A Preservative

A. E. Long, Nutley

Part 10 of 12 of the series Metaphors of the Church

In the sermon on the mount, the Lord Jesus said of His disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth", Matt. 5.13. It is not God's purpose to remove them from this earthly scene, but to leave them in it as a preserving influence. They would be in a hostile environment beset with moral evil; hence the Lord prayed, "not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil", John 17. 15. Their presence "in the world", although "not of the world", vv. 11, 14, would act as a deterrent to the evil, and by keeping it in check would preserve the world from rapid total corruption; therefore the Lord spoke of them as "the salt of the earth".

Salt has several uses. One use is to give piquancy to savourless food, "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?", Job 6. 6. In modern times, salt is scattered on the roads to counteract icy conditions, which make driving hazardous. Salt is also used as a preservative to prevent decay. For this reason, some food is preserved in brine. Before the coming of refrigeration, fish was packed in salt so as to maintain its condition in transit between supplier and shop; otherwise it would quickly deteriorate. Doubtless the Lord's hearers would have associated salt with such a use, for some of them were fishermen and would have used salt themselves. There was a "fish gate", among others, in the wall of Jerusalem, 2 Chron. 33. 14; Neh.3. 3; 12. 39, through which fish so packed would have been brought. The Lord's metaphor "Ye are the salt of the earth" envisaged the disciples acting in this way, as the stay of corruption in the world in which they lived.

Noah's generation was "corrupt", Gen. 6. 11, 12, and, as such, it was destined for judgment. Noah's presence in it, however, as a "just man", v. 9, enabled him to be a "preacher of righteousness", 2 Pet. 2. 5, although even he could not save it from eventual judgment. The Lord spoke of "salt" which had "lost his savour", and as such it was fit only "to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men", Matt. 5. 13. Savourless salt was useless, "neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill", Luke 14. 34-35. Lot may be thought of as answering to this description. Living in "wicked" Sodom, he had "lost his savour" and reputation, "cast out, and . . . trodden under foot of men". Regretfully looking back to Sodom, which Lot's wife had been obliged to leave, she became a "pillar of salt", Gen. 19. 26. "Remember Lot's wife", said the Lord, Luke 17. 32. We might also remember Lot's failure to act as "salt" in staying the spread of moral iniquity in Sodom.

In Malachi's day, the Jewish nation had become corrupt; the priests had "corrupted the covenant of Levi", Mai. 2. 8, and were guilty of offering "corrupt" sacrifices, 1. 14; cf. v. 8. They had "caused many to stumble at the law". Unhindered, the nation would have gone from bad to worse. But for a small "remnant" in the nation, it would have done so and evil would have grown apace. As it was, "they that feared the Lord . . . and that thought upon his name", 3. 16, (which "name" the priests had "despised", 1.6), acted as a deterent to the evil, and impeded its unhindered development. They were as "salt" in the nation at that time.

Paul wrote of "the mystery of iniquity" ("lawlessness", r.v.) at work in the world of his day, 2 Thess. 2. 7, which would reach its climax in the unveiling of the "man of sin", whose "coming is after the working of Satan", v.9. "The falling away" (Greek, apostasia). v. 3 r.v., would witness the abandonment of revealed truth and the acceptance of "a lie", v. 11. There can be no vacuum. "The mystery of iniquity", that was already at work in Paul's day, has continued and has grown ever since, and, like Sodom, will be destroyed in judgment by the Lord, v. 8.

Meanwhile, "there is one that restraineth . . . until he be taken out of the way", v. 7 r.v. That "one" may be the Holy Spirit, or the church as indwelt by the Holy Spirit, acting as "salt" in hindering and holding in check the spread of moral evil. Certain ingredients, such as honey and leaven, were to be excluded from Israel's meal offerings, Lev. 2. 11, but salt was essential, "every oblation of thy meal offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking . . . with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt", v. 23. In a solemn context, the Lord alluded to this, "For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt", Mark 9. 49. The Lord had spoken of the "worm (that) dieth not, and the fire (that) is not quenched", vv. 43-48, that is, an awesome "sacrifice" of judgment. He added, "Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another", v. 50. Did He mean the salt of "grace" in our conversation, "that it may minister grace unto the hearers"?, Eph. 4. 29. Paul certainly meant "salt" in that connection, "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt", Col. 4. 6. That, too, might be regarded as "sacrificial"; cf. Lev. 2. 13. "Seasoned with salt" conveys the thought of the use of a small quantity of that commodity, not an excess.