THE CHURCHíS DANGER

 

The Temple was the summary of the whole standing and destiny of Israel; and a key-fact between the dispensations of Law and Grace is that to-day there is equally a Temple, but spiritual.  "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2: 5): "know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3: 16).  And the parallel is designed.  "In these things" Paul says, "they became FIGURES OF US" (1 Cor. 10: 6, R.V., margin).  Both Temples are Godís special creation; both are the sole abode of God on earth; both could be defiled, and so draw down the Divine displeasure; and in each case, when the last crisis approaches, an enormous gulf yearns between what God says is coming and what the people of God imagine is coming.  The sequel of Jeremiahís whole prophecy, in his final chapter, is the disintegration and dissolution of the Temple.

 

The immediate future of the ancient Temple, and of the Holy Land, created a sharp and public clash on the grand scale.  At the critical moment, when the destiny of Godís people hung in the balances, and iniquity was deepening on every hand, Hananiah - a unique figure in the Bible - confronts Jeremiah, and the vast crowd in the Temple precincts, with the promise of a golden dawn.  "Hananiah spoke in the house of the Lord, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lordís house" (Jer. 28: 3). It was as public a challenge as was possible: it was a blank denial of Jeremiahís prophecy of Israelís seventy years - not two - in exile (Jer. 29: 10): it was a positive prophecy, definite, minute, detailed: it claimed to be an utterance straight from God.  Moreover, Hananiah attached no condition whatever to the promise of peace: the Temple vessels were to come back merely because they were the Temple vessels.  Jeremiah and Hananiah embody the two mighty, antagonistic outlooks of the people of God in a dying dispensation.

 

Now the silence of Scripture concerning Hananiahís exact spiritual standing most helpfully shelters very diverse optimists under his cloak.  He is five times called a Ďprophetí by the Scripture itself; and Jeremiahís words concerning him certainly seem to imply that he was a genuine prophet - "The prophets that have been before me and before thee;" and his national acceptance as a prophet Jeremiah never challenges.  It may be that, like so many to-day, Hananiah absorbed himself exclusively in Scriptures that seem to state limitless privilege, such as that which Balaam uttered (Num. 23: 21) - "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel."  Or, perhaps more probably, like a modern Pentecostalist, it may have been a demonic seizure which he sincerely mistook for a Divine inspiration, and which he had not been careful - challenged, as he was, by the startling prophecies of Jeremiah - to sift and test.  In any case, Hananiah is the embodiment of all who "lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us: none evil can come upon us" (Mic. 3: 11).*  

 

[* If Hananiah really doubted the divine inspiration of Jeremiahís warnings, as the modern Hananiah doubts (or avoids) the still graver warnings of the New Testament, surely their fundamental rightness, their essential justice, their total independence of human wishes, ought to carry overwhelming conviction of the divine origin of both.]

 

So now we face the sharp clash of prophecies over the respective Temples in each closing dispensation.  The fact that sin, judgment, repentance are words that Hananiah never once uses, and that they appear completely absent from his mind, the Temple alone absorbing his thought, yields the clue: privilege - the enormous privileges of the Temple of Jehovah - produced the fatal oversight of the consequences of sin.  Jeremiah had warned of this:- "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, the temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, are these" (Jer. 7: 4) - the People of God; immune, therefore, from all possible judgment.  Israel thought that the Temple - the summary of themselves - guaranteed them from Divine displeasure apart altogether from any question of sin.   It is a sore temptation of Godís people throughout all the ages to absorb the sweets of revelation while they eschew the bittersThere is a dangerous parallel to-day.  The spiritual Temple, more wonderful even than the Temple of old, is the marvel of the world; its privileges reach up to heaven: nevertheless sin - [That is, wilful, high-handed, known, deliberate, unconfessed and unabandoned sin.- Ed.] - in the People of God is the same as all other sin; and our peril of the Great Tribulation, and our certainty of a coming Judgment Seat, God explicitly statesBut this danger is denied by the two conceptions that cover nearly all contemporary Christian thought. Either (1) the Spiritual Temple is to dominate all nations by the conversion of the world; or else (2) the Spiritual Temple is to be removed, every stone of it, into sudden glory: in either case, disaster may overtake Egypt, or Assyria, or Babylon, but Godís Temple - never.  It is exactly so that Hananiah speaks: he claims that his happy forecast is Godís Word; and he spoke, unchallenged, for the whole People of God.

 

Now Jeremiah gives the answer of God that runs through the ages, and is our model. "Amen: the Lord do so: the Lord perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of the Lordís house."  Fundamental privilege abides; and its assertion, in main and in foundation, is right concerning both Temples.  For both temples the final future is golden, and the ultimate deliverance of both Temples is sure.  Jeremiah himself has given (31: 33) as lovely a word of Israelís salvation at the last as any ever given; and it is from this Prophet, out of all others, that the Holy Spirit selects the great charter of grace to eternal Israel. (Heb. 8: 10) :- "I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them; for I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more. Nevertheless Jeremiah reaffirms judgment on sin as the universal testimony of Godís prophets, and warns that privilege which wipes out judgment will prove a mirage.  He says :- "The prophets of old prophesied of war, and of evil, and of pestilence" :- that is, all Scripture clamps together sin and judgment, for every human soul, with links of steel; and all who do not take the warnings must take the consequences.  You, Hananiah, prophesy peace, with no conditions - no sobs of repentance, no abandoned sin, no joyous obedience, to precede the Golden Age: the coming facts (Jeremiah says) will show which is the Word of God.  So Jehovah Himself puts it:- "All shall know [by the events themselves] whose word shall stand, mine, or theirs" (Jer. 44: 28).

 

A symbolic action follows, in which Hananiah, instead of being startled by the blank contradiction, and bowing to the Word of God, resorts to violence, so forecasting persecution.  He steps forward and snatches the Yoke Jeremiah was wearing as a symbol of the coming judgment, and breaking it, blankly denies the Seventy Years captivity of the People of God:- "Thus saith the Lord, Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar within two full years from off the neck of all the nations" (verse 11).  But the danger for the People of God of such a negativing of Divine prophecies now leaps to light: denial of judgment openly deepens it.  After Jeremiah had slipped quietly away, God says to him:- "Tell Hananiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord: Thou hast broken the bars of wood; but thou shalt make in their stead bars of iron." Defiance of truth only aggravates judgment, for sin only deepens with impenitence, and automatically increases the judgment.

 

So also the extreme personal danger of leading others astray by contradicting Godís Word on coming judgment on both Church and world is embodied for all time in Hananiah. "Hear now, Hananiah," Jeremiah says, sent expressly by Jehovah to the facile optimist - (Jeremiah himself had sought no vengeance whatever upon Hananiah) :- "thou makest this people to trust in a lie: therefore saith the Lord, Behold, I will send thee away from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die, because thou hast spoken rebellion against the Lord."  In two years, Hananiah said, Jehovah would deliver them all: in two months he was dead.*  

 

[* It is the refusal of the believerís judgment which gives the Arminian believer his whole standing: for it is the penal consequences with which the sinning servant of God is threatened are not (as we believe) temporary, they are eternal: they are concrete and real in either case, and Hananiahís role of denial is as dangerous as it is disloyal.]

 

This vital disclosure is crowned for us by the fact that the chief revelation of our own Temple is carefully set in dual warning.  The revelation is this:- "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3: 16).  Immediately before this supreme truth there is set a warning, concerning the believer whose discipleship has been mere wood, hay, or stubble - "He himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire"; and immediately after it, a warning still graver - "If any defileth the temple of God, him shall God defile; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."  "In the LXX as well as in the New Testament the Greek word means to Ďmarí: the passage may, therefore, be rendered, ĎIf any man injure the temple of God, him will God injureí" (C. Hodge, D.D.). The Church would be a holier church if it realized its dangerIt is no imagination even of the apostle, but an inspired portrait (Rev. 1: 14), that when our Lord appears to His Churches in order to examine their works - "I know thy works" - He confronts them - all His Churches, without any exception - with eyes of fire and feet of burning brass; and it is to the Church of God that these words are addressed - "The Lord shall judge his people.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10: 30).

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