A message given by Mr. W. E. Thompson at the conference in Aeschi, Switzerland, 1969
A SAFE STRONGHOLD
“And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”(Genesis 11:3-4).
“Now I Paul myself intreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I who in your presence am lowly among yon, but being absent am of good courage toward you: yea, I beseech you, that I may not when present shew courage with the confidence wherewith I count to be bold against some, which count of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting dozen of strong holds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1-5).
WE are conscious in these days here that we are dealing with things that are in considerable contrast to the Christian world outside. It is the contrast between the heavenly and the human; the contrast between that which is born of the flesh and that which is born of the Spirit; the contrast between the word of the Cross, the Word of God, and just a message from man. If you read some Christian magazines you will find that you can buy sermons for ten shillings each, while if you pay twenty shillings you are guaranteed to start revival! There are many people who do not have the word of God and have to buy these sermons.
We have also seen the contrast between knowledge about God and knowledge of Him Himself, and tonight I want to consider something of that which is arrayed against the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, that which robs us of the knowledge of Him.
THE BUILDING OF CITIES
We read in Genesis 11 of the activity of man at, I believe, the pinnacle of his powers, the total of human ingenuity: “Let us build us a city, and a tower.” Now cities are phenomena which are quite foreign to the ways of God. A city is some thing more than a concentration of people, and more than just a centre for essential services, such as hospitals, fire stations, and all the rest. A city is the centre of all man’s human powers, and the development of cities in the world today is a very significant feature. The number of people living in cities has increased ten times during the last hundred years, and all across the world cities are increasing and growing at an alarming rate. In India, where I have served the Lord, the growth of cities is out of all proportion to the growth of the population, and these cities are the centre of every kind of wickedness that you can imagine. These great cities are places where ideas are manufactured to brainwash the minds of millions. You do not find an advertising agency in a village! Cities are places where it is becoming increasingly difficult for a Christian to survive, not merely because of noise and people, but because they are the strongholds of Satan. He has deceived men into thinking that their learning in the cities, and their technology is going to help them to reach heaven.
If we are really concerned with the knowledge of God I believe that we must take serious account of this fact. A characteristic of human nature is to build, and it is this characteristic that has hindered the work of God. Even when our Lord Jesus Christ [127/128] took some of His disciples up to the mount with Him and revealed to them something of His glory, gave them a glimpse of an opened heaven, what was their reaction? ‘This is tremendous! Let us build! Let us hold on to this thing!’ And that has been happening all down the history of the Christian church. God works, God reveals Himself, God opens heaven, and man says: ‘We must make something of this!’ That explains all the ruins that we have of Christian movements in the world today. This is the mind of man, human, and quite contrary to the Spirit of God.
STRONGHOLDS OF WORSHIP
Associated with the cities of Old Testament times were the centres of religious worship, and in those cities there were what were known as ‘high places’. These were strongholds of the worship of a heathen god. As I have been reading through the books of Kings and Chronicles in recent months I have been greatly struck with the Divine comment on the life of many kings. These were good men who carried out considerable reforms during their reigns, and of whom it could be said that they “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord”. However, they fell short in one thing. In 2 Kings 12:2 and 3 we read of King Jehoash: “And Jehoash did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoida the priest instructed him. Howbeit the high places were not taken away.” The same was true of King Amaziah, for in chapter 14:4 we read: “Howbeit the high places were not taken away.” And that was true of many of these kings. They went so far, but there was something that hindered their complete obedience and yielding to God — “the high places were not taken away”.
IMAGINATIONS OF THE MIND
What are these high places? What is it that lies behind the city? It is the imaginations of man. These are the things that are exalted against the knowledge of God. Where are our strongholds? What is it that really prevents us from knowing the Lord as we want to know Him?
The Apostle Paul puts his finger upon the answer: “… Strongholds casting down imaginations.” This is what lies behind so much of the false religion that we find around us. What is it that lies behind that which is against God? Before we see the answer which applies to us there in 2 Corinthians 10, I want to turn to Ezekiel 8, where I believe we get an important link between what we are trying to say this evening and what our brother is saying in the mornings.
Here in this chapter we find that Ezekiel is taken on a journey to Jerusalem. There were no newspapers or television in his day, but God does not depend upon them to inform His servants. He took Ezekiel in a vision to the temple in Jerusalem, and said (in verse 6): “Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel do commit here?” I suppose Ezekiel looked at the temple and thought that it seemed perfectly all right. From an outward point of view everything seemed to be going on in a right way. The people were going through all the motions of their religion, but God said to Ezekiel: ‘Come here! There is something for you to see beyond this’, and God brought him right near to the wall of the temple. In verse 7 Ezekiel said: “And when I looked, behold a hole in the wall.” Then God said to him: “Son of man, dig now in the wall”, and as Ezekiel picked away at the plaster a door was suddenly revealed in what had seemed to be a very nice wall. He opened the door and went in — and what did he see? We read in verse 10: “Behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel.” And what does all that mean? We find the answer in verse 12: “Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his chambers of imagery?” What are “the chambers of imagery”? The world of thoughts, the imaginations of the mind. And what do we find there? We find that of which we read in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans. They turned their backs on the true God and in their imaginations they created a god — “and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (verse 23). And so we see these “high places” behind the facade of man’s religion.
What about our own imaginations? What about our own thought life? I am sure that this is where the difference is felt between living in a city and living in a village! How silently and imperceptibly our minds are captivated and become strongholds, high places, exalted against the knowledge of God!
“THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE”
This is the battleground! This is where the battle must be won if we are to increase in the knowledge of God! Paul was one who could testify to victories in this battle. Here in 2 Corinthians 10 he is contending with men who war according to the flesh. There [128/129] is a conflict, for there are people who are opposing Paul in his ministry and in his apostleship. There are men who are trying to discredit him as a servant of God. Does Paul use their methods? No, he does not war according to the flesh. He intreats “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”, and that is the exact opposite of human achievement! This is the word and the work of the Cross. Paul meets these men, but not with carnal weapons. His strongholds are not human resources and strength, but the knowledge of God, for he has removed everything that is against the knowledge of God. In Philippians 3 we find out what Paul’s ‘high places’ were.
The first was his race: “Of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Was that a qualification for the knowledge of God? As far as his personal conduct was concerned, he was a Pharisee, and was as religious as anyone could be. That was a high place to be destroyed! As far as his knowledge of the law was concerned he was wellnigh perfect — but he cut all that off. He removed all these high places that were against the knowledge of his Lord.
What is it that is hindering us from having that kind of knowledge of our Lord? Has God put His finger on any high places in our imaginations? Are we seeking to build some great thing? We can say: ‘Well, yes, but it is for the Lord.’ It is amazing what we can actually do and justify as being for the Lord, when really all it is is some great thing for ourselves! But it hinders us from the knowledge of our Lord. Do we know how to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ? When we begin to do that we find what the battle for the mind really means! Is our stronghold a stronghold of our own imagination, or is it a stronghold that is the city of God?
I want, in closing, to call your attention to that kind of stronghold in Isaiah 26:1, where we have these words: “We have a strong city.” In the middle of verse 3 we read: “Whose imagination is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” This is the strong city! The knowledge of our Lord is perfect peace; the knowledge of our Lord is perfect strength; the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is victory. May we know what it is to remove every high place that robs us of that, and may we have that knowledge, for His Name’s sake! – W. E.T.