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Footsteps of the Flock (Part 6)

Author, expositor, preacher and missionary John Matthias Davies (1895-1990), whose collected writings span nearly 1,500 pages, was mightily used of God to bring blessing to those who heard him and those who still read his works. His exceptional gift for effective and powerful exposition of the Word of God was never more clearly seen than in his “Footsteps of the Flock” book, chapter 6 of which is reproduced below. 

Footsteps of the Flock

Part 6

The Separated Preacher – The Believer’s Service

“To be liberated from sin should mean unconditional vassalage to the liberating Lord.” Every true believer is to be a servant, a bond-slave of Jesus Christ. Each individual who has been born again has some responsibility to fulfil. Every member of the body has not the same office; there is diversity but there is to be harmony also. Even “the joints and bands” have a responsibility (Col 2:19). Rheumatism in the joints is a common malady and when each believer is not seeking to fulfil his or her responsibility, the fellowship will get stiff and rheumatic in the same way.

Besides the ministry “which every joint supplieth” there is the more definite service, the public ministry in the gospel and teaching of the Scriptures which is that that we wish more especially to consider.

That we are living in the days of apostasy is clear to all who have eyes to discern the times. The darkness of doubt and unbelief seems to be deepening on every hand. Satan’s emissaries are busy every where propagating evil doctrines. The arch-enemy of Christ seeks by every means possible to draw the servants of the Lord away from the path laid down in the Word for them. Even should they be true to the main tenets of the gospel he will seek to make them unfit for service, he will seek to render their ministry powerless by alluring them into unscriptural and unclean fellowships.

“A true witness dclivereth souls” (Prov 14:25)
“A faithful witness will not lie” (Prov 14:5)
“A faithful messenger refresheth the soul of his masters” (Prov 25:13)
“A faithful ambassador is health” (Prov 13:17)

These Scriptures make it clear that if we are to be a blessing to souls and a joy to the Lord, it is imperative that we should “run in the way of His commandments”, in the footsteps of Him who was the “true and faithful witness” who ever spake the words of Him that sent Him and was undefiled, separate from sinners.

If we are to win the prize, we must run lawfully, and with patience. Our service, if it is going to acceptable to the Lord and be approved by Him in that day, must be rendered according to the precepts, principles and pattern laid down m the New Testament.

PAUL’S EXAMPLE.

The dealings of the Lord with Paul are exemplary, hence much space is given in the New Testament to the record of his conversion, calling and conduct, both as a saint in the world, and as a servant in the church.

“Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” was his first question to the Lord. Soon afterwards he received a definite commission. “Depart, for I will send thee far hence to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:2). Of this he was confident, consequently he did not consult with “flesh and blood” (Gal 1:7). He did not apply to the other apostles and seek their commendation but rather patiently waited for God’s time to confirm the commission already received. This period of waiting was also a period of testing. Of it he speaks when he says, “The Lord counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” In due time the call given so many years before was confirmed. In a measure it was confirmed when Barnabas sought for him to come to help in the work at Antioch, but it was confirmed in full through the church at Antioch, when the Holy Spirit said “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Paul’s training for further service was received in the assembly as was that of Timothy later, for the church is the “ground and pillar of the truth.” Training schools and seminaries are not God’s ideal. Training in such a place develops the knowledge in advance of experience, and perhaps at the expense of experience, for of necessity a training school cannot give training or experience in church matters. Experience of church affairs can only be gained in a local assembly. A course of study in “Pastoral Theology” does not supply the lack of this practical training.

It should be superfluous to note that the confirmation of the apostle’s call was not referred back to the church at Jerusalem for their consideration and censorship, or approval as the case might be. There was no society formed at Antioch either, no organisation for the maintenance and control of the Lord’s servants. Although the apostle returns to Antioch once and rehearses to the church there what the Lord had done, he does not in any way look upon it as the centre for the supply of all his needs. To the church at Corinth he wrote, “When your faith is increased – we shall be enlarged by you. To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you” (2 Cor 10:15-16). Each newly formed church was to form a centre for the furtherance of the gospel. This makes it clear that the progress of the gospel depends upon the local church as well as upon the faithfulness of the servant of the Lord. But there is an utter absence of anything like “headquarters” or centralisation in the New Testament. The local church is recognised as a unit in direct touch with the individual servant.

The important principle of the call to the individual being confirmed through another is not limited to Paul only. Even in the Old Testament it is to be found. The Lord called Aholiab and Bezaleel by name to work with the Tabernacle, but this was confirmed to and through Moses also. The same principle is seen in the case of Timothy. It is not recorded that he made his desire known to the brethren, but rather by his life and testimony in the assembly he had so manifested his fitness for the work that the apostle would have him go with him in the work of the gospel.

THE OX AND THE DONKEY

“Thou shalt not plough with an ox and a donkey together”(Deut 22:10). This would have been an unequal yoke. The ox was a clean animal, but the donkey was unclean. The firstling of a donkey had to be redeemed by a lamb or have its neck broken. For a true believer, one who has been cleansed and thus rendered fit for service, to be yoked together in the service of the gospel with an unconverted man – whatever may be the other qualifications the unconverted man may possess is entirely unscriptural.

Paul’s yokefellows were first of all his fellow-believers, and then his fellow-workers. Yet how many there are today who do not adhere to this fundamental principle in service for God. Under a false Christian charity men serve along with others whom they know to be unregenerate.

“Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds, lest the fruit of thy vineyard be defiled” (Deut 22:9). There is to be no mixture of doctrine preached. “A sower went forth to sow” is the scriptural illustration of the preacher, and to preach conflicting doctrines leads to defilement. The servant of the Lord is not to sow divers seeds himself, neither is he to have fellowship with a man who does.

Fellowship with a man means fellowship with that he teaches.

“Lay hands suddenly on no man, be not partakers of other men’s sins” (1 Tim 5:22). The elect lady was not to receive into her house, or to bid “Godspeed” to the false teachers of that day, those who taught subversive doctrine regarding. The person of Christ. “He that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). It was the false teachers of His day and age that the Lord called the “workers of iniquity.” “Some men’s sins are open before hand” – unsound morals, and hence the individual is given the outside place, the place of the unclean without question. “But some men’s sins follow after.” Their sin is not so easily manifested. In this list comes false doctrine, and too often the teacher of it is tolerated. How many pulpits today are filled with men who deny the infallibility and inspiration of the Scriptures, yet they are the highly esteemed dignitaries of their denominations.

Under the old economy the man with leprosy in his body was regarded as unclean and put outside the camp, while the man with leprosy in his head was pronounced “utterly unclean” and consigned to the same place outside the camp. We are exhorted to give heed to sound doctrine, and to hold fast the form of sound words, while false doctrine is severely censured by the Lord.

The doctrine of Balaam (Rev 2:14), the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:15) and the doctrine of Jezebel (Rev 2:20) are alike condemned.

Fellowship with evil doctrine is defiling.

“Be ye not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor 15:33). This is written concerning evil teaching. There were those who taught there was to be no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12). As the sowing of a mixture of seeds defiled the fruit, so evil teaching defiles the life. It corrupts. Contact results in contamination. It is only sound doctrine that can result in fruit for God. The apostle Paul warns Timothy to shun false teaching – profane and vain babblings (2 Tim 2:15-21) for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and will eat as doth a canker. It will eat away as does gangrene, a malignant growth that saps the very vitals. On characteristic of such is that it seldom manifests itself until it has the individual in its grasp. So with evil doctrine, it works insidiously and slowly saps the vitality out of the testimony.

The servant of the Lord is to study to shew himself approved unto God, by rightly dividing the word of truth, by dealing honestly, setting forth truly, without perversion or distortion the word of God; by shunning profane and vain babblings; and by purging himself from false teachers.

Separation from false teachers fits the servant for every good work. The “vain babblings” spoken of in 2 Tim 2:16 refer to the false teaching, whereas the pronoun “these” in v21, “If any man purge himself from these“, refers to the false teachers mentioned in verse 17, “of whom is Hymaneus and Philetus.” Verses 18 and 19 are parenthetical. Thus purging himself from false teaching and false teachers he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctifed and meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work. In chapter 3:16 we are told that the Scriptures “thoroughly furnish” the man of God unto all good works, but it is separation that prepares or fits him.

The servant a vessel.

Thus being separated is the path to being a “vessel unto honour”, a vessel to be used for honourable purposes, meet for the Master’s use. By nature we were all “marred” vessels (Jer 18:4) but God had mercy upon us, and thus we were made again into other vessels, “vessels of mercy” (Rom 9:23) and prepared unto glory.” All the vessels of the ministry “were sprinkled with blood” (Heb 9:21), and after use or defilement were washed (Lev 6:27, 4:32). The widow that was in debt was asked to bring “empty vessels not a few” (2 Kings 4:3). In the tents of God’s people the vessels were to be covered (Num 19:14-15) thus protecting their contents from being contaminated. When Ruth was gleaning in the harvest field she was enjoined, when thirsty, to go to the vessels that had been “filled” (Ruth 2:9). It is from vessels in which the word of God “dwells richly” that weary gleaners will be able to quench their thirst.

The earthen vessel that was defiled in any way was to be broken, as unfit for use again (Lev 6:28). How solemn when we realise that the treasure is in “earthen vessels” today (2 Cor 4:7). Throne water demands clean vessels. It is only clean vessels that are vessels unto honour. Hymaneus and Philetus were not vessels unto honour. They were delivered to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. Their blasphemy was evil teaching. Paul was a vessel unto honour. God used him to the salvation of souls, to the establishing of assemblies, and the building up of the church.