Treasuring Christ Above All Else

Acts 4:15-17 ESV

“But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, ‘What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’.”

Charged Not to Speak

Jesus put the old hymn in my mind, “Immanuel’s Land.” Since the language is old (not the English I speak today), I have difficulty understanding the meaning of some of these lyrics. So I decided to look for one of those “behind the hymn” stories which would help me understand what this hymn is saying. But I got a surprise when I found out the history behind the hymn. I will link it below this writing, but I will try to summarize what I learned because it fits perfectly with this passage of Scripture for today.

Evidently the hymn was written by Anne Ross Cousin in 1857, but it is “based on a collection of letters written by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), a Scottish pastor who was also from Roxburghshire. Many of the phrases and images from the hymn’s 19 verses come from these letters and provide a glimpse into Rutherford’s life and ministry.”

Now, as I read this, I immediately thought of the Apostle Paul and how he was frequently imprisoned for preaching the gospel, and how he wrote at least some of the epistles, which are in our New Testament, when he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel. So, in some ways, Samuel Rutherford’s life appears to parallel the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul.

Rutherford was a faithful evangelical preacher who loved his congregation dearly. He lost his wife to death in 1630 and his two children soon followed her in death, I am assuming from the same illness she had. At this time the Church of Scotland (a state church) began declining in doctrine and was seeking to impose many Anglican traditions on the Reformed churches. So Rutherford ended up being charged with non-conformity to these changes.

As the situation worsened, this led to him publishing a book in 1636 warning of the rising trend away from the truth of the Scriptures. The book offended several church leaders and Rutherford was immediately summoned to the High Commission Court at Edinburgh and charged with non-conformity and treason for his book. The court subsequently condemned and banished him, and he was forbidden to preach the gospel. And this reminds me of today’s passage of Scripture and what the apostles were facing.

Rutherford was provided with a home, which reminds me of some of Paul’s imprisonment, which was in a home, I believe. And so from Rutherford’s prison he wrote some 220 letters to friends, seeking to encourage them to persevere, just like Paul wrote to the church in various places for much of the same reasons. And eventually Rutherford was set free and he was asked to teach as Professor of Divinity at a school, and his influence grew.

Then, in 1660 he found himself again at odds with the state church and he was removed from church office, charged with treason, and summoned to appear before the British Parliament. By this time he was on his deathbed. And “in the final verse of the hymn he explains why he could not answer their summons – he had a more important call from his Lord!” Amen! And it was recorded that his dying words were, “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s Land.” And the hymn that came from that is “a marvelous testimony of treasuring Christ above all else in this life and the next.” Amen!

A Present Reality

In America, much of what is called “church” today is the state church. Most churches, it appears, have incorporated under the state making them state churches (businesses, really). Most of them have turned their gatherings into businesses which are being marketed to the people of the world. And so most of them (across denominational boundaries) have followed and are following marketing schemes and objectives for how to grow their “churches” and how to attract the people of the world to their gatherings.

The Lord first made me aware of this back in 1999, and it was then I began to see what was going on, although it was something I learned a little bit at a time as the Lord began giving me more and more of the true picture. And so when I read the history of this hymn, and the story of this man, I saw many parallels between what he went through then and the situation with so much of what is called “church” in America, today, including parallel experiences in my own life to what he experienced.

And by 2004 the Lord let me know that the ministry he had for me was no longer within the boundaries of the institutional market-driven state church, where I had been rejected and cast aside and treated similarly to this man Rutherford whose writings were the basis for this hymn (which follows). And the Lord had a writing ministry for me, as well, and so he placed me on the internet where I could share the truth of the gospel and where I could refute the lies of the enemy and where I could encourage the body of Christ.

And according to the Scriptures, it is only going to get much worse. Already not too many people want to hear the truth of the gospel and not too many people are preaching the truth of the gospel. But most appear to be preaching a less offensive version of the gospel which is made to tickle itching ears and to pacify people in their flesh rather than demand death to sin and living to God and to his righteousness. And the truth of the gospel is seriously under attack by pastors and fellow professing Christians.

So, it isn’t that we can’t speak in the name of Jesus, for his name today in America has become a household word, and he has been popularized by many movies and TV programs which are altering his image and which are making him out to be more like us and as someone people loved. And the term “gospel” is also being reduced to a profession of faith in Jesus which then secures heaven for you when you die regardless of how you live your life on this earth. But that is not what the Scriptures teach in full context.

So, we can speak in the name of Jesus and we can share the gospel, as long as it is the false (watered down) Jesus and gospel we speak of and not the Jesus and gospel of the Scriptures. For the goal today in many or most of these “churches” is to attract the world to their gatherings and not to do or say anything that will offend anyone, except they will offend those of us who are teaching the truth by letting us know we are unwanted and that we should go someplace else where we will be a “better fit.”

So, whether directly after Jesus died and the church was under great persecution, or at various times in various places throughout history, or in our present day and time, the truth of the gospel was and is under fire, and the biblical image of Christ is not acceptable to the masses, nor is his gospel message. And so if you are sharing the truth of the gospel, and if you are opposing the lies and the distortions of truth going on in the institutional (state) church, you are going to be rejected and even persecuted.

[Matt 5:10-16; Matt 10:16-25; Matt 24:9-14; Matt 28:18-20; Lu 6:22-23; Lu 21:12-19; John 15:1-21; Jn 16:33; Acts 1:8; Acts 14:22; Acts 26:18; Rom 5:3-5; Rom 12:1-8; 1 Co 12:1-31; 2 Co 1:3-11; Eph 4:1-16; Eph 5:17-27; Phil 3:7-11; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 3:1-5; Jas 1:2-4; Heb 3:13; Heb 12:3-12; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Pet 4:12-17]

The Sands of Time are Sinking
a.k.a. Immanuel’s Land

by Anne R. Cousin, 1857

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for—
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory—glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my king of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.

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