As we near the end of time and approach the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the dangers which face the church will increase. It is not the dangers from without, such as wars, persecutions, disrupting of territorial boundaries, lack of finance, that will constitute our greatest peril. The condition within the church is that which we need to guard against most of all. God has a "little flock" scattered over the earth, made up of people from every land and almost every language. This flock constitutes His remnant church in the earth, and as such it is to be pure and holy, without spot or wrinkle. In it are to be found peace, love, joy, light, and power, such as no other body of people enjoy.
Just as God gave Adam charge over the earth, to keep the garden and to dress it, to multiply and fill the earth with fruit, so He has given His pastors charge over His flock, to keep it always, to love it, to protect it, to build it up so that the world may be filled with precious fruit when the husbandman shall come for the harvest. We fa-e the danger of "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." While it is true that this danger may come from the carelessness of the people themselves, yet I wonder if the ministers of the Lord, the pastors of the sheep, may not also be responsible for some of the worldliness and lukewarmness which exist among us as a people.
It was the task of Jeremiah to call attention to the condition of the church in his day. With weeping and groanings he went about among the churches and called for a reformation. His words were not addressed to the people alone. They were directed to the leaders and to the pastors, as well as to the people. Read his words :
"The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew Me not: the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets proph-, esied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit." Jer. a :8.
"Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed My people: Ye have scattered My flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them : behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord." Jer. 23 :I, 2.
Strong language to use against those that "handle the law" and that "feed My people," as the Lord states through the prophet. Do we accept the counsel given to Israel by the Lord as applicable to Israel today ? Are we much different from them or better than they were back there? Is not the root of apostasy strong among us today, also? Is there not too much backsliding? Are there not too many leaving the church by the back door while new ones are coming in through the front door ? Wherein lies the answer to these questions ? Are we not prone to take for granted that a certain percentage of persons who come into the church will fall out and leave the truth? And yet we continually talk about bringing back those who have apostatized. Why do they bo-o out the back door ? Will resolutions stop the leak? I am afraid not. What then shall we do?
Flock to Be Fed, Not Driven
It is my firm belief that the place to start is not so much with the people as with the pastors, the ministers to whom has been given the charge, "Feed the flock of God." The ministers are not necessarily to preach to the people constantly, for we have been told that too much preaching is one of the causes for the coldness and apathy which is seen in some of our churches. They must be led into green pastures, not driven. The prophet Ezekiel joins Jeremiah in calling upon the pastors to have a care for the flock. He records the following words which were given him from the Lord God:
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds: Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves ! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed : but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened. neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost ; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And .they were scattered, because there is no shepherd : and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill : yea, My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them." Eze. 34:2-6.
Then follows a terrible denunciation against the shepherds that "feed themselves" and "feed not the flock." While we may seek to apply these verses to the apostate priests of ancient Israel, or to the apostate ministers of Christendom today, at the same time we must face the question of their application to "Israel." The messenger of the Lord has placed some of the responsibility upon us as ministers. You and I must be willing to share the responsibility, even though that responsibility may not be pleasant.
"'Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.' The church will rarely take a higher stand than is taken by her ministers. We need a converted ministry and a converted people. Shepherds who watch for souls as they that must give account will lead the flock on in paths of peace and holiness. Their success in this work will be in proportion to their own growth in grace and knowledge of the truth. When the teachers are sanctified, soul, body, and spirit, they can impress upor. the people the importance of such sanctification."– "Testimonies," Vol. V. p. 227.
"The watchmen are responsible for the condition of the people.—Id., p. 235.
Yes, "we need a converted ministry and a converted people." This is a paramount need in this testing time. We who are to teach others what is meant by true conversion surely must taste the sweetness and the joy of this conversion ourselves. Specific sins are mentioned here that are in keeping with the words of the prophets of old : "While you open the door to pride, envy, doubt, and other sins, there will be strife, hatred, and every evil work." What a terrible condemnation is to be found in the statement that, while Jesus seeks entrance into our hearts, yet we "are afraid to bid Him enter."
Is it not time that we, as pastors of the flock of God, should turn to Him with all our hearts, with weeping and with strong crying? Is it not time that we permitted the lowly Jesus to fill our hearts and do for us that which we cannot now do for ourselves? Surely the time demands a clean, pure, and holy ministry. We need intellectual men, yes, but we need spiritual men more. When the two are combined, then God will be glorified through His ministers and He will clothe thern with righteousness. The lame will not be turned out of the way and the wounded will not be left to die. Instead of a stream of people going out the back door of the church, we will see that volume lessened to a great degree. The people want to be led by spiritual leaders, and they will follow this type of leadership. The condition of the church is largely what the condition of the ministry is.
Let us remove the blame for the worldly condition of our churches from others and take the guilt upon ourselves. Then let us seek the remedy, the only sure remedy—full and complete conversion of our own hearts. Note one more quotation that has to do with the type of ministers which God does not need in His work. It is a daring statement, but a vital one, and the pattern for us to follow:
"The self-sufficient, the envious and jealous, the critical and faultfinding, can well be spared from His sacred work. They should not be tolerated in the ministry, even though they may, apparently, have accomplished some good. God is not straitened for men or means. He calls for workers who are true and faithful, pure and holy ; for those who have felt their need of the atoning blood of Christ and the sanctifying grace of His Spirit."—/d., P. 224.
"Jesus took upon Himself man's nature, that He might leave a pattern for humanity, complete, perfect. He proposes to make us like Himself, true in every purpose, feeling, and thought—true in heart, soul, and life. This is Christianity. Our fallen nature must be purified, ennobled, consecrated by obedience to the truth. Christian faith will never harmonize with worldly principles ; Christian integrity is opposed to all deception and pretense. The man who cherishes the most of Christ's love in the soul, who reflects the Saviour's image most perfectly, is in the sight of God the truest, most noble, most honorable man upon the earth."—Id., p. 235.
May the Lord make us true ministers of His, so that we may lead the flock day by day in such a way that when He asks of us the question, "Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock ?" we may say with Jesus, "I kept them in Thy name : those that Thou gayest me I have kept, and none of them is lost." Then on that day soon to come, when He shall give rewards unto His servants, we shall lay all our sheaves at His feet and give unto Him the praise for that which He has so wondrously worked out through us in the saving of the lost.