Christian testimony looks back on almost 2000 years of history. At times the lamp of testimony has burned dimly, though it seems that God has always had a faithful remnant on earth. Whenever the light flickered and seemed about to go out, believers have been driven to the Word of God for strength and guidance as to the will of God. Convictions thus derived have led them back from the departure and declension of their day, into times of revival and blessing, albeit sometimes paths of persecution and suffering. The Scriptures have proven to be a safe and sufficient guide from Pentecost to the present and will be until the Lord comes.
In the Old Testament, there were eight occasions that could be considered as spiritual awakenings in the history of God’s earthly people. These have been linked with Moses (Ex 24); Samuel (1 Sam 7); Elijah (1 Kings 18); Asa (2 Chron 15), Hezekiah (2 Chron 30), Josiah (2 Kings 23:); Ezra (Ezra 7), and Nehemiah (Neh 9). Though some were shorter-lived than others, what was common in each of them was a whole-hearted acceptance of the Word of God.
History teaches us that when truth is initially received or recovered, it can gradually be relinquished by succeeding generations that may hold it with less conviction, not appreciating its value to those who paid the price to possess it. This may be illustrated across the three generations of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. Although Solomon wrote, “Buy the truth and sell it not,” when he was old, he “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father.” Rehoboam consulted with the old men, but forsook their counsel, so the people of Israel were made to question, “What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in Jesse.” Another has aptly described David as a buyer in truth’s market, Solomon as a broker in truth’s market, and Rehoboam as a beggar in truth’s market.
In the decades and centuries following the early churches, the truths and principles of the apostle’s doctrine were gradually diluted and dispossessed. By the end of the sixth century, the Roman Catholic Church emerged as a mighty religious empire with a vassalage of kings and rulers. A thousand years later, as reform swept Europe in the sixteenth century, justification by faith was rediscovered, and the Bible was restored as the final authority in all matters of faith. However, in the centuries following, Protestant churches became either state institutions or denominations with a formal structure and clerical hierarchy. Christendom today, as then, represents a mixture of belief and unbelief, spirituality and worldliness. And yet, research has brought to light the fact that local New Testament churches never completely died out, even in the darkest days after the fall of the Roman Empire. How God has maintained a remnant upon earth that has been faithful and not denied His Name is worthy of our interest.
For the heritage we now possess, we are eternally indebted to several gifted and well-educated young men (and a few women as well) in Britain in the 1820’s and later. Many in their 20’s and 30’s led the way out of Protestantism, and laid hold upon the truths of the Word of God regarding the Lord’s coming for the Church, and gathering to the Lord’s Name alone. This movement was accompanied not only by revival at home, but missionary endeavour abroad at a level not seen since the days of the apostles. What marked this return to first principles? It was without doubt, first of all, devotion to Christ, a hunger for the Word of God, and a desire to obey it.
It is possible that many of us who are in the second, third, or fourth generation of believers in assembly fellowship are not marked by the same faithfulness to the Word of God as our only authority and guide in our personal and assembly lives. Perhaps we have taken our privileges for granted and hold the principles of scriptural gathering a little looser than did our forefathers. The challenge then is for us to test our beliefs and practices by the Word of God, so that, when we are challenged to conform to the ways of the religious world around us, we maybe able to stand with some conviction, and with the help of God, preserve the deposit that has been placed in our hands to keep until the Lord returns (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:13,14).
While God has called us to the privilege of gathering to His Name alone, we cannot claim higher ground, but acknowledge with deepest humility, that, as members of the body of Christ, “we are one with every saint that loves Thy Name.” How small a part we play in the great purposes of God, and yet local assembly testimony that conforms to the scriptural pattern is most precious and special to God. In the face of much weakness and failure, we should be thankful for any measure in which the assembly of which we form a part is a company where there is room for the whole Word of God, a company from which a clear gospel is still preached, a company where the Lordship of Christ is displayed, and where purity and separation from the world is maintained. May what the Lord said to the church at Sardis be true of our generation, “Thou hast a few names which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy,” and may His exhortation to Philadelphia be our incentive, “Behold, I come quickly: hold fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”