Of The Principles Set Forth In The Pamphlet,
Entitled “On The Formation Of Churches”
and reply to some objections made to those principles31
The edition of the little tract “On the Formation of Churches” being at present exhausted, instead of publishing a second I give some explanations, called for alike by the circumstances actually surrounding the question and the difficulties which present themselves to many minds. My intention is not controversy. I am aware that, instead of doing good, it only tends to create divisions. I do not think I enter into it by giving these few explanations followed by several remarks on certain passages of the word. As to that which concerns me personally, I have only to be silent; for me it is a small thing to be judged by man’s judgment, I desire to be like a deaf man who heareth not; Psa. 38:13, 14. A stranger, it is true, according to the flesh, here as elsewhere, I have learnt that the Holy Spirit forms sweet and strong bonds, such as the world cannot understand, between those who, but for that, would never have known each other. I have also learnt that the children of God know what it is to be strangers (Exod. 23:9; Lev. 19:34), in that God has made them themselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The ties uniting them are not of this world, and will remain when all that distinguished them here below will have ceased to exist.
I do not propose to myself to reply to Mr. Rochat’s pamphlet. My only wish is to take advantage of the chief points of this work in order to treat of the important subject now occupying people’s minds. It may be thought perhaps that, if I do not reply, it is because I am unable. Be it so. I would rather be reckoned beaten, than go out of the path in which I believe the Spirit of God leads me, or deviate, by uncharitable conduct, from that which may be profitable to all the souls loved of Jesus. I should not even have published this little work, if some persons had not sought explanations from me on passages quoted on either side.
I shall be allowed to make some remarks by the way. If the name of Rolle has given pain to the well-beloved brother who has undertaken the task of replying to me, I truly regret it. I might have chosen as an example any other local body; and if the name of Rolle presented itself to my mind, it is probably because the meeting in that town has been formed, as everyone knows, on the principles under discussion. However, I think I also now see in it the hand of God.
It may perhaps be said to me, If desirous of avoiding controversy, why do you enter upon such a subject? I reply that, along with a sincere desire for peace, it is not right on that account to refrain from setting forth important principles. If we are content to be judged by men, and commit ourselves entirely to God, I believe controversy can always be avoided. Those who wish to know the truth will examine the word and will be enlightened on the subject in question.
It strikes me that our beloved brother Rochat would have done better to have brought more calmness into the discussion. The little tract, according to him, presents ‘views really quite new,’ ‘on a point of singular importance.’ Now, since the importance of the subject is so generally recognised, I may at least be excused having spoken of it. If charity is carefully maintained, I hope in the end what I have done will be proved to be right, and I believe that God Himself will approve me in it. Although the brother who has replied to me blames me, I continue to respect and love him. I look upon him, if not as my elder in age according to the flesh, at least as my elder in the grace of Christ. I love him, notwithstanding that he differs from me; I love him because of the grace God has bestowed upon him, and because I believe him to be much more faithful than I am in many respects. Blessed be God there is that in the effects of grace which is stronger sometimes than the rather rough usage of man’s mind. I hope not to be wanting in love whilst making a few remarks on my brother’s work, which will soon bring me to the main point of the question.
The pamphlet which I have in view strikes me rather as the writing of one who, unaccustomed to argue with equals, looks for the reception of what he says as a thing decided. I beg this dear brother will bear with me whilst I explain a few things to him and examine with him his interpretations of the word. It seems to me that he has misunderstood me in many respects, and that he has not rightly interpreted some passages. A considerable portion of his pamphlet is taken up in replies to matters which are in his own thoughts, and not in the little tract; to matters he may have heard of somewhere, but for which I am by no means responsible. He blames the expression ‘apostolic churches’; I have looked for it in vain in the tract. He argues at great length against the idea that there are no apostles because of the sins of the church; I have never said a word, nor have I even thought, of the question. One more little remark: he blames me much for using unscriptural expressions, and tells me that a person who thinks with the Bible can speak with the Bible. I have employed as well as I could words and expressions, which presented themselves to my mind; whether the thoughts are scriptural remains the question. Our dear brother does not like this expression ‘the church dispensation,’ in fact it does not appear to me very exact, but it is sufficient that everyone understands me. The substance of the question is what is important in my mind. But is it not surprising that, in the very pages where these expressions are so strongly blamed, we should find the following words, ‘The question is quite a different one. The dispensation of the new covenant subsists’ (page 31 of the reply of Mr. Rochat)? Where is the expression found in the word? Does not our brother think with the Bible in this.32 I am not quite satisfied with my expression; his is perhaps more in accordance with traditional thoughts. In that it has the advantage, and will be more easily adopted: but in what is it more scriptural? For my part I do not blame our brother that, in order to express his thoughts, he has chosen words which he found the best adapted for the object he had in view. Let him on his part also forgive my expressions. On a point of such great importance for all the church, such observations may be well passed over.
There is one more thing which seems to have offended our brother. It is the desire so often expressed in the tract for greater humility. I have spoken of the tendency of the system to engender pride, but I have never spoken of individual pride. The pamphlet furnishes me with a very clear example of the evil I desired to specify. ‘If the church,’ says the author (page 107), ‘wishes its decisions to be respected, it should make them so as to be able to say, founding itself with full conviction of the word: It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.’ Now that is what I call pride. We must bear in mind that the church, according to our brother, is this or that particular flock. Let us now examine the passage quoted. A dispute had arisen at Antioch, on a matter of importance, one that interested all the churches of the Gentiles. That was the appeal of a church to a higher authority or light. The authority of Paul and Barnabas having failed to decide it, a resolution was come to that they and other brethren should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, for the decision of this matter. Then the apostles and elders came together to examine this question, and having associated all the brethren with them, they thus addressed the brethren from among the Gentiles: “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” Later, Paul and his fellow travellers, passing through the cities, instructed them to keep the ordinances decreed by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. To arrogate to oneself the right of speaking as the apostles and elders spoke, when they were judging a question proposed to them and which referred to all the churches of the Gentiles and to say, It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, appears to me pride, when spoken by a meeting in our times, come out of existing worldly systems. That is what I mean when I speak of pride; the above example is clear enough and sufficiently precise to elucidate my meaning.
Our brother insists much on this; viz., that as long as faithful persons remain, it would be wrong to say that the church has apostatised. He rests his argument upon this precept— “From such turn away,” and he quotes Revelation 13 to shew us that there are faithful ones even under the Antichrist himself, connecting this quotation with 2 Thessalonians 2. I agree with him as to the connection between these texts, but it is precisely that which proves that the existence of faithful persons does not prevent there being an apostasy; for in this last passage that state of things is called apostasy although faithful persons remain, seeing that there will be such till the end. The existence then of faithful persons does not prevent there being an apostasy, since there will be some even under the Antichrist. The presence of Elias, of the prophets hid by fifties in caves, of the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal, did not do away with the fact of the ruin of Israel then in a state of apostasy, worshipping that false God. Israel apostatised in making the golden calf; but this did not prevent Moses remaining faithful, nor the Levites consecrating themselves to God by their fidelity. There have been faithful persons in all apostasies, and there will be till the end.
But our brother, having neither understood nor laid hold of the assertions of the tract, argues against things not found therein. I will explain myself on these points.
He insists upon it that the dispensation has not been cut off.33 Neither do I believe that it has. Like him, I distinguish between the abolition of a state of things by the Lord ‘ and the case where this state of things has ceased to exist through the negligence or the wickedness of man.’ What I have proposed for the examination of brethren is this, what is the will of God in this latter case? In thus putting the question, I can say I have gained my aim, for I am fully convinced that the Holy Ghost will enlighten the saints. I ought also to say that I do not even think that the apostasy is at its height. Some there are who apply 2 Thessalonians 2 to the Roman system; these latter cannot deny that the apostasy is already come.
The chief point on which I insist is that the word of God predicts an apostasy and a cutting off, and tells us that, if the Gentiles do not continue in the goodness of God, they will be cut off. Now if the state of things established by God has ceased to exist through the negligence or wickedness of men, it is clear they have not continued in the goodness of God. One more explanation. Provided that the meaning of the term “church” is understood, I have no objection to the word. The word church means an assembly: there, where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, it is clear that there is an assembly. But when, by dint of the use of the term church, the belief is entertained that expressions made use of by the apostles and the church at Jerusalem can be employed, then I am afraid; especially when they assume the name of the ‘church of God of such a place,’ an expression which goes much farther than that of church. It is true, that if some are unwilling to meet, that does not prevent its being the church of God; but the result is that they are not of the church of God. After that to affirm that the few who did not dare meet with the disciples at Jerusalem were nevertheless disciples, amounts to saying that he who refuses to confess the Lord openly with his mouth is notwithstanding that a Christian, and should not the less be recognised as such. Not so; if a body is the assembly of God, he who does not wish to be of it cannot expect to be recognised as a Christian; and if he separates himself from it, he ought to be looked upon as a schismatic.
Is it possible that one who refused to meet with the disciples at Jerusalem, and to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, would have been recognised as a Christian? would not any one who separated himself from them have been treated as schismatic and even worse? Save in the case of a schismatic or of an excommunicated person, there is no example of a church of God of a place which was not understood to contain all the children of God in that place.
I thank God that His word connects with an assembly of two or three disciples gathered in the name of Jesus all that is requisite for its walk before the Lord. One more little remark. They tell us, Let us walk in the ordinances of the word: there is no need of apostles since we have their written instructions, which can at all times be carried out. Be it so. Well then are there so many flocks habitually deprived of partaking of the Lord’s supper through the want of consecrated pastors? It is not I who prevent them. I believe that, if all things are done with propriety and good order, there can be breaking of bread quite as well without a consecrated man as with one. I see in the word no trace of consecration for this purpose. I cite this fact to shew that the want is felt of something more than precepts to follow: in other words, that God should raise up by His power instruments according to His good pleasure. Thus it is not enough to say, Here are the precepts: all that is now to be done is to follow them; since there are directions incapable of being followed out, unless God interposes afresh to re-establish what is lost as regards instruments. Let no one mistake me: I love order with all my heart, the true order which befits the house and ordinances of God. Leaving aside circumstances, every brother has the same capacity to break the bread. Nature as well as the word teaches us that young men, that new converts, are little fitted to take the lead in anyway, and that the elders, if God has raised up any, have their proper place in the house of God. I here repeat, with all my heart, what I said in the little tract: that is, that with earnest and continual supplication I do pray that God may raise up pastors and teachers according to His own heart, for the wants of His dear sheep, in order that the church of God may be preserved, cared for, instructed, rendered capable of resisting the snares of Satan, and that the little ones of the flock may be sheltered from every wind of evil doctrine. Yes, this is the fondest desire of my heart. It cannot be otherwise for one who loves the church and knows something of the love of Jesus for them who are His, of the privileges which belong to them, and who knows also something of the snares and devices of the enemy. Moreover, I think that the relation of a pastor to the sheep of God’s flock is the sweetest and most precious which exists on earth. In its fruits and its joys, this relation will not terminate here. I may add that I know no person, at least so it seems to me, who desires more faithfully to fill it than he whose pamphlet has given rise to these pages.
As to the rest, Ephesians 4 suffices for our guidance in this matter.
Of the Unity of the Body of Christ
We are now coming to points of much greater gravity than mere explanations.
If what I have said is called controversy, I reply that an explanation from me has been insisted upon, in order that the author himself of the pamphlet might understand me; I believe I have nearly limited myself to this. Before proceeding to a few remarks on the passages quoted, there is one point of the greatest importance questioned in our brother’s pamphlet. I had said that, being taken up with the thought of the churches, the idea of the church was too much forgotten. What was my surprise to see formally denied the unity of the church on earth, as if that was not in the thought of God. The author attributes to me the idea of a confederation of churches: because the churches are always the starting point of his thoughts. For my part, it is not a confederation of churches that I see in the word, but the unity of the body of Christ. Our brother, in quoting from Timothy, pretends that when the word speaks of the church, it is, as if it were said in French, “the family,” to designate the families or each family (see pp. 26, 27, first reflection). I think the word of God speaks very clearly of one body on the earth, having certain gifts and privileges, as also a certain responsibility, and a common destiny here below although belonging to heaven in the counsels of God. I shall quote a few passages, by which it will be seen that the point in question is of one body, and of one body on the earth endowed with certain privileges, for the employment of which on the earth it is also responsible, although the result, which is the perfection of the body, be in heaven according to the counsels of God. So this subject can be considered under the point of view either of this responsibility here below, or that of the accomplishment of the counsels of God in the heavens.
These are the quotations from holy scripture: “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body,” Eph. 2:16. “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord “(v. 20).” There is one body and one Spirit,” Eph. 4:4. “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love,” Eph. 4:16. Gifts are given, not for the edification of one church, but for the “edification of the body of Christ” (v. 12). They are placed not in one church, but in the church. The result of this principle is of all importance, because, if I am a teacher, I am not one of a certain church, but in the church. But perhaps it may be said, this body has its unity in the heavens. I reply, that the apostle speaks of the service of the members of the body here below, of the joints of service here below, of which the work will be finished when the church will be glorified. Moreover, the application of this quotation to the church, a society here below, is in accordance with the views of the author himself of the pamphlet (p. 43); and we can convince ourselves of this application in reading attentively the passages quoted by him. The church is then one body here below, and the gifts sent from on high are gifts placed like joints in the whole body. All the epistle to the Ephesians might be cited here; for this fundamental and precious truth forms the subject from beginning to end.
The same truth is found again in 1 Corinthians 12. There is but one and the same Spirit. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (v. 11). “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body; so also is Christ” (p. 12). It is not then a confederation of churches, but one body; and here we have the divine constitution of the body of Christ, which is the church. It never could have been said of one church in particular, “so also is Christ,” because no church in particular is the body of Christ: “Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church; first, apostles,”34 etc. The same truth is found in Colossians 2:19, and Romans 12:4-6. I fully admit then the existence of churches in the intention of God; but I say, that the ruling thought of the apostle:, or rather of the Spirit of God, in this matter, is the body of Christ, the church, and not the churches; and, although the gifts can be exercised here and there generally, but not of necessity in one assembly, in the beginning they were not considered as the portion of one church, but as that of the church, of the body of Christ.
Also Christians are not members of a church, but of the church: namely, the body of Christ. God has set the members every one of them in the body; the members are only one body (1 Cor. 12:12). The destiny of this body, looked upon in its unity of internal life here below, is one; and looked at in its responsibility here below, its destiny as a dispensation is also one. I do not deny that churches may fall and be subsequently restored35 through repentance; but the admission of this truth does not exclude the other. To ignore, forget, and still more, to deny this unity, is to deprive oneself of the chief element of the doctrine of the word on the subject we have now in hand. This leads Christians to occupy themselves with matters relating to the confederations of men, rather than the recognition of the rights of the Spirit of God in the body of Christ. This is why I say that I do not speak of the confederations of the churches, but of the unity of the church, of the body of Christ; and I assert that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in this body acting by its members.
This truth, of the unity of the church as a body here below, a truth misapprehended and disfigured, it is true, in the way of presenting it as a confederation of churches is, says the author of the pamphlet, a fundamental error into which I have fallen, and which falsifies all my reasoning (p. 26). This expression, the church, signifies the churches or each church (pp. 27, 28). The word in looking at the church as a society only sees churches and not the church.
It is necessary here to be clear and precise. I affirm that the doctrine of the unity of the body of Christ, is a fundamental truth of the word of God. I appeal to Ephesians 4, Colossians 2, 1 Corinthians 14, and Romans 12; and exhort all my brethren to search thoroughly these passages. Further, I affirm that all the privileges of the church flow out from this principle36— that the gifts are in the church, that the faithful are the members of the church, of the body of Christ, and not of one church. It is plain that wherever this principle is ignored or denied, all judgment on the state of the church must be proportionately erroneous. The apostles were in the church, and not in a church. Apollos was as much a teacher at Corinth as at Ephesus, because the church was but one. The daughters of Philip performed the duties entrusted to them in the house of their father; they made use of the gift they had received as members of the church, of the body of Christ, even when in an assembly they must have held their peace.
On the Nomination of Pastors
Before treating the subject of the ruin of the actual economy, we shall speak a little of the nomination of pastors. Our brother does not wish to insist on the passage of the Acts, the only one which speaks of elders being ordained and which could be alleged according to the ordinary translation which renders it, by the opinion (avis) of the assemblies.37 I have no doubt this was done in the unity of the Spirit with all the body, but by this expression, “they had ordained them elders,” it is evident that the word they refers here to Paul and Barnabas. If I said in an assembly, I select for you such and such a person to be an elder, could it be said that the assembly had made the choice? The introduction of the words “by the opinion of the assemblies “is purely gratuitous. Our brother says that it is through prejudice that the words have been withdrawn. Take Acts 10:41, where the same word is met with in the original, and let us give it the meaning which it is desired to put upon it in Acts 14:23, and the absurdity will appear: “Not to all the people, but unto witnesses38 chosen before of God by the suffrages of the assemblies,” “or by way of suffrage.” Although in the word used here there is an allusion to the custom of raising the hand in voting, it is employed simply to signify the choice, or rather the designation, of some person. The translation “by the suffrage of the assemblies,” is quite false, for if it be insisted on that the Greek word means to vote by raising the hand, then according to that translation, they voted by the opinion of the assemblies; but it is impossible to attribute, by mean’s of this same word, the choice to the apostles and the opinion to the assembly. If it were a case of vote, the assembly should have raised their hands and thus have made their choice. This expression, to choose by the opinion (avis) of the assemblies, I repeat it, is false in every case. The word is made to carry the sense of choosing by the advice of some other. Persons who raise their hands choose; the word cannot thus be cut in two.
The fact is, that it is simply stated that the apostles chose them elders in every assembly. But our brother says, One can appoint when others have made the selection. That is true; but the question is to know if the others have chosen. I reply, that there is no trace in God’s word of election of pastors; we have only the single case of the choice of elders; and, moreover, this selection was made by apostles or their delegates. Titus had been sent as a delegate of the apostle to fill his place in certain respects: and so the means employed for the appointment of elders ever remains outside a church. There may be many pastors in a flock, provided that God has raised them up and given them, without any selection of man; because pastors are a gift from on high; and if this be so, to establish pastors is not the act of the Church.39
Besides, I see no voting by the church in any case sanctioned by the Spirit or the word. We are taught in the word (Eph. 4) that pastors are gifts from on high which Christ distributes. We see in the history of the apostles that they chose elders for the churches, Acts 14. We find also that the apostle sent Titus, to ordain them in every city, following the orders he had given him—the requisite qualities for a bishop or overseer not being described in any epistle addressed to a church, but only in a letter addressed to an individual, who, in this matter, represented the apostle. We have not a single example of the choice of a bishop or of an elder made by a church, nor of a vote on any subject whatever. The question for our decision is, what does the word authorise us to do in this case? The author of the pamphlet admits (p. 70), that the word of God does not speak of the choice of the church. This is already a concession which says much: but he adds, that analogy is in favour of this practice; we have the case of Matthias and the deacons.
As to Matthias, not only was he named before the descent of the Holy Ghost, but it was done on an entirely different principle from that of the church’s choice, viz., on the Judaic principle, which consisted in drawing by lot. As to the deacons, or at least as to the seven who were chosen to serve tables, the analogy is contrary to that which our brother wished to shew. The apostles, having received a gift from above, a ministry of God (a ministry of which it is said, “ye have not chosen me but I have chosen you,” John 15:16), did not wish to mix themselves up with a temporal ministry. And the choice was given to the church for the service of tables, because the church furnished the tables; just as the choice was reserved to God when God furnished the gift. It was on this account that Paul, in order that the ministry of the word confided to him by God should not be suspected, refused to take the money which the churches desired to entrust to him, unless someone chosen by the churches accompanied him to take charge together with him. Thus, if the passages quoted are examined, it will be found that the analogy is quite contrary to the conclusion sought to be drawn, and one that upholds the principle I have shewn. But in the pamphlet itself I. find a full confession of the true state of the matter.
There are the views of the author on this point. Whilst giving his assent to a passage of the tract which advises not to go beyond gifts, he says (p. 106), ‘the Head of the church will be well able in His good time to send teachers, elders, deacons, without its being necessary for us to make them before he sends them.’ That is my thought: I believe it is the thought of God on the subject; but I stop there, wishing to walk humbly, praying earnestly to God for the raising up such men for the wants of the church. I bless God also for gifts, perhaps inferior, but useful, which He deigns to bestow in the meantime, and I act upon the universal principles of the word, which are applicable to such a state of things. See 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Corinthians 16:10-12, 14-16,18; Philippians 2:20, 30; and other passages.
It is no doubt a state of weakness, but if in this state God is waited on, and if He is honoured, “to him that hath, shall be given”; He will honour our endeavour. But this is how our brother continues, ‘In the meantime, let us choose, for the sake of order and decency, governing men to carry on the work, who, according to the gift that is in them, may fill up every day, as well as they can, offices which are not yet manifested.’ It is then acknowledged that, pending God’s action, man’s intervention to fill up offices not yet manifested is necessary. That is the knot of the question. Where is such a thing to be found in the word? Where the trace of such a principle, of such an idea? The result is, that if any true gift of ministry, or eldership, is manifested, the organisation being already complete, it follows, that the provisionary substitute must be deposed from his presidentship—an operation calculated to produce the most painful results that could happen to a body of Christians. Such an act would look like ingratitude and selfwill; by many it would be termed revolutionary, and might nourish in the body habits and dispositions most hurtful to true sanctification. This is what will take place necessarily if one will act previous to God’s action. Should not these consequences be arrived at, then the true elder will remain outside his office, and the faithful will in consequence suffer a proportionate loss. The fact is, that the most ordinary effect of this proceeding is the almost entire prevention of the development of real gifts.40
Of the Ruin of the Present Dispensation
After having given these explanations, I return to the subject of the ruin of the present dispensation, that is, of the system established of God here below—to that which the word of God says concerning the destiny of this dispensation. I wish to speak with all possible respect; but it seems to me that our brother has quite failed to understand what the Bible says on this subject. This is not the place for questions with regard to churches, but of the intentions or the warnings of God, concerning that which was established on earth, after the death and exaltation of our Lord Jesus. I do not hold to the word dispensation, although it is generally used to specify a certain state of things, established by the authority of God, during a given period. The author of the pamphlet himself gives it this sense when he speaks (p. 49) of the Levitical dispensation, the present dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of time, and so on. What we have now to do, is to try and become acquainted with what concerns the present dispensation.
The greater part of the difficulty, which in general presents itself to the minds of the faithful on this subject, consists in their confounding the intentions of God with regard to the dispensation with His counsels regarding the faithful found in it. These counsels can never fail in their effect, but the dispensation itself may pass away and come to an end (although having been to the glory of God, in that it has displayed His ways), because the unfaithfulness of man has rendered it unfit to be the means of manifesting any longer this glory. Then God, who foreknows all that He purposes to accomplish, substitutes for it another dispensation in which man is placed in another kind of trial, and thus all the ways of God are manifested, and His manifold wisdom shines in its true brightness even in the heavenlies. We know that the Levitical dispensation has passed away, and that the faithful found there have been saved according to the counsels of God. Let us again examine, with more development, what the word of God says of the present dispensation. First, there is a very solemn question, which is closely connected with the destiny of the dispensation. Is this dispensation the last? This is evidently a question of the highest importance. The author of the pamphlet says that, after all, it is always the same dispensation of the fulness of times which subsists; that it is always Jews and Gentiles forming one body in Christ by faith, and being the people of God under the new covenant. This dispensation of the fulness of times, says he, is sufficiently explained in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fulness of the time was come,” etc., and the gathering together of all things in Christ as under one head is, says he, sufficiently explained in Ephesians 2 by the gathering together of the Jews and Gentiles in one body in Christ. If in my turn I dare complain of expressions, I should say that I do not like to hear it said that one passage is sufficiently explained by another. I desire rather to seek what God has meant to say in each passage.
May I be allowed to make a remark here? I can hardly suppose that the author of the pamphlet ignores all that has been written on the subject of the coming of the Saviour to introduce a new dispensation. A large number of Christians of all denominations, and even of his brethren in the ministry, whether national or dissenters, believe fully, as a truth of the Christian faith, that there will be another dispensation before the end of the world. I doubt indeed, if amongst dissenting brethren whose ministry is a little known41 there be one who does not believe in this truth. I do not quote them as authorities; but I am a little surprised that the author satisfies himself with saying that Galatians 4:4 sufficiently explains Ephesians 1:10.
Let us examine a little this question by the word. First, although in many translations the resemblance between the fulness of times of Ephesians 1:10 and the fulness of time of Galatians 4:4 may strike people, nevertheless this resemblance does not exist in the Greek.42
The passage of the Epistle to the Galatians only means that the period had arrived, that the time that had to run was accomplished, or, if you will, that the time purposed and ordained in the wisdom of God was fully come. Martin translated “accomplishment of the time,” which appears to me pretty exact. But in Ephesians 1:10 it is the dispensation of the fulness or of the accomplishment of the times, the dispensation which is characterised as the accomplishment of all the arrangements of God.
Now, it is not at all a dispensation which is in question, when it is said that a certain term is come, that a certain fact is accomplished; although that fact may be the foundation of the present dispensation. So far is it from being a description of that dispensation that the greater part of the description turns upon that which has preceded the dispensation, upon that which was to happen before the dispensation existed? Christ born under the law is not at all this dispensation, although His birth necessarily preceded it. Neither is it a question, in this passage of Galatians, of the gathering of Jews and Gentiles in one body, but of the relation of the redeemed with God. And if the union of Jews and Gentiles explains sufficiently the union of all things in Christ, I ask, which of the Jews or Gentiles represent the things which are in heaven? (Eph. 1:10). Besides, the Jews will be restored and blessed as a nation in the dispensation to come, which is quite another thing from their union with the Gentiles in one body. Here we are on a fundamental point, upon which the whole question hangs. I feel I ought to point out this distinctly. Our brother says, that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times, that Galatians 4:4 refers to this also, and that it is always this dispensation of the fulness of times which subsists, although under different phases; in short, that on the return of the Jews this dispensation will subsist, as well as the dispensation of the gathering of Jews and Gentiles (pp. 29-49). This is evidently a capital point; because, if there be another dispensation, this one must necessarily terminate, instead of subsisting to the end.
For my part, I say, there is no connection between Ephesians 1:10 and Galatians 4:4; I say, that the author has confounded the birth and the first coming of Christ (Gal. 4:4) with the dispensation of the fulness of times; that this dispensation of the fulness of times does not yet exist, and that the present dispensation must terminate so as to give place to another. I doubt his finding amongst his brethren any man, well instructed in the word, who would agree with him in his assertions; and yet all his system depends upon their being well grounded. I ask every brother, capable of forming a judgment, if the explanation that our brother has given of Ephesians I:10, and of Galatians 4:4, is right. Do they find also that the application of the expression “the dispensation of the fulness of times” to the present dispensation is correct? Let us pay great attention to the scope of this question. God has been pleased to reveal to the church the mystery of a future dispensation; the system of the author of the pamphlet hides the mystery and plunges the church back again into ignorance in this respect. It has not been God’s will that the Christians from among the Gentiles should be ignorant that Israel was rejected, as a nation, but only during the period of the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles. The author makes this mystery once more unknown, and would have the Jews, as a national body, take their place in the fulness of the Gentiles.
The supremacy of Christ over all things is found set forth in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians as distinct from His supremacy in the church. The one pertains to His rights of Creator although He enjoys them as man; the other to the power of His resurrection, according to which He is head of the body (see, for the first, Col. 1:15, 16, and for the second, verse 18). So little is it true that these words, the church and all things, are identical terms, that, in the passage (Eph. 1:10), the gathering together of all things is a mystery revealed to the church, and that, at the end of the chapter, we have Christ, Head of His body, the church, over all things.
I do not say what the pamphlet makes me say, ‘that the dispensation of the fulness of times has failed’; for I deny entirely that that dispensation has come. I add, that salvation through the blood of Christ existed before this dispensation, and, in like manner, as there will be faithful ones under the Antichrist, it is evident that access to the throne of grace will yet be open; but that does not prevent the fact, that this dispensation is in a state of ruin, that the apostasy exists, because the word of God affirms that the presence of the Antichrist will be the signal that the apostasy has already arrived.43 I repeat what I said in my pamphlet, viz., that the gathering together in one body of the children of God (not as the author of the reply has made me say, the gathering together of the churches) was the immediate object of the death of Christ as regards this dispensation, because John says so in his gospel, John 11:52. The passage (Eph. 2:17, 18) quoted by the author of the reply to shew the contrary, proves what I say, if it be examined from verse 16 to the end; and chapter 3:4-6. The subject which the apostle treats in the whole passage, is not only salvation in Christ, or the access of a Christian to the throne of grace, but the unity of the body. It would be impossible here to enter into the things which prove that a new dispensation will take place on the coming of the Saviour. That has been treated elsewhere.
I will only mention that Acts 3 teaches us that the times of refreshing will come by the presence of the Lord, when He shall have sent Jesus; that then the glorious things spoken of by the prophets will have their accomplishment, but not before. It is not till after the fulness of the Gentiles (i.e., all the church from among the Gentiles) shall have come in, that God will save Israel; and it is only when the Lord will have put an end to the times of the Gentiles and crushed the image, that the little stone will grow and become a mountain which will fill all the earth (Dan. 2:33, 34); finally, the Lord will come to execute judgment on the nations, which evidently will close the dispensation. Then the Jews will be recognised as the nation favoured by God, which is an impossible thing as long as the present dispensation lasts. The author of the pamphlet will allow me to tell him, that to ground his argument with regard to the church and the present dispensation on the assertion that Ephesians 1:10 is sufficiently explained in Galatians 4:4, is not the way to commend it to those who have ever so little studied the word. It is evident that there will be a dispensation in which the Lord shall reign in righteousness; now He is dealing in the patience of grace.44
Let us now prove by direct evidence, that this dispensation, at its end, will be in a state of ruin and not of restitution. The Lord tells us that, as it was in the days of Noe, and of Lot, so shall it be “when the Son of man is revealed.” There were, however, faithful persons then, whom God knew how to preserve; well! does not the author believe that the world, at the time of Noe and of Lot, was in a fallen, ruined state? Thus shall it be when the Son of man shall be revealed. The state of things then existing was one of ruin, although there were faithful persons. It may be called economy, dispensation, what you please; the force of the truth here is obvious.
As to 2 Timothy 3, I have not quoted it in the thought that it could by itself shew the existence of an apostasy; but to shew that the word of God always presents to us the picture of the ruin of the state of things established by God—a ruin which the presence of a few faithful ones cannot prevent—a ruin which will terminate by the complete apostasy, and the manifestation of the Antichrist, and which will be closed by cutting off. Perilous times shall come: this is all that our brother sees; but in what consists the difficulty of those times? It is this: that men, Christians by profession, are found again in the reprobate condition of the Gentiles, depicted in Romans 1. And it is added that evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse. It is said, that men shall be in this state. Is not that a state of ruin, a fallen condition, when the description of Christendom is that men shall be such as the Gentiles, whom God had given over to a mind void of judgment? Compare Romans 1 and 2 and 2 Timothy 3. In the original the resemblance between them is even more striking. Therefore difficult times are not only spoken of, but the special character of those times is shewn. We may add that, when the times are so difficult that there is need of extraordinary warnings, it is evident that it must be a general state—a state that characterises the dispensation, and more or less in contrast with that of the first times. Thus what is read in 2 Thessalonians 2—the great apostasy—is not yet consummated. But in the application of this passage to the general destiny of the economy, I assert that it teaches us of the mystery of lawlessness which had commenced working from the time of the apostle, was to continue, and that which restrained being taken away, that the lawless one should be revealed, whom the Lord should destroy by the appearing of His coming; and that, previous to this, the apostasy should take place.
Is not that the ruin of the dispensation, the manifestation of an apostasy, the principles of which were already at work in the apostle’s time, and only waited till that which restrained was taken out of the way, to manifest themselves in the lawless one? The author says that this does not prove that the dispensation is closed. I do not believe that it is closed, and I have not said so; but it reveals the ruin of the dispensation— a ruin, the instrument of which was already at work, and which ends in apostasy and in judgment. That is what I said.
In the word of God we see two great mysteries, which develop themselves during the present dispensation: the mystery of Christ, and the mystery of lawlessness. The counsels of God, engaged in the first, have their accomplishment in heaven. The union of the body of Christ with Himself in glory will evidently have its accomplishment there on high. But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, there ought to be on earth during this dispensation the manifestation of the union of the body of Christ. But here the responsibility of man comes in for its share in this manifestation here below, although in the end all will be to the glory of God. Therefore the dispensation may be in a state of ruin, although the counsels of God never fail; on the contrary, our lie will turn to His glory, although He judges righteously.
In this sphere of man’s responsibility, Satan can introduce himself the moment that man fails to lean absolutely upon God. We know this by every day’s experience.
It is, then, revealed that the mystery of lawlessness will have its course. Here it is not a question of counsels, but of an evil done in time. The question here is of this mystery of lawlessness; the apostasy or falling away is not a mystery. There is no need of a revelation to inform us that a man who denies Jesus Christ is not a Christian; he says it. But in this case, it is an evil that has commenced working in the bosom of Christendom, in relation with Christianity; a mystery of which the lawless one will be the full revelation, as the glory of Christ and of the Church will be the full accomplishment of the mystery of Jesus Christ. The words translated, in most versions, “iniquity,” and “wicked one,” are the same in the original; save that one indicates the thing, and the other the person. It is “lawlessness” and the “lawless one” preeminently. This mystery of lawlessness commenced working in the apostle’s time: later the veil would be removed. The apostasy would be then: and at length the lawless one would come to his end by the appearing of the coming of Christ. Thus is the dispensation to be brought to an end: this is what we have revealed in this passage. Hence, as we see elsewhere, this will be to introduce the glory and reign of Christ, so that all the earth may be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.
Whatever Christians and theologians may have said on the parable of the tares (Matt. 13), I may be allowed to say that it teaches us quite a different thing from what our dear brother finds there (p. 55). He tells us that ‘wherever the Lord shall sow or cause to be sowed the good seed, the enemy will also come to sow tares, and that it will be so till the end.’ This is not at all what the parable states, though the thing may be true in itself.
The word gives us a similitude of the kingdom of heaven, to which this dispensation belongs, and of which it forms a part. There is no other sower but the Son of man, and the work which He has done is marred, not as to the barn, because He will know how to separate the wheat from the tares, but as to the world, in which the work of this dispensation takes place. We see also that the evil, which introduced itself in the beginning by the carelessness of men, cannot be repaired by men as a whole, and in this world. For this is a dispensation of grace and not of judgment.
The counsels as to the wheat cannot fail—it will be in the barn. But the work, with respect to this world, has been marred; because men have been entrusted with it, and their carelessness has given occasion to the enemy’s work, to which no remedy can be brought, as long as the dispensation subsists. I have not said that this parable proved that the evil was to go on increasing; but I said that the Lord had pronounced this judgment: viz., that the servants could not remedy this state of things. Is not this what the parable says? It is never said in the word that the apostasy would choke the wheat, or the faithful. There will be faithful ones under the Antichrist, as we have seen, although it be certain that the apostasy will then exist. As for me, I only dare to say what the word has foretold. I behold an evil, to which the neglect of man has given rise, which has marred the Lord’s work, as to its state and as a whole in the world, which the Saviour alone can remedy, and which He will remedy in putting an end to this dispensation, this age, by the harvest.
I beseech those who desire to know the thoughts of God, very carefully to compare what I have said with the texts quoted, and to see if all is correct. Our brother passes over Jude, because what I have said is obscure. I will endeavour to make it clearer. I say that the word of God teaches us that the evil which will be the object of the judgment of the Lord Jesus, at His coming, entered into the church from its commencement; that this evil is to continue, and that, notwithstanding all the goodness and patience of God, He will bring it into judgment. I quote Jude in support of this assertion. He teaches us that certain men had already crept into the church who were marked out beforehand for this sentence. Although at that time those persons were not as yet so manifested, he gives them, by the spirit of prophecy, these three characters: the natural hatred of a heart alienated from God, like that of Cain; the teaching of error for reward, as Balaam; and open rebellion like that of Core. In this last stage they perish. He says, it is of those that Enoch prophesied when he said that the Lord would come with His holy myriads to judge those who have spoken against Him, etc. However, there will be faithful ones; but already, even at the time of Jude, the evil, which is to end in open rebellion and which is to be the object of the judgment of Christ at His coming, existed in the church.
Examine the epistle (it is not so long), and see if it does not speak of an evil which has already crept into the church, and which would bring in the judgment of persons who were still hidden, but who, being more fully manifested, would be the object of this judgment. What is the impression produced by the epistle, if it be not that of a warning to a faithful remnant again a terrible evil which would bring in this judgment— against an evil which then existed in the bosom of the church, of which the condition of Sodom and Gomorrha, and of the fallen angels, presented the fearful but just picture? Was not that a state of ruin and of failure, which was only budding, it is true, at that time, but of which the features and the end were not hidden from the prophetic Spirit in the apostle? If there be obscurity in all this, at least there is in this obscurity a dreadful shadow, a shadow which God has placed there, and which should urge us not to pass over it too easily, especially when so grave a matter is in question as the destiny of the church.
Here I have an important remark to add. This epistle of Jude, which in an especial manner treats of the ruin, as well as that of John, which puts the faithful on their guard against the antichrists, by no means address themselves to a church, but to all who compose the church in general, to the faithful as having a common interest, a common destiny. The same may be said of the second epistle of Peter, which also speaks of the same, although it has a character more in relation to the Christians from among the Jews.
The author of the pamphlet sets aside all that can be quoted from the Revelation. We know that the Spirit has said, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, for the time is at hand.” And I cannot refrain from saying, that it is precisely on the point in question that this warning and promise become so important.
I do not wish to enter into details on the Revelation; but I ask what this book presents to us in its prophetic part, when Laodicea (the last of* the churches mentioned) has been spued out of the Lord’s mouth, and when John is taken up to heaven? Is it the establishment of the dispensation in blessing, or very positive prophecies of misery and judgment? As for me, I find that the kings of the earth will be gathered together by unclean spirits to make war against the Lamb; that Babylon the great will corrupt the whole earth, till she is judged; and that the clusters of the vine of the earth will be cast into the winepress of the wrath of God, and trodden in the winepress of His anger; finally, that the kings of the earth, persevering in evil, will give their power to the beast, and that, through the judgment of God upon them, they will have one and the same will to do so.
I do not now interpret, I take these things as a whole. Do they not announce, including the vine of the earth, a state of corruption, of apostasy, finally of cutting off, before the beginning of the thousand years of blessing which will come in by the presence of the Lord? I do not think the church has done any good by setting aside such solemn warnings; the more so, because God has attached a special blessing to those who listen to them. If the author of the pamphlet does not himself desire to dwell upon this, let him not be surprised if someone draws the attention of the children of God to such portions of the word. Let him allow me to remind him that, if this book were addressed to the then existing churches, the question, in what was addressed to them, was not of churches, but of ruin, apostasy, and of judgment. This is the future which is presented, when John ascends up to heaven. If there be churches, let them take heed to it.
In 1 John 2:18, we have a very striking example of the way in which the latter times presented themselves to the mind of the apostle, to the spirit of prophecy which God had given him. These times were to be known by the presence of evil, of the Antichrist, and besides by this that, even in the times of the apostles, the signs were there. “You have heard that Antichrist shall come”: it was a subject of which even little children in Christ were informed. “Even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” Finally, the apostle directs the attention of the little children to the coming of the Saviour. One may surely admit, that the presence of the Antichrist is a sign of the ruin not of the faithful, but of the dispensation as a whole, and of its approaching cutting off. Is it not also true, that this passage in John confirms the testimony borne to this truth, that the evil which would occasion the cutting off had introduced itself from the very beginning, and would continue until God executed the judgment, which would destroy the lawless one, and that in consequence the dispensation would not be restored?
If the patience of God has endured the evil for a long time, does that imply that the judgment will be less certain for Him with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years, or for the faith that cleaves to His word alone?
I come now to Romans 11. Here the arguments of the author of the pamphlet are rather against the apostle than against me. He says that, in order that the cutting off of the dispensation may take place, the Jews as well as the Gentiles must be found in it. Has he never heard, in the word, of the churches of the Gentiles; of an apostle of the Gentiles; of a reception of the Gentiles as a body, when the Jews had been cut off; of Gentiles upon whom the name of God was to be invoked? … It is true that, as to the fundamental principle of the church, there was in it neither Jew nor Gentile, because all were looked upon as risen together with Christ; but as to the earthly dispensation of the church, there was an apostle of the Gentiles and an apostle of the circumcision. There was this distinction—“To the Jew first, and also to the Greek”; and it is of this earthly dispensation that we are speaking.45
I believe our brother will find that the death of Stephen was the occasion of an important change in this respect; it is that of which we are speaking. The Jews were then guilty, because they had rejected not only the Son of man, but also the witness given by the Spirit to the glory of Jesus.
The apostle here speaks of the branches grafted into the good olive tree instead of those which had been broken off; he speaks of the dispensation of the promises of God. This already is an important principle. He speaks of the Gentiles, as having taken the place of the Jews, in the enjoyment of the dispensation of the promises (see verses 12, 13); because the Jews were broken off from their olive tree dispensationally. It is evident that the faithful amongst them were not broken off from Christ—very far from it, they enjoyed communion with Him in an infinitely higher way than that which they possessed before; but, as a dispensation, the Jewish branches had been broken off. There are then, besides the union of Christ with the faithful, privileges enjoyed as a dispensation, which may be lost; for the Jews, as a dispensation, had lost them. The apostle tells us, moreover, that the Gentiles had been put in the place of the Jews, in this position; it is not I that say so, but the apostle. He tells us also, that in this position they, as the Jews, are responsible, and may be cut off, as the Jews have been, although the remnant enjoyed, subsequent to this cutting off, still higher privileges, as the faithful of the present dispensation will enjoy with the Lord in glory during the reign of a thousand years, although the dispensation in which they were faithful be terminated; that is, though God will have put an end to the present dispensation, in the which He now places Himself in relation with men here below.
In different dispensations, God puts Himself in relation with men, on certain principles; He judges them according to those principles. If those who are found in this outward relationship are unfaithful to the principles of the dispensation, although God may long forbear, He puts an end to it, while at the same time preserving the faithful for Himself; this is what He has done as to the Jewish dispensation. Well! this chapter informs us that the Gentiles have been graffed into the place of the Jews. Mark, that in making this statement, I do not argue concerning what ought to be, but I quote the revelation of God contained in this chapter. The Holy Ghost speaks to Gentiles, He places them under their responsibility, and threatens them with the same fate as Israel.
Let us examine more closely this chapter. First, the apostle distinguishes between the counsels of God, and the enjoyment of privileges attached to the dispensation. As to the counsels of God, the Jews, as a nation, were to enjoy promises, which had been made to them in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, notwithstanding all that might happen, for “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” It is moreover what will happen in another dispensation in the world46 to come. In the present dispensation,47 what is presented to us is one body, gathered together from all nations, for heaven. But as to the dispensation of God, the Jews were to be cut off, until the fulness of the Gentiles had come in; and the setting aside of the dispensation was not to prevent a remnant being spared and saved: this is what the apostle set forth in the beginning of the chapter.
The counsels of God remain firm, as to the Jews, although the Jewish dispensation be set aside, and a remnant preserved— notwithstanding their apostasy and cutting off, to form part of another dispensation. In the meantime, this remnant has lost its Jewish character, and what is before us is the bringing in of the fulness of the Gentiles, after which God will again take up His counsels and dealings with the Jewish nation. Set aside during this dispensation, but kept by the powerful hand of God, judicially blinded, and enemies concerning the gospel, this nation is nevertheless beloved for the fathers’ sakes. This rejection of the Jews is the reconciling of the world. The Gentiles are graffed into the good olive tree of the promises made to the fathers, and, says the apostle, under the same responsibility that had resulted in the cutting off of the Jewish branches. So that, if they did not continue in the goodness of God, they would also be cut off; they were to take heed, not to entertain the idea that they could not fall as the Jews had fallen, seeing that they were subject to the same conditions: “on them which fell, severity.” The mystery of iniquity; the sleep during which the enemy sows the tares; perilous times; the state of Christians which is like that of the heathen; finally, the apostasy, or the falling away: all this is not, it appears to me, continuing in the goodness of God.
Moreover, the apostle would not have us to be ignorant of this mystery, that there is a fulness of the Gentiles to come in, and that then Israel will be saved as a nation by the coming of the Deliverer, who will come out of Sion and who will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. So Israel, Jacob, the nation, will be saved, for the counsels of God do not change. But is it in this dispensation? By no means; this has, for its first principle, the absence of the Saviour, and a heavenly calling, by the presence of another Comforter, who unites us to Jesus in the heavenlies, and who, in communicating to us His perfect and accomplished salvation, causes us to walk as pilgrims and strangers here below, being one body with Him who is on high, wrestling against wicked spirits in heavenly places, and passing through a world called “this present evil age,” while taking up our cross to follow Jesus in His humiliation. But Israel will be saved, when the Deliverer shall come out of Sion. The world will be blessed by the presence and the reign of the Saviour; the present evil age will have terminated; Satan will be bound; the glory of this world, instead of being a snare laid by the enemy to turn away the faithful from their heavenly calling, will be the glory of Christ Himself; the enjoyment of all that this world can give will be the portion of the faithful here below, instead of the cross. Is this the same dispensation? In the place of the grace that endures all things, and which, while submitting to all things, commits itself to Him who judges righteously, it will be a kingdom of righteousness, which will not permit evil, because Jesus will have taken His great power and will act as a king. Yes, the presence and the reign of Jesus will bring in this immense change. In a word, whilst now we have to follow Jesus in His humiliation and rejection— precious participation in His sufferings, so that we may be glorified together, then it will be the presence of Jesus reigning in power. It will be the dispensation of the fulness of times. The Jews will be a separate nation, and all the promises made to the fathers will be fulfilled on their behalf. I speak now of the earthly part of this dispensation, of that which concerns the world and the Jews; for much better things are reserved for those who will have suffered with Christ, and who will then be made equal to the angels, and even placed in a position above them; so that all things in the heavens and on the earth will be thus gathered together under one head, gathered together in one, even in Jesus, the centre of blessing, the manifestation of the power and the glory of the “most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.”
No; the faith and hope that is founded on the word, cannot recognise the present evil age, during which Jesus is absent, as this dispensation of the fulness of times. But there is a verse, the translation of which has helped on this false interpretation, namely, Romans 11:31. This is the true translation: “So these also have now not believed in your mercy, in order that they, also, may be objects of mercy. For God hath shut up together all in unbelief, in order that He might shew mercy to all.” The Jews were the objects of the promises, and the Gentiles of pure mercy. Jesus came to fulfil the promises made to the fathers: the Jews have rejected Him; and, further, they have refused and rejected the revelation of the mercy shewn to the Gentiles, thus filling up the measure of their sins, so that the wrath of God “is come upon them to the uttermost,” 1 Thess. 2:16. So they also, being shut up in unbelief, become objects of pure mercy, like the Gentiles, although according to the flesh they had been heirs of the promises. This it is brings out the riches of the wisdom of God in a manner surprising to our hearts.
I beseech those who take an interest in these subjects to be so good as to examine the Greek to see if that could be otherwise translated; for my part, nothing is clearer. I should not have entered upon the domain of criticism, had not our brother appealed to this passage as a triumphant proof that there is one dispensation only to the end. To me, as to the apostle, it is a grand example of the wisdom of God, who has known how to combine with faithfulness towards His people, rendered still more striking by means of this, the grace which shews mercy unto them, as a sinful and guilty nation that has rejected the promises—a wisdom which, by means of this temporary reception, calls in the Gentiles, not to be an earthly people, although they be tried on the earth, but to fill the heavens with His glory. Then having recalled His ancient people to the enjoyment of the promises, He will make manifest to them, as well as to the world, that He could love poor sinners, as He loved His well-beloved Son, and make them partakers of the same glory in virtue of their union with Jesus, to the praise of His glory. Shall I say that it is the same dispensation as at present, where I am travelling in sorrow, although joyous, sighing for that bright day in which I shall see that dear Saviour, who has so loved me as to give Himself for me, and in which (infinite blessing!) I shall be made like unto Him? Shall I not rather say: come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
In short, our brother says, that he sees a threat to the Gentiles. I ask, a threat of what? Is it not of being cut off? And now let us look around and see if the Gentiles, who have been graffed into the place of the Jews—if Christendom—has continued in the goodness of God. It is unnecessary to speak of the Roman system, although, doubtless, there are souls saved in that system. Neither will we speak of the Greeks, who barely subsist under the domination of the Mohammedans—that scourge sent by God, or who are plunged in the superstition of a reigning hierarchy. Let us consider the countries where the light of protestantism has penetrated. For the most part they are sunk in unbelief; and barely an individual believer here or there is found, who fights against the general unbelief. The greater part of those who are called ministers are not converted. They are unconverted pastors, who are set over flocks of unbelievers, or who pretend to feed even the true sheep of the Lord, but who drive them away. These ministers are nominated, not by the Spirit of God, nor by the church, in any way whatever, but by the civil authorities, who have no office in the church (although all believers own them in that which has regard to their civil office). What do we see, in short? The Lord’s sheep dispersed and scattered. It is an assembly of unbelievers administered and governed by persons who perhaps have not even the profession of Christianity, which is called the church. Believers generally find themselves confounded with this assembly, and those who are at the head are invested with the pre-eminence as with a civil right.
Compare this state of things, of which I have given but a sketch, these principal features admitted by all, with what is said of the church of God in the New Testament—in the Acts, in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Is the dispensation in a state of declension? Has it continued in the goodness of God? Has the separation of some faithful persons changed this state of things? What conclusion do I desire to draw from this? A deep humiliation on the part of the faithful, whatever the author of the pamphlet may say. Here he will allow me to make an observation. He complains, that I say “we,” in speaking of the church, of its misery, and its ruin. He himself has been faithful, he says; be it so! I deny it not; I bless God for it. But, for my part, and miserable as I know myself to be, I prefer to identify myself with the sorrows, the misery, and even the failure of the whole church. I do not wish to add to it my own unbelief; but, even if I had walked like these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, I would rather say with one of them, “O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him. Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws which he set before us,” Dan. 9:8-10.
If I know how to bring but little profit, little strength to that which has fallen, though avoiding the evil, I will at least bring to it my tears, my sympathies, and my testimony, which the spirit of Christ also seems to me to bring. Moreover, individual faithfulness does not prevent one feeling, in spite of oneself, the effect of the unfaithfulness of the body of which one forms a part. Although Joshua and Caleb in the end reaped the effect of their faithfulness, they experienced also, during the passage through the wilderness, the effect of the unbelief of the assembly; nevertheless, not without receiving consolations and a strength in their hearts, which the rest of the people did not enjoy. The members of the same body ought to suffer from the misery of the other members through love, through the spirit of Christ and of charity. If they will not do it through love, they do it through necessity. Although our dear brother is unwilling to say “we,” I do not think he can escape from the consequences of the general state of the church. But all that is the result of his having lost the idea of the unity of the body, this precious bond of charity.
I repeat here what I said in the pamphlet: people forget the want of power, when they think it possible to follow the apostles because they have their writings. This is what the author does, when he says, “By following in the administration of the church, and in the establishment of different charges, the rules which the apostles have left us” (p. 36).
But was there not an administrative power, a power acting in the apostles, which we cannot pretend to? Was there not in the establishing of charges an authority which we cannot arrogate to ourselves? Compare what the author says. As to this power, says he, God never refuses it to anyone (p. 85). Did there not exist in the primitive church other power than obedience to apostolic laws? I set no limit to the blessing of the church now, but it is not by denying the existence of the power which existed at that period that it will be found again. When our brother says that if the apostasy were to become general, it should have been predicted that the tares would choke the good seed. The answer is, that this is not what is predicted in the word. When all worship the beast, except those whose names are written in the book of life, the apostasy will be general; but the tares will not choke the wheat, for God never leaves Himself without a witness. There will be a time, it is true, in which human testimony will cease, but then God will bear witness to Himself by His signal vengeance upon His enemies.
I have yet to add a few remarks in addition to the observations that I have been making on the pamphlet of our dear brother. The important point to notice, for the well-being of the whole church, is, in the first place, the fundamental and very serious error, which consists in the denial of the unity of the church of Christ—a unity such that it should manifest itself on earth by the presence and the power of the one Spirit during this dispensation. Secondly, the confusion of this dispensation with that of the fulness of times.
These two errors suffice to obscure or to warp the judgment on all that concerns the present state of the dispensation, and on the whole subject of the church of God here below. For my part, I think I see, along with our dear brother, the hand of God in that he has been constrained to state them clearly, so that they should be examined by the word in all patience and love, and that the brethren, asking of God the help of His Spirit, might form their judgment according to the word, where the truth lies as to these points. The author says (p. 81), to choose, to nominate, to establish, is more scriptural than to own. To own is also scriptural (1 Thess. 5:12)—with this difference, however, that the word of God calls on all the faithful persons to own and never to choose gifts, nor even elders, as we have seen.
Nay, further, when a person is owned, the heart, the conscience, the affections, and respect are engaged; it is a bond, a bond formed by the exercise of the gift, in the heart of such who have profited thereby. The heart that has received blessing responds to the action of the Holy Spirit, which has taken place by means of the brother who has been its instrument; and thus the heart attaches itself to that instrument, and owns God in him; it is God’s will that it should be so, and He binds together the members of the body by these mutual helps. And this is very especially applicable to a pastor, whose task is, to my mind, the most difficult that exists. What powerful bond does there not result when we own one from whom we have received blessing, who has led us on, counselled us, warned us, and preserved us from danger, and has made us know God—our God—better! The fact is that, according to my experience, there is more danger of overvaluing than of undervaluing a true pastor. Nevertheless, I see that the apostle puts a very great value upon such affections. Can one compare a vote of the church to bonds thus formed?
I do not deny that apostolic authority may have been of use, in certain cases, to give a sanction to the office of elder. This is what can never be done by the vote of a church, where perhaps new converts are called to determine a matter requiring the greatest spiritual discernment. It is never said that an apostle nominates a pastor, seeing that a pastor is a gift coming directly from God. They did choose elders. It was an office for which the gift of feeding the flock of God, in one way or another, was necessary or suitable. But they could not nominate to a gift—a very important distinction for us, because we can enjoy the gift, without there being any one with authority to appoint an elder. Besides, I put no limit to what the Holy Spirit can do in this respect by counsel and a truly spiritual wisdom, although there be no apostle. It is my wish that all that the Holy Spirit gives may in all respects be freely exercised. It is not here a question of right, of authority, but of duty, of charity, of those bowels of love, which spends itself for the flock of God, which desires that all that God has given may be used in its place. There is no rule for that. The Holy Spirit always justifies Himself in His work. If any one acts against the word, it is evident that it is not the Holy Spirit who led him to act. When Paul besought Apollos to go to Corinth, and Titus to remain in Crete, it was not a regulation for the church; but the word has given us such things, not in order that each one may always follow them, but as the precious tracks of the ways of the Spirit of God.
And here we must again notice this principle: that what concerns the individual conscience is at all times obligatory, and that God always gives strength to accomplish that which He requires from faith. We have only to obey. But it is not so with the things that relate to the administration of the church; because they suppose a certain state of things, a power of administration, a strength acting in this respect, which is not given to all. If God tells me to turn away from certain persons, not to bear the same yoke with unbelievers, this does not concern an administrative function, but individual faithfulness. Consequently, there are rules which are not necessarily for all times. It does not follow from this, it is true, that there are no churches, but it follows from it that the church, or believers, may, in certain cases, be incapable of following all the rules, although the rules be there.
There is still a difference to point out between this dispensation and the Jewish dispensation. In the Jewish dispensation, the branches cut off were natural branches, so that, although sin occasioned the cutting off, it was not sin that had given them their place on the good olive tree. But in the present dispensation, as it is a remnant according to the Spirit,48 which is of the essence of the dispensation, it is clear that the introduction of the wild branches has been occasioned by sin. “While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares.” At least, if it was not absolutely sin that introduced these branches, they were, however, never legitimate, and they would very soon have been manifested, if there had been entire faithfulness. But it has not been so, and in consequence the branches must be finally cut off, and the faithful gathered in for a dispensation of glory, in order to reign with the Lord a thousand years, the dispensation being thus fully brought to an end.
As to presidency, there is one more explanation to give. I do not find that the word ‘president’ is employed in the word of God in the sense of presiding in an assembly. In this sentence, “that he who presides,49 let him do it with diligence,” it is the same word which is translated to rule in this text, “If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God,” Rom. 12:8; 1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12.
The choice of presidents is nowhere to be found, as we have said. The maintenance of proper order in a large gathering by grave brethren, such as terminating at a suitable time, making communications to brethren, and other similar things, breaking the bread, if the Supper is taken; these are things against which, for my part, I have no objection to make, provided worship takes place by the Spirit of God in the assembly, and not through the means of a president. I do not feel the need of saying much on this point. As to the details of circumstances, they are almost indifferent to me, provided there be gravity, order, and the liberty of the Holy Spirit in the worship that takes place. I should not have said so much, were it not for fear of being misunderstood. It is God who alone can bring us to the proposed end.
Remarks upon the “Report of the Evangelical Society of Geneva, for 1841”
They have put into my hands the Report of the Evangelical Society, in which the matter that occupies us has also been discussed, from the very beginning of the different reports. I pray God with all my heart, that the work the Society is engaged in may be blessed, whatever may be the way in which it is conducted. I only wish here to draw attention to the arguments which have been used on the subject of ministry, and to shew how far a false idea can lead astray true Christians. All, it is said, should work for the advancement of the kingdom of God; but if there is not a priesthood, there is a ministry (page 60 of the Report).
Let us mark this well. In this passage of the Report, ministry does not mean service rendered to God and to men, whether of evangelisation, or of faithful care amongst those who have already been brought into the Lord’s sheepfold; but it means a body of men, to whom belongs the right of exercising their ministry j of men who are, as it is said, a few lines lower down, a government in Christian churches. In short, ministry does not mean a certain service, or the subject of testimony with which this service is occupied (as it might be said, for instance, the ministry of the apostle, to designate his service; the ministry of the gospel, to designate the subject matter of testimony); but what has been falsely called the Clergy. I fully acknowledge a ministry (that is, a service rendered by God to men, by means of men raised up by God to this end), whether it be that this ministry is exercised towards the world in evangelisation, or is exercised in the church by gifts and suitable instruments of every kind. “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation,” etc., Rom. 12:6-8, etc. Peter also said, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” etc., 1 Pet. 4:10.
Finally, Jesus Himself approves of those, as faithful servants, who have traded with the gift that He entrusted to them, because they have sufficient confidence in Him to labour without further authority than the communication of the gift; and intelligence enough to understand that God does not light a candle to put it under a bushel. But this is not the meaning of the word ministry, in the paragraph we have just quoted. There the ministry is contrasted with the work of Priscilla, and Aquila, and of Origen before his ordination. “They were only simple believers,” but besides that, “there is a ministry,” that is, a clergy. Christian churches need a government.
The whole force of this argument rests on the confusion that is made of the ministry with the established clergy, with a body of teachers, nominated and set apart by man. The author of the report cites, in support of this, 1 Corinthians 12:28: “God hath set some in the church.” We will content ourselves with what the reporter says himself elsewhere; not man, but God. I do not think that he wishes to make apostles, and who was it that ordained prophets, teachers? But it suffices to say that the apostle only speaks here of the operation of the Holy Spirit. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” This is how God appoints.
Ephesians 4:11, 12, is quoted; but I find here that Christ has bestowed the gifts, and in nowise that man made a body of those who possessed them. I find that the apostle, in the Epistle to the Galatians, asserts, as his glory, that his ministry was not of men, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, and by God the Father. Who was it that set apart the prophets when it is said “so that all may speak and that all may be edified?” Who from among men ordained those that, at the time of the persecution which took place at the death of Stephen, went everywhere preaching the word? Where is it said that these teachers, whom Christ had given as gifts, were ordained? What connection is there between all that and ordination, or a mission on the part of man? Is there no difference between the Lord Jesus, the head of the body, who imparts gifts to men by the Holy Spirit, according to His good pleasure, and an academy for bringing up a clergy? Is it then intended to educate apostles, for they are mentioned here just as much as teachers?50 What an extraordinary confusion is found in the mind of man, the instant he desires to be something!
Let us examine the other passages quoted. Romans 10:14, 15: “How shall they preach except they be sent? How beautiful are the feet of them who preach the gospel of peace.” Is it then a clergy? Was it man who at that time sent out the apostle and others to preach the gospel? Was the apostle mistaken when he said, Not of man, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ? Was he not then one of those who were sent? What a singular feeling of self-satisfaction must exist, when after sent is added “by men” and when God is thus found excluded from this glorious privilege and the prerogatives of His grace. In short, who is it that says here that it is men who ought to serid them? Romans 12:6-8 says not a word of ordination for the ministry; on the contrary, it is said that each one ought to act according to the gift which has been entrusted to him. “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God,” 1 Cor. 4:1, 2. Because I ought to consider the apostle as a minister of Christ, does it follow from this, that there ought to be a clergy in the church of God? I am perhaps slow of apprehension, but I see no sequence in this reasoning, although I heartily acknowledge the apostle to be what he says. But does the reporter hold the clergy, from which he has separated himself,51 to be what the apostle was? If not, the point in question is clearly quite another thing. God had sent the apostle; it was necessary to acknowledge him as such; but if one desires to find out how, it will not be difficult to discern in this very epistle, that it was not because he was sent and ordained by men: “Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it,” Col. 4:17. Who says that Archippus had received this ministry through the intervention of man?
I find in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25), that faithfulness consisted in that they had acted on their own responsibility, without waiting for anything further than the communication of the gift on the part of Christ, because they had a right confidence in the goodness of their Master and the understanding of His will. He who would have had some other warrant, was condemned out of his own mouth. I am far from putting ordained men in this category; I speak only of the grand principle; for many among them have laboured faithfully in the sphere they have given themselves, and have even acted with a good conscience in this respect. Perhaps they may be found somewhat of the number of those who have put out their money to the banker.
In conclusion, I have nothing to say for my part against the laying on of hands in itself. I do not speak of that laying on of hands which bestowed gifts, but of that which can be given to any brother approved in the kingdom of God, who has acted on his own responsibility, and with the knowledge of the grace of God, the only real motive owned by God, and who is desirous of being recommended to the grace of God for a special work; in that case, it is all very well. It is what happened to Paul, who received the laying on of hands from the laity (as they say), not to receive authority, nor to be placed amongst the clergy, but to be recommended to the grace of God. It appears, indeed, that this was repeated: compare Acts 15:40, and chap. 14:26, with chap. 13:3. That is a very precious thing, but quite in contrast with a ministry transmissible and authorised by men, into which introduction takes place by the intervention of men, by its preparatory education, as if it were a trade.
Let us continue the examination of the passages. The reporter only quotes one more passage which we will look at in a moment. “And those who trust to the choice made by the churches, of those to whom some ministry was confided.” (At the end of page 60 of the Report.) Some ministry was confided! I am astonished! Some ministry! Did the churches choose the apostles, the prophets, the teachers, the evangelists? There were those, it is true, who said, “I am of Paul, of Cephas, of Apollos” —others who have had itching ears. What then is the subject of the passages quoted? Nothing but tables and money. The apostles, because they had the ministry of the word, which was the object, not of the choice of men, but of that of God, requested that men should be chosen to administer the money entrusted to them by the church, because it did not become those who had the ministry given of God to leave it to attend to temporal matters. In like manner, the apostle, careful to provide things honest even before men, was unwilling to take the money, unless there was someone, chosen on the part of the church, to take charge of it together with him. “Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance, which is administered by us, providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men,” 2 Cor. 8:20, 21.
I have reserved one more quotation, because it is presented to us at length, and I doubt if there be found, even amongst the abettors of popery, an idea so monstrous, and so astounding on this subject. Let us recollect, that the point in question is the institution of a ministry, of a body of men set apart for this service, of the clergy, in short. “If the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory”; “for,” adds the apostle, “if that which is done away is glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious,” 2 Cor. 3:9-11. I assure [my reader] that I have read again and again this passage and the paragraph where it is quoted, thinking to surprise myself in some confusion of ideas, because it seemed impossible to me that a Christian could make such an application. But no; such is the case. According to the Report, the clergy, the ministry that God established for the primitive church, is the glory which remains. The apostle does not speak of the subject of his ministry, in contrast with the condemnation and death pronounced by the law, at the glory of which in consequence man could not look; it is not the glory of the Lord with unveiled face in the Person of Jesus Christ; no! it is the established ministry, it is the ministerial system, it is a separate class of men, a clergy; this is the glorious thing that is to remain! Is it possible to go to greater lengths?
Even if elders were subjected to the laying on of hands, which is never said, where is it seen that those who exercised the ministry were subjected to it? where is this idea found, that it was only elders who could exercise the ministry? It would be very difficult to prove such a system by the word, and indeed it is never quoted; I appeal to the citations already made by the reporter on the subject of the ministry. He says, that “it is forbidden also to choose ministers amongst new converts.” That is said of the elders, of overseers, but not of ministers: the mingling of these two things is quite unscriptural, although the elders ought to have been fit to teach. But who could have believed, that an attempt would be made to prove that it was forbidden to choose ministers amongst new converts, whilst young men are brought up for the ministry, and that elders or bishops are made of them by the consecration of men, as soon as they have finished their studies? Where is it said in the passages alluded to, and in which the qualities which bishops should possess are specified, “that they ought to receive solemnly the imposition of hands from the assembly of the elders”? When Titus was sent to appoint elders in every city, from what assembly of elders did they receive the imposition of hands?
It is singular enough that, although laying on of hands took place for all sorts of cases, as for the blessing of children, on the sick, on an apostle, to impart the Holy Spirit to all believers, or for a special gift—as to Timothy—finally, on those who were chosen to be deacons; and that thus it is probable that hands were laid on elders, when all things were done in order: it is, I say, singular that the word is perfectly silent on the subject. For my own part, I have no doubt, that as God had foreseen the abuse that would exist as to the Virgin Mary, and that in His grace He always shews her as repelled by the Lord Jesus during His ministry, so likewise God, foreseeing also the abuse of a custom, which probably existed at first, was perfectly silent on the subject; so that the Clergy, of which the system was foreknown to Him, as all things, might never have the semblance of His authority to make it a separate class,52 and by this means to exalt itself, as if it were the ministry of God. We know what has been the result.
As to the circumstances which have given rise to the exposition of the principle which we are commenting upon, I do not meddle with them: I occupy myself with principles only. It may perhaps appear extraordinary to comment upon a report. I reply, that it is not only a report, but a direct attack against certain principles, and the setting forth of other principles, which are given as more biblical: this is a proper subject for discussion.
There is, in the report itself, a singular and striking effect of the principles therein set forth:—
Mr. Such-an-one, minister of the holy gospel.
Mr. Such-an-one, evangelist.
This is rather comical. There are evangelists who are not ministers (I suppose according to Ephesians 4:11, 12, quoted in p. 61 of the report); and ministers of the holy gospel, who are not evangelists; and, what is more, evangelists, who are not ministers of the holy gospel. It is the ordination of man which makes this strange distinction. May God make them to be good evangelists, and good ministers of the holy gospel! But, truly, the wisdom of man is folly in the sight of God; and the folly of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Thanks be abundantly given to Him, for that He is good enough to pass over the littleness of the folly of man, and bless according to His sovereign grace those He sends! And I pray Him therefore, that, in His grace, He may keep from the pride that attaches itself to a human distinction those, who, not content with being evangelists sent by Him, have had themselves made by men ministers of the holy gospel.
Let us hasten, however, to find some roses in the midst of these thorns. I quote another report: “To pretend to distinguish here, as it is too often done amongst us, the ministry of preaching, and that of the sacraments (as if one of these ministries, exercised without the authority of the clergy, constituted, more than others, a separation), is to go beyond the scripture, and contrary to it” (page 25 of the report). I do not quote these words of the dear brother, who is the reporter, to lead others to think that he agrees with the principles of my pamphlet. It is clear enough that he does not. I take the words as they are,53 as a testimony which, by dint of circumstances, pierces through the prejudices which have been produced by old habits and certain forms of study. I rejoice to agree with him, and that, in consequence of the evil done by the clergy, according to his account, he has been compelled to put in its true light this truth, that the celebration of the Lord’s supper is no more a separation than preaching is. I draw the same practical (I do not say theoretical) conclusion, as the author of the report; when I find myself authorised to preach apart, I find myself authorised to communicate apart. It is, in my opinion, a perfectly just principle.
I have no doubt that the reporter has sometimes demanded other conditions for preaching than those which I myself demand. I have no wish to make him say what he does not say. I take the naked principle: and, I say, that to draw a distinction between these two things, as has been too often done amongst us, is to go against Scripture, seeing that, if I am authorised to preach apart, I am authorised to celebrate the Lord’s supper apart. Let this be noted! I admit with him, that these two steps are very serious; and I am sure that he does not wish to separate from nationalism, neither by one nor the other. I let him judge for himself if it be to separate oneself from the church. I insist only upon the point contained in this sentence: to preach the word and dispense the Lord’s supper, without being authorised by the ecclesiastical governors, when they are in disorder. I add what he gives us of Benedict Pictet: “The truth of the faith, the purity of worship, submission to Christ, constitute the essence (Petre) of the church. The preservation of these things is then the preservation of the unity of the church.”
We have said enough in reply to the quotation which the same reporter makes of the Epistle to the Ephesians. One minister, nominated by men, is a thing far different from the diversity of ministry found in the body of Christ; such a person, in general, extinguishes all the other gifts, unless they manifest themselves in spite of him. It is this confusion that is made between a ministry, authorised by men, and the ministry of the body of Christ, which has produced so much confusion in practice, and which, in eliminating every other ministry than that which is found in the one minister, has forced all other ministries, as it were, into a position of opposition. However irregular, the means, as they are called, have become in a measure more regular in spite of the regular means, so that we have evangelists acknowledged, who are not ministers of the gospel, even teachers, and the Lord’s supper apart, without there being separation from the church.
It is a very important thing to commit to faithful men what one has learnt; but there is always this confusion, that by ministry is meant an ecclesiastical body, ecclesiastical authorities. It is not said here that Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2) was to confer offices, but to communicate the truth; as also he was to prevent certain persons from preaching other doctrines. He was called to watch over the doctrine, and to commit it to faithful men, able to teach others also. The reporter says, that it is evident that these principles (those of the ruin of the church) are false, because “it is easy to see that the state of the churches of Rome, of Ephesus, of Galatia, of Corinth, was the same as ours.” Does he think then that it was the duty of the faithful to have the Lord’s supper apart, because of the condition of these churches, as he thinks that it is now his duty to have the Lord’s supper apart? Was it the condition of those churches to have their pastors nominated by the civil authorities, perhaps by unbelievers? Has the domination of the Pope changed nothing in the state of the church? What does he mean by “ours”?—the church of Geneva, where he cannot take the Lord’s supper?—the church of Rome, which he fights against with all his might? Where was the church among those churches mentioned in the word, however far it might have wandered in practice, or where was the doctrine which opened “the door to admit to the Lord’s supper, all those who, in the church acknowledged themselves utterly lost by their works and completely saved by Jesus Christ”? I think it strange the reporter should say, that as to their actual circumstances, the churches, in the time of the apostles, were in the same condition as his own.
The reporter, moreover, gives us a summary of the evangelical doctrines, on which, thanks be to God! we agree perfectly, as in many other matters, precious for time and eternity; then, contrasting the opposite error, he says: “Such has been in every age the language of the fallen churches and of all false religions” Such have been the doctrines of the whole professing church; it was therefore a fallen church. There were only persecuted separatists who may have kept the good deposit of faith.
The church, as a body, is in ruin. That is what I say. In what condition was Protestantism a few years ago (and even at present, in several places), as to doctrine? A scandal, even to a pious member of the Romish Church! Good has introduced itself a little; but it is in spite of the church; I appeal to the Oratoire.54 The church, yes, the church of the reporter is, according to him, in ruin; his position shews it. “Such is,” says he (in speaking of a rejected teaching, as unworthy even of the name of Socinian), “such is the doctrine which has been promulgated in Geneva for a quarter of a century, and that without any remonstrance being raised, if it be not those of men who have been publicly punished by judicial sentence. Were we not right in saying, that our circumstances were unheard of?” How unheard of, if the condition be the same as that of the church at Ephesus? “The Romish religion, even, is not so fatal to the eternal interests of humanity”; “and all that with the sanction of the authorities.” Yet persons dare to say: the condition of our church is such as that of Rome, of Ephesus, etc.! And it is not a fallen church!
I beseech my brother to believe me in this, that I am not saying here a word concerning his position; this is not the place to discuss it. I quote all these avowals, because he loudly blames this doctrine, that the church is in a state of failure, and yet it seems to me that he himself proves it. Such is all that I occupy myself with in this report. May God bless the work of those who preach the Lord Jesus! this is my prayer. The report discusses principles, I discuss them too; and I close by making this remark, that there is all possible difference between “preparing for the church faithful persons” —a task that appears to me rather a difficult one for man—and “committing to faithful men” the truths that one has learned, so that there may be a rampart against error. I would also recall the very important remark of the report on evangelisation. The word of God has settled the question. “God,” says the scripture (1 Cor. 12:28), note it well; God, and not man— God “has set some in the church; first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers.” Well! let it be God, and not man, who appoints them, and we shall be content.
I wish, in conclusion, to remember myself, as well as to remind those who will peruse these pages, that the Holy Spirit is ever with us—that His strength fails not. The unbelief of the mass of professors may exercise an influence on the mode of the activity of the child of God, never on its source. It may give him more of sorrow sometimes; he may find himself more isolated, but that cannot prevent his being faithful. The unbelief of the mass may doubtless change the circumstances in the midst of which he labours, and so modify their effects, but it cannot alter the faithfulness of him who labours in it; on the contrary, the moment when evil is at its height, is ordinarily the time of the greatest faithfulness of Christians: we have already said so in the pamphlet, “On the Formation of Churches”; Elijah, Samuel, Moses, and others, are witnesses of this.
Moreover, the duty of evangelising always remains: the responsibility of those who have to labour in pastoral care is always the same, and Christian love will constrain those who are filled with the Spirit of Christ thus to occupy themselves. The conviction that the church is fallen, and that the world is going to be judged, will only serve to give more activity, so that they who have ears to hear, may hear, and be saved from the perverse generation, whose iniquity will soon bring in such terrible consequences; namely, the righteous anger of a God of patience, the wrath of the Lamb! Let us work, dearly beloved, whilst it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work. The love of Christ is the best guide for our daily duties.
I desire to add a few words on an objection, or rather on an aspect under which one may view a part of the reasoning of my pamphlet, in order to take away from its force. The answer to this objection is already to be found in the reasoning itself. Nevertheless, I would say a word about it. Here is the difficulty: it is admitted that God has set in the church, apostles, prophets, etc.; but it is said that it is in the body of Christ, in the church, one part of which is in heaven already, while another is in conflict, and a third part, finally, is not yet manifested; conse-consequently, it is said, one cannot speak of a unity of the church on earth.
Here is my answer:—
It cannot be denied that there has been a manifestation of that body, and of the unity of that body on earth, at the beginning of the present dispensation. Apostles and prophets did not exercise their ministry in heaven, although it was a spectacle there to angels; and the faithful who composed that unity, that body, were all on earth. This fact once admitted, the objection loses all its force; or, rather, it becomes an argument in favour of the truth on which I insist; for the blessed and powerful unity which then existed, does no longer exist. I only wish to enter upon the question, as concerning the conscience of those who now form the church of God on earth, and not with respect to the counsels of God.
If this objection be attentively considered, it will be seen that it gives greater prominence to the idea of the unity of the church, as a body on earth during this dispensation. If the unity of the church is not taken in the sense of forming a society here below, but only in the sense of the assembly of the elect, in a state of eternal salvation; then, it is evident that a considerable portion of the church was already in heaven, when the present dispensation began. This beginning has taken place, and the apostles were given, as well as the other gifts, as the result and manifestation of the glorification of Christ “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,” Heb. 8:1.
The unity I speak of, is, therefore, a unity produced by the sending of the Holy Spirit here below, after Christ had been glorified; it only existed after the sending of the Holy Spirit, as the result of His mission. It is evidently a question of something different from the unity of all the elect in heaven; for a great portion of these elect were already saved and removed from the earth when the unity that is spoken of began. It is therefore, a unity which belongs to the present dispensation, of which the Holy Spirit, sent from above, was to be the strength; it is a unity which should have acted on the world and consequently have been seen of the world. As the Saviour Himself said: “That they also may be one … that the world may believe,” etc. And the manifestation of the Spirit applied in effect to the welfare of the body here below. Further, that unity was visible at the beginning of the dispensation; all the manifested saints formed part of it. The joints of supply were all working in the unity of the body on earth. But, it is said, this unity of the body must necessarily have ceased, since many of those who formed part of it are gone to heaven. In speaking thus, one admits that the unity took place; for, if it has ceased, it existed once. Yes; there has been here below a manifestation of the unity of the body by the power of the Holy Spirit, carrying it out in all the joints of supply. These joints of supply did exist, and were active, and if any joint did not perform its functions aright, the Holy Spirit, by means of the apostles, applied the remedy, although Jesus was no more on earth. “What will ye,” says Paul, “shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, or in a spirit of meekness? “Thus, the glory of Christ was not in the dust here below. The church, filled with the Holy Spirit, one and united, reflected in the midst of the darkness of the night of the world the glory of that hidden Sun, of Jesus its beloved Saviour. This manifestation of the glory of Christ by the church in unity no longer exists. Is that a matter of indifference?
To me, it is a subject of tears and of deep humiliation. The glory of Christ, present, so to speak, in the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, shed all its light on the cross, all its brightness on sin, and on the world. The cross, which began the Christian life, closed the life and hopes of the world; but it shone with all the brightness of the glory to which it led, and which was to be its crown. These were the two terms of the Christian life. All the rest, that which lay between, was only passing. It was easy to be a stranger and a pilgrim, where the cross and the glory united to place in its true light the world which had crucified the Lord of glory; where the world was for the heart only, the empty tomb of Christ—for love, only the scene of a testimony borne to a glory and to a love, which produced the ardent desire that He might come quickly. Is it so now? Are we united as at the beginning? Does that testimony of devotedness still exist? Are the glory of Christ and His coming things so present to the church, that every sacrifice is easy to it—that the cross is light for it—that the riches of this world are only for it an opportunity given of God to bear witness to His love, only unrighteous riches, of which one frees oneself, as of a burden, in order to cast them into the treasuries of Christ, that they may come out transformed and purified in the waters of His love? Am I to be satisfied when people tell me that the unity, in the bosom of which all this did manifest itself, can no longer exist, because the first Christians, who formed part of it, are dead? Ought my heart and my conscience to content themselves with such an answer? Dear brethren, are your hearts satisfied with it? If they are, I have done reasoning. If the manifestation of the glory of Christ in us and by us on earth, in His body, which is the church, does not touch you, I have nothing more to tell you. If the heart is indifferent to all this, there is no more reasoning for the Spirit of God. But if it be only knowledge that you lack, may God deign to bless my words for your heart!
The doctrine of the union of the church, as a body, whether at the beginning or through the whole duration of the dispensation, is closely connected with the doctrine of the presence of the Holy Spirit here below. If He unites the members which are on earth to those who have departed, is it not just as true, that, being on earth as regards the order of the dispensations, He necessarily unites into one body all the Christians who are on earth? It is perfectly certain that this it is which He did at the beginning.
The objection which we are discussing, admits this truth. If, therefore, the Holy Spirit does not now unite the children of God into one body—if that is impossible, for whatever reason it may be, it is evident that the state of things established by God on earth, as the means of manifesting His glory, and as the instrument of testimony, has ceased to exist. You may give it what name you like—failure, ruin, apostasy. It is one of the gravest facts, of the deepest import, in the kingdom and in the dispensations of God. If the Holy Spirit gives unto us to penetrate through that which envelopes the mystery of lawlessness, and if thus, before the full manifestation of the apostasy to the world, we can say, There is the apostasy,55 it seems to me that to condemn the anticipated application of this expression to those who walk in the spirit of apostasy, and who will be the apostasy when the veil is removed—it seems to me, I say, that this is less profitable and less true than to warn the church of the circumstances in which it is placed. If anyone found a plant which produced poisonous fruit, while it was not yet the season for it to bear its fruit, and said to an ignorant person, “this plant bears poisonous fruit, pay great attention to it,” would there not be more blessing for that person than if it had been said, “see that plant, it does not bear poisonous fruit”? In the first case, the remark would perhaps have failed in exactness, and been less logical than in the second; but would it be less true, less seasonable?
In order that the force of the unity produced by the Holy Spirit may be better understood, I shall call attention to a fact. At the time of His coming, Jesus, as Son of man, was corporally here below, although, as God, He was present everywhere; all the ways of God, on earth, were connected with that great fact. And so it is also with respect to the Holy Spirit: Jesus, when He was going away, promised “another Comforter”; that promise was fulfilled not many days after, and the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples, although He was present everywhere, inasmuch as He is God. According to the dispensation of God, the Holy Spirit dwells now also personally in the church of God on earth. All the ways of God are connected with this great fact—the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. The Spirit bears a living testimony to the glory of the Son of God, as the Son Himself glorified the Father while He abode here below.
This doctrine of the coming down of the Holy Spirit, and of His presence of earth, is evidently of the deepest import in the question of the unity of the church.
I do not quote again the passages of the Epistle to the Ephesians and of the Epistle to the Corinthians already quoted above. At the beginning, “the Lord added to the church… such as should be saved.” I shall only call attention to the expression: “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it,” 1 Cor. 12:26. This expression is scarcely applicable to the members of the body of Christ who are already in heaven. Either this principle of love no longer finds its application, or the church has yet a unity on earth and must be viewed as a body which has “many members,” but the members of which—of this body which is one, although they are “many” —are but “one body,” 1 Cor. 12:12. But in its present state, that body is imperfect, dilapidated, ruined, if you will. To say this is only to give one proof more of the ruin I have spoken of, a proof, the force of which is, I believe, but little appreciated by those who bring it forward.
The word apostasy has frightened many persons, and it has been said that the word is not scriptural. This is a mistake. It has been used because it is the word which the apostle employs to mark what is to happen before the judgment. Martin has translated it by the word “revolt” (2 Thess. 2:3); Sacy, by the word “apostasy.”56 The term “apostasy” necessarily supposes a certain body or a certain person that has been in a certain position, but who is fallen, who has failed, who has not kept his original state, etc.
The same objections might be made to the language of the Spirit of God Himself, speaking by the mouth of Jude, as are made to the use of the word “apostasy” to designate a state of things which is not yet openly manifested. “And Enoch also,” says Jude, in speaking of those who had got into the church unnoticed, “prophesied of these.” Man, reasoning according to his own views, might say, They are not “these” at all. According to man, he would be right. In fact, they were not these persons; but the Holy Spirit is not afraid of saying “of these,” because, though hidden, they were of the same race. It was the same principle: they were the same men morally speaking: only the discernment of the Spirit was necessary in order to designate them. Is it wrong to speak as the Holy Spirit speaks?
I said in my first pamphlet, that the fall of man in the present dispensation was according to the analogy of all that had come to pass until now. I shall quote some of the instances to which I referred, in order that one may feel the universality of that sad proof of the folly and weakness of man, and of the power of Satan—of our enemy.
Adam soon lost his innocence. Noah got drunk in his tent, immediately after the flood. The Israelites made the golden calf, before Moses came down from the mount.
Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire, before the days of their consecration were accomplished; and Aaron did not eat of the sin-offering according to the ordinance of God.
Solomon, set up as king over Israel, in peace, according to the promises of God to David, fell into idolatry; and the kingdom was divided.
Even though the glory of Christ will have been manifested in the last days, the moment Satan is loosed, the nations will submit themselves to him, and will make war against the beloved city and the camp of the saints.
The fall of man in the present dispensation, and the ruin of the dispensation, by means of man’s unfaithfulness in keeping the deposit which was entrusted to him, is only that which is again found, in all the situations, in all the circumstances, in all the dispensations, in which he has been placed. If this did not take place in this dispensation, it would be contrary to the analogy of all that is presented to us in the history which is given to us in the Bible, and contrary to all that is revealed to us about man in all the dispensations of God.
31 Geneva, 1841.
32 I think at bottom my idea is more exact than his.
33 This subject is to be found treated at length in the “Hopes of the Church.” Prophetic Vol. 1.
34 Note to translation. In the Corinthians, all that call on the name of the Lord Jesus are added to the church of God which is at Corinth, in the address at the beginning of the epistle. Thus the local church, when really such, becomes a practical representative of the whole body— Christ being in its midst. But there is no membership of a church.
35 I am not aware that we have any example of a fallen church being restored.
36 I do not speak of the knowledge of this principle, although this knowledge be of great importance to the well-being of the church.
37 This is added in French translations—I think from Calvin down.
38 The translation of Lausanne says “designated.” Why have these words been added, “by way of suffrages,” in Acts 14:23, whilst here they have been omitted?
39 I will not reply to accessory arguments; I shall only insist upon what applies directly to the matter in hand. But I may say, in passing, that, if Deuteronomy 1 is closely examined and compared with Exodus 18, it will be found that these passages state quite the contrary to the conclusion our brother desires to draw from them.
40 Note to translation.—Gifts and local offices are not here distinguished clearly; the principle only is in question.
41 This refers to Switzerland.
42 Neither the translation of Martin, nor that of Osterwald, nor yet that of Lausanne, translates Galatians 4:4 by fulness of times.
43 Note to translation.—This refers to 1 John 2:18, connected with 2 Thessalonians 2. But apostasy is used generally in the sense in which all used it and applied it to the state of the professing church under Popery. Here it is merely the argument from the passage, that the existence of saints did not prove there was no ruin, for there would be saints under Antichrist. I do not believe the apostasy or Antichrist to be yet come. This is unfolded farther on.
44 See Psalm 96, 99; Ezekial 36:9-11; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Zephaniah 3:8, 9, 19, 20. The expression “the world to come” is applicable solely to this world under a new dispensation.
45 Note to translation.—The passage does not refer to the mystery of the church at all, but to the tree of promise beginning with Abraham.
46 The expression “world to come” is not applicable to heaven.
47 Note to translation.—Strictly this is not a dispensation at all, but a heavenly calling, introduced, at the close of the Jewish, before the world or age to come in which the promises made to them will be fulfilled.
48 For, whenever I can find a remnant according to the Spirit, I find what is essential to the dispensation, although I have not all that was possessed by those who were faithful at the beginning of the dispensation. It is the confusion of these two things which leads our brother into error. I acknowledge that which is essential to the existence of the dispensation, where there are two or three believers gathered in the name of Jesus; but I do not pretend to possess in that state what I do not actually possess, and I do not wish to fill up its place by human means. This is what nationalism and dissent have done, in order not to have the appearance of disorder in the world.
49 The word used in the French edition of Martin. In Switzerland, the dissenters from the Establishment had chosen presidents, when they had not regular pastors.
50 I see in effect that the dear brother I have in view, amiably imaginative, compares the school of theology to the twelve who were with Jesus. I had only paid attention to the passages quoted. As to this allusion, I do not occupy myself with it; I see more of the reporter than of the Report; it is unnecessary I think to argue about it. (Page 15 of the Report.)
51 Messrs, Merle, Gaussen, etc., who had separated from the Genevese establishment, or were driven out for faithfulness, when it was Socinian. At that time the Clergy were almost wholly Socinian. If my memory does not much deceive me, Mr. Merle drew up the Report.
52 The word “clergy” is derived from a word which is found in 1 Peter 5:3, signifying “lot,” or “heritage”: “Not as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” The word translated by “heritage” is in Greek, cleron. Clergy has been made out of this, and the term is applied to the body ecclesiastic to make it the Lord’s heritage and the government of the churches; whereas, there is found in the passage a warning against such conduct. The abuse began early. (See Gieseler, p. 169, vol. 1, Clark.)
53 As Tertullian, who said, “Oh, testimony of a soul naturally Christian.”
54 The place established for preaching and worship at Geneva by those who had left the national body, which was Socinian, where these reports by Mr. Merle, etc., were read.
55 As Jude said, “And Enoch also… prophesied of these, saying, Behold the Lord cometh… to execute judgment… and to convince all the ungodly… of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him”; although they were yet hidden in the bosom of the church, where they had got in unnoticed.
56 See also the version of Lausanne, Acts 21:21, in footnote.