in its place of responsibility. It was totally shipwrecked, though every individual on board was preserved, just as every true believer is preserved by God in spite of the church’s failure in responsibility.
Should this sad fact make us defeatists? Absolutely not! God is not defeated, though we have sadly defeated ourselves. Though everything around us may fail, the individual is still responsible, and will still be sustained by God if he puts the Lord Jesus first. This is seen in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, when he speaks of some who have “strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is past already; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18).
In such a case the individual cannot correct the ruined condition of the church, but he is to realize that “the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal, The Lord knows those who are His, and Let every one who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (v. 19). We may not always know who are His and who are not, but God knows: that is His side of the seal. Our side is “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” We must leave that which is a dishonor to the name of the Lord Jesus. But on the positive side, we are told to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (v. 22). Sadly, this will not include all believers, but it will be obedience to the Word of the Lord.
Though we can never hope to regain a practical unity of all the church of God, it is deeply important that we greatly value the Lord’s words, “On this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” and to rejoice in the perfection of the work of the Lord Jesus in accomplishing this great miracle of grace. With such an attitude, we shall deeply love all the children of God, whether we can walk with them or not. How good it is to realize that our failure to act on the truth surely brings out into greater relief the perfection of the Lord’s work, which bears witness to the greatness of His blessed Person.
Thus, in thoroughly judging ourselves and giving Him the place of supreme honor, we shall be fitted as true worshippers of the Lord of glory.