We desire to press upon our readers the necessity of deep heart-searching's before God as to the present general condition of things, and the lack of spiritual power and freshness in the gatherings together of the saints of God. Much depends in the way of testimony to those without, as well as edification to those within, upon the condition of the assemblies of the saints (I Cor. 14), and the glory of the Lord is ultimately lined up with it. Thence the importance of the subject.
When the soul is not honest and open before God it is easy to persuade oneself that things are not so bad after all, better, at least, in the limited circle in which we move than in any other. We exaggerate what seems right and minimize what is undoubtedly wrong, and compare ourselves with others to our own advantage, and in so doing we are like children playing at “let's pretend,” and all the advantages of such folly go to our tireless and subtle enemy. Delusions of this sort are specially fatal, for they hinder us from going to God in true soul exercise and learning in His presence how we appear before Him, which is the only road of recovery.
It will do us no harm to hear what solemn things God had to say to His people of old. They might well come home to us today. He said, “This people draw near to Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. 29:13). That indictment described THEIR PRAYERS AND WORSHIP WHEN THEY PROFESSEDLY GATHERED TO HIM. Do they describe ours and do our consciences stir uneasily as we read the words? Notice what went along with this condition, that which went along with this condition, that which probably was the chief cause of it - the precept of men had taken the place of the Word of God and His fear. The Word had been ousted from its authoritative place, and precept and tradition had become the rule of conduct, and they walked in the fear of what men thought and taught instead of the fear of God. Consequently the Word was a sealed book to them; seers, prophets, and rulers could not understand it and the unlearned could not read it. The whole state is laid bare in this solemn passage.
But is not this increasingly the condition of things today? How often does some teaching, tradition, or man-made rule bind the conscience instead of the Word! How often is the plain Word - the commandments of God - neutralized, made of none effect by the precepts of men! Could any condition be more deplorable than this? For does it not prove that man is more to us than God, that God Himself has been displace in the heart? It surely does, for “IF A MAN LOVE ME HE WILL KEEP MY WORDS.”
God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth, and if men's words have taken the place of His, this cannot be done, and to profess to draw near to Him in prayer or worship when the heart is removed from Him can only move His displeasure, for it is mere pretence. And where such a condition of things has set in recovery is needed, and recovery can only be reached by the way of repentance.
There is another solemn description of these people not less searching: “The children of thy people...speak to one another, everyone to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh froth from the Lord. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and THEY HEAR THY WORDS, BUT THEY WILL NOT DO THEM; for with their mouths they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for THEY HEAR THY WORDS BUT THEY DO THEM NOT” (Ezek. 33:30-32)
Here is described their gatherings for the PREACHING AND TEACHING OF THE WORD.
These people came to be interested and pleased by the preaching, to approve or to criticize as the word accorded or otherwise with their particular view of things, but they had not intention of being subject to the Word they heard. They did not gather with Samuel's cry in their hears, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” Nor did they inquire with Saul of Tarsus, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Their minds were already made up to go their own way, and to please themselves.
Happy are we if this state of things does not describe the meetings with which we are familiar, but eh test as to this surely is, “How much does all the preaching and teaching of the Word to which we have listened affect our practical living? do we go forth from hearing the Word to do it? Or are we like theses hypocritical of old who with their mouths showed love, but whose hearts went after their covetousness?” solemn questions theses, and yet is only by searching and probing that the true condition of things is revealed.
There is a further passage which brings out the awful subtlety of the human heart, and proves the necessity of living before God if we are to be preserved from being deceived by it. It tells us when Israel was in trouble under God's chastening hand, “They sought Him and enquired early after God... Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth, AND THEY LIED UNTO HIM WITH THEIR TONGUES. For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant” (Ps. 78:13-37).
“They lied unto Him with their tongues.” With theses ancient people there was merely the wish to escape trouble, they did not intend to hear the rod, or learn the lesson that God's chastening love would teach them. They professed sorrow and piety, but it was hypocrisy. From such an awful condition may the good Lord deliver us. But we need to search our hearts. God is not less holy than every he was, though the fullness of His grace has now revealed itself. For lying unto God Ananias and his wife were stricken with instant death. “Our God is a consuming fire.”
It will be noticed that in each of theses scriptures quoted the heart has a prominent place.
- They removed their heart from Me.
- Their heart goeth after their covetousness.
- For their heart was not right with Him.
Everything depends upon the heart for out of it are the issues of life. When the people of God become sick with this heart malady He alone can recover them, but how comforting it is to know that He is always ready to do this. The heart is reached through the conscience, and that again is reached by the Word, but the Word is ineffective unless there is revived in the soul the fear of God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, it is the gate of every true blessing. Under its influence His Word assumes its proper sway in the conscience, enlightens the understanding, and revives the languishing faith, so that “GOD IS” becomes the prime fact in our lives. Men sink into their true insignificance, the thoughts and intents of our hearts are laid bare, judged, and repented of, and we and our brethren are all measured according to His presence.