"As it Was in the Beginning"
There are probably few fragments of liturgy more subject to
repetition than that from which the above first part is taken. At
the same time, it may be an example of the ignorance and
meaninglessness with which many phrases are constantly used in
What is the it that was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be? The only true answer would be in changing the
'it' to a 'He' - 'As He was - so is He now, and ever shall be'.
For the rest, there are few, if any, things that can carry this
declaration. It is just this change from the beginning that is
causing an immensity of concern and consideration in Christendom,
and especially in evangelical Christianity. The beginning is the
basis of a very great amount of review, reconsideration, recall, and
effort to recover: for - as to Christianity - it is just not true
that 'as it was in the beginning, it is now'. True, "Jesus Christ is
the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever", and the foundation
truths of Christianity are the same; but for the more part
Christendom is very much astray from 'as it was in the beginning'.
This is not a new digression. The declension and departure began
before the Apostles themselves had finished their course, and their
later writings are marked by correctives, recalls, and reforms.
This had to do, not only with the character, words, and ethical
standards, but primarily with the spiritual principles upon which
Christianity at first rested and by which it was initially
constituted. It is therefore the fact that the very spiritual
constitution, the very essence and nature of the 'beginning' has
changed, or been lost, which accounts for the deplored change, and -
what is no less than tragic - loss of impact, authority, and
It is to some of the elements of the beginning that we shall draw
attention here. When we say 'elements', let it be understood that we
are not meaning the 'elementary' in the sense of being just the
simple rudimentary rules of Christianity. Rather do we use the word
in the sense of 'elemental', which carries with it what the
dictionary calls "like the powers of nature, great, tremendous,
Not only is it the first features, but the elemental,
inherent, concentrated essence, and vital potency of spiritual
principles behind the outward expression. To this we shall seek to
give attention, for we are convinced - after long and wide contact
with Christians and Christian, affairs - that it is here that the
real key to the situation lies.
The mistake in most efforts to recover the original impact, dynamic,
and authority of the first half-century of Christianity is in the
point at which attention is applied. Such things as doctrine, form,
procedure, and work are the points of attention or debate. While
these things may be seriously open to question in various
respects, to start with them is to start at the wrong end, and to do
that is either to add to the confusion or to come to deadlock. The
best that might accrue would be compromise, and compromise is always
failure to face and deal with root causes honestly and courageously.
We live in an age of compromise in every realm, and we are in an age
of 'confusion worse confounded'. We Christians know that the
world-situation will never be right and straight until "He comes
whose right it is (to reign)": but He will have no compromise; no
middle course. He will go to the root of things and deal with them there!
For any measure of recovery of lost power we have to get
behind results and effects, whether it be in doctrine, procedure,
form, or work, and get our finger upon causes. There was a reason
and cause for the 'world-upturning' or overturning impact of
Christianity 'in the beginning' and, as we have said, this lay with
the eternal, heavenly, and spiritual principles or 'laws' which lay
within and behind what happened. It did not lie with a fully fledged
doctrinal knowledge; that was still in process of being made known.
When God is in the way of initiating or forming, He acts first and
explains afterward. The explanation is the 'teaching' or 'doctrine'.
This is the safe way. The teaching is the explanation of experience.
It is only the reverse order when the teaching has been given and
forsaken. Then - as in the case of the Prophets - God says what He
is doing, or going to do, and acts accordingly. Initially, just
enough light is given for God to act upon. This method and principle
of God can be seen in both Old and New Testaments. It is always of
value to have God giving light on what He has done, so that
we come into understanding of His ways, rather than have a
lot of teaching without experience. We should put ourselves in the
way of God's dealings and acts.
The original impact did not lie within a fixed and established form
of procedure. It certainly did not rest upon organization and
institutions. These hardly existed, if at all. We repeat that it is
folly to start toward hoped-for recovery of power by dealing with
such things as the effects rather than the causes.
Let us then excavate through the accretions of Christian tradition
and history, down to the bedrock principles.
The writer, over a period of nearly forty years of personal contact
with evangelical Christianity in many parts of the world,
has been terribly impressed with one basic weakness or defect; which
defect undoubtedly is indicative of a whole set of deflections from
what was the conception in the beginning. While the doctrine
of the Holy Spirit is well known, and a great deal of teaching on
that doctrine has been received, both from expositors personally,
and through an immense amount of literature on the subject,
there is a great deal to make real the question as to whether or
not, after all, multitudes - even the majority - of Christians know
anything about the Holy Spirit as a positive, active,
indwelling presence. This question is supported by conduct,
conditions, and ignorance which glaringly deny the teaching of the
Jesus said of the Holy Spirit that "He shall be in you": "He
shall guide you" (as within you) "into all the truth": "He shall
take of mine and show it unto you", and so on. John, by the Spirit,
said (to all true Christians, not to special ones, or leaders or
teachers): "The anointing which ye received of him abideth in you,
and ye need not that any one teach you; but... his anointing
teacheth you concerning all things..." (1 John 2:27). While this
related to a specific matter, i.e. Antichrist, the principle -
according to Jesus - is of wider application, and is just that the
Holy Spirit is an Arbiter within making believers aware of
what is of God and what is not. It is something that is not for an
advanced point in spiritual life, but relates to the very beginning:
"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit; that we are
children of God" (Rom. 8:16). The "law of the Spirit of life" is of
constant growing reality and application as the very law of
spiritual progress. It is no less a matter than that great factor of
spiritual understanding and intelligence with which the New
Testament is so largely occupied.
Let us say at once that this principle does not make the Christian
independent of instruction through anointed teachers, neither does
it by any means create an above-the-Scriptures position. The Holy
Spirit will always work according to the Word of God, and never on
any account make us superior thereto or independent thereof. Nothing
but the utmost peril of deception could come from such an
interpretation or 'enlightenment' or 'leading'(?) that makes for
such independence or superiority. Nevertheless, the inward
government, enlightenment, and witness of the Holy Spirit is a
primary factor in that which 'was at the beginning'. Indeed, it goes
to the very root of the very nature of the New Testament Christian
life; the essential being of a true child of God. This both
determines and defines what we may call the new and distinctive
'species' which Christians are intended to be.
When the Apostle Paul uses the phrase: "He that is spiritual" (1
Cor. 2:15), he is describing the very difference of two distinct
categories of people. Not only is he dividing them, but he is
describing them. One category, he says, is deficient and defective
in certain faculties, endowments, and qualifications, relating to
knowledge, discernment, judgment, and understanding. The other
category is distinguished by this very ability and qualification.
But it is not an endowment given subsequent to new birth. Rather is
it inherent in new birth, and a constituent of the new life. It is
"He that is spiritual"; he that is a certain kind of being. This being
is said to have been "born of the Spirit", as differing from "born
of the flesh": "begotten of God", as differing from "by the will of
man". This difference is the result of an Advent. It is the advent
of the Holy Spirit into the spirit of the committed
believer. Surely, it stands to reason, that the indwelling presence
of such a one as "the Spirit of the living God", God the Holy Spirit,
is meant to be more than a passive, inactive, unenlightening,
unendowing power and intelligence.
It is a very gratifying thing to see people changing and adjusting
their lives, their conduct, their manner of speech and dress, their
habits, their attitudes, etc., not because the law has been laid
down to them by others; be he preacher or some other person; but
because the Holy Spirit within has 'spoken' and made His mind known
to them concerning such matters. There are numerous matters in the
Scriptures concerning which there are most flagrant contradictions
in so many Christians that we might well ask the question, 'Where is
the Holy Spirit in them?'
This is the basis of everything 'as it was in the
beginning'. This is what came in with the Advent of the Holy Spirit.
This is what was intended and taught to be the very nature of the
Not that it was universally and perfectly lived up to, even in those
times but it was truly there, accounting for very big and drastic
changes in lives, even in the Apostles themselves. This, more than
the outward happening, was the true nature and power of "The Acts of
the Holy Spirit"; which is a truer title to the book called "The
Acts of the Apostles".
This bedrock principle worked out in every connection and direction,
as to Christ Himself; the Church; procedure; function; work; and so
on; and it is our purpose to show this, as we are enabled by the
same Spirit; for we are convinced that this is "as it was in the
Sometimes we hear people say, "Oh, don't look back to the past and
to what has been. Look on to God's new thing"; and they
quote Paul in saying, "Leaving the things which are behind". This is
very superficial talk, to say the least of it. It can be very
dangerous and misleading. Provided that there has been no departure,
no forsaking, no loss, no relinquishing of anything that was of God;
and that the foundation 'principles' still obtain with what they
mean, there is room for the exhortation: "Let us go on to full
growth, not laying again the foundation..." (Heb. 6:1-6). But the
New Testament, the Risen Lord, the Spirit, have strong things to say
regarding 'Repenting and doing the first works' (Rev. 2:5),
and the Lord has to sadly remind of a position from which His people
have departed, and call them back to their beginnings.
There was that which - grievously - is not now.
(To be continued) [This series of messages are contained in the book "As it Was in the Beginning"]