Man of God
Brother Robert Roberts reached the point of despair in 1885 with the prevalence of false doctrine infecting the fellowship, making the application of the doctrine of fellowship impossible. An illustration of this is what he says in The Christadelphian 1885 page 303-305 regarding those who taught or tolerated partial inspiration of the scriptures. There he states:
“The question is how are we to proceed to get rid of them in our midst?… what we propose to do is to take a line of action that will make no mistake … We propose to rally to the right doctrine, and then to step aside from all who refuse to do this..” (i.e who refuse to rally to the right doctrine and step aside – a solution first established by Moses, Exodus 32:26)
“The community as a community has become corrupt. We propose to cease our connection with it on this account. We will go out in the name of allegiance to the Bible as God’s wholly-inspired and infallible word. This is a Scriptural line of action. To ‘come out from among them’ [2 Cor.6:16-18; Isa 52:11] is a matter of command when a community, as such, has become hopelessly corrupt. We have done it before when we came out of the sects which claim to be Christ’s people. It is the only course that can extricate us from the false position in which we have been placed by the the reception of a false and destructive doctrine by so many in our midst.”
He again continues:
“No voting process can purge us from the spiritual leprosy….I cannot agree with those who say we should only separate from those who teach error, and not from those who believe it”
As Robert Roberts relates, this policy is in harmony with 2 Cor 6:16-18; and Isa 52:11 it is also in harmony with Exodus 32:25,26 “who is on the Lord’s side”?
It is quite clear that Robert Roberts felt he had no other option than to step aside from the whole Christadelphian body. He did not expect that so many would stand aside with him, and was fully prepared to stand alone if necessary. However as things turned out the majority of the Birmingham meeting supported his stand and thus stood aside with him. Those that did not stand with him were subsequently called “Suffolk Street”.
When the reunion took place in 1957 it reversed the good work that brother Roberts did, and the state of the fellowship today can be directly traced back to that event.
The following exhortation was written by a brother who was one of the minority that stood aside in 1957 and eventually formed the Old Paths fellowship. Sadly the Old Paths are no longer upholding the BASF as their basis of Fellowship, but there is another group that do: the Secretary is now happily one of that number. Anyone who wishes to enquire further please contact the Secretary here.
My dear Brethren and Sisters,
In 1 Kings 13, there is much to help and strengthen us to hold fast in the troubled state we find ourselves in, as the result of our separation. As a result of the division between Judah and Ephraim, Jeroboam the son of Nebat had set up in Bethel an altar in connection with the calves of gold he had made for worship, fearing the effect upon the people of going up to the true worship of the Lord at Jerusalem. It was this schismatical altar that the man of God was sent to denounce. Shall we turn please to 1 Kings 13:
“And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, this saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This [is] the sign which the Lord hath spoken: Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that [are] upon it shall be poured out. And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of God” (1 Kings 13:1-5).
But not only was he to faithfully denounce the false worship but he was to have not fellowship with those who supported it.
“And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refesh thyself, and I will give thee a reward. And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thy house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place. For so it was charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, no turn again by the same way that thou camest. So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel.” (1 Kings 13:7).
This he faithfully carried out in the first place, but later was seduced from the good and right way by the old prophet of Bethel, as we read further:
“No there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father. And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah. And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon, and went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, [Art] thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I [am]. Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread. And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place: for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat not bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest. He said unto him, I [am] a prophet also as thou [art]; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thyine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. [But] he lied unto him. So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came unto the prophet that brought him back: and he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee, but camest back, and has eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which [the Lord] did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers. And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, [to wit], for the prophet whom he had brought back. And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase” (1 Kings 13:11-24).
Thus, the man of God was turned from the way of obedience by an old prophet who had departed from his office so far as to support the false worship of Bethel. Possibly his heart was half inclined to Bethel, otherwise he would not have listened so readily to the old prophet’s words. He might also have reasoned that the old prophet had more experience than himself in the Word of God, being a prophet like himself. But he should have known that even should an angel from heaven tell him to depart from the word of God, he should not listen. We note his end buried in the grave of the old false prophet, who called him “my brother” being slain by a lion. To eat bread and drink water in a place associated with false worship may seem a very small thing to be punishable by death, but when we remember that it implied the toleration of the Bethel worship and worshippers, it is far more serious than appears on the surface. Now this incident has been written for our learning so what instruction in righteousness can we get from it? First that those who cause a division set up a schismatical altar which is not acceptable to God. The duty of every man of God is to denounce it, and not to fellowship those who support it. No words of any man—even of they are old in the Truth should be listened to, if they tempt us to depart from a faithful separation from false teaching and practice.
If we do listen to false ideas, and tolerate them by fellowship we shall be in danger, as it were, of being slain by the Lion of Judah at his coming. We have had to separate ourselves, because of a corrupt statement being forced upon us. It is the authors of it which have caused the division, and if their table is now like Jeroboam’s altar in Bethel in the sight of the Lord, they have only themselves to blame. We note in passing that the worship at Bethel became progressively corrupt. Like the man of God out of Judah, we can be deceived by subtle arguments and lies, and we want to take diligent heed to the words of those who may approach us with the object of persuadeing us to return unto them. If God has commanded us to faithfully denounce error, and separate ourselves from it, and those who hold it, we must obey lest we also perish and be buried in their grave. Much more could be said regarding this incident of the man of God, which is so helpful to us in our present circumstances, but we pass on to Jeremiah 39, where the same lesson of judgment upon apostasy is depicted. Shall we turn to it please:
“In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, came Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army against Jerusalem, and they besieged it. [And] in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth [day] of the month, the city was broken up. And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate, [even] Nergalsharezer, Samgarnebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Negalsharezer, Rabmag, with all the residue of the princes of the king of Babylon” (Jer. 39:1-3).
Thus God brought judgment upon Jerusalem for her idolatry and sins. But it is instructive to remember, that these six Babylonian princes were the literal fulfilment of a vision of Ezekiel in chapter 9 of his prophecy, when he saw six men with a destroying weapon come to bring judgment upon Jerusalem. Shall we please turn to Ezekiel chapter 9:
“He cried also in my ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man [with] his destroying weapon in his hand. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them [was] clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar. And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity. Slay utterly old [and] young, both maids and little children, and women, but come not near any man upon whom [is] the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which [were] before the house.”
Here was a separation between those who feared the Lord and who sighed and cried for all the abominations done by the people of God in Jerusalem and those who did not. Jeremiah and Ebed Melech were two upon whose forehead was the mark, and they were saved from death when the Chaldeans destroyed the city. There is an application of Ezekiel chapter 9 which applies to our own day and to the judgment seat of Christ. By our separation, brethren and sisters, can we hope that God has set the mark of His Truth upon our forehead. And if so, do we sigh and cry for the abominations that are committed by those who profess the Name of God? If Jeremiah and Ebed Melech were saved, it was because they trusted in God and obeyed His commandments. We shall be likewise, if we faithfully separate ourselves from the Apostasy around us, and walk in the way of righteousness. Few there were in Jerusalem who feared the Lord and hoped in His Salvation, and few there are in our own day. The end of the Gentile age has come upon us and the judgments associated wit it, and it behoves each one of us to take heed to our ways before the man clothed in linen with a writer’s inkhorn (even our Lord Jesus Christ) comes to judge the house of God. That time is near, as is evident by our reading from Mark 13:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when her branch is yet tender, and uptteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: so ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is night, even at the doors” (Mrk. 13:24-29).
The Master draws attention to the fig tree, that figure of Israel. We have lived, brethren and sisters, to see the barren tree of Israel come to life in the uprise of the Jewish state of Israel. It is beginning to blossom and bud in preparation fro the time when she shall fill the face of the earth with fruit. No greater sign has been give us, of the Lord’s near return than the return of the Jews to the their land, and the revival of their national life. He is truly at the door, as the consideration of the various signs force home upon us.
Are we ready for the angel of the Lord to come and say to us “the Master is come and calleth for thee?” If he came now while we are assembled here, would we be glad to see him, and rejoice that the time has come for us to leave this mortal life—which at best is only a state of exile from Eden, and go to be with the Lord, and if found faithful share with him the glory, honour, and incorruptibility of the Kingdom of God. The angel will come one day, brethren and sisters—and perhaps sooner than we think! How can we be ready for his coming with some measure of joy and confidence that the Master will find us acceptable? Only, brethren and sisters by the means God has given us in His Love and Mercy. His Word diligently and prayerfully readf daily and carried out in the commandments Jesus has left us for our observance. It is only through the Word of God that we can attain to that intimate companionship with the Master so beautifully depicted in the Song that we become as the woman who counts the days until her absent lord she sees, as we sometimes sing. But concerning our waiting for his return, the Master has these words:
“But of that day and [that] hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. [For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.” (Mrk. 13:32-36).
He first says, brethren and sisters, that the actual date of his return is not known. In consequence of that fact he stresses three things:
- To take heed to our walk in the Truth so as to be ready.
- To watch the signs of the times so that we might be kept in a spirit of expectancy.
- To pray that we might be counted worthy to escape the troubles associated with his coming, and stand before him.
His coming is to be so unexpected by the household of Faith that some are caught sleeping. We have reached such a time—and we say this advisedly. There is little or no expectance of the Lord’s immediate return by the body of those who profess the Truth as a whole.
The general pursuit of worldly prosperity and comfort gives little indication of any feeling of urgency in relation to his appearing. The narcotic fumes of engrossment in temporal things has lulled them to sleep. In such a time as this, brethren and sisters, of unpreparedness for the Master’s return, his thrice repeated warning: “Watch” comes home with force. The Greek word for “Watch” here means “to keep awake, to arouse from sleep, gather one’s mental faculties.” By his use of it, the Master implies that the state of things concurrent with his return would be conducive to spiritual slumber. And so we find it brethren and sisters. We can even thank God for this controversy over union with Suffolk Street. It has meant, perhaps, a rough shaking up in more ways than one, but if we are rightly exercised by it, it will help to keep us from slumber. Instead of large meetings in comfortable rooms, we have to struggle for the Truth in small companies under a certain amount of odium and reproach. We have had of necessity to examine much the foundations of our Faith and have as a consequence a clearer understanding of its principles than perhaps we had before. We have been cut off from much that was a dead weight to the spiritual runner in the community we have left behind, and are as a consequence much better fitted to maintain that wakefulness that the near coming of the Lord demands in relation to spiritual things. We are in the happy position, brethren and sisters, of having to struggle for the Truth, and that is always a great defence against engrossment in temporal things. It is evident that the Master has given us a work to do for the remaining short period of his journey to a far country. We must resist the desire to be satisfied with our separation and take things easy. The Truth must still be preached for the obedience of Faith, for we are the only witnesses of the Holy City left; we do not think that the community we have left can be termed as such. Let us labour for the Name as much as lieth in us and though our strength is small and the Truth has become a day of small things again, the Lord will bless our efforts, and we may accomplish more than we think. Do not be discouraged brethren and sisters, even if some of our community sleep in relation to the Truth. Let us struggle individually to keep awake like the true watchmen of Zion who watch until morning. And presently the Master will come and reward every man according to his work. Happy shall we be if we are counted worthy to attain to that morning without clouds which David said was all his salvation and desire. God help us so to do. Amen.
originally given at Nuneaton, August 18th 1957