In Answer To The Pamphlet Of Mr. Rochat,
Entitled, “A Thread To Help The Simple To Find Their Way”62
This work was given to the press at the end of October, 1842; but its publication was delayed by certain causes, independent of the author’s will. Had it merely been an answer to Mr. Rochat’s “Thread,” etc., I should have hesitated to publish it after so long a delay; but I think it contains principles of sufficient importance to call for its publication, notwithstanding this delay.
In the interval, I received a circular of the Evangelical Society of Geneva,63 which accuses us of holding a system according to which “there are no longer either church, or pastors, or teachers,” etc. All I have to answer to this is, that such are not my principles, nor those of the brethren who share my convictions, as anyone may ascertain by reading what has been published up to this day.
The author of this assertion having had the kindness to shew to a brother that which concerned us in the discourse, “Geneva and Oxford,” then in the press (see p. 6), was fully informed that what he said was in nowise in accordance with the principles and views of the brethren. After all, the brethren of the Evangelical Society are now compelled by subsequent events to “play the part of Cassandra.”64 They ought not to complain if a brother, resting upon the word of God, warns his brethren of the difficult times in which we are living. Better would it be for them to humble themselves, than to blame those who, in love, have done what they are, after all, compelled to do themselves.
One of our brethren has desired me to add here a parallel between the way in which the school of theology at Geneva speaks about pastors and teachers, and the writings of brethren which are attacked. I give a quotation from a well-known paper, entitled, “A few words on the views of brethren in Christ, who meet for worship simply as brethren”: “It is not that we deny Christian ministry, as it is called; on the contrary, we receive it thankfully from the Lord, and in the widest sense of the expression, whether this ministry manifests itself in the way of government or pastoral care, or presents itself under the character of teaching, exhortation, preaching, or any other service towards the saints, etc.; Acts 20:28; Rom. 12:7, 8; Eph. 4:12; 2 Cor. 8:4; Matt. 10:42.”
We may add the following extract from “Some further developments on the formation of churches”: “Let no one mistake me; I love order with all my heart—the true order which befits the house and ordinances of God. Setting 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 any way, and that elders, if God has raised up any, have their own proper place in the house of God.” I here repeat, with all my heart, what I said in the little tract, “On the formation of churches”: 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 own 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 to such as love the church and who know something of the love that Jesus has for His own, of the privileges which belong to them, and who know something also of the snares and the machinations of the enemy. Moreover, I think that the relation of the pastor to the sheep of God’s flock, is the sweetest and the most precious which exists on earth. In its fruits and its joy, this relation will not end there.”
Again: “We are taught in the word (Eph. 4), that pastors are gifts from on high, which Christ distributes”; and it is said, “Nay, further, when a person has been 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 as have profited thereby. The heart that has received blessing responds to the action of the Holy Ghost 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. God’s will is that it should be so, and he binds together the members of the body by these mutual helps. And this is very particularly applicable to a pastor, whose task is to my mind the most difficult that exists. What powerful link does not result when we have thus owned one from whom we have received blessing, who has led us on, counselled us, warned us, 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 under-valuing a true pastor. Nevertheless, I see that the apostle puts very great value upon such affections.” In the first tract, entitled, “On the formation of churches,” you again find these words, “If God raises up pastors from among you, or sends them among you, it is well; it is a great blessing,” etc.
Here are now a few words extracted from the last Report of the School of Theology (see General Meeting of the Evangelical Society of Geneva, Second Anniversary, p. 49): “The sole fact of the keeping up of our school as it is, the accomplishment of its present modest task, the furnishing two or three ministers of the gospel a year, appears to us worthy of the labours with which we are honoured,” etc.
From the quotations we have just given, it will be easy to see who are these that speak in the more scriptural way:65 whether the professors, whose “school furnishes two or three ministers a year,” or those Christians, who only own the ministers given by the Lord Himself, according to His grace and sovereign goodness to His church, which is His body.
If, in the series of pamphlets of which the present one forms a part, it were a mere question of forms of churches, I should not have the courage to write again on the same subject. But it is not so. Certain questions, which, in the eyes of some, merely relate to forms of churches, are, at bottom, of the deepest importance, since in reality they bear on a most serious thing, namely, on the responsibility of the whole church of God. Reasoning about forms may indeed be introduced into the discussion, but it is because the forms bring to light the principles which are connected with them.
If some persons refuse to occupy their minds with these things, under the pretence that they are but secondary points, this is only an artifice of the enemy. For behind all this, as we have already said, we find the solemn question, Is the church of God responsible for the present state in which it is found? It is scarcely denied now that the state of things which existed in the days of the apostles no longer exists at present. Undoubtedly many things remain in our day, as then; there are Christians, and the church possesses certain gifts. But that visible unity, where the Holy Ghost displayed His power, so that the grace and power of Christ, manifested in the body of the church, were seen by the world itself, because the Spirit of the Head dwelt in the body; where is, I say, that unity? It no longer exists. The “So also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12), to use the expression of the apostle, is no longer perceivable. Two answers have been made to what has been said of the guilt of the church and of the final judgment that awaits the whole system.
It has been alleged, first, that the church has no unity as a society of persons; and, secondly, that we are not responsible for the evil that others have done before us, although we suffer from it. This last point, especially, is of the highest importance. I do affirm, that the church has been placed on earth to display, as a body, in a visible unity, the glory of its Head, by the Holy Ghost. This it no longer does; it is responsible for it, and, regarded as a dispensation, it will be punished on that account, although the faithful are sure of being saved in glory. We have in the word a great number of passages and principles, which prove this community of interest and this responsibility in the church. The fact that its ruin is an opportunity for marked faithfulness on the part of individuals, in nowise affects the truth established by these passages. The Lord told the Jews: “Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” Luke 13:35. Those whom the Lord addressed will never utter these words, but the nation will, at least the remnant of their posterity. Ten virgins went forth to meet the Bridegroom (Matt. 25); they are the same ten virgins who are there when the cry is heard, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh!” The same evil servant also is there, when the master returns (Matt. 24:48-51); and it is the same as to those who had received the talents, Matt. 25. Are we not all identified with the sin of Adam? Do not the tares grow until the harvest? And will not the harvest take place for the tares, as well as for the wheat? As to this, we will mention farther on other judgments declared by the word of God.
But we have no need to insist on this scriptural notion of the unity of the whole system from its beginning to its end. The question is very simple and of the greatest solemnity. Is the church responsible for the state in which it is found, or can it say, like the Jews, in Jeremiah 31:29: “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? An infidel, speaking of himself, may say: If I have inherited the bad condition of Adam, it is no fault of mine; I suffer from it, but I am not responsible for it. God, in the government of the world and of His people, does not judge thus; He treats man as responsible, and He acts towards His people, as considering them to be responsible for the state in which they are found. They have been themselves in the evil; they are partakers in it. His grace may deliver one individual or another from the eternal consequences of sin, but those consequences are none the less certain for the human race. Grace may deliver children of God from the order of things which is going to be judged, so that they be gathered into the barn in time of harvest (Matt. 13:30); but they are taken away from the coming judgment, because the church is responsible.
The church is in a state of ruin; it has ceased to bear testimony to the glory of Christ, as it ought to have done, and as it did indeed at the beginning. When I come to the discovery of this sad and overwhelming truth, I feel my responsibility; and I think it is enough to put the question thus, in order to reach the conscience of those whose ear is open to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and who have at heart the glory of Christ. To abide faithful, under this conviction, is the means of being able to enjoy a safe shelter in Him who keeps His own for glory, whatever be withal the circumstances in which they may be found. Nevertheless, this will not prevent God from manifesting that He has looked upon the dispensation as being responsible, when He will put an end to it by judgment. And if God has given a testimony as to this (and He has done so), does not the responsibility already lie on us? Here it is that Romans 11 finds an important application.
In the following pages, these truths are only treated in connection with the point to which the controversy has been brought. But I wish it to be well understood that this is just the question to be decided with respect to the state of the church. Are we responsible, and are we to be judged as such, if after having been warned we are walking in that which the Lord is going to judge? The solution of this question must of necessity act upon those who entertain a hope of re-establishing the church; for they deny at the very same time both its unity and its responsibility, in order to satisfy themselves with those few small bodies which they have formed. Hence these two questions are very closely connected, and I attach importance to the question of the formation of churches, because it is linked with that of our common responsibility.
My desire is that we may indeed remember that we are responsible for the state in which we are found, and not for the acts of the Christians who lived before us, although these acts may have helped in bringing on that state of things. The church as a body has been placed on earth to glorify the Son of God. Alas! it must be owned with confusion of face, that the church does not glorify Him now. The word of God shews us that there is a solidarity or rather an accumulation of responsibility, and that we inherit the sin of those who have gone before us in a course of departure from God, when it is a question of His government with respect to a dispensation. “Thy first father hath sinned,” says Isaiah (Isa. 43:27). “Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch,” says Stephen (Acts 7:43), alluding to the sin of Israel in the wilderness, “and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.” The Jews undergo to this day the consequences of the sin which they committed in the wilderness, of all those which they have since added thereto, and the measure of which they have filled up by putting to death the Lord Jesus.
State of the Discussion—On the Future Dispensation— On the Unity of the Church—Millennium—Falling Away or Apostasy—The Church as a Society.
It is a most solemn thing for a servant of Christ to write on subjects which may stamp a certain character on the state of the church, or at least, act on the hearts and conduct of God’s children. Nevertheless, when one feels assured of the Lord’s will, all becomes a subject of joy; for the Christian ought only to feel happy while accomplishing in obedience His service here below. Moreover, although the subject I am treating be important, my task is now very simple.
I shall not revert to what has already been fully discussed, nor to what may be considered as more or less personal. I should not probably have answered, had I not seen that our discussion has made a very great advance, and that it might be profitable for all to state it fully. My wish also is to bring out what may act upon the conscience of those who seek the truth, and who have their heart open to receive it, without confining myself exclusively to answer the tract which has been the occasion of the present one. The pamphlet of our brother, Mr. Rochat, has afforded me, as regards the main points, matter for very much joy. I say, as regards the main points, because I cannot say that the spirit of it gave me pleasure: nevertheless, my intention is in no wise to dwell on that. If Mr. Rochat does not wish me to love him much (“A Thread,” etc., pp. 5, 6), or at least to say that I love him, I must love him in spite of himself. If he thinks that to flatter him when I find him in error, or to appear to agree with him when I do not, is to shew love, after having reflected ever so little he will feel with me that such love would not bear any resemblance to Christ’s love. In this respect, I ever ask myself: If we were about to die together, is there any word among those I have uttered, which I should have to regret? After all, we are liable to be mistaken, whether on the score of judgment, or because we may also be lacking in watchfulness; although, on the other hand also, if the eye be single, the whole body will be full of light (Matt. 6:22).
I begin by stating the advance we have made, as it seems to me, in the discussion. Our brother acknowledges (p. 73), that there is a future dispensation; that the present dispensation is to be followed by another. I cannot say how far he acknowledged this before; I merely seek to state the point to which we are arrived. If he was in error before, I would forget his error; if he was in the truth, to state the truth, as to which we are agreed, can only do good to us all. There is to be “another dispensation,” he says, “in which the Jewish people will act a principal part; where Jesus Christ, in Person, will reign over the earth, with the risen saints; and that dispensation will be preceded by the falling away of what is called Christendom, accompanied by the manifestation of the Antichrist” (p. 71). Up to this word, I quite agree with the author. I cannot say there is no accidental error, when he goes on thus: “followed by severe judgments of God on the nations which have rebelled against Christ.” Of course, the dispensation will be “followed” by severe judgments. Yet I do not suppose that Mr. Rochat denies that it will be introduced also by severe judgments. Perhaps he meant to say that the falling away would be followed, etc., etc. However this may be, what I have quoted is sufficient. I shall point out, farther on, the points as to which I do not see that our brother has well understood as yet the character of the coming dispensation. At all events, there is to be another dispensation where Christ will be present, and which will be preceded by a general falling away and the manifestation of the Antichrist. This is evidently a most important truth for the church of God.66 We shall farther on call the attention of brethren to a few considerations connected with it. Let us come to the unity of the church.
“There is,” says Mr. Rochat (p. 25), “the general assembly and the church of the firstborn,” and (p. 27) there are churches. But in page 26, he gives us another idea of the church, which is very just, and very important practically: “The church on earth, at each successive period, is thus the aggregate of the elect which are then manifested.” It is in this sense, adds our brother, “that it is said that God has established in the church, first apostles,” etc., etc. That is just the sense which I meant to present, which I have pressed, and which appears to me most essential as regards our responsibility and the judgment which we form of the state in which we are. If the church on earth is the aggregate of the elect manifested at each period, in what state is this aggregate found at the present time? I have also some considerations which appear to me important to present on this point. I merely point out by the way this manner of looking at the church. Our brother owns that his views on the subject are modified; it matters little what instrument has produced this change, provided it be through the teaching of God (p. 25, note).
There is another thing as to which our brother admits a principle, which tells all that I could wish on the subject. “If I am a member of the whole body,” he says (p. 41), “I am a member of the parts of that body.” I insist on this. A Christian does become a member of a local church (if, however, one can admit this expression of “member of a church,” for it is now owned to be unscriptural); he is a member of the parts of the body, if he is a member of the body.
Nothing more simple; we cannot become what we are already; and, according to Mr. Rochat, if I am a member of the whole body, I am a member of the parts of this body, which meet in divers places: it is not a question of becoming such— I am such already. This is the principle I have always maintained, and on which I have insisted and acted. By the very fact that I am a Christian, I have all the claims of a member of the body, wherever I may be found. It is not a right which I acquire by joining any particular body; it is a right which I possess as any member of the body of Christ. Let brethren weigh well this principle which Mr. Rochat asserts, and on which I insist. Practically, the whole question between us is thereby decided.
Mr. Rochat also admits that the expression of “a member of a church” is not scriptural. We know how much the habits of brethren have been formed from that expression, and how much it has guided their conduct; so that in many localities, if a person did not declare himself member of a church, he was not admitted among brethren to partake of the Lord’s supper. It was not enough to be a member of the body of Christ, a faithful Christian, owned of all.67
The whole of this system was wrong, according to the principle now owned as true by Mr. Rochat himself.
But our brother wishes, instead of the expression of “member of a church,” to substitute that of “forming a part (p. 51) of a particular church,” or “being of such a church.” I have examined the list Mr. Rochat gives, in his “Simple Scriptural Views,” of the passages which contain the word church, and I find that these expressions are not more scriptural than the former. The idea of being a member of a particular body is not found in Scripture in any form whatever; the idea is not scriptural.
Finally, it is owned on both sides, that there will be another dispensation, in which Christ will reign personally over the earth; that, before that period, a general falling away will take place. The signs of the times announce the approach of the glorious reign of the Lord. The church on earth is the aggregate of the elect which are manifested there; if anyone is a member of that church, he is also a member of its parts, that is, of the churches. Our brother admits that a portion of the church is mixed up with Christendom, and he acknowledges that the description I gave of it is, for the most part, correct. That would suffice also to shew that the sum total of all the churches would not be the church; but I do not now insist on this.
I resume the first of the subjects mentioned above, in order to shew, I do not hesitate to say, in what respect our brother has not yet laid hold of the truth with respect to the doctrine of the millennium. “The consideration,” he says, “of the eternal glory (p. 72) appears to me much more fruitful, in consequences of every kind; for what are the thousand years when compared with eternity? Moreover, the millennial glory is not that of heaven, where God will be all and in all.”
This phrase contains such confused ideas, that the best and indeed the only answer to make to it is to present the scriptural truths on this point. If Mr. Rochat takes the trouble to study the passage which he now applies to the coming dispensation, he will find that God purposes to head up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth, and that heaven is the place where the millennial glory will shine with greatest brightness. When Mr. Rochat speaks of heaven, and says that God will there be all and in all, he falls into complete confusion. Is not Christ in heaven? There is no connection between heaven and this declaration “That God may be all in all,” 1 Cor. 15:28. The difference which there is between the time which precedes and God being all in all, is that the essentially mediatorial glory will be ended, and Christ will have given up the kingdom to God the Father. It is here a question of a period of time and not of a place. Christ will always be in heaven; the church will be in heaven always with the Lord, enjoying all the blessings in the heavenlies, before the time when God will be all in all. And even then the church will be essentially in its state of eternal glory. And so little is it true that there is any idea of heaven attached to the words, “God all in all,” that the only other passage which speaks of that post-millennial state rather presents the idea that men will be upon the earth, although heaven be mentioned, Rev. 21:1-8.
If I do not mistake, 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21 are the only passages which speak of the time when God will be all in all—a time which indeed gives rise to thoughts that are full of blessing and deeply interesting. Nevertheless, God has thought fit to present much oftener, and with much more detail, the coming of Christ, and His glory to the conscience and heart of the faithful. Then we shall be like Him; then we shall see Him as He is. The object of God’s predestination will be accomplished as to us, and we shall be conformed to the image of His Son. The marriage of the Lamb will have taken place. His bride will have been presented to Himself, having no spot or wrinkle or any of such things. We shall be then in our Father’s house, Jesus having come for us in order to introduce us there, that where He is there we may be also. The desire of Christ’s heart will be accomplished: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”
I do not know whether our dear brother has postponed all this till the time when God will be all in all, or if he considers it as of small importance. However it may be, he is entirely mistaken when he says that the millennial glory is not that of heaven, for we shall see Christ as He is, we shall be like Him, and we shall be either raised or changed; we shall go to meet Him; we shall be ever with the Lord, and we shall reign for ever and ever. The difference is not that heaven does not form a part of this glory, but that it is the mediatorial glory of the Son of man; afterwards He will have given up the kingdom.
Before the time when God will be all in all, we have the house and love of the Father, the marriage of the Lamb, the Bridegroom and the Bride, a state of glory equal to that of the angels, which will never cease, and the seeing Christ as He is, we being like Him. The reign over the earth, however excellent and full of blessing, is only the inferior part of the glory of the saints who will dwell with the Lord in the heavenlies. If it be true that the word of God shews us in two passages the end of this state of things, considered as a dispensation, it is equally true that it acts upon our hopes, our hearts, and our consciences, by the thought of the joy of being with Christ in glory, of being with Him in the Father’s house, of being in the place where God Himself will be the temple, where God Himself and the Lamb will be the light. Such is the millennium, such is the heavenly Jerusalem, though God be not yet all in all.
As to the earthly part, I think that our brother (p. 73) has wrongly applied these words: “He unites the Jews and the heathen into one body, establishes them heirs, and gives to both access by one Spirit unto the Father.” It is never said of the Gentiles that they will be one body with the Jews during the millennium. The contrary is the case. See, for instance, Isaiah 60, 61, 62. It is never said that they will be joint heirs, but the very contrary, and, indeed, not even a single passage can be shewn, where the last expression— “access by one Spirit unto the Father” is applied to the millennium. It is confounding the body of Christ, raised for the heavenly glory, with the state of the Jews, the elect people on earth, and with the state of the Gentiles, who, though blessed, are in a state of inferiority with respect to the Jews, as a multitude of passages proves.
Finally, the author does not believe that the millennium applies to heaven, although heaven be the most important part of the glory of that day of God; and he applied the passages which speak of the privileges of the body of Christ then in heaven, to the Jews and Gentiles who will be on earth, during the millennium, in a completely different state.
I would now present a few considerations on the falling away and the manifestation of the Antichrist. We have here, as I said, an extremely important practical truth, a truth admitted by Mr. Rochat’s tract. This dispensation will end by a general falling away (p. 73), which the signs shew us to be near. Mark well that such is the doom of Christendom. And what is to terminate the falling away? The judgment of this world by the presence of Christ. Can one say then (p. 78), that it is the same dispensation of the grace of God, which will last till the end of the world? Mr. Rochat consents to substitute in the room of the word phasis that of dispensation; but it is always, he says, the same dispensation of the grace of God. Is then the judgment of this habitable earth of all the living (the church being raised and glorified), is that a continuation of the dispensation of grace? Why weaken the effect of such solemn truths, truths that God has revealed, that they may act upon the conscience? I repeat my question: Is then the judgment of the living on earth a continuation of the dispensation of grace? Or does Mr. Rochat think that it is not even necessary to point out, that this judgment interupts the dispensation, although it requires the presence of Christ for its execution? Moreover, I think he will find that the coming dispensation is precisely a dispensation of judgment on the earth, which contrasts with grace, as a multitude of passages declares (Psa. 96, 97, 98, 99; Isa. 32; Psa. 72), although it be always true that it is only grace which saves individuals in every dispensation.
What grieves me in our brother’s pamphlet is that, while disputing about words, he could remain silent as to the most solemn testimony God has given us on the state of things in which we are, and that he has sought to weaken the importance of the warnings which flow therefrom for the church. If the Lord be near, as Mr. Rochat tells us, and as I believe He is, is it not true that He comes to judge, because the present state of things demands and requires judgment? Is it then that the Lord comes to judge and to reap, before the tares and the wheat are ripe? And if Christendom is in a state which provokes this, judgment, or if it is hastening to become such, is it the time for saying, that there are other things of greater importance? Is it right, while admitting with difficulty that it is another dispensation, to pass over the universal judgment of the living and the harvest of God, without saying a word on the subject, and even with the assertion, that what is to follow will be a continuation of the dispensation of grace?
One remark more. There will be, then, a general falling away, an apostasy. But the evil which characterises the last days had already begun in the days of the apostles; the mystery of lawlessness was already working; and it was already sufficiently developed before their death to enable one of them to inform us that many antichrists had already come, so that they knew that it was the last hour, 1 John 2:18. One may cry up the continuation of the churches; and yet there was evil enough in the days of the apostle John to point to the last hour as having already come. I beg leave to notice here that those who have not received the light, which has produced this conviction of the general ruin of the dispensation, and who believe that popery and the Pope are the accomplishment of 2 Thessalonians 2, etc.—that those, I say, cannot deny that the apostasy has already come. Such was the general belief before the introduction of those doctrines which are so much cried down. If the habit of speaking as all Christians have spoken until now has led to a vague application of a term, the use of which has been amply explained, it must be regretted, that people have followed others too much and conformed too much with custom.
In presence of such important truths, of judgments so awful as those which are soon about to fall on this rebellious world, I do not think fit to enter into further explanations of words, when things are so clear on the subject.68 It is admitted that in Christendom there will be a general falling away, that the principles of this falling away were sufficiently ripe in the days of the apostles for John to say that there were already many antichrists, and that it was the last hour. It is allowed that a certain portion of Christians are confounded with the object of the judgment, which is about to be executed. Let those who choose dispute on the word “apostasy” and on the sense it has in the French dictionaries, provided the conscience of God’s children be reached by this truth, that we are in the last hour, that Christendom is at the eve of judgments. Besides, it is not merely a question here of a few branches in open unbelief, which are to be cut off; neither is it a question of a certain separation of the righteous; for it is now admitted by Mr. Rochat that the Christians who are manifested will be raised or changed, and will go to meet the Lord Jesus. As to those who have fallen away, they will be cut off, so that all that belongs to this dispensation will have come to an end. It is no longer a question of the saints or the apostates here below. Most certainly God will spare some of the Jews and some of the Gentiles for another dispensation: but He will make an end of all that is called church, as to this world, and this very soon.
Let us now turn to the church. The writer admits that the church is the aggregate of the elect manifested on earth. It is very evident that it is not the aggregate of the churches, because as Mr. Rochat himself acknowledges, a part of the elect manifested (and every one acknowledges that it is a great part) are not found in those churches. Mr. Rochat rejects the idea of unity, as the unity of a society of persons here below. I had borrowed the expression of a “society-church” from his pamphlet, only rejecting the idea of a confederation of churches. Let it be remembered, that I fully admit the existence of the local churches at the beginning, and the duty of meeting together outside the world which is about to be judged. Mr. Rochat admits that the passage, “God has set in the church; first, apostles: secondly, prophets,” etc., applies to the church on earth, as the aggregate of the manifested elect. Now, I ask if this body with its members, its joints of supply working according to the measure of each one part for its self-building up in love, formed a unity as the unity of a society?
Mr. Rochat says (p. 34) that the passages I have quoted apply to the internal unity manifested, maintained, and developed by certain charges, but not a unity as of a society. He admits at the same time that one of these passages at least applies to the aggregate of the elect manifested at a certain period, in a word, to the church on earth. For my part, I cannot give a better definition of a society, than that of an aggregate of persons having an internal unity, manifested, maintained, and developed by certain charges.69 But whether it be called a society, or another name be given to it, it is admitted that there is an aggregate of elect persons, at a given period, or, if one will, an internal unity manifested, maintained, and developed by certain charges, and that unity is the aggregate of the elect at that period. It cannot be denied that the aggregate of Christians formed one body at the time of the apostles. That unity manifested, maintained, developed by these charges, existed then. Where is it now? Then it was a body working by its joints of supply on earth.
At the present time, a great part of the aggregate of the elect on earth is mixed up with that which is not the church; indeed, the greater part of the church is nowise holding the church position, but is to be found even where the falling away of Christendom is preparing, while Christendom is every day becoming more worthy of the judgments of God. The Christian society as a body, acting by the joints of supply, does no longer exist as it did exist; it has ceased to work; its unity has ceased to be visible on earth. Mr. Rochat contents himself with churches; but where is the aggregate of the elect in a manifested unity? And of all he can produce of these churches, where is the common action of the joints of the body in the aggregate of the elect—in the church? As to that state of things, the result of an evil which had made progress enough in the days of the apostle, for him to call those days “the last hour,” for him to tell the faithful that there were many antichrists, I leave to our brother to characterise such a state of things by the name he may prefer. Does he deny that the church—the aggregate of the elect on earth—did constitute a society, whose members formed part of a body, which was working in its unity on earth—manifested unity? If he does not deny it, where is that unity now? Where is that unity of working in the aggregate of the elect? Was there not in the days of the apostles a constituted body, which contained all the elect which were manifested on earth? I ask the question, where is it to be found now?70
Having made these remarks on the points where there has been some advance, I resume the different objects of the pamphlet. Mr. Rochat tells me (p. 15) that the ordinances were not decreed only by the apostles and the elders. It is of the word of God he must complain, and not of me. It is true that in the address it is added the church. But when the Holy Spirit speaks of the ordinances which were decreed, He says in Acts 16:4 of the decrees “ordained by the apostles and elders”; and it was the apostles and elders who had “come together to consider of this matter.” Further, does our brother seriously believe that the brethren at Jerusalem, even supposing that their church was formed on his own principles, could have had the idea that a church in our day might have the right to send decrees to other churches? When it is said, “And to us” (Acts 15:28), did not this refer to men having some direct authority? Could any gathering, convinced that a doctrine is presented in the word, send a decree to other gatherings? No! There was then an authority and a capacity, which no longer exist.
Of the Church and its Responsibility—Ruin and Cutting Off
I refer here to an essential principle, I mean the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. The New Testament always speaks of the Holy Spirit as being on earth, having been sent from on high, when Christ had ascended, although inasmuch as He is God He is necessarily everywhere. He therefore becomes the centre71 of a unity on earth. Indeed, in this respect, the dead are even, so to speak, lost sight of; their bodies not being raised, they cannot have a part in the manifestation of the glory of Christ. Their happy souls (for they are with the Lord), being absent from the body, cannot be the instruments of that glory. And this is still more manifest as regards the body. But the One Spirit on earth is the bond of unity for all the believers who are found there. It is in them that the glory of Christ ought to be manifested, not only as individuals, but, above all, as a body, the One Spirit being the bond of unity for the whole body on earth. Hence, I am not afraid to say, that the state of things which existed in the primitive church does no longer exist. After all, this is generally admitted. That unity which ought to have existed that the world might believe exists no longer. The certainty of the salvation of the elect, and the fact that there are such on earth, have nothing to do with this question. The intention of God was that there should be a manifestation of unity on earth. This manifestation, this state of things, no longer exist. As to inward life, we are agreed: it is but one; the destiny of the church, inasmuch as it possesses that life, is to inherit glory with Christ. I do not make the unity of the body to consist in that, as Mr. Rochat supposes; it is the internal source of it, as the fact of being born a Vaudois is the source of the unity of the Vaudois. Without dwelling on this distinction, it is enough to say that the destiny of the church, in this point of view, is one. On the other hand, the present dispensation has a destiny here below, as the Jewish economy had one, and in the point of view of the responsibility of man, it is the purity and the faithfulness of the church, which are the basis on which this destiny rests. The universal church of the elect manifested on earth was to shew forth in the world the glory of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as a city situated on the top of a mountain; it was to be the salt of the earth—and all that in its unity, being composed of all those who believe. That is what existed in the beginning. I do not say that, if some of its parts detach themselves from it, as a society, the church ceases to exist, as Mr. Rochat makes me to say. What I say is, that corrupt men, “marked out beforehand for this sentence,” have got unnoticed into the church; that the mystery of lawlessness already worked at the beginning, and that the aggregate, the body of the church on earth, is in a state of disorganisation and corruption. I say that it has ceased to manifest on earth that unto which God had called it. The fault is not with God, but with man. No; God is not responsible for this, although by means of it His counsels be accomplished. If there is a fault (and fault there must be somewhere, if the good that God had done has been marred and corrupted), there is responsibility; someone is guilty. Is it denied that the aggregate of the church on earth is corrupted and disorganised, and that the testimony which God had established in the unity of the church of believers is marred and has failed in the world? If it is denied, I ask, where is that testimony? Why does God put an end to the dispensation, if the testimony which ought to have been rendered to His glory subsists in all its force? But if, in effect, corruption and disorganisation do exist in the church, if the testimony of God to the world scarcely subsists, if the name of Christ is blasphemed in the midst of the world, by means of Christians—of the church, to deny the responsibility of men, of Christians, is indisputably the most evident antinomianism.
Before going further, I would here notice by the way, one of the arguments of our brother, Mr. Rochat, as a sample. He had attributed to me several things which are not in my tract; among others, that the sin of the church had caused apostleship to cease. He justifies himself by this reasoning. The tract, he says (p. 12), appears to him to establish two principles: the one, that without apostles there could be no churches on the primitive footing; the other, that it was because of the iniquity of man that those churches, constituted on the primitive footing, had ceased. I reason in the same way as to familiar circumstances: since the departure of a certain physician, there is no cure for a certain disease. Those who are attacked with it owe this to their excesses; therefore it is evident that it is these excesses which drive away the physician!… Having noticed this one sample of reasoning, I pass over everything that does not refer to some truth which is important for the conscience of all.
With respect to depreciating simple brethren, may God preserve us from doing so! What I desire is, that brethren— whether simple or not simple—may be exactly what the Spirit has made them in the church. Humbleness of heart and the power of the Holy Spirit can alone lead us to this result—so precious and so full of peace for all and for each one in particular.72 If all the brethren gave up self-seeking, and every idea of rights, to seek only the edification of all in a spirit of obedience, all such questions would fall to the ground.
There are two dangers to be avoided: one, that a brother who has received certain gifts be led unwittingly to absorb everything in the exercise of them, while only seeking at bottom the good of all; the other, that those who have little gift be jealous of the gifts of their brethren, instead of profiting by them, since the gift which any one does possess is not for himself but is the portion of all. Who could be jealous of the skill of a physician, when it was a question of his health and the health of his friends? After all, it is grace alone which can remove difficulties of this kind. Woe to those who despise one of those little ones whom Jesus loves, or, as our brother, Mr. Rochat, expresses it, who despise the Holy Spirit in that little one. Happy those, on the other hand, who walk with humility, and who strengthen, by prayer and by cordial affection, the hands of one whom Christ has raised up to labour for the good of souls, according to the love of that faithful Saviour.
The fear of God is here of the highest importance; and if the heart of the faithful always knows how to love the poor of the flock, because Christ loves them, the ambitious flesh of man is as much in need of this precept, “Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause” (Exod. 23:3), as of the one which forbids honouring “the person of the mighty,” Lev. 19:15. Such as serve Christ alone in everything will be blessed and rewarded by Him in glory at the last day. May God grant unto all of us to seek only His glory.
I now desire to reply in a few words to this question of our brother Mr. Rochat (p. 16): will His Spirit fail us, when our desire is to seek to walk according to His intentions? The Spirit will not fail us. I have already expressed myself as to this, and in such a manner that it led Mr. Rochat to say that I did not seem to despair of seeing apostles again appear (p. 94, note), although I have never spoken of it. But what I ask, both for me and for my brethren, is that we may not go beyond the measure of the acting of the Spirit amongst us; and that with a view of coming to an organisation of which we may have formed an idea to ourselves, we may not be doing things in which the Spirit of God could not act with us, and where, consequently, we should be acting by ourselves (that is, according to the flesh), if even it were to imitate that which existed formerly.
One word more on the question of ruin and cutting off. It is not denied that there is a state of declension in the church, nor that some day there will be an apostasy and a cutting off. (Mr. Rochat, p. 21). It appears to me that in two respects our brother has not understood this question. First, a state of failure which cannot be restored has no connection with a cutting off, as he supposes: for the one is the fault and iniquity of man, while the other is the judgment of God. Even in a church, is the failure of a Christian or of a hypocrite, whose restoration (I do not say conversion) is impossible—is it, I say, the same thing as his being cut off? The cutting off is judgment executed; the failure, however serious and irremediable it may be, is a fault, the manifestation of an evil disposition. Nothing more simple; and so it is in the passage which has given occasion for the use of the word (Rom. 11:22): “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” —or cut away. The cutting off is the consequence of the failure. If the vine of the earth has produced nothing but sour grapes instead of good grapes, that is not a cutting off, but the cause of a terrible judgment, which He will execute, who “treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God,” Rev. 19:15.
Our brother speaks of a time of declension in the church or in the dispensation of the church. Such was the case of the churches in Revelation, for instance, and that may very well bring in the cutting off of the church which is in such a state. But here it is not a question of this, but of an immense system of evil, called the mystery of lawlessness; a mystery which was already working in the days of the apostles, which was connecting itself with Christianity, which was acting within its bosom, and was taking its form, and which succeeded in arrogating to itself alone every true Christian right. It is not something good that has somewhat corrupted itself, nor some few branches openly in unbelief which are cut away. It is a mystery of lawlessness which mars the whole; it is a leaven, which has leavened the whole lump, so that the apostle could say, Men will be so and so, etc. (2 Tim. 3:5), “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” It is an evil which will end in a general falling away and the manifestation of the lawless one, when that which restrains is removed; an evil which, when the church will have been raised or changed, will be followed by the universal judgment of all the living, that is, of all the habitable world, so that God will have put an end to the dispensation in its principles and in its form. It is a state which causes the Lord to say, that “in the day when the Son of man is revealed,” it shall be as in the days of Noah and in those of Lot (Luke 17:26-30); and, in another place: “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Our brother speaks as if the apostasy or falling away was a future thing, quite detached, and affecting only some branches, which will be cut away; whereas it is but the unveiling of an immense evil, of a work of Satan contrived under the veil of Christianity, which had already begun in the days of the apostles, and which was then sufficiently ripe for enabling one to say, “It is the last hour.”
It was not the state of a church, but an evil which influenced the result of the introduction of Christianity into the world, so that God was no longer glorified there by means of this, but on the contrary, judgment should begin from His house—a judgment which is to fall on every part of the habitable world. The apostasy is not an isolated future fact; but the revelation of a state of things, all the elements of which are ripe before its manifestation; which ripens under the form of Christianity, having borrowed its ordinances, having given to it forms, which, substituted for life, hold in bondage even those who possess life, and hinder the manifestation of the truth and of the glory of Christ, until the moment when, everything being undermined and God Himself having removed that which restrains, the public falling away will break out and thus call for the judgment of God. I will add here, that I have no doubt that there will be a blessed manifestation of the elect before the catastrophe of the world. God will bring them out from among the worldly, that they may not be condemned with the world. It was so at Jerusalem before the judgment of that city; so that I expect, through the gospel, a work which fills with joy the heart of the believer.
On the Admission of Believers into the Church— Responsibility—Primitive Churches — Receiving into Local Churches—On the Passage, Acts 2:47.
Our brother says in his chapter on the unity of the church (p. 27), “The privilege and duty of those who are manifested as members of the body of Christ is to join the church which the Lord has gathered for Himself in the locality they inhabit.” Our brother forgets that things went on quite differently in the primitive church. A man brought to the faith of Christ was baptised,73 and thus outwardly manifested; but he was not baptised as member of a church, but as member of the church; he was introduced into Christ’s assembly. It might so happen, that it was in an isolated place where there were no Christians, as was the case of the eunuch of the court of Candace; but that changed nothing as to his admission. The reception of a Christian was not a reception into a particular church. There was only one baptism for the body of Christ,74 sign of admission into the universal assembly on earth, but not necessarily into the assembly in heaven. Let us pay attention to this; baptism, that outward act which did not answer universally or necessarily to the internal unity (witness, Simon Magus),75 was the sign of an outward unity (as of a society of persons), by which sign all were of one body here below, without its being, however, the body of Christ viewed as the assembly of the elect unto eternal life.
I do not speak now of the state of that outward body at that time, nor its safeguards for its purity which existed in the circumstances of Christianity, in the evident power of the Holy Spirit in the strength of love and discipline which acted therein. I only speak of the fact, that there was a society on earth, the members of which were admitted by a certain form, by means of which all were supposed to be, and were, in fact, members of that society, until, as it might happen, they were excluded from it for some violation of its rules. If I am told that this society has been corrupted and no longer answers to God’s intention in the establishment of it; that it is, on the contrary, the seat of all that wars against the truth and against integrity of heart, or that, having forgotten its primitive discipline, it has allowed those to enter its sanctuary who despised all that it considered sacred: be it so; I believe it; but what cannot be denied is the existence of such a society at the beginning of Christianity, the members of which were recognised by baptism. That society had gifts, and ordinances, and government, whether local or general; that society was then the church, since the elect were there manifested in unity.
The church had the one baptism, as the one Spirit, and yet it was not either a particular church, or the internal unity of Christian life, which was formed by such means. Either this society has ceased to exist (and what exists now does not deserve to be considered as such), or it exists still in its unity as such, under all the solemn responsibilities as to which it completely fails—ripening, as a society, for the most severe judgments of God. Both these things may be said; but they demonstrate the truth of the position I maintain. Morally, as the representative of the glory of God on earth, this body no longer exists; it is the seat of the power of the enemy more than of the power of God. As to its responsibility, this body still exists. The servant who, instead of accomplishing his service, beats his fellow-servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, is judged as a servant. The responsibility does not depend on the accomplishment of the service, but on the position which demands that accomplishment.
Let those who, by the will of God, may read these pages, pay attention to the cause of the iniquity of this evil servant: he was saying in his heart, “My Lord delayeth his coming,” Matt. 24:48.
Finally, the church, as a society, nearly identical (and, as to the manifestation of the glory of God on earth, perfectly identical) with the church in its internal unity, did exist at the beginning. Where is it now? It is the intelligent answer to this question, which alone gives the solution of the difficulties presented by both Puseyism and nationalism, and the controversy on dissent.
Ministry and baptism, those two links between the exterior and interior of this society, are of necessity become the turning-points of these questions, and the occasions of the corruption of the society; of exaggerated pretensions on the part of those who will have it that the exterior alone is the church, and of so many difficulties on the other hand, for those who will only own as the church the internal society—difficulties which they cannot escape, until they admit the ruin in which we are found, not for eternity (because in this respect the faithfulness of God interposes), but as to the manifestation of the church for the glory of God here below. These difficulties will only disappear for them when they admit this ruin; because, as the Holy Spirit does not act at present in that power which made the exterior to be the expression of the interior, the separation of those two things has left a gap which nothing can fill up as to this world, and which places us in a state of things where we are found guilty of having failed as to the manifestation of the glory of God on earth. This is a painful conviction, undoubtedly, and humbling for us, but in which we have, first, this consolation that God in His grace can never fail, and that we shall certainly have the heavenly glory; and, secondly, that God directs the hopes of those who are faithful, even in the midst of unfaithfulness, to that which in His counsels is the result of that ruin—to the glorious appearing of Christ, who will take us unto Himself, that we may appear with Him in glory, when He will appear to judge all this evil.
Finally, there is a consolation which is attached to faithfulness in the trial; and the result of obedience is always the enjoyment of more special communion with God, especially when that obedience is accomplished in the midst of departure from God and a general contempt of Him, in the midst of the moral rebellion of those who bear the name of God, who will bear it and arrogate to themselves alone (and perhaps more than ever) the privileges which belong to the Christian only. I say, more than ever; because it is a fact, that the greater the departure from God, the more those who hold to the outward order boast of their privileges, and do so as if they were the only persons favoured of God; that the glory and the importance of those privileges may be assigned to them. “The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord! “Such language comes not from the mouth of those who love the Lord who dwells in that temple. Elijah, while he bore witness in the midst of Israel to the glory of Him from whom Israel had departed, enjoyed an intimacy with God, rarely found even among the prophets. Moses, when he had pitched a tabernacle without the camp, communed with God, and God “spake unto him face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”
Moreover, if the pretensions of those who cling to outward forms do prevail, as I doubt not they will, at least for a time, and even under the worst form, let us remember that that which is internal is eternal. Eternal righteousness, in the Person of Christ, bowed its head for a moment before the presumption which used the ordinances of righteousness, as separated from Him, so that they rose up against Him—that righteousness, I say, rose nevertheless more glorious than ever, more sanctioned than ever, in resurrection and “at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The act which had trodden under foot that righteousness only brought judgment and ruin on that presumption, which, having clothed itself with the glorious name of the ordinances of that righteousness, had succeeded in deceiving the world by their outward appearance. The Spirit of prophecy had said with Isaiah, “Therefore thou has forsaken thy people” (Isa. 2:6), before God had as yet executed any judgment.
I know that people will not have it that man is responsible for an evil which existed before he was born. It is true that as regards the final judgment of individuals, each one will bear his own burden; but such is not the course of God’s government in the world. As children of the first Adam we are all under the effects of his sin. The righteous blo6d shed upon earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias, who was slain between the temple and the altar, was required of that generation which filled up the measure of their fathers, Matt. 23:35. The blood of prophets and saints, and of all the slain upon the earth, was found in Babylon, Rev. 18:24. As far as love is concerned, and as the family of Christ, we are all necessarily identified with the woes of those who are Christ’s and with His glory which is cast down to the ground. I do not think that a Christian is in a position to reprove his brother, as he ought to do, and point out to him his sin, if he has not borne on his heart all the weight of that sin. I do not speak of atonement; that is evident. It is thus that Christ reproves. His love feels all the evil of which His brethren are guilty, as if it were His own, and this is what gives such energy to His intercession. It is in this sense that (according to the spirit of love) a Christian does not bear with the evil which is in his brother; and it is thus that I desire to speak of the sin of the church, for alas! the honour of Christ is lost, the beauty of that which He loves, and which was His glory, is passed away; the happiness of His own is weakened and almost destroyed.
It remains now for me to make a few remarks on details. When the church in any place was called the church of God, there is nothing more simple. As the word church means assembly, it is clear that the Christians of a certain place, being gathered together, were truly the assembly of that place, but it was not only the assembly that owned God, but that which God owned, and which enjoyed exclusively the privileges He could vouchsafe unto it, as being His assembly.
In like manner, at that time, the assembly of a city was that which was owned by the laws of the city, or the will of the emperor, and which alone enjoyed the privileges belonging to such an assembly. There could not be two. The Greek word ‘ecclesia,’ that is, ‘church,’ in its primitive sense, applied to the constitutional assembly of those who had the right of citizenship in a city. It is in this sense it is used in Acts 19, in the case of Demetrius. The question is to know if, for us, the right of citizenship comes from admission into the church of a city, as in municipal cases, or else from our admission into the universal church. As to this right of each Christian, the heavenly citizens of such or such a place cannot dispute it to their brethren, unless the latter, through evil conduct, have deserved to be deprived of it. If they dispute it, they dispute the foundation and basis of their own rights, for they have none others but those which they deny to be sufficient for their brethren. They are rebelling against the rights of Him, who, with the same authority, vouchsafed this privilege to themselves and to those they reject; and they act like the Jews who raised difficulties to the admission of Gentiles, although they themselves held their rights from Him who had vouchsafed similar rights to the Gentiles. It appears that our brother, Mr. Rochat, does not now dispute this principle. As for me, my only desire is that the thing be fully established, that this principle be clearly brought to light, and that it be understood that every assembly which pretends to decide such a question denies the origin and source of all its own rights. If the right of heavenly citizenship, which God has granted to every Christian, is not sufficient in order to be received by the brethren of a certain locality, it is not sufficient for themselves; and if it be not sufficient for themselves, they can neither act as an assembly nor as Christians.
I desire to add a remark on what we read in Acts 2:47, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Here the word church cannot be taken as meaning some particular church. First, if that is the true sense, it is clear that now there is no longer any church, for God no longer acts thus. If this passage is carefully examined, it will be seen that the word which has perplexed translators (who have given some, “saved,” some, “to be saved,” others “who were saving themselves,” etc.), is the word, I may say the technical word, used for the remnant of the Jews, who escaped the judgment of God. Thus it was that the disciples asked if “the saved” those who were to be saved, were numerous. This is what is told us in this passage: the way that God employed in His mercy to save this remnant, which He had destined to escape the judgment of the nation which had rejected the Saviour, was to add them to the church. But it is no question here of a particular church, for at that moment there was only one known assembly of God, the church which met at Jerusalem, but which was the church in every possible sense. Thus speaks Paul of the church in general. See Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6.
Of Gifts Placed in the Church
It has been sought to weaken the proof of the existence of a universal church on earth, the internal unity of which was manifested, maintained, and developed, by shewing that gifts were found in the churches. I said—and the thing is evident— that gifts were to be exercised usually in the assemblies; and that, if there were prophets residing in a town, it might naturally be said, there are prophets in the church of that town. But when I said that gifts were placed in the church, not in the churches, I only quoted the express revelation of God, 1 Cor. 12:28. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles,” etc. This is never said of a particular church, and cannot apply to it. Mr. Rochat now admits in his pamphlet that, when it is said, God has given some, apostles, this applies to the church, in the sense of the aggregate of the elect manifested on earth at a certain period. That is precisely what I say. There was an aggregate of elect persons on earth, which had a unity and joints of supply, and which thus formed a body, a society, an aggregate, the unity of which was recognised. Mr. Rochat acknowledges that this is true with respect to three of the gifts mentioned in the word. I believe it to be applicable to all, inasmuch as they are gifts; for those who possessed certain gifts, or other qualifications, were thereby rendered capable of filling charges which might be more or less circumscribed in their exercise, and which Mr. Rochat confounds with gifts. But at least, according to him, there were three of the gifts mentioned (p. 26), which were not placed in the churches, but in the church. Consequently there was the one body, the one church. And this is so true, that if one united all the churches, the aggregate of the church would not be realised; for it is evident that Paul, Timothy, Titus, Silvanus, and many others, did not belong to a particular church.
They walked with the church, if there was one in the place where they were; but they acted, in the exercise of their gifts, outside the churches, or in several churches at the same time. When Titus was in Crete to establish elders in every church, he did not act as a member of a local church; still more was it so in the case of apostles and prophets. Thus the most powerful action, the most striking, that which came most directly from Christ, was outside the churches, though recognising them, just as I fully recognise that they existed in those days. These things were in the church of God on earth, as joints of supply which worked in the body, in the aggregate, the unity of which was thus proved and in part maintained.
I shall, farther on, add a few words on charges and gifts; I only mention them here to prove the existence of a church of God, as a body, on earth. When our brother pretends (p. 42), that some children of God have a kind of antipathy for the churches of the Lord, he mistakes. There are Christians who do not like to see that title wrongly applied, because they attach too great an importance to the idea of a church of the Lord and to the state in which the church of God was found, when the churches were owned of Him. They do not wish to lower the force of this expression, by applying it to gatherings, which would monopolise it without having a well-grounded claim to it, and thus depreciate in the eyes of the world a precious title, and destroy the true idea of the church and the churches, among those who appropriate that title to themselves. Hence the wrong use made of this word by those who apply it to themselves alone has kept away from the churches a great number of persons.
It is in those countries where Christians have had the pretension to be the church, that the most sincere children of God have had the greatest dread of this. It does not follow, because the Lord sent messages to the primitive churches, that all the assemblies which, in our day, arrogate to themselves that title, because they have been organised in such or such a way, ought to be owned when everything is in a state of ruin. Without doubt, the gathering of the children of God in each locality is a thing infinitely precious and well-pleasing to the Lord; but it is not because they call themselves the church, that this union is well-pleasing to Him, but because, according to the will of Christ, they are united, and united, because there is but one Spirit who is in them all, and who attracts them one towards another by the constraining power of His love. Moreover, the word church signifies an assembly, it is the assembly of those who have common privileges, and it is important that this should be known, in order not to exclude from it those who hold these privileges from God Himself.
Nomination of Elders
I have reasons for thinking that the author will no longer insist now on Acts 14:23. At all events, since it is an important passage, and the only one which might seem to present the assemblies as participating in the choice of elders, I will say a word more on the subject. Mr. Rochat would prefer leaving out the expression of “the church” or “the assembly,” in the passage, because it is not in the Greek. But we must remember that the point in question is the participation of the assembly.
Our brother tells us that Wahl translates, not merely “I choose,” but “I choose by way of suffrages.” He has quoted Wahl wrongly in the very thing that is in question. I am fully persuaded that it is through pre-occupation, as it may happen to everyone; but it is important to know that Wahl says, “I choose by way of suffrage,” without an s at the end of the word. The reason for this is quite simple, and the difference is immense. The suffrage is always the suffrage of the person who chooses, so that one could not translate, I choose by way of suffrages, with an s, since it would be choosing by other suffrages besides my own; whereas, if I say, I choose by way of suffrage, in the singular, it is my act in view; it is a question of myself. It is always the suffrage of the person who is the subject of the verb “to choose,” which is spoken of. The word translated by “chose” means to stretch out the hand, and those who did choose stretched out their own hands, and not the hands of others. If anyone wishes to confine himself to etymology, although the verb, like so many others, has lost its etymological sense, the only sense which can be given to it is, “the apostles chose by stretching out their hand.”
The thing in question is not to know if the word retains the sense of suffrage (although in its general use, it has lost it) but, admitting the sense of choosing by way of suffrage, we must know by whose suffrage it is. Then I answer, by the suffrage of him who chooses, and of him alone. As for the case of 2 Corinthians 8:19, it is exactly the same thing. The churches “chose,” but then the “churches” are in the same relation to the verb, as Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:23. The churches, like Paul and Barnabas, did not choose by the suffrages of other persons, but by their own suffrages. This passage in 2 Corinthians entirely confirms this interpretation, which, after all, is the only reasonable or possible one. I do not here exclude the idea of hands being lifted up; but this I say, that the hands lifted up, if there were any, according to the form of the word, were the hands of the apostles. Moreover, I do not think that Mr. Rochat would dispute it now.
Mr. Rochat knows as well as I do, that the use of the participle, instead of the past tense, makes no difference. Hence, in the only passage where the choice of elders is mentioned, the word shews us that the church did not choose herself, but that it was the apostles who chose for the church. The only epistles which speak of the qualification of elders and of deacons are addressed, not to churches, but to persons who in a special way represented the apostles. These two circumstances are more than extraordinary, if the rule of the word was that the churches were to choose their elders. Add to this that Titus had been sent to a great distance in order to establish them, as the apostle had commanded him to do—him, I say, and not the churches which existed in these localities.76 Mr. Rochat says that I make a distinction unknown to everybody between elders and pastors. All I can reply to that is, that it is astonishing how grave and learned men can remain so entirely shut up in their own ideas. Nearly the better half of the Reformed Church has made this distinction; all the Presbyterians make it; and our brother has only to make a short excursion in the Canton de Neufchatel, and he will find in each parish Mr.——, elder, who is not the pastor at all.77 Farel, Knox, the reformers in France, etc., were not men to be despised in their generation. By the way, does my memory fail me, when I say that Farel was never ordained? It is certain that at Geneva a poor artisan had begun to distribute the Lord’s supper, and was banished for it. Faith is worth many ordinations of men. On the other hand, I do not quote these facts as authority to rest upon, but solely in reply to our brother, who says (p. 51), that he has thought, until now, that everybody was agreed in thinking that these two charges were the same. For my part, the Bible suffices me.
Mr. Rochat has only referred to a part of the passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Although they are not very important with respect to this subject, I will say that in Exodus 18, it is Jethro who proposes the thing to Moses, and that it is Moses who chooses. From what is said in Deuteronomy 1:13, it is Moses who proposes the thing to the people, saying, “Take ye.” The people answer, “The thing which thou hast spoken is good,” etc. Then Moses says, “So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you,” etc.
Our brother is very much astonished also that I said, As to the service of tables, the choice was granted to the church, because the church supplied the tables, as the choice also was reserved for God, when God supplied the gift. He asks if God does not supply the gifts for a deacon. Everything is confounded here, because our brother has not understood the use of the word gift. All the things that we possess are gifts of God undoubtedly; but, in the word, the use of this expression is specially connected with certain gifts, which result from the glory of Christ, as Son of man. “He gave gifts for men.” “He gave some apostles,” etc. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” “Covet earnestly the best gifts,” etc.
Now the charge of deacon was not one of these gifts, but a charge which had to do with the care of temporal things. A person was the deacon or the servant of the church. Certain qualities were necessary, to be a deacon, but this charge was in nowise one of the gifts mentioned in the list which is left us, Eph. 4 and 1 Cor. 12. A man might very well possess a special gift of service, in a more general sense, without being officially a deacon, but the things intrusted to deacons were temporal, and they were intrusted to them by the brethren. As to those who possessed gifts, the things which were intrusted to them were spiritual; they came directly from God; and those men were immediately responsible towards the Lord in their service. They were servants or deacons of Jesus, in things which were spiritual, and not servants of the church in things which were temporal. But here comes out the whole thought of our brother. “The church,” he says (p. 55), “ought to have named elders, not only because it paid them, but also because it intrusted to them something much more precious than its money, namely, the souls of the faithful which composed it.” I only ask where such a thought is to be found in the word as this, that the church intrusts to the elders the souls which compose it?
As to the phrase which astonishes our brother, I maintain it in all its force; and I see great perfection in the ways of the Spirit of God as to this. As regards the difference which exists between the elder and the pastor, I say that the pastorate was a gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4), whereas the charge of elder was not one. This charge was established by men in the church, according to God undoubtedly, but it was an institution connected with government, and not a gift from above, although certain gifts and certain qualities were necessary for those who were named elders. I said that the gift of shepherding the flock of God, in one way or in another, was necessary or suitable for them, because it is shewn by the first epistle to Timothy that the elders who laboured in word and teaching are distinguished from the other elders. Peter speaks of the elders in a very vague manner, calling himself an elder, and contrasting them with all the younger, so that it would be difficult to suppose a choice.
I admit this, that on certain occasions the disciples did take resolutions in common. In the case of the disputes about circumcision, which the apostle Paul could not settle, the brethren at Antioch agreed to refer to the decision of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. If our brother, Mr. Rochat, likes to quote this as an instance of a decision on the part of the church, he is quite free to do so. For my part, I see the incapacity in which the church was to decide anything on the subject; they agreed to refer this question to a superior authority. Except the answer from the apostles and elders, with the church, to the question which had thus been proposed to them, all the other cases (excluding what was done before the coming down of the Holy Spirit), only relate to deacons and to pecuniary aid. Let brethren take resolutions in common when circumstances arise, I have nothing Jn-the world to say against it, provided their direction be from God; but this, I repeat, that I see nothing in the word that resembles the decision of a majority. It is evident that, if the church is in a bad state, the majority will probably decide wrong, and nothing can prove that the Holy Spirit is with the majority. It is merely a human means of settling an affair. In matters of arrangement one may very well consult what suits the greater number; but, as regards moral things, the number is of no moment.
Our brother (p. 59) returns to the subject of gifts. He asks if the gifts connected with the charge of elder did not come directly from God. When it is a question of governing one’s household, and one’s own children (1 Tim. 3:4, 5), it is quite a different thing from gifts, in the scriptural sense of the expression.
Mr. Rochat (p. 60) insists on the answer he gave in his first pamphlet to this remarkable fact, that every direction about elders is given to Titus and to Timothy, and never to the churches. He remarks that Paul says to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:15), “These things write I unto thee … that thou mayest know [not, ‘how thou oughtest to behave thyself,’ but] how one ought to behave oneself.” I take a similar case. My son is chosen councillor of state, and I write to him to explain how one ought to behave oneself in the affairs of the state. This shews, according to Mr. Rochat’s mode of reasoning, that every citizen may, at any time, exercise the functions of councillor of state, because I told my son how one ought to behave oneself. I confess I do not see where the force of that argument lies.
The author adds to his thought, which is also mine, that we must not go in advance of the gifts of God. “When God,” he says (p. 61), “sends elders and deacons, I will not have them to be tacitly owned, but to be established through their being recognised by a regular vote of the church.” But, first of all, in the case of establishing elders and deacons, it is supposed that all is in order, the very thing that always remains to be proved; and if even it were supposed that all is in order in the church, it would still remain to be proved, that it has a right to establish elders by a regular vote, as Mr. Rochat says. This has not been done, but quite the contrary. It ever remains true, that what is presented to us in the word, is the choosing of elders by the apostles; their establishment by the delegates of Paul; directions for those same delegates, and an absolute silence on this subject in all that is written directly to the churches.
I will point out here a principle, which is expressed twice in Mr. Rochat’s pamphlet, with a very slight difference: where the word has determined nothing, man is free. The essential thing is to follow its spirit (p. 66). There is no principle more dangerous than that one. Were it followed, all kinds of innovations might be introduced into an assembly, and imposed on the brethren by the vote of a majority. It is true that the Holy Spirit leads us according to the spirit of the word in cases where we do not find at first a positive text; for the Spirit has not abandoned the church. But to say, in such a case, that man is free, is a horrid principle. It is this especially that I dread in the system of dissent. Man, the flesh, its rights, are constantly put in place of the Holy Spirit.
As to the article on the ruin of the dispensation, I have replied to it while considering that on the unity of the church. Here is what I have to say now about women (p. 86). Whenever brethren meet as an assembly before God, the women are to remain silent; it is a moral ordinance of the word. Discipline is not connected with organisation, but with the presence of Jesus, where two or three are gathered together in His name. The Holy Spirit necessarily exercises that discipline, wherever He acts; for He is holy, and He governs in the church. The author’s answer about the refusal anyone might make to join the disciples, is no answer at all. The church was not yet manifested at the time of Joseph of Arimathasa (p. 90). To belong to the assembly a person must have been baptised, and those who had not been baptised could not be owned as Christians. As for those who had been baptised, they had thereby publicly joined the Christians. As for the imposition of hands, if it were only given to recommend to the grace of God someone who is about to go forth for the Lord’s work, I see nothing to hinder it; but if it be to make a minister, as people say, or to give a right to the exercise of ministry, it is a positive infringement upon the sovereignty of God.
Romans 11—The Seven Churches in Asia
I thank God we are at last getting but of these details. Romans 11 must occupy us for a moment. This expression is blamed, “The Jews have been cut off.” It is evident that here the word “Jews” must be taken in the sense of the Jewish dispensation. Is it denied that God has put an end to that dispensation, by adding what is called “the election “to the church (Rom. 11:7), by cutting off or dispersing the unbelieving, and by interrupting His dealings with the nation, although it be kept, according to His counsels, for future blessing? In like manner, it is not a question of cutting off all the Gentiles: but God will equally put an end to this dispensation, which (the Jews having been set aside) is characterised as “salvation unto the Gentiles.” This is, after all, what Mr. Rochat himself now acknowledges. I return to this infinitely solemn truth, which I have at heart to place before the eyes of Christians, namely, that you, Gentiles, have been put under a responsibility analogous to that of the Jews, that you have failed as they have, and that you will be cut off as they have been. I do not mean that the judgments of God will reach all the faithful individually; but the whole system in which you now are, and of which you form a part, will be judged and destroyed, as the Jewish system was.
One thing has greatly struck me in our brother’s reply; it is the manner in which he lays stress on inexact words and expressions, while he keeps silence on the most solemn warnings of the word, on all I said of Jude, of the first epistle of John, and of all that is addressed to the Christians of the universal church. I think this a bad sign. It was on reading over my last tract to see if I had considered certain points, that I was struck with the great number of important passages which are not touched upon in Mr. Rochat’s answer. And yet these passages must act, either for good or for evil, on the conscience of Christians, according to their true or false application. I entreat my brethren with all my might, and before the Lord, to weigh these passages of scripture. If they deign to read what is said on them in “Further Developments,” etc., it might at least direct their attention to these subjects. I do not speak now in the sense of controversy, but that their conscience may be kept under the influence of these solemn warnings of God, and that they may judge the existing state of things, according to the light of the word.
I have still something to say on the book of Revelation, because this may be the means of fresh light to my brethren. If we examine closely the seven churches of Asia, we shall find much more than promises or threats addressed to certain local churches. When it is said, in Revelation 3:10, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from [it should be ‘ out of] the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly”—it is evident that the application of these words goes much farther than the then-existing church of Philadelphia, or any other particular church. For the hour of temptation has not yet come: and Philadelphia and its church have been for ages forgotten. That there was a partial accomplishment at Philadelphia, I do not deny; but I cannot doubt that there is a promise for the last days in favour of those who have kept the word of the patience of Jesus. I do not deny the judgment of the particular churches, although I do not see their restoration; but in order to understand what is said to the churches of the Revelation, we must go further than the judgment of those churches. As to Laodicea, we shall find that the threat of the Lord to spue it out of His mouth is unconditional; because it was lukewarm, it was to be spued out. It is true that the Lord is long-suffering; that Jesus stands at the door and knocks; but it is in order that he that opens may sup with Him: this is an individual promise. It is not added, as to other churches called to repentance, “or else I will come”; for the threat was absolute. In the Revelation, the coming of the Saviour is always supposed to be near. The Spirit forbids sealing the words of that prophecy, “for the time is at hand.” And that is the true force of the text commonly given thus, “And he that is filthy, let him be filthy still”;78 that is, let him that is filthy, remain filthy; it is too late to change: every one remains what he is. The judgment of the churches always refers to the coming of Jesus. Each one of them is supposed to remain until His return, and each one also presents a moral state which undergoes the judgment of the Son of man by the Spirit—judgment which will be executed at the coming of the Lord. If the return of Jesus has been delayed according to man’s thoughts and in fact, in a certain sense, this is explained to us by the word (Matt. 25:2; Rev. 3). Scripture always speaks in view of His coming as being at hand. Meanwhile the moral state of certain assemblies of that day, and the judgment pronounced on them by the Spirit, serve as a warning and a specimen for the church in general, and apply also, by the Spirit of God, to the forms of evil which the church would put on up to the end. These are “the things which are.” In “the things which are to come” there is no mention of the church as being on earth.
But I close. I pass over in silence the comparative picture of the two systems, and the contrast which is presented in it between Mr. Darby and the word, because I have discussed all the subjects if contains. That there is a serious opposition between Mr. Rochat’s views and mine (in the spirit of the things more than in the details), I fully agree. I believe that he has substituted, for the presence of the Spirit of God in the government of the church here below, certain rites and ordinances of churches, the greater part of which cannot be justified by the word. I believe that his views prevent the conscience of the church from being reached by the conviction of its responsibility and of its sin, in that it has not manifested the glory of Christ here below. When Mr. Rochat speaks of the practical consequences of what he calls my system, it is easy for him to pronounce a judgment. People may have exposed the apostles, because the enemy had raised a tumult; one may shut out the truth, because the opposition to that truth has caused trouble.79 Our brother alludes to what took place at Geneva. But it remains to be proved if all the fault is with the principles. May it not be in part with those who are opposed to them? I believe I have said all that is necessary —no doubt, with much weakness, for I have gone through much bodily suffering; but I think I have touched upon all that concerns the conscience of the church.
And now, if I am asked what the children of God have to do in the present circumstances of the church, my answer is very simple. They ought to meet in the unity of the body of Christ outside the world. That is a need which is pretty generally felt, a principle of all importance in these days of falling away, a principle which he who is guided by the Holy Spirit will not fail to find in the word. Whenever it once has been found, obedience becomes a duty of the conscience; and the more light a person has, the more deeply this will be received. To act according to his conscience, according to the word, a Christian only needs faith—that energetic principle which only looks to the will of God, and never to circumstances or to difficulties. The consciousness that we shall be preserved from the judgment which will fall upon Christendom will give seriousness, humbleness, firmness to our walk. Let us remember that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
As regards details, take heed to the promise of the Lord, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Matt. 18:20.80 That is what the heart needs that loves God and is tired of the world. Reckon upon that promise of the Lord, you children of God, disciples of Jesus. If two or three of you meet together in His name He will be there. It is there that God has put His name, as of old in His temple at Jerusalem. You need nothing else but to meet together thus in faith. God is in your midst; you will see His glory. How greatly has not that God of love blessed us by the simplicity of His intercourse with us! Do not think that you have to build spiritual palaces, in order that God may come and dwell in your midst. If two or three are gathered together in His name, it may be a poor tent, but God is there. Do not pretend to erect palaces when you have only the materials for huts.
Act in simplicity with what you have; if you have the Lord Himself, you have all you need. “Whosoever hath, unto him shall more be given.” Remember also, that when the disciples came together, it was to break bread, Acts 20:7. “Upon the first day of the week,” it is written, “when the disciples came together to break bread,” etc. 1 Corinthians 11 shews us the same thing, “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.” There was an abuse of the Supper, and the apostle was correcting this abuse. But we can see that the object of their coming together into one place was to eat the Lord’s supper.
It will always be a precious thing to the disciple to remember the love of Him, who, “having loved his own which were in the world … loved them unto the end.” If God saves us from a general ruin, it is so much the more touching for our souls. At the beginning, the disciples used to take the Lord’s supper every day in their houses. If God sends us or raises up among us someone who can feed our souls, let us receive him with joy and thankfulness from God, according to the gift that has been vouchsafed to him, and let us honour the Lord thus in His gift. Let us also ourselves seek to bear testimony in love to those who are round us, that they may escape the wrath to come. If God raises up from the midst of those who are gathered together a brother who is able to exhort or exercise some other gift, let him do it with simplicity for the good of all, watching much over his own heart, lest it should become a snare to him. It is always dangerous for the soul to be put forward: a man does not cease to be a simple brother, because he has a gift which makes him the servant of all.
Never make any regulations; the Holy Spirit will guide you, if you rest on Him, and if you rely upon God who is ever faithful. Seek to be imbued with the spirit as well as the letter of the word; and act in each case under the direction of God, always trusting His word. He will know how to raise up helps, if it be necessary: only believe.
As to discipline, remember that cutting off is the extreme resource. The children of a family may be obliged, according to the wisdom of their Father, to refuse all intercourse with one of their brethren; but does not the heart understand in what spirit this is to be done? To preserve the holiness of the Lord’s table is a positive duty. We owe it to Christ Himself, Cases may present themselves, where we repel with fear the manifestation of sin (Jude 23); but, on the other hand, beware of a judicial spirit, as of fire in your house. The Christian who knows Himself best, and who loves most, will never fail to exercise discipline when he is obliged to do it; but he will do it, as on the part of Christ’s heart that has been grieved— the heart of Him who ever loves, and with the sense that the flesh is also in himself. Moreover, if it be a question of excommunication, all ought to take a part in it, not because they have a right to it (for what would be the spirit of a child who could insist on his right to take a part in the exclusion of one of his brothers!), but because the conscience of all must be purified, and because the whole assembly must be, through this act, separated from a sin which demands the putting away.
If God raises up in your midst persons who watch over souls, who, jealous of seeing them respond to the grace of Christ, feed them on that grace, and plead both for them and with them, it is a precious gift from the Lord.
With respect to the distribution of the Supper, the difficulties are imaginary. As the apostle says of the woman, nature also can teach us here. The Supper must be celebrated in a suitable way; this every Christian would feel. If you are not numerous, and you are placed in the same circumstances, all is easy. If there is a large assembly, it has not been formed in a moment; and there are always to be found in it persons who are well known and respected by brethren: those persons may break the bread. As to an essential difference as a right, there is none; but it is a duty towards God to celebrate, in a suitable way, an institution of Christ, so precious to the church. It is the flesh alone that would make used of the ordinances of the Lord to exalt itself above other brethren, and to arrogate some importance to itself; and the flesh is always bad.
If God raises up several brethren who feed His flock, and who labour (though with little gift, perhaps, but in love, and in a sense of responsibility, and therefore of humility, as those will always have who are truly sent of the Lord), let them seek to help each other in their labours, to pray together on the subject, and to profit by the counsel one of another. This confidence is very precious; and he that is humble and truly seeks the good of souls will always be most happy to profit thereby. This will never take from us our individual responsibility, but will often help us to fulfil it for the good of the church and for the glory of Christ. At the same time, let each one remember that, if God uses one of His children to labour in the church, it is that he may be (although free with respect to others, and responsible to Christ), the servant of all. Whoever departs from this position abandons both his duty and his privilege. Let us always remember that it is God’s will that we should be dependent upon Him, and that every effort to free ourselves from that dependence upon Him, who is our only safeguard and our stay, is but the work of the flesh, which would have its ease in the world.
Finally, I close by presenting again that which is at the root of the whole question—the responsibility of the church. In general, discussions descend to details; here it is the contrary. The details have served to bring into evidence the fact, that there was a serious principle in question, a fundamental principle for judging soundly about the church, its state and its affairs. Is the church responsible for the state in which it is found—yes or no? Until now, the system of dissent denies this responsibility. If our brethren who follow this system come to acknowledge this, it will be a step more in advance, that they will have made—a subject of joy, not only for brethren here below, but for heaven also. At the commencement of the revival dissent was honoured of God, because they acted faithfully in separating themselves from the world, and in bearing witness to the sanctification of the church of God and to the duty of being a light before men. When they sought to lay down as a principle their capacity to re-establish things on the primitive footing, their present weakness was soon manifested. People may perhaps tell me, Weakness will soon be manifested among you, who hold this language towards us. I fully acknowledge it, for the difference between us does not consist in this, that we are the strongest, but in this, that we own our weakness and our incapacity.
Let us seek the gathering of brethren in love; let us profit by whatever God has vouchsafed to us; and let us obey in all that concerns our individual conduct, distinguishing between this obedience, and the pretension of affecting that which requires a higher power than what we possess. The gathering of brethren in love, and their practical separation from the world, are the two great principles of blessing. With respect to our comparative state, let us be humbled before God about it, and let us feel that we are responsible before Him for the state in which we are found.
Let us remember that it is not a question of power, when we examine the question of responsibility. This is a principle which every Christian should admit concerning man as a sinner. He is responsible for the state in which he is, although he is, of himself, incapable of getting out of it. He is responsible for the actual evil in which he walks. So it is with the church. Hence, it is always our duty to cease to do evil, and to learn to do well. If we have not learnt to do well, we ought, at least, to cease to do evil; we ought, at least, to abandon that which our conscience condemns. God will thereupon teach us to do well. He that is faithful to leave the evil, concerning which his conscience is enlightened, will not be long before finding light to go on farther in the path of good, for God is faithful. All true union is founded on faithfulness in separating oneself from the evil which is known. Without that, union is only a mixture of good and evil, a union which Satan likes with all his heart and which God detests. From the time sin entered into the world God is gathering round Himself those whom He separates from the evil that exists, by acting on their conscience by His Spirit; and this extends to every evil, for God’s judgment extends to it. The object of God is union, but He cannot unite Himself with evil, and He cannot unite us unto Himself without separating us from the evil in which we are. This is true as a principle of life for the whole conduct of Christians. “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” As for the judgment of God on the general state of the dispensation, it is from the mouth of God that we must learn it.
62 Geneva, 1843.
63 The Fifty-sixth Circular, containing a discourse, published separately, under the title, “Geneva and Oxford.”
64 Such are the very words of the author of the discourse, “Geneva and Oxford,” p. 5.
65 According to Ephesians 4:11, 12—a passage quoted against us.
66 Also Mr. Rochat tells us elsewhere: “The signs of the times announce the approach of His glorious kingdom.” Therefore, the apostasy and the falling away are things which closely concern us, since they are to precede this glorious reign.
67 I am somewhat surprised that Mr. Rochat says (p. 21), that “the churches” [dissenting assemblies] received every Christian. It is well known that there were several which only admitted to the Supper those who formed part of an organised church.
68 I have consented to lay aside the word “apostasy,” because I do not attach myself to words, provided the truth be admitted. One has shouted victory, but it has been a mistake. I think that that expression is thoroughly applicable, according to its scriptural sense, to the state of things that we see around us. I consent to abandon it, in order to render more easy the discussion of these subjects with such as are sincere, because, in fact, the falling away which will take place at the end is a more open falling away, more undisguised. But the word of God applies this term to a moral and real abandonment of the true principles of Christianity and to the men who, while they call themselves Christians, act under the influence of Satan (1 Tim. 4), who corrupts everything which he cannot hinder. This abandonment of the true principles of Christianity, by the very persons who pretend never to have abandoned it, is called apostasy in the word; and it is most important that this should be understood, in order that the outward form of Christianity may no longer deceive the simple, but that they may fully know that the apostasy is none the less real for being hidden.
Mr. Rochat says (p. 22), that scripture places the moment of the apostasy at the time of the appearing of the Antichrist. He mistakes; scripture says nothing of the kind. The passage quoted only says, that the day of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy have first come and the man of sin have been revealed, etc. But the falling away may take place long before the revelation of the man of sin.
In the “Abridged History of the Church of Christ,” the author of which I need not name, we find a chapter with this title: “Apostasy Consummated.” I quote a passage from it (vol. 1, p. 121): “what progress that unfortunate church had made, in the eighth century, in the path of error and perdition! After having for a long time followed the instructions of the Holy Ghost, such as it possessed in the epistle especially addressed to them, at length tired of watching, praying, combating, weary of bearing the yoke of the good Shepherd, it relaxed by degrees from its pristine faithfulness. At first it had neglected, then afterwards it had abandoned, the word of truth. Instead of remaining a particular church, as it originally was, it had wished to become generally catholic, and had insensibly exalted itself to that degree, that it aspired to universal dominion, drawing away with it all the West in its apostasy.”
Is then the word “apostasy” more terrible under my pen than in that work? All the West has been drawn away into the apostasy. It is said, that the truth is only contested when it becomes important.
Again, the author of the same work applies Romans 11 to the cutting off of that church. “The moment is approaching,” he adds in a note to volume 1, page 122, “when that adulterous church, which has become high minded, will be cut off for ever.”
I would only add two remarks here. First, I have not made a wrong use of the word “apostasy,” since an author who well knows how to write his mother tongue, uses it in a more positive way than I do. The church of Rome acknowledges the Trinity; it owns that Christ is the Lord, that He is both God and Man, as well as other fundamental truths; and yet it is the consummated apostasy, because it has first neglected and afterwards abandoned the word of truth because it has become high minded, etc. Then next Romans 11 applies to this state of things, to all that has been led away by the church of Rome. Secondly, the author goes farther than I. I do not believe that the apostasy is consummated, as I have already said elsewhere. On the other hand, if the author extends the application of Romans 11 beyond individuals at Rome, or the church of Rome itself, then you must take the apostle according to his own expressions. “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am die apostle of the Gentiles.” Besides, I am persuaded that, ere long, the Romish church will put an end to this difficulty, at least within the limits of the fourth empire. At all events, the whole of the West has been drawn away. The author leads us to perceive the consequences of the unbelief by quoting Romans 11.
69 If any thing can be added, it is a sign or outward bond, which rendered them members and gave them officially a right in the society; that is what is found in baptism.
70 I do not attach myself to the word “society” —it is an expression of Mr. Rochat; but die thing is most important, as may be seen in John 17. The Lord prays that those who believe may be one, that the world may believe. The inhabitants of the Canton de Vaud form a Society, because, being all born Vaudois (though there be different parishes), they are all attached to a common centre; they possess common rights; they have charges filled by men who work for the common interests of the country. They are all Vaudois. That unity is felt and known, although it might be difficult to present in a visible way the bond which unites one Vaudois to another Vaudois. Thus it was in the church at the beginning; all were Christians, born again, fellow-citizens of a heavenly country; there were charges by functions, which had their sphere of activity in the whole body, namely, apostles, prophets, teachers.. Though there were churches, as in the Canton de Vaud there are parishes, Christians formed a society, as the Vaudois form one, because there was internal unity, manifested, maintained, and developed by charges. There were local charges; but there were also charges and gifts which were for the whole body (as the Council of State in the Canton de Vaud); and the apostles, die prophets, etc., did not any more belong to a local church, than the Council of State in die Canton de Vaud belongs to a particular parish.
71 Rather, the power and bond of unity. Christ is the centre.
72 God has proposed to Himself two great objects with regard to a Christian: the one, to save him; the other, to manifest in him His own glory. These two objects will be fully attained when the Christian is in glory. Meanwhile, his salvation is certain, because God is true. But, on the other hand, it thus becomes the duty of such as enjoy this salvation, to be on earth the living witnesses of God’s glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in them. It is the same with the church: it is saved;* but it is its duty and its privilege to manifest here below the glory of Him who saved it, and who dwells in it by the Holy Spirit. It is here that the responsibility of such as are saved finds its place. The rigid Calvinist only sees the accomplished salvation of the Church—an infinitely precious truth, the results of which in heavenly glory can never fail; but he does not see the establishment of the church here below—and that by God Himself—as depositary of the glory of God, and under the responsibility of man. The Arminian, on the contrary, concludes from this responsibility of Christians the uncertainty of their salvation, thus weakening the counsels of God, the eternal efficacy of the work of Christ, and all the sense and force of the seal of the Spirit, who would be bearing witness to an error, if after all we were not eternally saved.
* Note to translation—It is more exact to say, when individuals are saved, because the church is looked at as a new creation. But the general principle of the statement has remained here.
There is a responsibility which results from grace, from the position which it has made for us. If God has adopted me for His child, I am bound to walk as a child, without questioning whether I shall always be a child. Thus God may Himself secure the accomplishment of His glory in His elect, and outwardly also by their means; or He may leave the manifestation of His glory to their faithfulness as His children. All these suppositions will be realised, the glory will be fully manifested in His elect, when Christ shall have glorified them. Then also will they fully glorify Him, as the angels do. But, in the meantime, God has entrusted His glory here below to the church, as He had of old entrusted it to the Jews. Christians are faithful to this responsibility, by the Spirit who dwells in them, and who acts with efficacy, if He be not grieved. This therefore concerns the whole church, because the Holy Ghost dwells as the one Spirit in the Church. And although the evil may begin by one individual only, belonging to one particular church, it is here a question of principles which corrupt the whole lump in general, such, for instance, as a Judaizing spirit.
I deem it important to notice here that all the epistles which speak of ruin, of false principles which are the occasion for judgment, do not speak of a church, but of Christians in general—of the state of that which is called Christendom.
73 I speak here without making any allusion to questions and discussions between baptists and pædobaptists.
74 Note to translation.—Baptism is not admission to the body. That is by baptism by one Spirit. But the doctrine of the ruin, or the house, was not distinctly brought out then. The general reasoning is perfectly just.
75 See also 1 Corinthians 1:10.
76 If Mr. Rochat wishes to find examples and arguments on this point, he may consult “Poli Synopsis Crit,” on this passage.
77 See also the “Confession of Faith of the Reformed Church of France,” Article 29, etc.; “Confession of Faith of the Churches of Switzerland,” chapter 18.
78 Note to translation.—In the French translation it is, he that is defiled, let him defile himself yet; he that is sanctified, sanctify himself still.
79 I am ready to revert to the circumstances which have happened at Geneva, if love lead me to do it; and I am fully persuaded that impartial persons would be somewhat astonished to hear the narrative of these circumstances, and would perhaps judge very differently from what they have done. But I greatly prefer leaving all these things to the judgment of God.
80 It has been asked why this portion of the word has been taken rather than others to be applied to the present time. It is astonishing to what a degree pre-occupation of the mind blinds the judgment. Do not people see that this is a promise which only requires the faithfulness of Him who has promised? Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, the word receives its accomplishment. It is evident that the rules that Paul was giving to Timothy and to Titus are very different, and that they suppose an altogether special mission.