1 Peter 4:2; Ephesians 5:16; 1 Chronicles 12:32
I desire to say something, dear brethren, in connection with the times. God has ordained that the history of creation should be marked by time, and, whilst it existed before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, it was decreed that these bodies in the heavens should regulate time. It is said of them that they were to “be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years”. (Genesis 1:14).
Spiritually, I apprehend, that time should be regulated by Christ, for it is He who regulates everything, whether it be your tiny life and mine, or the history of the assembly here, or the millennial period: all is necessarily regulated by Christ. He it is who in the heavens sets the beginning of things and the end. Indeed He says of Himself that He is the beginning and the end; a statement conveying great light morally, implying that all else goes for nothing save what begins with Christ and ends with Christ. So in the first of Genesis, in that way we have an indication of consideration on the part of God that time should be regulated by One who had sympathy and care for those who should have part in it. It was not simply the result of the revolution of heavenly bodies.
Now you will observe that in the verse from which I have quoted in Genesis 1, there is nothing said about weeks. The weeks are not determined by these heavenly bodies, although it is true, as I will show, that Christ regulates the weeks also. The idea of a week is seen in the Sabbath, and the Sabbath is introduced, not as a necessary end of a period governed by any heavenly body, but arising from a divine necessity; that is, rest. God “rested on the seventh day”. (Genesis 2:2). The week is very interesting, especially in view of the place it holds in Scripture. Christianity began, as you might say, with the first day of the week, for we may date it from the first day of the week. The Holy Spirit did not descend until fifty days after, but the new thing began in Christ arising and entering into the assembly, or the company of His own, in the upper room at Jerusalem; and, following upon that, on the next first day of the week He came again. In that way, He inaugurated what may be called a weekly period. In other words, assembly life, as one may say, is composed of weeks; the Lord having indicated this, not by commandment but by precedent. Christianity is much more established by precedent than by precept, although we have precepts, commandments, and ordinances in Christianity, each of which is obligatory in its place; but the precedents established by the Lord Jesus acquire a peculiar place in the minds of those who love Him.
It was not only what He did, but how He did it: not only what He said, but how He said it. All these things enter into the experience of a lover of Christ, and the disciples were all lovers of Christ at the beginning. They all loved Him and they had impressionable hearts, and the impressions that they received from the Lord were to be passed on to us, and they have been passed on. Precedent in that way becomes an impression, and what one would desire more than anything else is to convey a spiritual impression; and this is not only by what may be said, but the manner and spirit in which it is conveyed.
Now the precedents I refer to are those which the Lord set after He arose. Indeed the facts attending His resurrection are recorded so as to produce certain impressions. There was a total disregard of human restrictions and limitations. The stone was rolled away but that was not necessary for Christ to come out. He came out before and everything in the tomb was in order; there was no evidence of a struggle. And, being out of the tomb, He is not seen by the public eye, but He appears to Mary in the garden. She thought He was the gardener, but He says, “Mary”. What an impression that must have made on her mind! If the Lord were to call one of us by name, you can understand that a lasting impression would remain. I believe He will pronounce all of our names. He calls Mary by name. He intended to produce an impression on her, and then He sends her with a message to the brethren, to His brethren, by which He intended to produce an impression on them, and now He appears in their midst, the doors being shut, and He says, “Peace be unto you”. (John 20:19). He stood in the midst. It does not say that He sat down. The present is a provisional period, and so the Lord stood in the midst; but in standing He says, “Peace be unto you”.
All that, and much more that I cannot mention now, was intended to produce an impression that should remain, so that Christianity should be a reality in this world, a spiritual institution with the impress of Christ on it; and so He established the principle, or practice, of weekly visitations to His own. Do you not, therefore, readily perceive how a lover of Christ at the beginning would regard his history, viewed in relation to the assembly, as a weekly one? I can well understand it. I can understand Peter or John saying, The Lord came the first day of last week, and He came another first day. It was not necessary that every visitation should be recorded. We have the principle established that they were weekly; not that one would limit the Lord, for He is sovereign, but He did establish that precedent. Hence, dear brethren, the assembly’s history, as in time, I apprehend, is in this respect, made up of weeks.
What I may be for God individually, and what I learn through discipline in a scene of contrariety, is daily, I understand, so I take up my cross daily. I am enjoined to do that, not weekly, but daily. But when you come to the first day of the week my collective relations are in evidence. We read that on that day the disciples came together to break bread; this was necessarily a collective act; the Lord comes before us peculiarly; we are for Him and He manifests Himself to us. The Lord manifests Himself and the exercise of the soul that loves Him is to apprehend Him in the special way in which He would manifest Himself on each occasion, and whatever that is it is to mark that week. Each week has its own stamp on it.
People speak about the humdrum life of Christians, the sameness of it. This is true of some of the so-called Christian churches, the Anglican, for instance, but not of genuine Christianity. If I take up an English Episcopalian prayer book, I find that the scripture enjoined to be read on a given Sunday in 1620 is that which is to be read on the same Sunday of 1920. Is that not sameness? What were the manifestations of Christ during all these Sundays? What are they to the worshipper, so-called, who uses that volume as his medium of worship? He has lost the great feature of Christianity, the manifestations of Christ to His own. We do not want to miss these, beloved brethren. We get them in their blessed varieties in the beginnings of our weeks. Let us not for a moment entertain that the Lord is inactive; He is not inactive. He can come to His own and make Himself known afresh week by week.
But what I am saying is the secret of all the light we have had. I believe that the things that have come to us during the last century are the effect of these manifestations, the Lord making Himself known from time to time in His own gracious way to His people, to His servants, with the result that we have had freshness; we have had vigour; we have had life, and we must not lose these things, dear brethren. We do not want to drop down into an unordered period of time. We want to have our weeks, beginning them with Christ. The life of the assembly is involved in this.
But then, as I said, there is the daily life, and that leads me to the passage I read in 1 Peter: “No longer to live the rest of his time”. Now that comes to me, and it comes to the youngest one here, as it comes to the very oldest. What about the rest of yourtime? You will have to account at the judgment-seat of Christ in regard of all the years that have passed, all the days that have passed, for we are to give an account to God; as it says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body ... whether it be good or bad”. (2 Corinthians 5:10). It is not here the rest of the assembly’s time; it is individual; “the rest of his time”. How is that to be spent? I speak for a moment to the young people here. If one “will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (1 Peter 3:10); further the young are enjoined: “Honour thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth”. (Ephesians 6:2,3). This is not a promise to be despised. It is given to the young. The first commandment with a promise is given to the young. “That thy days may be long”. How are they to be employed? What have you in your mind as to your days? Prosperity in business? Well, it says in the passage before us that the rest of your time is to be for the will of God. As doing the will of God you are in accord with the Ark of the covenant; to use the language of the types, you are a board in the tabernacle.
Now I speak, as I said, to the young, and I would urge it upon you, not to be deceived in regard to present conditions. The commercial conditions are very promising. I know of no time in the history of the world when opportunities were as great for commercial prosperity as the last few years and the present one afford; but it is most deceptive. If you go through Scripture you will find that the Spirit of God lays great emphasis on the commercial feature of the world, and the prince of the commercial world of ancient times; that is, Tyre, is likened to Satan himself in Ezekiel 28. I just mention that so that we may not be deceived by commercial prosperity. You may say, I have to make my living, I have to work with my hands the thing that is good as the scripture enjoins. How am I to do that and escape the spirit of competition that the world encourages at the present time? Well, I will tell you. Hold the rest of your days, for the will of God. If you are here for the will of God you will not want. “That he no longer should”, it says, “live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God”. That is the sure antidote to the evil of accumulation of wealth in this world for one’s own pleasure. As here for God’s will my earnings are held as subject to that will.
In Ephesians you have not only the rest of your time, little or long as it may be, but the time. The time has to be redeemed; that is, you see how much enters into the time. You are not wasting it. You do not usually waste what you pay for; what costs you something you are liable to value. So it says, “Redeeming the time”. Buy it up if it is available. Make the most of it. The epistle to the Ephesians, affording to us the portion that is coming to a heavenly people, a people that have access to what is not bounded by time, enjoins that we are to value the time; we are to redeem it, and why? “The days are evil”; every opportunity is therefore to be seized and turned to the best use.
Peter sets before us the general principle that what is left of one’s time is to be spent here for the will of God, whereas Ephesians speaks of the time, and it is to be taken advantage of so that one does not waste it. The moments are precious. There is a moment in which I can do something for Christ; in which I can speak a word for Him; in which I can say something to a thirsty soul. The Lord Himself said in Spirit, “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned”, (Isaiah 50:4). “That I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary”. We have here a touching indication of the manner and object of the Lord’s gracious and lowly service in this world. Let me say here, dear brethren, that though there is very great inactivity amongst the people of God, the activity that marks us, as compared with the light and privileges we enjoy, is very meagre. Say unto Zion, “Let not thine hands be slack”. (Zephaniah 3:16). It is not that I would make you legal, but I do urge this on myself and on you, that the time is to be redeemed; it is short; there is much need, and hence much work to be done. In writing to the Corinthians the apostle says, “the time is short”; not the life of any of the Corinthian saints, but the period of testimony is short, and he says, “that both they that have wives be as though they had none”, (1 Corinthians 7:29 – 31). That is, you hold things lightly here. Your one aim is the furtherance of the Lord’s interests in this world. His testimony is to be constantly before you. “The time is short”.
Well now, in turning to Chronicles I wanted to amplify this a bit; because I think the men of Issachar are like Ephesian Christians. It is said of them that they “had understanding of the times”. It is not now that they redeemed the time, or that the time was short, but that they understood the times; and so I just seek to enlarge on this point because understanding is so important, otherwise, what we do we may do amiss. They had understanding of the times, it says, “to know what Israel ought to do”. In other words, it is a question now of assembly obligations. It is not simply what I do, it is what Israel ought to do; and, may I inquire, dear brethren, as to whether we are accustomed to view the saints, and clothe the saints with assembly thoughts? If I meet a saint I am to clothe him, as it were, with assembly thoughts; if I meet two or more saints I clothe them in the same way. In other words, I have understanding of the time and I apprehend what Israel; that is the assembly, speaking in Christian language, what the assembly ought to do.
Now I dwell on this thought of understanding, and in order to make it clear I would refer to Daniel. Daniel, in chapter 9: 2, tells us that he “understood by the books”. Now I do not urge you to read everything, but it is important to read. We read of Ezra as “a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given”, (Ezra 7:6). I would be disposed to read anything that Ezra wrote. I am not saying that Daniel acquired his knowledge by such literature (he speaks of the books, the Scriptures) as may have been written to meet the local need of the saints, but I have no doubt that Daniel would gladly read any helpful production, and if you cannot hear a man whom God has qualified to minister, then do not despise what he may write, for God uses scribes. There was a scribe in David’s regime; there was a chronicler also. The scribe or secretary, was a man who would write down at the king’s mouth what the king might wish to communicate. Such a man is of great importance, especially in a day like the present, when the saints are so widely scattered, and many isolated. The preacher in Ecclesiastes indicates the exercises of one employed in this service. He says: “The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth”, (Ecclesiastes 12:10).
The Holy Spirit has given much for the people of God and it is for us to get the benefit of what is available. So it says, “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd”. (verse 11).There are words of wisdom, words of truth, carefully set down as food for the saints. Well now, Daniel said he understood by books, and by these books he gathered that there were certain time limitations, seventy years, and then there should be a return of the captivity. We gather the mind of God in this way from reading. Daniel understood by books that there should be a return of the captivity after seventy years, and so he prays.
I have been speaking about reading. Now I would urge prayer; so let us turn, for a moment, to the book of Daniel. It says, “In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; In the first year of his reign, I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem”. Thus he acquired an “understanding of the times”. And now he says, “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed”, (Daniel 9:1 – 4). How much do we pray, dear brethren? I have been speaking about reading, but I ask, How much do we pray, and how far do we travel in our prayers? The more you are with God the wider shall become the area covered by your prayers, until the whole household of faith is embraced, and indeed “all men”. Do not be satisfied with your prayers until you, as it were, cover the whole household of faith. As Scripture enjoins: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints”, (Ephesians 6:18).
So Daniel set his face to prayer; and then it says, “Whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation”. (Daniel 9:20, 21). What a wonderful experience that was! It was about the time of the evening oblation, and that was what his prayer was. It was an oblation; it ascended to God. And so Gabriel speaks to him:
“He informed me, and talked with me”. (Verse 22). Is it not worth while to pray? Pray on, until you, as it were, receive a divine communication. Something from the Lord will come into your soul. “He informed me”, he says, “and talked with me”. Those of us here who have had to do with God in prayer know something about this. It is a wonderful experience to have to say to God, and as you pray and embrace the saints in your prayers, you get an impression from God; you become assured He has heard you. “If we know that he hear us ... we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him”. (1 John 5:15). It is inexpressibly precious to be conscious that God hears us. And then it says further, “And said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding”. (verse 22). These things are all within our reach. Is there any young brother here who desires to have the mind of God? “Consider what I say”, says Paul, “and the Lord give thee understanding”, (2 Timothy 2:7) but prayer enters into this. Gabriel says further: “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved”. (Verse 23). Think of that! As you are praying, God looks into your heart; He knows what is going on in your heart, and He greatly loves you, as you pray, taking into account, as Daniel did, the state of His people, bearing them on your heart before Him. And then it goes on:. “Therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision”. And now look! “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy”. What a message!
As we look abroad in the world as it is, what a message this is! “To finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy”. (verse 24) God had determined seventy weeks and there cannot be seventy one. There shall be just seventy; seventy weeks are determined. What are they determined for? “To finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity”. What great results to look forward to for a man like Daniel! And then, “To bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy”. Can anything fail? No! There were just seventy weeks determined for the accomplishment of all these things. And who acquires the knowledge of this? The man who reads and the man who prays! He comes into the light of all these great facts. In like manner the mind of God may be acquired by ourselves. Thus by reading and prayer, we become like the men of Issachar, we have understanding of the times; we know the times, and not only that, we know what Israel ought to do. And that to me involves assembly obligations at the present time.
You may ask, Where is the assembly? Well, I cannot show you the assembly but I know it exists here on earth. “The Lord knows those that are his”; (2 Timothy 2:19) and if I am an Ephesian saint, so to speak, I love all the saints. I am concerned about them all; I pray for them, for I have “understanding of the times”, and I know “what Israel ought to do”. Hence it is a question of assembly obligation and, as we apprehend that, we clothe the saints with assembly thoughts. The Lord clothes them thus. As we sit down to partake of the Lord’s supper we are taking it in the light of the assembly, and the Lord views us in that light. If others are not there we miss them, if we are with God. The Lord misses them. One would always be prepared to partake of the Lord’s supper if it is available. The Lord looks for you there, and those who love you look for you. It is a question of what Israel ought to do. I believe that in these last days the Lord has shown us that there is at least that which Israel ought to do; namely, to partake of the Supper. The Supper belongs to the assembly, and every member of the assembly should partake of it. If not, why not? If something is wrong, judge it; there is grace with the Lord to adjust you, so that you should be qualified to respond to His desire. Those who have “understanding of the times” know that Israel ought to do that, and it is for you to have part in it.
Well, beloved brethren, I have nothing more to add, but I think my thought is clear enough and simple enough, that the time is precious and it is for us to fill it out, not only in regard to our personal history but the history of the assembly; the little that remains is to be redeemed and used for the Lord and naught else. May God bless the word!