Issue No 7
Address by Robert White at Bromley, 18 November 2018
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah, they set the priests in their apparel, with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise Jehovah according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang alternately together in praising and giving thanks to Jehovah: For he is good, for his loving-kindness endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout to the praise of Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief fathers, the ancient men that had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice, when the foundation of this house was laid in their sight; and many shouted aloud for joy. And the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a great shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.
I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man, and he came up even to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7: 13-14
Daniel 7: 13-14
These scriptures refer to what is ancient: ancient men, ancient landmarks and the Ancient of Days.
As we know, Christianity is not characterised by what is ancient, but what is new. In the Acts and the Epistles, we see how fresh and new everything was. Christianity is based on the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the presence here of the Holy Spirit of God. Companies of believers are formed on the basis of these great realities, which are still fresh and new in character. Even if people regard Christianity as old and traditional, from the divine standpoint nothing has grown old: this helps to sustain our faith. In spite of what I have just said, my subject is what is ancient. The Lord speaks about the scribe who ‘brings out of his treasure things new and old’ (Matthew 13: 52). That that gives me the liberty to speak about what is old.
In Ezra, we read about ancient men. Great things were taking place, and it seems that these ancient men were not really helping at this point. God had stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia, who charged Ezra to lead a remnant of the people of Israel back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the house of Jehovah the God of Israel (see Ezra 1:3). The first thing that they did was to build ‘the altar of the God of Israel, to offer up burnt-offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God . . . and they offered up burnt-offerings on it to Jehovah’ (ch. 3:2-3). Every move of recovery or restoration must be based on the finished sacrificial work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note that they followed in praise ‘the directions of David, King of Israel’ (ch. 3:10). In times of recovery, when we realise how things have gone wrong, we think that it might be better to proceed differently. However, here they were not re-inventing things: they looked to the directions that David had given. That would remind us that, despite our failure, the principles that govern our conduct in the House of God, or that regulate our gatherings in the light of the truth of the assembly as given by Paul – great truths as established by scripture – do not change. It is not a time for trying new ways of doing things.
They commenced rebuilding the Temple of God by laying its foundation. I get the impression that many of those involved in this work were relatively young. It is essential that old and young are mutually supportive in carrying on the testimony. Older ones can bring in the benefit of experience, while the younger people have a freshness of energy and devotion. Here though, I am not sure that these ancient men were fully in tune with the spirit of what was taking place. It says, ‘All the people shouted with a great shout to the praise of Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief fathers, the ancient men that had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of the house was laid’ (ch. 3:11). It may well be that we older people have had happy experiences in the past, but we also have to face the fact that much has resulted in sorrow and loss, and that we have to accept responsibility in this. So, it does not help if we hark back to those earlier days, if doing so brings discouragement or confusion as to what the Lord may be doing now.
Haggai the prophet, who was active around this time said, ‘Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? And how do ye see it now? Is it as nothing in your eyes?’ (Haggai 2:3). These were important events. The challenge for those of us who are older is, ‘How do ye see it now?’ Do we recognise what the Lord may be doing currently, and link on and support it? God was in this movement in Jerusalem: had God not intervened there would have been no recovery at all. It did not merit discouraging notes being introduced by these ancient men. Happily, the shout of joy prevailed. My desire is that, in our present circumstances, we might be helped to go on together joyfully, old and young alike, prepared to see what the Lord has in mind for us all.
In Proverbs 22: 28 we read about an ancient landmark. These days we have all sorts of maps and navigational aids, but we can understand that, in days gone by, how reassuring a landmark would have been. A landmark would have told you where you were; it would have given you a sense of direction. and perhaps would have helped to keep you safe. A landmark might also have told you who owned the land – this is inferred in next chapter, ‘Remove not the ancient landmark; and enter not into the field of the fatherless’ (Proverbs 23: 10 ). So, for us, what are our landmarks, and where do we find them?
Jacob set up landmarks, or pillars as they are called. He set up the first pillar in Bethel and was brought back to the same place later in his life when he had come to a greater knowledge of God. We may have similar experiences, the Lord bringing us back to some point to see His glory in a greater and fuller way. Jacob also set up a pillar at a place called Galeed (see Genesis 31: 48) but that was to mark a place of division from Laban, his mother’s brother: it was a sad kind of landmark. Alas, there may have been landmarks like this in our lives, marking a point of separation from our brethren. We carry the sorrow of such things in our hearts.
I think that for us, scripture gives us landmarks which must not be removed. They help us to find where we are, show us where we should be going and define boundaries. A landmark was laid down, for example, when the angel said to Mary, ‘the holy thing also which shall be born shall be called Son of God’ (Luke 1:35). A blessed Person was coming into this world, and no-one like Him had ever been here before, nor would there ever be another like Him. What a landmark was laid when He was crucified – a unique moment in the history of time! Then when He rose from the dead, we have another immovable landmark. At the first preaching, Peter said, ‘Let the whole house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). This was another great landmark that cannot be removed. As we go through the scriptures, we find other wonderful landmarks for our instruction, helping to establish us in our souls and in our links with God, whatever stage we may have reached in our lives.
What landmarks have you have laid down in your own life? One must be the day in which you came to know the Lord Jesus as your Saviour. There is also the day when you were conscious of having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the day when you committed yourself to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread in answer to His request. These are landmarks in your spiritual journey. You may have other landmarks in your life when you heard the Lord speaking through the scriptures or in ministry.
Ministry forms an important part our instruction. Paul speaks of himself as an elect vessel appointed to ministry (see Acts 9:15 and 1 Timothy 1:12). We do not have the likes of Paul and the other apostles in our time, but the Lord is still active in washing the assembly ‘by the word’ (Ephesians 5:26). Scripture is the authority, but the Lord has given gifts to draw attention to scriptures and to open them up. Someone with gift may have brought in some fresh and distinctive glory of Christ, and you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” We are not to be drawn to the person who is gifted, but to the blessed One of whom scripture speaks. I commend this thought, so that we may see that all authority in teaching and doctrine must rest on the scriptures and understand that the Lord has given ministry to open up the riches that are in them for our edification and instruction.
The Ancient of Days
That brings me to the reference to the Ancient of Days in Daniel. Daniel was given an amazing prophetic vision of four great powers that would dominate large parts of the earth (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome). In His wisdom, God has allowed men to govern this earth and the nations in it. History tells us of what they made of their responsibilities, and the sorrows brought on mankind through the mismanagement of powerful men. In spite of this of course, we must be grateful to God that there is such a thing as government to keep evil in check (see Romans 13), and we rightly pray for those in authority in accordance with Paul’s injunction (see 1 Timothy 2:1).
The Ancient of Days is a remarkable title of God. It implies that God knows all that has happened in every day since creation. Let us think, for example, of the six days of creation. Who but God can comprehend the mighty power that brought about this present earth? There were the days leading up to the flood, when such was the wickedness and violence of men, that God determined to destroy all flesh except for Noah and those with him in the ark, along with the various animal species. Continuing through the Old Testament, we have the days of the Patriarchs, the deliverance from Egypt, the history of the nation of Israel: every day was seen by God.
Above all we the life of Jesus here on earth, and we can think of the delight that God had in every day of it. What days those were! The Lord Himself speaks of ‘one of the days of the Son of man’ (Luke 17:22) – every day was distinctive and precious to God. Furthermore, God has seen every day in the history of the assembly since Pentecost, including each day of our own lives and everything that has transpired. There have been joys, sorrows, disappointments and failures, but surely, we can say that each day has brought its own supply of grace from on high. I say again, God has seen every one of those days.
Now we read in Daniel 7:13-14, ‘There came with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man, and he came up even to the Ancient of days and they brought him near before him. And there was given to him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed’. This scripture speaks of the earthly dominion that is to be exercised by the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Father’s timing, this will come to pass, and no power will be able to rise up against Him. It is reassuring for us to understand that nothing in the divine calendar is out of control: no days go astray, so to speak. The Lord said that the Father had placed the times and seasons ‘in his own authority’ (Acts 1:7). There may be summer times and winter times in your life and mine, times of joy and times of sorrow, but all are known to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: He is over them all. Through grace, we have come to know this glorious Person to whom the dominion and glory have been given. It is His, even if at present, He is not exercising His rule publicly on earth.
May our hearts be lifted up in thanksgiving that He knows us and He loves us – John says ‘To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood. . . . to him be the glory and the might to the ages of ages’ (Revelation 1:5,6)
I commend these simple, scattered thoughts to all, old and young alike. There are those here who are young and fresh in their love for Christ, and there are others of us who are older, but the Lord values everyone who loves Him! May we be helped to go on together, serving and honouring the One to whom universal dominion has been given!
Note – Scripture quotations are from the Darby translation.
Revised by Robert White and checked by others
Edited by Daniel Roberts, 29 March 2019 – email firstname.lastname@example.org