Entitled, “An Essay On The Kingdom Of God;
Followed By A Rapid Examination Of The Views Of Mr. John Darby”81
The following pages require two words of preface.
Firstly. Whatever may be the source of this opposition, I am convinced that the pamphlet of Mr. Francois Olivier is an effort against the truth. Its tendency is to hinder simple brethren from acting in faith. I have therefore freely expressed my thoughts with regard to it.
Secondly. Although I do not doubt that the substance of what is found in these pages is solid, it is, perhaps, well to warn him who may glance over them, that they do not pretend to furnish anything but a few rapid observations on the views of Mr. Olivier.
I received Mr. Olivier’s pamphlet on Monday evening, and have had to answer it without giving up my other occupations, and during a journey I have taken this week to Vevey, in order to be able to give the manuscript to be printed before leaving for France.
A journey of a few weeks will detain me in that country and would consequently have hindered me from taking up the matter.
The life that we lead down here is a very mingled one; and we must keep very near to God in order to preserve the soul in equilibrium, and to rejoice in the very things which would naturally pain the heart, as seeing them in connection with our Father’s will. Returning from a journey, in which I had been able to enjoy the happiness of the brethren assembled in peace, finding God near to them and in their midst, where I tasted the joy that one experiences in seeing many souls awakened and numerous conversions, sharing the joy of those who labour in it more faithfully than oneself, and seeing them happy in their work because God has blessed and is still blessing them—returning thus from places, where, having laboured oneself, one is happy to see the brethren again in peace, walking better even in one’s absence than in one’s presence, I stumble upon a pamphlet which sees nothing in all this but “disorder, misery, and premature teachers”: a pamphlet, which pronounces upon the brethren judgments that reveal the thoughts of its author, much more than they depict the character of those whom he blames.
The condition of many persons at the present time brings to my mind the curse pronounced upon him who leans upon an arm of flesh, Jer. 17. “He shall not see when good cometh.” I pity them with all my heart. We are poor, weak, yea, very weak. Our faith, or rather our lack of faith, often puts us to shame; and I doubt not, alas! that we often do things that are not according to the wisdom of God. When God, in His grace, gives us to be conscious of it, we have to humble ourselves: notwithstanding we are happy, for we walk with God; and He, in His great mercy, blesses us—unworthy as we are He has permitted us in our little measure (a very little measure, I confess, but according to that which He has given us) to work with God. But I have already said too much of this; I act as a fool. It will be thought that, because I am happy in the blessing of God, I seek to commend myself.
How can I rejoice in pamphlets, which, composed by the sad wisdom of men, will not have the foolishness of faith? This is how it is. Even when done in a spirit of strife, those who write them are forced to propagate the substance of the truth: and they themselves help on the work, while they condemn the persons who follow the truth heartily and joyfully. As for the faith and joy which accompany them: God has “hidden these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them unto babes”; and, “there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last”—for such has been the Father’s good pleasure. But the last, like the first, are forced to help on the spread of the truth, for such is the good pleasure of God, who will not allow His Church to slumber in these last days. If we will be “the last” when God is working, we have but ourselves to blame. Must God stop in His work of blessing because man will not go forward? God, in His goodness, forbid it!
Without approving every sentence or the spirit of the whole, let people examine the pamphlet of this minister, Mr. Francois Olivier, from page 52 to 69, and what evils—“irremediable evils” —he is speaking of in detail. Now he wishes us to call this state of things “the kingdom.” And he will not have us call the outward kingdom of God “the church.” Be it so. It is at least the general condition of things. Let it be called kingdom, as he wishes, or with others the visible church, the thing is admitted and is according to him “irremediable.” This is serious. For one could then truly say of the church, with which, according to Mr. Olivier, the kingdom was confounded, what God says of Israel in Jeremiah 2:21, “yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed.” “But,” says Mr. Olivier, “I must continue to repeat, it is in the kingdom, and not in the church, that this corruption began and increases.” Then I find in page 19, “Here one sees the kingdom of God is confounded with the church”; and, page 20, “the church is itself the spiritual kingdom, in which, and over which, Christ reigns”; and, in page 23, “as long as this was the case, I repeat, the church and the kingdom in their visible state here below would have been but one and the same thing.”
According to Mr. Olivier, that continued until some church ceased to receive all the Christians in its locality, or admitted into its bosom persons whose profession was evidently not real. Up to that time the church and the kingdom had been confounded; but it was during this period that the evil began. It was while the apostles were addressing all professors as saints, that heresies and corruption began, and that antichrists “went out,” which alone manifested that they were not “of them “: so that the corruption began, the mystery of iniquity was at work, when the church and the kingdom were confounded.
The evil began in that assembly, which, according to Mr. Olivier, was at the same time the church and the kingdom. He wishes us to believe that the church cannot become corrupt (p. 25); he admits that it may be enfeebled and may suffer from the condition of the kingdom (p. 68). If he means that God will keep true believers to the end, he does not think, I suppose, to give us fresh light by telling us so. Substantially, therefore, the only result of his book is, that he admits that the existing state of things (believers, as believers, excepted) is an “impure Babylon,” “without remedy.” “It is a horrible corruption which must definitively end in the accomplishment of the mystery of iniquity, in a general apostasy, upon which the Lord will only have to cause His most terrible judgments to fall” (p. 68). Let us also remark that he justifies the application of the word apostasy to the state of things which has long existed (p. 65).
Mr. Olivier applies the passage, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, to religious forms destitute of life. The errors which are there pointed out “exactly concern superstitious practices.” We find (p. 67), that those who are guilty of them “have already apostatised.” In this catalogue of irremediable evils is found the state of the dissenting churches themselves, as also that of the primitive churches immediately after their formation (pp. 50, 56, etc.).
But there is another remark to be made here. We have seen that Mr. Olivier asserts that the church cannot become corrupt; it is in the kingdom and not in the church that this corruption arises and increases. The great thing is, that corruption and apostasy (according to 1 Tim. 4) do exist. Let them call it kingdom, or give it any name they will, provided that consciences are reached. Popery, Nationalism, and in many respects even Dissenters are infected by this corruption, all being in the kingdom; and this state of things is irremediable. I go farther, and I say that this corruption began in the church as well as in the kingdom, since it began by principles of evil and not by the apostasy of individuals—by principles of evil among true Christians who formed what existed of the church upon earth.
My first witness for a part of this truth will be Mr. Olivier (page 46). “Another inevitable source of corruption is the sins of true Christians themselves.” Mr. Olivier will have it that this has acted upon the churches, or the kingdom. That may be; but at least the “source of corruption” was found in the true Christians who composed the church. But one may go still farther; for that which was a source of corruption was not only the sins of true Christians, but, yet more, Judaism. What overthrew Christianity was found in true Christians. The Galatians were not only a church; they were true disciples. Those who had come down from Jerusalem to Antioch are recognised by the apostles as belonging to them, although not authorised on their part. The Pharisees who blamed Peter for having eaten with the Gentiles were believers.
One sees many other examples of it. We find then, that the machinations of Satan among true Christians were the first and principal source of the evil. I admit that this may have been an occasion for the introduction of false brethren; but the corruption began in the church. It is in the church that we find it now, unless the most gross errors and superstitions, in which real Christians are found even according to Mr. Olivier, are not corruption. I say according to Mr. Olivier; for he admits that there are Christians in popery, in Nationalism, and elsewhere.
If, again, Mr. Olivier will not allow that true Christians, whose sins and whose errors, as we have seen, are an inevitable source of corruption, form the church, because in the sight of God the church will only be truly gathered together in heaven at last, then I answer, that his reasoning is both false and absurd: false, because Timothy ought to know how to behave himself in the church of the living God, and certainly that was not in the church gathered in heaven—the body of Christ was increasing by joints of supply, and certainly that was not in heaven—absurd, for no one dreams of corruption being in heaven; and the reasonings of every man of good sense, and of the Bible, are occupied with the church upon earth. But if true Christians composed the church then there was in the church, according to Mr. Olivier, “an inevitable source of corruption” in the sins, and (shall I add according to the word of God?) in the errors which were found there: errors, which for a moment made Paul doubt that those who had adopted them were true Christians, Gal. 4:11, 20. So it is true that there is corruption at the present time in the church, for the sins and errors have been increasing from the commencement among true Christians, although God has often raised up some special lights in their midst. It was not necessary that all Christians should be corrupted to make it true that the corruption began in the church. It was sufficient that “there was an inevitable source of corruption” in those who formed part of it. That is what took place by Mr. Olivier’s own confession. But this is a fact, a truth of the greatest importance, because the church is found to be compromised in the corruption which has invaded the kingdom itself. Inevitable sources of this corruption were found there.
Mr. Olivier may try to persuade us that the sleep of the workmen was a legitimate rest, although the apostle tells us that those who sleep sleep in the night, but that we who are of the day should watch. However that may be (for I leave this interpretation to consciences), it is certain that the first indications given us in the Bible of the evil which has invaded the outward kingdom, are pointed out as in the church itself; this is what gave rise to the introduction of false brethren who maintained these same principles, Gal. 2:4.
Dare I add, for my own part, that if there had not been such a want of clearness, equilibrium, and measure in the theories of that poor Mr. D., we should not, it is to be supposed, have possessed the description of calm, and moderate things that is contained in pages 50 to 69 of Mr. Olivier’s pamphlet? One must have a forlorn hope to mount the breach first: prudent men no doubt follow in better order.
But I beg those who read Mr. Olivier’s pamphlet to weigh well the state of things depicted in these pages, and to remember that, according to Mr. Olivier, all Christians, all members of the church of God upon earth, were found in it. I do not present them this mode of expression as the clearest; I do not consider that it is. I think that in spite of all his care Mr. Olivier has fallen into flagrant contradictions; and I have noticed some of them. But however that may be, weigh what is at the root of the matter and reflect, you Christians, what you have come to, if Mr. Olivier is right. Call this state of things, then, the kingdom, or whatever you please; this is what I ask you, what is the condition of things in which you are found and what will be the result?
Mr. Olivier has not, in fact, been able to deny the existing evil; he has only employed the resources of the French language and of his own mind, in order the better to describe the state of things which exists under the name of Christianity.
But here is a frightful result of Mr. Olivier’s system. “This horrible corruption, which must definitely end in the accomplishment of the mystery of iniquity, in a general apostasy, upon which the Lord will only have to cause His most terrible judgments to fall,” that “unclean Babylon” to which Mr. Olivier has made us look, is the kingdom; it is the deplorable condition of the kingdom. But (p. 38) although those who are of the kingdom are not [all] of the church, “all those who are of the church are certainly of the kingdom.” The kingdom contains a good number of persons who are not of the church, but, on the other hand, all the members of the church are in the kingdom and of the kingdom, according to Mr. Olivier. There they are then, spite of themselves, in that unclean Babylon: it is impossible to get out. They are, by the very establishment of things on God’s part, shut up in that which is the sad object of His most terrible judgments. Being of the kingdom, they are of this Babylon and they cannot get out of it! Christ, being the King of the kingdom, is found to be the king of this unclean Babylon! I pity you who embrace such a system.
Such are the effects of what man calls moderation and prudence, and of the absence of faith in the testimony of God as to the state of things in which we are found, but from which we must come out when we have discovered what it is. Faith would have instinctively recoiled before such conclusions, and would have felt them in a moment. When people only seek human exactness, and to blame the sentiments of others, they but dig pits into which they fall themselves. I speak here only of reasonings.
I have employed conventional terms, perhaps, with a certain want of exactness in some respects, as to expression. I have sometimes, perhaps, because everyone does it, called the church, that which is not really the church; and Mr. Olivier has done so himself in this pamphlet. In so doing, I was much better understood. My aim was to reach the conscience; and this aim has been accomplished to a certain point, and, by the grace of God, will be so more and more. And here, in order to be exact, those who oppose plunge the church, true Christians (and not the church in the conventional sense of Christianity, but the church in the sense given to it by Mr. Olivier), into an irremediable state of corruption from which they cannot get out. They are not only within the enclosure in which this is found, but they form part of the thing itself which is in this condition; and, in order to make this more clear, we are informed that this corruption could not take its rise in the church, and, at the same time, that one inevitable source of this corruption is in the sins of those who compose the church.
The fact is, they have not dared to resist the truth, because it was too evident. The human mind, which always draws back before the consequences of faith, has meddled with it; and the most deplorable moral confusion results from man’s pretension to be exact. “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise,” 1 Cor. 3:18.
As to all that we find between pages 74 and 105, without warranting all the details (what is said, for example, of the reign of Christ over the church, as the consequence of that which precedes; the definition of the first resurrection, etc.), one may say that it is, on the whole, a clear and interesting setting forth of truths which are, it is known, very dear to us. It is only in their application by faith to conduct that they touch the question which occupies us; and, in this respect, all is wanting.
I will now take up the criticisms which bear upon the expressions and upon the use of Scripture terms, to see what confidence one can place in this spirit of human exactness. In almost every case in which Mr. Olivier has left the ordinary use of the controverted terms, I find mistakes.
First, Mr. Olivier wishes to make the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God the same thing. In some places this is true; just as the canton and the republic of Geneva are now the same thing. But if I were to try and identify the canton and the republic in history, I should only shew my ignorance.
The expression “kingdom of heaven” is only found in Matthew; and when the Spirit of God wishes to speak of what has already come, He always changes the expression, and says, “kingdom of God.” Thus in Romans 14:17, one would never find such an expression as this, “For the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink”; because, although the kingdom of heaven is necessarily the kingdom of God, the expression “kingdom of heaven” relates to an order of things in the dispensations of God, and alludes, I doubt not, as Mr. Olivier says, to Daniel 7. That is why this expression is found in Matthew—a gospel full of Jewish points of view—a gospel which devotes itself to shewing the accomplishment of the prophecies and of the promises made to the Jews. This is why it is always said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”: Jesus Himself said it, while He says, “The kingdom of God is among you,” for the King was there; but it was not the kingdom of heaven whilst the King was upon earth. Since the exaltation of Jesus, this kingdom of heaven has taken a special character, on account of the rejection of the Jews for a time. And this is what is explained in Matthew 13; the rejection of the people having been proved at the end of chapter 12. Mr. Olivier is mistaken when he says that Peter (Acts 3) places the times of refreshing at another period. The rejection of this discourse put them off to another period, according to the counsels of God; but Peter said, “Be converted … that the times of refreshing may come.”
Besides, it is not true that the church is itself the spiritual kingdom; not one of the passages quoted by Mr. Olivier says so. The saints obey, it is true, but Christ is never called the King of the church. We come to God’s throne of grace. There is a single passage in the Revelation which might be quoted: “King of saints,”82 Rev. 15:4. But this passage is so doubtful that one can found nothing upon it. We find nothing in the word to bear out the thought that Christ exercises royal authority over the church, and the teaching of Matthew 13 renders this distinction important. Mr. Olivier does not pretend to apply here the passages from the Old Testament, such as King in Zion. In the New Testament he finds none. But then his theory of a spiritual kingdom and an outward kingdom, as two different spheres, falls to the ground. We have simply “the kingdom of heaven,” which is not the church at all. The church has no relation nor any contact with the kingdom, save that it exists down here in the field, over which the authority of the kingdom is exercised. Later on, the church will reign with the Lord over that same field.
Hence, to speak of “corrupting the kingdom” (p. 25), “a pure kingdom,” is only confusion. “The kingdom becomes Babylon” (p. 69); all that is entirely contrary to Scripture. If anyone is king over Babylon, it will be the antichrist. We are to come out of Babylon; we cannot come out of the kingdom, in the sense in which we are in it, as, indeed, Mr. Olivier felt.
It is grievous to speak thus of the kingdom, as if it were a certain number of persons in such and such a condition. The kingdom of heaven is a government—a reign, if you will. The King is there; His authority is there. He bears for a long time with scandals in His kingdom; but His kingdom, His reign, cannot be Babylon. Do they wish to make Christ king over Babylon? Is this the exactness that they seek? It is true that the enemy works in the kingdom while men sleep, because they are put there under responsibility; and there you see the importance of using the word dispensation, that everybody understands, because it is only a question of man and his position when God has placed him under responsibility, while the kingdom, or the reign, embraces also the government of the King, the sovereignty of God Himself. The kingdom was “among” the Pharisees, because Christ was there; the kingdom was “at hand” when the apostles were going to give their testimony in Israel (Matt. 10:7). The church is never the kingdom, either pure or impure. The kingdom contains the King; and it is very inexact and grievous to speak of the corruption of the kingdom. Scandals are allowed in His kingdom, according to the sovereign counsels of God—scandals that the King will remove by and by, when He takes to Him His great power and acts as King. It is because in truth the principles of the kingdom are always God’s principles, that the apostle can say that “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” And, for the same reason, the kingdom of God could be preached, although Satan might sow in the field over which this kingdom ruled. The church down here may be corrupted, because the flesh is found in those faithful who compose it; though the chastenings and the grace of God may preserve it for glory, where flesh and blood cannot enter.
Now, if we come to the church, it is indeed the body of Christ. But the word of God speaks of the church below, and calls the gathering together of believers down here the church, the house of God, in which one must learn to behave oneself, and where there is activity of ministry by which this body grows. I will not abandon this scriptural application of the word, because I admit that at last, through the faithfulness of God, all the church will be assembled above. The object (and it is a signal one) of this pamphlet which I am now answering is to destroy the idea of an assembly on earth, and of the responsibility of that assembly; but I have discussed these points in the Remarks on the State of the Church. I will only remark that Mr. Olivier contradicts the word in his reasonings. The national churches are not churches (it is difficult to avoid conventional terms), “seeing that they do not assemble together, and that the word church signifies ‘assembly.’” (p. 52). But (pp. 116, 117) he says that my views about the church and the body of Christ are false, and contrary to the ideas of Scripture, as to the assembly of the church, since the earthly body of Christ would never be really gathered together down here. Then there has never been any church upon earth, and, without reasoning (p. 35), “there has never been seen anywhere the least trace of any assembly that could be, or has been, named in the full and absolute sense of the word the church or the assembly of God.” As to the full and absolute sense of the word, I do not know; as to the scriptural meaning, which is much more important, one can have no doubt. If Mr. Olivier means to inform us that all the elect have not been on the earth at the same time, it is trifling with serious truths. Who needs to know it? But “the Lord added to the church” not to a church, or to an outside kingdom, “those who should be saved.” And Timothy was learning how he ought to behave himself “in the church of the living God.” This was not in the universal assembly in heaven. I do not know if Mr. Olivier wishes a more complete and absolute meaning than is given in the word. For my own part I am quite content with what I find there. But what does he make of that time when (p. 23) “the measure of the church, which is the body of Christ, was the rule of the measure of the kingdom?” That is not in heaven at a future time, I suppose. It is what took place at the commencement. The kingdom of God was confounded with His church (p. 25). The true kingdom is none other than the church (p. 25). Let us add to all this confusion, that if the true kingdom is nothing more than the church, and that (p. 24) the church only contains the members of Jesus, then the kingdom in which one finds tares, whence Christ removes the scandals, where He acts as King, is not at all the true kingdom; that kingdom of heaven, of which the Spirit of God speaks in Matthew, where Christ is King, which is His kingdom, is not the true kingdom. There is the effect of confounding the pure kingdom with the church—of making distinctions between an outward and an inward kingdom: in a word, of getting completely away from the word of God.
Let us now come to the word dispensation. Here Mr. Olivier is very unfortunate even in the things in which “a smattering” is necessary for teachers, from the time when miraculous gifts ceased in the church, and on account of the distance of times and places.
Economy, or dispensation, he says, means law of the house; but economy means nothing of the kind. It signifies the administration of a house; and, taken in an extended sense, it means any order of things that God has arranged, as when one says, animal economy, vegetable economy. It is true that the Greek word signifying ‘law’ is derived from the same root; but it is a derivation much more distant in meaning. Nemo means to distribute, divide, feed, etc.; and thus in a house there was steward, and an economy—a man who arranged, distributed, provided for the family; and all the order which resulted from this was the economy, the administration, of the house. Thus, when God had established a certain order of things upon the earth, one has accustomed oneself, pretty correctly, as it appears to me, to call it an economy. The word of God even makes use of it, Eph. 1. It is possible that there may be a shade of difference between the scriptural and the conventional use of the word. In general, the way in which it is used in the word of God is more strictly according to its original meaning, and contains rather the idea of an active administration. The word dispensation is often used thus, and it has the same etymological meaning. God dispenses His favours. In the conventional sense, economy means an order of things established by God: the Jewish economy, the present economy, etc.
But these economies, until the coming of Christ, are, as far as their course is concerned, left to man, and to his responsibility, although God may work secretly. For example, the Lord speaks thus of the present economy, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” Outwardly, all goes on without the intervention of Christ, from the sowing of the seed until the harvest. Well, the time which elapses from the seed-sowing till the harvest is what is generally called the present dispensation. I have called it “the church dispensation,” because it is the time during which the church is called, and exists here below, in contrast with the Jews and the legal system. And one sees that, although in fact it is God who causes the corn to ripen, outwardly He seems to let everything take its own course. Thus, Satan may act in the midst of all this; man may sleep; and the whole state of things may become corrupt: and, in fact, it has become corrupt, as Israel became corrupt; and this dispensation also, this order of things, is in a state of ruin.
And (must I say it?) Mr. Olivier applies, according to 1 Timothy 4, the word apostasy to what has taken place; and he is right, for the word of God does so. I do not hold to the expression; it is much more exact than speaking, as he does, of the kingdom, and of the apostasy of the kingdom (P. 95); because the latter embraces the government, and the King, and the harvest; whilst, in the ordinary sense, the word dispensation does not embrace them. The King terminates the present dispensation when He begins to reap in His kingdom. And see what extraordinary confusion Mr. Olivier introduces into his criticisms on that word. “The present dispensation is the dispensation of the grace of God” (p. 111). But this passage merely speak of a ministry confided to Paul— “if ye have heard of the dispensation (ministry, oikonomia) of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward.” Here we see the meaning which I have pointed out— the primitive sense of the word; it is someone to whom the distribution and administration in the house have been entrusted. But can one say that the present dispensation, in the ordinary sense of the word, was entrusted to Paul? That would be ridiculous.
In 1 Corinthians 9:16, 17, the word of evangelisation is said to be an administration (oikonomia) which is entrusted to him. Once more, let me ask, was the present dispensation, in the sense which every one takes it, confided to Paul? The apostle uses the word “stewards” (1 Cor. 4) in the same sense, applying it to his ministry. Martin translates it “dispensers of the mysteries of God.” I cannot admire the effect of a smattering of the knowledge of Greek. It seems to me that it obscures the subject, whilst it is very inexact in the translation of the word.
Mr. Olivier is not willing that we should try to gather together Christians as such, but only some Christians (p. 108). Perhaps we should not succeed, for want of faith, and spirituality; but what he rejects is the will of God; what he desires is the convenience of men, and with this object; “for (this is the history of it) these weak things are churches and ministries” (p. 103).
Allow me, in passing, to make a remark. I discover, alas! the secret of the pamphlet in two sentences: in the accusation brought against his brethren, of being revolutionists, who say, “get out of that place that I may get into it” (p. 160); and in this sentence (p. 154), “I consider it an important thing that the exercise of their gifts should be regulated by that of the leading minister.” I find it much better that it should be regulated by the word of God; a leading minister may, no doubt, help as to this in the church, as he may help in everything else.
I should remark here, in passing, that the same word is used in speaking of Judas and Silas (Acts 15), as is translated, “them that have the rule over you,” Heb. 13:17. In the passage in Acts 15, no one dreams of giving to that word the same meaning as is attempted to be drawn from Hebrews 13. Again we have a little use made of the smattering of Greek: that which has been translated “recognize” (1 Thess. 5:12), is not recognise (that is, formally) at all, but know. It means only to acknowledge by affection and respect, but in nowise by a public act— “a regular vote of the church.”
I leave to Mr. Rochat and the dissenters the task of answering what is said in pages 101 and 102. “We are, it is true, in the midst of a corrupted kingdom, where it is impossible to recover the primitive position of believers.” I think it is impossible to find it if we seek the outward form, as dissenters have done, but not at all impossible if we seek the foundation, if we withdraw ourselves from every evil thing; for God is faithful, and does not weary in His love towards those who seek Him.
As to the apostasy of the dispensation, I have already touched upon it in speaking of the dispensation; but I have treated it at length in the Remarks on the State of the Church. Only when Mr. Olivier says that the apostles pointed out the evils which were creeping into the churches, he makes a mistake; it is in the so-called General Epistles, and in the Epistles to Timothy: epistles that are not addressed to churches, that the Spirit of God speaks of these evils. These epistles speak neither of churches nor of the kingdom—an all-important point, as I have already observed. The apostles do not speak of churches as becoming corrupt, but of a mystery of iniquity which was already at work, and which was not in such or such a church. Mr. Olivier is entirely wrong on this point. Let us remember that Mr. Olivier applies the word apostasy to the doctrines and to the conditions of the national churches and of the Roman church, which, however, are not churches; and we shall then understand what is the force of the denial of apostasy in the dispensation. (Compare pp. 65, 67.)
Let us come to Romans 11:1-22. First Mr. Olivier says that from verses 1-10, Paul is shewing that God, while He has cast off Israel as a nation, has not cast off the Israelites as individuals. It is surprising that anyone should have fallen into such a mistake. The church, which was chiefly, or at least in great part, composed of Jews, could never have raised the question of the Israelites being individually rejected. What kind of a gospel would it be, that could leave such a question undecided? The question is this, “Has God cast off his people?” The first proof that He has not done so is, that there is an election, as in the time of Elias—the rest were blinded.
Second proof. If they stumbled, it was not that they should fall, but that salvation might be granted to the Gentiles. Here, observe, the apostle does not say to some Gentiles, but to the Gentiles; and that the Gentiles, not some Gentiles, are put in contrast with the Jews. It is very certain that they are not elect Gentiles in contrast with elect Jews; but Gentiles in contrast with Jews. This is why the apostle says that the rejection of the latter is the reconciling of the world. So that the apostle tells us that the Gentiles, the world, have been placed, since the fall of the Jews, in a different relation with God from that in which they were before. It is not a question of deciding whether they have all been made partakers of the efficacy flowing from that relationship; but the relationship exists.
The third proof is that, when the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, all Israel, Israel as a nation, shall be saved, and that at the return of Christ. When the apostle says, “I speak to you Gentiles,” he does not say, as Mr. Olivier makes him, “to you faithful Gentiles”; for he adds, “Inasmuch as I am an apostle of the Gentiles.” Was he the apostle of the faithful Gentiles? Clearly not. He was the apostle of the Gentiles as Gentiles, in contrast with the Jews, the circumcision, of whom Peter was the apostle. Again, verse 13 precedes verse 25, where he says “my brethren.” In verse 13, and following, he is occupied with the salvation granted to the Gentiles, and the reconciliation of the world as a doctrine, and not as a warning to his brethren.
Mr. Olivier further makes verses 17-22 to be a warning to the faithful and the believing; as if Paul said to them that, if they did not persevere, they would be cut off. But it seems to me rather singular to say that, because the mass of unbelieving Israel had been cut off and the election saved, the election from among the Gentiles was to take heed lest it also should be cut off. The more the passage is examined, the more evident it is that the interpretation which applies to the present dispensation (looked at under the aspect of the calling in of the Gentiles, and which makes it a warning to the Gentiles as to their responsibility) is the only true interpretation. As to Abraham, I consider him as the root, but looked at as the personification of the three principles—election, calling, and promise.83
I distinctly maintain that there are privileges outside vital union with Christ, and privileges for which the Gentiles will be responsible, as the Jews have been for theirs. See 1 Corinthians 10. Those who have enjoyed these privileges will be beaten with more stripes if they have not profited by them; whilst those who have not possessed them will be beaten with few stripes. It was a privilege to be a servant in the house, to have received a talent; but such persons, or classes of persons, were not vitally united to Christ. The seed sown on the stony ground was a privilege; but it had no root, no vital union.
And now for the three economies (p. 140)—it is a very unexpected result. If there were three, I should not make so great a mistake as to confound them with the same word used in the sense of an administration entrusted to an individual, Col. 1:25; Eph. 3:2.
The word of God says three things as to the present dispensation. First; by the existence and by the principles of this dispensation, the world is placed in a fresh relationship with God. The Gentiles are no longer regarded as “dogs” in contrast with “the children.” It is the time of salvation for the Jew first and also for the Greek. Salvation is granted to the Gentiles; the fall of the Jews has been the reconciling of the world. If the church has not been faithful in using this grace for profit to the poor world, so much the worse for the church.
Secondly; those who are called, but not elect, all the baptised, are put in direct relation with the Lord, and are responsible in general (I say in general, because circumstances vary) for the privileges of Christianity. If those who really enjoyed these privileges have given liberty to Satan to corrupt; or, if others have been able to come in because of the corruption which had already been introduced, so much the worse (I say again) for them and for the aggregate; such is Christendom.
In the third place; there is the body of Christ, those who are united to Him, who partake of His life and who will be saved spite of all the obstacles that they meet with in the journey.
I see in this neither three dispensations nor a single difficulty. No one thinks that the Gentiles were grafted in as a body. Those who believed stood by faith. Those who entered without faith will be judged according to the privileges which they abused. And, before the end, God will send the gospel of the kingdom in order that judgment may not fall upon all without a testimony having been given to them.
In all his reasonings upon this subject, Mr. Olivier has confounded the ways of God towards Israel and towards the world with the salvation of individuals.
And this is one of the points of the church’s responsibility in which it has completely failed. It ought to have been one, that the world might believe; it has not been so. It ought to have been a witness to all nations; it has not been so. And instead of being the source of good to the world, as it ought to have been, the world has been a source of evil to it—the church, properly so called—to true Christians. Instead of being the light of the world, it has become, according to its own confession, the invisible church. This is why I have spoken of Christendom and of the Gentiles grafted into the place of the Jews; for what God had grafted into the place of the Jewish branches became worldly, failed in faithfulness, and is become, in the modern sense, Christendom—the little seed, a great tree where the birds of the air make their nests.
All Mr. Olivier’s reasonings are only obscuring a very simple thing. As the early Christians have not been faithful, the consequence is that the testimony and the profession of Christianity as a whole in this world have been marred. If it were a question of the taste of wine, a bottle of the best wine put into a cask of water might give rise to many reasonings whether good wine were there or not: those who are fond of drinking it would soon settle the question.
When Mr. Olivier says that I consider infidels as members of the body of Christ, it is only because he did not understand the application of what I said in answer to Mr. Rochat’s pamphlet. Mr. Rochat, having separated from evil, did not wish to share the responsibility of the state of things which surrounded him; for myself, I bear the burden of it. It would not be worth while noticing an accusation which refutes itself, if what is said were not a fresh proof of the absence of all idea of the church’s responsibility down here. I have neither spoken of unbelievers nor of the members of the body of Christ; I have spoken of the state of the church. Nor do I only speak of the unfaithfulness of true members. The glory of Christ is not manifested: the church does not shine before the world. The glory of Christ is, as it were, hidden, dragged in the dust; and enemies triumph because of it. The enemy’s power succeeds morally in most cases, as the enemies of Israel succeeded when Israel was unfaithful. Nor was there only individual unfaithfulness to deplore, but a condition of things which dishonoured God in the world. Mr. Olivier does not perceive this, at least according to what he says here. Hence the accusation he brings against me of regarding unbelievers as members of the body of Christ, although I neither spoke of unbelievers nor of members of His body. This is the root of the matter—the manifestation of the glory of Christ upon the earth by the church: ought the church to have manifested it? Ought we to humble ourselves if it does not do so? If this be false, I am mistaken; if this be true, the opposite system is profound iniquity—an iniquity of which people, no doubt, are not aware, but which is none the less an iniquity that leaves the church without hope from those who prop it up.
As to the attack upon the meetings of brethren, I make no answer. That there is difficulty and weakness, I do not doubt; but to answer would be either to justify ourselves or to accuse others. According to the blessing that exists in the meetings, God will bring those who He means to bless. If there is not any blessing, one cannot expect that He will make His children come.
I have for many years been accustomed to similar attacks, and I have found that the effect has been to turn aside those who had not faith enough to act from conviction, to stop simple persons for a time, and thus to exercise the faith of the brethren; but that after that the reaction has been stronger, and that it all turned to good and brought souls into a freer and more blessed position. Besides, in every case if we are reviled, we have only to submit in patience and to commit all to God. It is not surprising that those who have lived under a completely false system shoujd not quickly accustom themselves to simple truths. I can understand Mr. Olivier being accustomed to lead the worship, and wishing to do so; but I do not think he can shew me anything like this in the word of God—at least, in the New Testament. That the dissenting principle84 of all having a right to speak should have produced in others the desire to be the only speakers or to lead the worship, I understand very well; and that these two evils should have made simplicity more difficult, I also understand. But the wretchedness of a system which I think bad ought not to become a rule for the walk of those who wait on God.
The tendency of Mr. Olivier’s tract is to lead to the denial of the union and bringing together of the church on earth, and of the responsibility of the church as to the condition in which it now is. Consequently, I think it is an effort against the truth, although many grand truths are brought out in it. I consider his whole system, as to the church and kingdom, completely false. The results of it are to make Christ the King of the “unclean Babylon”; for, certainly, He is the King of the kingdom.
“The apostasy of the kingdom” is an absurdity, because, I repeat, the King and His government always exist; and the judgment of the King is a part of the manifestation of the kingdom. It is false to say that the pure kingdom is the same thing as the church; for the field, as much as the good corn, forms part of the kingdom. The field is purchased as much as the treasure hidden in it.
All this is but the consequence of traditional ideas, and the reasonings founded on them only serve to confuse. It is, as if I said, The canton of Geneva is composed of so many square miles of ancient territory, and of so many new ones united to them; and, afterwards, The canton of Geneva has voted such and such a thing in the diet; and then insisted upon the absurdity of a vote given by square miles. It is just the same if a person say, that, because the good seed is one of the elements of the description of the kingdom, therefore the kingdom is the good seed.
I have added these pages in the hope of proving that this boasted exactness, which imposes on so many simple people, is only confusion—a moral confusion impossible where faith is applied to these subjects. That inaccuracies of expression may be found in what I have written, is very possible. I had but one object—that conscience might be reached, and that the glory of God have full hold upon it. I trust that many consciences will yield to its precious influence.
May our good and faithful Saviour God, who loves to bless us, and whose goodness never wearies, grant this to us!
81 Geneva, 1843.
82 Griesbach rejects it absolutely from the text in order to put there “nations,” instead of “saints.”
83 Note to translation.—Abraham was the first called to be root of a new race.
84 Note to translation.—This refers to Switzerland.