“And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.” – Isaiah vii, 25.
How strictly accurate in their fulfillment are the testimonies which our God has been pleased to give, pointing out the travel of the Church through time. Assuredly is she a witness in her travel to the eternal Truth of God; the prophecies, instructions, and testimonies of which are fulfilled in that travel, and witnessed by her membership. The Church is a living witness to Truth; not to the world, but to those born of God, and made manifest to heirs of that heavenly inheritance.
She is kept pure and holy to Truth, because the God of Israel presides over her travel; and purifies her in the refining baptism of fire.
The prophet speaks of the prevailing abominations in the Israel of his day; and same old and oft-repeated story of their idolatry, their fleshly leanings, their wanderings in, and by, forbidden paths. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns. With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briars and thorns.” – verses 23, 24.
What a dismal, gloomy picture. Here are the miry and marshy places (Ezekiel xlvii, 11,) that “shall not be healed,” but “shall be given to salt.” As truly as “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” – Romans xv,4, do we see the fulfillment of these typical testimonies in the travel of the professed spiritual Israel of today?
We must look for the fulfillment of these things among professed “Baptists,” for assuredly the church of Christ is a Baptist Church by New Testament description; none other need apply, from that Bible view-point. Ignoring New School Baptists we may well take professed Old School Baptists, which can be numbered in the United States today by thousands. With the exception, alone by the grace of God, of Anti-means, the entire denomination is filled with “strangers uncircumcised in heart,” (Ezekiel xliv, 7;) homey-combed with disorders of all kinds; while worldly spots (Jude 12, – such as secret societies, etc.,) as breeding ulcers permeate the whole body; “briars and thorns” of fleshly productions and developments; the wild growth of nature, cover the ground, destroying fellowship, and making organizations who claim to be “Gospel churches,” among these people, anything else but a home for the children of grace.
Yet in the dismal prophecy from which we quote a bright light is revealed; “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” – verse 14. Again, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep; and it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give that he shall eat butter; for butter and honey shall every man eat that is left in the land.” – verses 21,22. Here indeed is a glorious revelation of Gospel brightness in the overshadowing darkness; “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” – Isaiah lx, 2. “And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock.” The hills in this text evidently refer to the visible churches which were to be brought forth in this Gospel development, when the King should reign in righteousness.
The Psalmist refers to these churches in their oneness as the “one body” of Christ in Psalms ii, 6; “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.” And again in the plurality of the development the many in one, in Psalm lxxx, 10: “The hills were covered with the shadow of it.” Again Psalm xcv, 4; “The strength of the hills is His also.” And again in Psalm lxv, 12; “The little hills rejoice on every side.”
The teem hills represents the exaltation of these churches above the world about them, as it is written in Matthew v, 1; “And seeing the multitudes He went up into a mountain; and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him.” The Church is exalted above the things of time and sense as “a city that is set on an hill.” – Matthew v, 14. The holy sacrifices of praise to God which ascend to the immortal throne must have an altar upon which they are to be laid; and the altar of Gospel days is seen in the type as shown in Exodus xx, 24; “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shall sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings.” The fact that all means were excluded in the erection of this Altar is seen in the next verse, “If thou wilt make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone, for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.”
Here we have the Gospel church of which we wish to write in embryo; and the careful reader will notice that it is an Anti-means church. Further along in the typical development of this visible church, almost identical language is used in the erection of the temple: “And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.” – 1 Kings vi, 7. Surely all earthly means are carefully and completely excluded here.
In “comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” (I Corinthians ii, 13,) we notice that similar testimony to that presented in our text, is recorded of the worship at the typical altar, described in Exodus xx, 24. It is written; “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” – verse 26. All fleshly work is here presented as polluting the holy (consecrated to God) worship at this altar; as “briars and thorns” pollute the holy hill of God, to choke out, and destroy the growth of its exotic development.
If the mattock is to be used upon these hills there are men raised up of God to use it. It is written in Jeremiah i, 5, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” “And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Hebrews v, 4.
Here is the Divine order; and all the powers of earth and hell combined cannot alter, overturn, or thwart in the slightest degree, this order; or yet prevent the work of these men, ordained and called of God. Men are called of God today (not women,) to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. A Presbytery may be deceived and lay hands on the wrong man, as the good old prophet Samuel was about to anoint Eliab; (1 Samuel xvi;) but all such mistakes will be manifested and corrected in due time.
The prophet Jeremiah was fully equipped for his great work: “Behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls.” And the peculiar manner of his work is declared; “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”
In rooting out the “briars and thorns” (fleshly traditions, developments, wild and foul growth &c.,) there is nothing like taking a mattock and digging them up by the roots. The mattock is not especially in this day a popular tool to work with; but it is decidedly effectual. Elder Demaree has lately had an experience in its use in the “little hills” of Kentucky.
This is surely the effective Gospel way of destroying fleshly growth which leaves “them neither root nor branch” – Malachi iv. 1. The reader will notice the order in which the prophet puts this fleshly growth: briars, then then thorns. It looks like if the smaller evil is not attended to, it will produce something worse. It is better to attend to digging up the briars, and it is likely that you will not have such a large growth of thorns. “And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briars and thorns.”
What a wonderful and truly encouraging words! To live in a church where one is not afraid of some fleshly notion, custom, or tradition bobbing up frequently to destroy the peace and harmony of the dear saints of God; where regard is held for Gospel Truth and Gospel Order; where the purity of Gospel fellowship reigns untrammeled by fleshly work or man-made tradition; is assuredly to find a hill where the fear of briars and thorns does not obtrude.
It is worth a thousandfold of the trial, toil, temptation, and care experienced in digging them up, to get rid of such foul compromising growth. And it is worth all the conflict many times over when at last such “ungodly men,” “trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead,” are “plucked up by the roots,” (Jude 12;) and the lines of visible fellowship forever cut, destroying the ability of such characters to sow the seeds of discord; pervert the doctrine and the order of the Gospel to unite with error; and to mar the sweet fellowship prevailing among the beloved people of God. Naturally, their cloak is universal love of the brethren.
Churches thus clear of noxious weeds, of “briars and thorns,” are no longer organizations chained down to earthly natural affection, earthly tradition, producing and fostering the growth and development of fleshly, false, and perverted views and practices; but “shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.”
Many years ago when young in the ministry we met once a group of ministers. They were strong and able men, and the remark was made by one of them; and our impression is that it was the late elder John F. Johnson; “Let me meet and talk with a minister, and I can readily discern the character of church that he serves.” The remark was based upon the fact that a church sound in the faith and orderly in practice, will not have a minister who is not. Undoubtedly the minister represents the condition and travel of the church which he serves. A church in disorder, spotted with earthly pollution will be represented by a minister of like nature.
But our text presents churches free from the “briars and thorns” of earthly growth; assuredly such churches will not ordain cowards, compromisers and weaklings to Truth and good order; will not have men unsound in the “faith once delivered to the saints” to serve them; and if mistakes are made, and such meen “creep in unawares;” faithful churches readily discern, and at once repudiate such characters. The men sent forth to the work of the ministry from faithful churches are inspired by the strength of such churches. A great source of encouragement indeed it is to a minister struggling for Truth and order, and fiercely assailed by enemies within and without the fold, to have standing around him a church united and strong in the strength of eternal Truth.
The Psalmist gives us a testimony somewhat similar to the one under consideration; “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. . . . that our oxen may be strong to labour” &c.
“And for the treading of lesser cattle.” Not only the larger but the smaller gifts; not only those who minister, but those unto whom they minister, are benefited; yea, blessed in their being identified in such a church. It is a place where sweet fellowship abounds; where peace prevails; where saints gather to the glory of the exalted name of Israel’s God and King; a treading place indeed, for upon this holy ground are gathered the bands of heavenly worshipers, whose songs abound to the glory and honor of God’s exalted name.
“ ‘Tis pleasant as the morning dews,
That fall on Zion’s hill,
Where God His mildest glory shews,
And makes His grace distill.”
And to quote more fully the Scripture from which we have already partly quoted: “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood: that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace: that our garners may be full, affording all manner of store; that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets; that our oxen may be strong to labor, that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets. Happy is that people, that is in such a case” yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.” – Psalm cxliv, 11-15.
Elder William Middleton Smoot,