The Church in the Desert

Israel in the desert as a type of the Church in the world.

C.H. Mackintosh

Israel's privilege

What a marvelous spectacle was the camp of Israel, in that waste howling wilderness! What a spectacle to angels, to men, and to devils! God's eye ever rested upon it. His presence was there. He dwelt in the midst of His militant people. It was there He found His habitation. He did not, He could not, find His abode amid the splendors of Egypt, of Assyria, or of Babylon. No doubt those nations presented much that was attractive to nature's eye. The arts and sciences were cultivated amongst them. Civilization had reached a far loftier point amongst those ancient nations than we moderns are disposed to admit. Refinement and luxury were probably carried to as great an extent there as amongst those who put forth very lofty pretensions.

But, be it remembered, Jehovah was not known among those nations. His name had never been revealed to them. He did not dwell in their midst. Not one of those nations could say, "Jehovah is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare will an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt Him." Exodus 15: 2.

Jehovah found His abode in the bosom of His redeemed people, and nowhere else. Redemption was the necessary basis of God's habitation amongst men. Apart from redemption the divine presence could only prove the destruction of men; but, redemption being known, that presence secures man's highest privilege and brightest glory.

God dwelt in the midst of His people Israel. He came down from heaven, not only to redeem them out of the land of Egypt, but to be their traveling companion through the wilderness. What a thought! The most High God taking up His abode on the sand of the desert, and in the very bosom of His redeemed congregation! Truly there was nothing like that throughout the wide, wide world. There was that host of six hundred thousand men, beside women and children, in a sterile desert, where there was not a blade of grass, not a drop of water-no visible source of subsistence. How were they to be fed? God was there! How were they to be kept in order God was there! How were they to track their way through a howling wilderness where there was no way? God was there!

In a word, God's presence secured everything. He was there in all the fullness of His grace and mercy-there in His perfect knowledge of His people's wants, and of the difficulties of their path-there in His almighty power and boundless resources, to meet these difficulties and supply these wants.

The camp of Israel was a type of the church

Now, in all these things, the camp of Israel was a type-a vivid, striking type. A type of what? A type of the Church of God passing through this world. The testimony of scripture is so distinct on this point, as to leave no room and no demand for the exercise of imagination. "all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." 1 Cor. 10: 11.

Hence, therefore, we may draw near and gaze, with intense interest upon that marvelous spectacle, and seek to gather up the precious lessons which it is so eminently fitted to teach. and, oh, what lessons! Who can duly estimate them? Look at that mysterious camp in the desert, composed, as we have said, of warriors, workers, and worshippers! what separation from all the nations of the world! What utter helplessness! What exposure! What absolute dependence upon God! They had nothing-could do nothing-could know nothing.

But God was there, and that, in the judgment of faith, was quite enough. They were shut up to God. This is the one grand reality. Faith owns nothing real, nothing solid, nothing true, but the one true, living, eternal God. Nature might cast a longing look at the granaries of Egypt, and see something tangible, something substantial there. Faith looks up to heaven and finds all its springs there.

Thus it was with the camp in the desert; and thus it is with the Church in the world. The world may truly be termed a moral wilderness. Looked at from God's point of view, that assembly is not of the world; it is in complete separation. It is as thoroughly apart from the world, as the camp of Israel was apart from Egypt. The waters of the Red Sea rolled between that camp and Egypt; and the deeper and darker waters of the death of Christ roll between the Church of God and this present evil world. It is impossible to conceive separation more complete. "They," says our Lord Christ, "are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." John 17.

Then, as to entire dependence; what can be more dependent than the church of God in this world? She has nothing in or of herself. She is set down in the midst of a moral desert, a dreary waste, a vast howling wilderness, in the which there is literally nothing on which she can live. There is not one drop of water, not a single morsel of suited food for the Church of God, throughout the entire compass of this world.

So also as to the matter of exposure to all sorts of hostile influences. Nothing can exceed it. There is not so much as one friendly influence. All is against her. She is in the midst of this world like an exotic plant belonging to a foreign clime, and set down in a sphere where both the soil and the atmosphere are uncongenial.

Such is the Church of God in the world-a separated-dependent-defenseless thing, wholly cast upon the living God. And, farther, that what the wilderness was literally to Israel, that the world is, morally and spiritually, to the Church of God. The wilderness was the sphere of Israel's toil and danger, not of their supplies or their enjoyment; and the world is the sphere of the Church's toil and danger, not of its supplies or its enjoyment.

We speak, be it remembered, from the divine standpoint-of what the Church is in God's sight. Looked at from man's point of view-looked at as she is, in her own actual practical state, it is, alas! another thing. We are now only occupied with the normal, the true, the divine idea of God's assembly is this world.

And let it not be forgotten, for one moment, that, as truly as there was a camp in the desert, of old-a congregation in the wilderness-so truly is there the Church of God, the body of Christ, in the world now. Doubtless, the nations of the world knew little, and cared less, about that congregation of old; but that did not weaken or touch the great living fact. So now, the men of the world know little and care less about the assembly of God-the body of Christ; but that, in no wise, touches the grand living truth that there is such a thing actually existing in this world, and has been ever since the Holy Ghost descended on the day of Pentecost.

There is an assembly passing through this world, just as the literal Israel passed through the literal desert and, moreover, the world is, morally and spiritually, to that Church what the desert was, literally and practically, to Israel of old. Israel found no springs in the desert; and the Church of God should find no springs in the world. If she does, she proves false to her Lord. Israel was not of the desert, but passing through it; and the Church of God is not of the world, but passing through it.

The Church according to God

If this be thoroughly entered into by the reader, it will show him the place of complete separation which belongs to the Church of God as a whole, and to each individual member thereof. The Church, in God's view of her, is as thoroughly marked off from this present world, as the camp of Israel was marked off from. the surrounding desert. There is as little in common between the Church and the world, as there was between Israel and the sand of the desert. The most brilliant attractions and bewitching fascinations of the world are to the Church of God what the serpents and scorpions, and the ten thousand other dangers of the wilderness, were to Israel.

Such is the divine idea, of the Church; and it is with this idea that we are now occupied. God has a Church in the world. There is a body now on the earth, indwelt by God the Spirit, and united to Christ the Head. This Church-this body-is composed of all those who truly believe on the Son of God, and who are united by the grand fact of the presence of the Holy Ghost.

And, be it observed, this is not a matter of opinion -a certain thing which we may take up or lay down at pleasure. It is a divine fact. It is a grand truth, whether we will hear or whether we will forbear. There is such a thing as the Church of God, amid all the ruin and the wreck, the strife and the discord, the confusion and division, the sects and parties. This surely is a most precious truth. But not only is it most precious, it is also most practical and formative. We are as bound to recognize, by faith, this Church in the world, as the Israelite was bound to recognize, by sight, the camp in the desert. There was one camp, one congregation, and the true Israelite belonged thereto; there is one Church-one body, and the true Christian belongs to it.

But how is this body organized? By the Holy Ghost, as it is written, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12: 13.) How is it maintained? By its living Head, through the Spirit, and by the word, as it is written, "No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." (Eph. 5: 29)

Is not this enough? Is not the Lord Christ sufficient? Doth not the Holy Ghost suffice? Do we want anything more than the varied virtues that are lodged in the name of Jesus? Are not the gifts of the eternal Spirit quite sufficient for the growth and maintenance of the Church of God? Doth not the fact of the Divine presence in the Church secure all that the Church can possibly need? Is it not sufficient for the exigency of every hour!" Faith says, and says it with emphasis and decision-"Yes!" Unbelief-human reason, says, "No! we want a great many things as well." What is our brief reply! Simply this, "If God be not sufficient, we know not whither to turn. If the name of Jesus doth not suffice, we know not what to do. If the Holy Ghost cannot meet all our need, in communion, in ministry, and in worship, we know not what to say."

The sufficiency of the Name of Jesus

It may, however, be said that "Things are not as they were in apostolic times. the professing church has failed; Pentecostal gifts have ceased; the palmy days of the Church's first love have passed away; and therefore we must adopt the best means in our power for the organization and maintenance of our churches." To all this we reply, "God has not failed. Christ the Head of the Church has not failed. The Holy Spirit has not failed. Not one jot or title of God's word has failed."

This is the true ground of faith. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." He has said, "Lo, I am with you." How long! During the days of first love? during apostolic times? so long as the Church shall continue faithful? No; "I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." (Matt. 28) So also, at an earlier moment when, for the first time in the whole canon of scripture, the Church, properly so called, is named, we have those memorable words," On this rock [the Son of the living God] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18

All we seek to maintain is this, the all sufficiency of the name of Jesus for all the exigencies of the Church of God, at all times, and under all circumstances. There was all power in that name in apostolic times; and why not now? Has any change passed over that glorious name? No, blessed be God! Well then it is sufficient for us, at this moment, and all we want is to confide in it fully, and to show that we so confide by discarding thoroughly every other ground of confidence, and coming out, with bold decision, to that peerless and precious name.

Oh! Christian reader, we call upon you, by every argument which ought to weigh with your heart, to give your cordial assent and consent to this one eternal truth, namely, The all-sufficiency of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the assembly of God, in every possible condition in which it can be found, throughout its entire history. We call upon you not merely to hold this as a true theory, but, to confess it practically and then, assuredly, you will taste the deep blessedness of the presence of Jesus in the outside place-a blessedness which must be tasted in order to be known; But, when once really tasted, it can never be forgotten or surrendered for anything beside.

Fragments from the book, "Notes on the Book of Numbers".

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