In Reference to a Pamphlet of Mr. F. Olivier, entitled
“Defence Of The Principles Laid Down In The Pamphlet,
‘Essay On The Kingdom Of God,’ Etc.”85
The reading of Mr. Olivier’s defence of his principles did not dispose me to answer him regularly on all points. The character of his reasoning did not induce me either to follow him in details, or to take up that which he has thought fit to oppose to me. Happily, after going through the pamphlet and examining somewhat attentively the conclusion at which he has arrived, I found there was no need for it; because, while blaming the reasoning through which I arrived at my own conclusions, and pointing out a few contradictions into which I had fallen, he ends by admitting the truth for which I stood up.
This will appear with the greatest evidence, if we examine with a little attention two things which are to be found in his writings on the subject. The great question raised between myself and the adversaries of the important truth on which I insist, is the existence of a church on earth; then the responsibility of Christians for the condition in which we are found— in which this church is found. I have insisted on the unity of God’s assembly and on the responsibility of its members as to the condition in which it is found. I have said that we are responsible for that condition, or, to speak more exactly, for the glory of God, such as it ought to have been manifested in the church on earth. Now Mr. Olivier says I have not by direct passages proves this responsibility; but that what I presented may be considered as a pretty strong presumption of the responsibility of the church.
We shall say a word on responsibility; but there can be no presumption, either strong or feeble, of the responsibility of the church, if there be no church. The existence of the church, therefore, is recognised, and that on earth; for in the glorified church there is no question of appearing to be members of Christ, or of viewing sins or not as our own.
Here are Mr. Olivier’s words, “As to these true members of Christ (or these, at least, who appear to be such) to whatever time they may belong, I may, in a measure, look upon their sins as my own.” Mr. Olivier considers himself to be responsible in common with the true body of Christ. That is not the whole truth, nor exactly the truth, as I would state it; but after all there is a common responsibility, and the sins of those Christians are ours. This is to admit everything; this is the point for which I stand up: there is a common responsibility in the church from the beginning to the present day. But how solemn the consequences for the conscience, when once this truth is admitted! If we remember now that, at the beginning, the church and the kingdom were composed of the same persons (that is, of the true Christians or those at least who appeared to be such); that the church and the kingdom were confounded in one; even if one would say that it was Christians in the churches and in the kingdom who introduced corruption, and not the church corrupting itself; yet we also find, according to Mr. Olivier, that he himself, all of us—responsible in common as we are, in the unity of the church—ought to regard those sins of Christians as our own. It matters little whether this took place in the church or in the kingdom. Those who did it were true members of Christ, or those who appeared to be such. But in the unity of the body we are responsible in common, and the sins of Christians at any time ought to be considered as our own. We have then, as clearly as when the sun shines forth after rain, the church; a common responsibility among its members in its unity, and the responsibility of the church according to that common responsibility. For, assuredly, those who have committed that evil and introduced corruption into the kingdom were responsible for it, and we can look upon their sins as our own. Well, if in this complete triumph of the truth—and it is the only one (God is my witness!) which I desire—the intelligence of him who has fought under its banner must undergo any humiliation—so much the better for the soul before God!
I shall not seek to justify myself as to the (about thirty) contradictions of which Mr. Olivier accuses me, although I have examined them; it matters little to me now that the truth has come to light. There are a few which I could not find out, as in pages 25 and 27; one or two are examined farther on, merely because they refer to questions which must still interest brethren. In the main, I still believe the two things which Mr. Olivier considers as contradictory. One there is which has the appearance of a contradiction, it is true, but that is all. In general it seemed to me that more light would make them clear to those who do not understand them, but I do not think fit to discuss them here. The grand truth being admitted, I leave behind me the road by which we have come to it.
This is what appears to be indeed a contradiction: I told Mr. Rochat that the Gentiles were received as a body; I told Mr. Olivier that the Gentiles are not graffed in as a body. I still believe both these things. The house of Stephanas or any other was not graffed in as a Gentile body; but as the same time God views the aggregate of received Gentiles as a body86 responsible to Him; and this is what the Gentiles will understand when they shall be punished in an awful manner by the righteous judgment of God.
We might stop here, were it only a question of controversy and pamphlets; but several subjects of general interest to Christians having been entered into and discussed, it is well, for the satisfaction of all, to examine them more carefully. There are two which present themselves more especially. The one is, in what sense it may be said that we inherit sin. The other is the explanation and application of Romans n. Before, however, entering on the subjects, I would remind the reader to whom controversy is painful as it ought to be, as it has indeed been to me, that here the controversy did not bear on secondary points, nor on slight differences of opinion, as some would have us to believe; but on subjects of the utmost moment —on the existence of a church of God on earth, and on our responsibility with regard to its actual state—questions, I repeat it, of the most solemn nature, and which ought to interest every soul which has at heart the glory of Christ Himself.
Mr. Olivier may say, Why be so eager on questions of second-rate importance? But let us not be deceived: we are not on secondary questions. I repeat it again, it is a question of the responsibility of the church of God, and even of knowing if there be a church on earth. Is the existence of the church on earth and our responsibility in relationship with that fact, a matter of second-rate importance? For my part, in the midst of the sorrows of controversy of Christians, I bless God that one has been brought to establish clearly that the matter in question is so fundamental, that what sometimes produces painful separations is by no means a slight difference of opinion, but the denial of the existence and responsibihty of the church of God on earth. That the source of divisions will be found to be there, I have the most profound conviction. God will not have the truth upon this subject set aside. Is the existence and the responsibihty of the church on earth a nice distinction— an opinion? Is it not clear that if any one have a clear conviction on these points, it ought to be a motive in the presence of God— the motive which will affect the whole conduct of a Christian as such, and his entire manner of seeing things; nay more, that a Christian’s entire conduct and mode of seeing things will be moulded upon the existence of such a relationship? Could it be a matter of opinion to a woman to know whether she was the wife of such or such an one or not? And if she is, would one speak of a strong presumption of responsibility? Is not the question one of morality when relationships established by God exist? And is it not morality of the very highest kind possible, the morality which is based upon the relationship which God has established between His Son and the church which He has given to Him? morality, I admit, which is not within the limits of man’s judgment—on which one could not insist when addressing the natural conscience, but which one may say forms the whole life of a Christian in the most exalted part of his conduct. It is a responsibility which governs all others, and which is even the spring of them.
I abstain from making remarks on particular passages of Mr. Olivier’s pamphlet, but I would ask by the way, since he recognises now the existence of the church (for if it does not exist, there can be no presumption, either strong or weak, as to its responsibility), is it seemly to speak of a strong presumption of responsibility when such a relationship exists as that which subsists between Christ and the church? What need is there of proofs and analogies to demonstrate that the church is responsible, if it exists? Is it needful to prove the responsibility of a woman towards her husband? Or what would one say of the wife who raised a question about it (and towards such a husband!), and who—when one had made every effort, spite of one’s shame to be obliged to do such a thing, to recall to her her duty—replied, that indeed there might be a strong presumption about it? Is responsibility a mode of thought? Is not responsibility the very basis of all morality, and is it not, along with grace, also that of even every doctrine which has to do with the relationships of God with man? And do not say, Yes, individual responsibility everyone recognises, that is what I have insisted upon. If the responsibility in common, of each individual, is that which is meant, it is well;87 but one seeks to avoid, by these equivocal expressions, that responsibility which refers to the state of the church, which ought to glorify the Lord as such, according to the position in which God has placed it, and to one’s duties towards God in such position.
Now I believe that to insist upon this at the present time, is the subject the most important and necessary which there can be for a Christian and the most affecting for those who love Christ. It is a subject which brings with it consequences of the most solemn nature; I earnestly beseech my readers to pay attention to it. I speak as of a testimony on the part of God. Time will shew if I am mistaken or if the testimony be of God;88 and therefore it was that I spoke of profound iniquity, because to withdraw the heart and conscience from under the influence of a relationship founded upon grace the most precious and astonishing—a relationship which should govern and mould every other which it does not destroy, especially since this relationship is one known to faith only, in such sort that to enfeeble faith is to enfeeble the perception of this relationship, and to call in question the responsibility which flows thence: I hold, I say, that it would be hard to designate such an attempt by an epithet too strong.
Having shewn of how solemn a nature the subject before us is, let us now turn to Romans 11. This chapter contains, it is true, the proof of only one of the points involved in this discussion, so that if this proof itself fails, or if this point is set aside, still the great truth, to wit, our position before God, would in nowise be changed. Yet the passage is important, and the making of its meaning clear is interesting to the believer. I therefore take it up again. Mr. Olivier accuses me of having reproduced very inaccurately the beginning of his short commentary on the subject, of representing him as raising the question, etc.; and he asks if the mistake here made by the author is yet to be attributed to precipitation. My reply to this is very simple; it is that I quoted textually what he had said. To ascertain it, one has only to compare page 25 of my answer, with page 130 of Mr. Olivier’s Essay, or with the quotation he makes of it in page 28 of the Defence. The commentary I made on what I quoted appeared to me and still appears to me to be right; and in fact, I find that Mr. Olivier, in his interpretation of this passage, departs entirely from the thought of the apostle, and that the explanation he gives of it is untenable. He says that the reply to the question, “Hath God rejected His people? “is, that God has rejected Israel as a nation but not as individuals, as Paul was witness. Well, be it the question or the reply, I say he has not in the least apprehended the thought of the apostle or of the Holy Spirit. I repeat what I said in my first pamphlet, that the church could never have given rise to the question if Israel had been rejected as individuals, since the church was composed in great measure of Israelites. If Mr. Olivier has not put this as a question (and this I did not say), the reply he gives to the apostle’s question is absurd. He says that Israel was rejected as a nation, and not as individuals; and what reply is that to the question, “Hath God rejected his people?” If Israel was rejected as a nation and not as individuals, yet the rejection of the people was equally sure. It was a palpable fact that individuals were received; but the apostle applies it in proof that the people were not rejected, a question indeed which the substitution of the church raised. He cites his own case, not to shew that he had been received as an individual, but in proof of the interest he took in his nation. He was of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Now what is the meaning of being of the tribe of Benjamin, if it is not the people, as a people, whom God still loves? God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. What people? The people of whom he speaks in verse I—Israel! One cannot doubt it when one reads the end of chapter 10. And I ask, if the question was about the election of individuals, what ground could there be for proposing the question whether the people of God were rejected because the church was called? No; but in that God had reserved an election from among the people of Israel, set aside for the moment on account of its sin, He had given proof that He still thought of that people; as the case of the seven thousand in the days of Elijah also shewed. Moreover, verses 26-29 leave no doubt upon the subject; for he affirms, while speaking of the future reception of Israel, that, although as to the gospel they are enemies for the sake of the Gentiles, as to election they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. Who would say that they, who are enemies as to the gospel, yet loved for the fathers’ sakes, and who thus present the proof that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, are accepted as individuals? Could any one say that this is a proof that the people is rejected as a nation, though not as individuals? Would anyone say that the election of individuals for the church is on account of the fathers?
I repeat then that Mr. Olivier has not apprehended the thought of the apostle, but on the contrary, attributes to him a thought which the whole chapter contradicts, and which appears altogether erroneous if one does but take the trouble to read it; for it is clear that Israel loved for the fathers’ sakes, yet enemies as to the gospel, is not Israel loved as individuals, but quite the contrary. Paul shews that the momentary rejection of the nation was by no means God’s definitively rejecting His people; that they were yet beloved for the fathers’ sakes, an elect people, the gifts and calling of God being without repentance; and he proceeds almost to state the very opposite of what Mr. Olivier says as to individuals: for he says, “If some of the branches were broken off,” that is, he takes pains to restrict the breaking off to some branches. I conclude then that the whole interpretation given by Mr. Olivier to the chapter fails in the very basis of his whole thought—that he has not even understood what the apostle is speaking of.
It is evident to those who may examine what I wrote (p. 26) that when I said, “verses 13 and following,” my intention was to contrast the verses which immediately follow verse 13 with those further on, for in the preceding passage I had expressly done so;89 and in fact, in verse 13 and those which follow it is not a question of warnings but of doctrine.
Lower down in the chapter there is a warning, but here also we must take up the subject from an earlier point. That every Christian may well find profit here, I doubt not; but the warning is addressed to us, not as brethren, but as being of the Gentiles. My readers should remember that if there had not been something peculiar, there would have been no need to speak of Gentiles. Nay, one could not have done it. The apostle speaks no longer here of the church, considered on the principle of her relationship to Christ. That subject closed with chapter 8. Nothing is able to separate the believer from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord; whom He did foreknow He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son: He called them, Jews as well as Gentiles, no matter which, and He justified and glorified them. He speaks then here of the special administration of the work of the church upon earth, and in reference to Israel, of its condition and circumstances down here; of its relation with the ancient people of God; he asks if that people had been rejected, and what the consequences are of all this for the Gentiles, and for the world.
In Jesus Christ, if the question be about Christian position, eternal life, or the church considered in her essential relationship to Christ, there was neither Jew nor Gentile; the thoughts found in this chapter can there have no place. If the question be about the cutting off of an individual for sinful conduct, little matters it whether he be Jew or Gentile, that has nothing to do with it; and on the other hand, there would be no question about the grafting in again of the Jews more than of any others, and neither Jews nor others could be grafted in if God had cut them off in such a manner. And if it were a question about a warning from the apostle to Christians at Rome, and so to others elsewhere, as being brethren, it would be almost nonsense to say, And thou, O Gentile, take heed! Why, “I speak to you Gentiles?” Had not Christians, Jews by birth, as much need to take heed? Or could the Spirit of God in such a warning have made the distinction, and thus denied the principle of the church of God in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile? If the question is about a divine administration upon earth, then God can well make the distinction and develop His ways towards the one and the other; and it is plain that from the commencement of chapter 9 the apostle is occupied with this, and pointedly contrasts the Jews and Gentiles, presenting us with the administration of the divine ways upon the earth. First, declaring his attachment to Israel, he points out an election in the election for the earth, and further, that if God according to His sovereignty had chosen Israel (and such was Israel’s boast), He had not renounced His sovereignty; and consequently He could call the Gentiles if He would. Then he recalls to mind that the prophets had shewn that a little remnant only of Israel at such an epoch would be saved, and that a stone of stumbling would be laid in Zion.
Then in chapter 10 (after having anew protested his ardent desires for the welfare of Israel as such, notwithstanding all their ignorance) he introduces Christ the end of the law, faith, the testimony by preaching, and lastly, Israel provoked to jealousy by a foolish nation—God found of those who sought Him not, and Israel rebellious and gainsaying, God having in vain stretched forth His hands to them. Then he asks, “Is then this people rejected?” God forbid; God loves them still, and has reserved a remnant of them. The apostle then shews that their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, and the riches of the Gentiles; at the same time he presents their fall to the Gentiles received into the place90of the branches cut out as a warning, lest they also should experience a like fate, and then he declares that Israel as a whole should be again restored when the Deliverer should come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob, its unbelief having ceased. Is it not very evident here that the apostle speaks not to brethren in a church, in the character of brethren? For in such case it imports little whether they be Jews or Gentiles, or rather they would be neither one nor the other; that in short, he does not speak to them here simply as being brethren in Christ, but that he treats of the ways of God upon earth in reference to certain classes of persons, as Jews or Gentiles, reckoned as such before God in the administration of His government and promises here below.
It was well timed to introduce this in an epistle addressed to Christians at Rome (moreover not addressed as a church), the capital of the Gentile world, in an epistle which treats of the whole judgment of God in His relations with men—Gentiles, Jews, in Adam, by means of Moses, without law and under law, believers in Christ, possessing the Spirit, objects of all the government of God; which treats in short of the specialities of the consequences of the gospel with regard to His promises toward the earthly people, and shews how His faithfulness to them could be reconciled with the calling of the church (for heaven perhaps, but) upon earth, and its introduction into the enjoyment of the promises made to Abraham (till then exclusively the lot of the earthly people). This in fact needed an explanation; and the Lord by the Spirit gave it in His goodness, at the same time explaining the effect produced upon the world by the temporary rejection of Israel, and warning the Gentiles received into the place of the branches which had been cut out, of the position in which they really were found as such: Gentiles, I say—remark it—and not the church; this could not be—the elect Jews formed part of it, and they are not warned at all. In the church, for heaven, that distinction was not known. “But thou, O Gentile,” not “but thou, O professor”; but “thou, O Gentile, I speak to thee only.” But why does he so speak if it was only a solemn warning against pride, for the profit of their souls? A converted Jew or Christian, had not he need of it? The Jew—did he not also stand by faith? This passage is found at the close of a development of the ways of God, contained, as we have just seen, in this epistle: and to make of it a simple warning, is to misapprehend all the thought of God in it, and thus to forget that when the church as such is spoken of, there is neither Jew nor Gentile; we are all one in Jesus Christ.
As to what Mr. Olivier says (p. 31), I did not accuse him of saying that the election must beware lest it be cut off, because it (the election) is saved; but if Mr. Olivier turns the passage into a warning to Gentile believers really standing by faith as such (that is to say, to the election from among the Gentiles, as he has done), he really turns the cutting off of Israel and the wonderful faithfulness of God in sparing the election from among that people, into a warning to the election from among the Gentiles, that they should fear to be cut off. This is exactly the force of what he says, and I feel more than ever the absurdity of his interpretation of the passage, in noticing again this remark.
I pass over the omission of the words, “from among Israel” and “from among the Gentiles” in his observations, an omission which completely disfigures the sense. In his phrase the election is the same election; in my remarks two elections are contrasted. My reply to page 32 is already made. Mr. Olivier (p. 33) says that Paul speaks to Gentile believers. The question is, to know, not to whom he speaks, but of what? No one doubts that the apostle is addressing the Christians at Rome, while pointing specially to the Gentiles; but wherefore this distinction if it were simply a warning for the good of their souls individually, as in the passages of which Mr. Olivier would take advantage and on which I have nothing to say, because they have nothing to do with our subject, except Hebrews 6, which I believe contains an allusion to the doom of this economy?91 But it would be going too far away from our proper subject to enter upon it. Moreover, Mr. Olivier has not in the least understood my thought. I have not in my reply passed over the words, “standing by faith.” I presented (p. 28) very distinctly the effect of the ways of God in cutting off Israel, and introducing the gospel, upon the world, their effect upon professors, their effect upon believers.
Now I cannot admit that “standing by faith,” “grafted into the olive,” and “in the goodness of God” are expressions signifying one and the same thing. They may here apply in a general way to the same persons, though even this is not, accurately speaking, true; but they do not signify the same thing. The Jews who believed, for instance, were indeed by the goodness of God, in the order of things introduced by Christ, but they were not grafted into the good olive-tree in the sense in which this is said of the Gentile. He speaks of their olive-tree, which is another proof that he speaks of the administration of things here below, and not of salvation nor of a cutting off in the simple sense of loss of salvation. If the question were about the promises of life eternal in Christ risen, in contrast with the death of the soul, there would be no difference; it would be no more their olive-tree than that of the Gentiles. “Goodness toward thee” is not the state in which the individual finds himself, but the relationship in which God presents Himself as being towards those who, according to the principles of the economy, are the objects of that goodness. Consequently he speaks not of goodness towards the Jewish believers, although they were in the same goodness of God as the rest, because the Jews were there as branches by nature, although now cut off, for the greater part, for their unbelief. So true is this, that the apostle speaks of grafting them in again. If it is simply an individual warning, could he that had been cut off (according to Hebrews 6 and 10, passages quoted by Mr. Olivier) be grafted in again? And if the apostle speaks of individuals only, why says he that they can be grafted in again? Is it not evident that he speaks of Jews as Jews, and that this would be accomplished if the Jews were admitted to the enjoyment of the promises at the end of the ages, although the apostle says they (that is to say, quite other individuals than those of that day, but yet Jews) can be grafted in again? Is it not further evident that although they partake not in the enjoyment of the heavenly blessings, that would still be true, because they will be upon their own olive-tree, enjoying the promises made to Abraham? They will be grafted therein again.
Moreover, although an individual stands by faith when he believes, such nevertheless is not all the apostle means; it is the principle upon which he stands, and not the possession of the thing which is in question. He who possesses faith will never be cut off. In the Epistle to the Galatians, it is said, “After that faith came,” that is, after the establishment of that principle of relationship with God in place of law. Now we stand by faith, that is the principle of our relationship; the goodness of God exercises itself towards those who find themselves there. I do not see that it is said that the grafting in is by real faith of the heart, although there be nought solid save that which is such. Hebrews 6 supposes the participation of all the privileges of the Christian economy without real faith of the heart, and without fruit being borne to God, and I know not who would say that Simon the magician was not grafted in, although so soon cut off. It may be said, he believed; Yes. Yet just as all the professors of to-day believe, that is to say, like Christendom. In short, I find here in chapter 11 the principles of the administration of the economy, and not the state of individuals, although these principles, doubtless, are realised in the individuals who really believe in the gospel. He speaks not of faithful Gentiles, save in the sense in which one can call professors “faithful.”
In general, the reply I made (p. 28 of my last pamphlet) is sufficient as to pages 34 and 35: “the cutting off of Israel has been the reconciling of the world.” All the baptised are under the responsibility, in general, of the privileges of the economy, and will be judged accordingly; believers find their enjoyment therein, according to their faith. I add, that Mr. Olivier is mistaken, when he says that the world can lose nothing. It is true that the world will enjoy other advantages during the millennium, far greater it may be; but the world now has the enjoyment of great advantages, which will be taken from it when the judgment takes place—when the Master of the house rises up and shuts to the door. If, by an act of divine judgment, the gospel can no longer be preached in any country, that country has lost a privilege; so it will be with the world. The world has not been grafted in, but the world has been placed in a new relationship towards God. Farther on, I will return to this point; in the meanwhile, I will cite a remarkable passage which applies to this subject (Luke 2:32); Christ has been a light for the revelation of the Gentiles. They were, before, so entirely in obscurity, that they were as if not in existence in the sight of God, not as to the judgment of the secrets of the heart, but as to the government of the world on the part of God: a distinction which Mr. Olivier seems to be ignorant of. “The times of this ignorance,” says the apostle, “God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead,” Acts 17. Is not this to change the position of the world before God? And if God has proposed to use His church as an instrument for this, and it has failed, that will bring with it its result, even as to the world in reference to the government of God, although each one shall bear his own burden as to the eternal judgment. (Compare Ezekiel 33.)
That God will be justified, when He shall judge and condemn the world, I cannot doubt; that He will send the gospel of the kingdom at the end, the church having failed in its duty, I believe; but this changes nought as to that which God has revealed concerning His relationship to the world, as we have seen in Acts 17:30, 31.
In fact, I feel a difficulty in replying to Mr. Olivier’s observations, because he appears to have entirely neglected this thought of the government of God. It is the government of God which is the subject of these chapters in the Epistle to the Romans, and not the salvation of the individual, properly so called. In the second chapter, the apostle speaks of that, of perishing without law, of being judged by the law, etc.; but to say that a sovereign disposition by God imposes no responsibility upon those to whom it is not known, is to misconceive the whole subject, although such a thought may have to the natural heart an air of great justice. Men sometimes find themselves without excuse under the effect of a judgment of God, occasioned by the fault of their fathers, themselves persevering in the moral consequences of the fault, though they may not have individually committed the very fault itself. See, for example, the judgment of the Spirit upon the state of Gentiles (Rom. 1), “Having known God, they glorified him not as God,” etc. The Gentiles, of whom he speaks, had never known Him; their fathers, Noah, etc., had known Him. If fresh light came which made manifest that state, they are held responsible to quit it according to that light, and guilty, also, according to that fight of all which they do as individuals afterwards; but there is then another thing: the light enables us, I say us, to see where they are who are without the light which we enjoy, and they are without excuse.
On the other hand, if great privileges have been granted to a people, and they have lost the knowledge thereof, they will yet be responsible (see what Josiah said when he found the book of the law), because, according to the government of God, one is responsible according to the place in which one is found, and not according to our capability of fulfilling it. Moreover, it is clearly not to the world that Paul addressed himself; but that is not the question. Even if it were true that Paul spoke only to believers, yet, since it is to a special class of believers that he does so (a distinction which would be impossible if the question were about the fundamental idea of the church), he can speak to that class under a peculiar aspect, all the while that he calls them brethren (and so he does), and give them instructions upon all that which concerned the subject on which he treats; and this is what he does. He may, at the same time, include other persons who are found in the same position without true faith, and this he insinuates; he can also speak of the consequences of his doctrine to the world, as also he does. To suppose, as some have done, that because he speaks to brethren he speaks only of brethren, and concerning those who are really such, seems futile; and one can see indeed that up to verse 25 he reasons in an abstract manner, according to the train of thought which the Spirit suggests to him; and having explained all the consequences of the ways of God, he at last declares, using the expression, “I say, then,” addressing himself to his brethren, that he does so because he would not have them ignorant of this mystery. But he had previously developed the great principles and thought of God as to the mystery, its effect upon the world, upon the Gentiles, etc.
To me it is evident, that as to that practical bearing and application of these words, “you Gentiles,” though all Gentiles be liable to their application, those who are referred to in the words of Simeon (Luke 2) are the only ones who are the object of them; the rest, as the inhabitants of Central Africa, for instance, exist not for the application of the reasoning of God in this chapter. When God applies them so, He will take care, by the preaching of the everlasting gospel, that all the Gentiles should be the objects of the judgment which will shew the justice of His government; but we cannot exactly address to them these warnings; we should be right in applying to them the doctrine which Paul applies (Acts 17); there he preaches to the world, here he speaks to professors. It is not exactly the inhabitants of the countries in which the gospel has been preached who are the Gentiles “brought to light,” only the light is come there to bring them into light; but it is the countries of the baptised, where Christianity is professed. In theory, all the Gentiles have been brought into light. God takes knowledge of them. Therefore the apostle can say to the Colossians, “The gospel which is come unto you as it is in all the world, and brings forth fruit”; but as to the position of responsibility as a body, that is realised where they have been Christianised.
As to the disappearing of the contrast (p. 37) between the unbelief of the Jews, and the Gentiles standing by faith, there is no such thing. If the faith spoken of were the faith of an individual, there could be no cutting off; but the apostle points out the principle upon which the standing is, and that by which a falling may take place, in order to shew that as the Jews enjoying certain privileges lost them through unbelief, a similar thing would befall the Gentiles as to their privileges, if they should be found in the same position of unbelief. This is clear enough, I think. The apostle speaks not of those “standing by faith” in order to shew that those who were would be cut off, but to shew the principle upon which they stood, and that if, on the contrary, that failed, they would be cut off. Now as to a true believer, that could not ever be; but for him who was in the enjoyment of privileges, who was in the goodness of God as to his position, but who had not faith, the same thing which had happened to the Jews in similar circumstances might happen to him. It is in such persons that these warnings ever find their fulfilment.
With regard to what is said in pages 37 and 38, the question is not about reception, but about cutting off. As to the administration of things on earth (and that is what the apostle is occupied with here) Simon Magus was received. On pages 38 and 39 I have nothing to add. Only besides Colossians 1:6, already quoted, I shall call attention to 1 Timothy 2:5-7, which is a well-known abstraction of the apostle. What follows is only a confusion of the three distinct cases—of the world, of Christendom, and of believers—already pointed out in my first reply to Mr. Olivier, and of which he only quotes the first (pp. 40, 41), as if this were the sole application I had made of the principle. If he had quoted the whole passage (p. 28 of my Reply) he would have spared the reader the trouble of reasoning on what he said, and me that of noticing such an omission; for if any one has read what I there said, all that he replies is without application. He reasons on one of the cases I noticed, omitting the others, as if that were all I said on the matter, and as if I had confounded the world—the Gentiles—with believers, in the application of these general principles; whereas, in the lines which follow what he extracted, I had pointed out two other cases, that of professors and that of believers, in which the application of the apostle’s doctrine was quite different.
He has omitted the first word of the passage he quotes: “first,” before the words “by the existence and by the principles,” etc.; and also that which precedes, “the word says three things, as to the present dispensation.” I have avoided all such remarks, and all reply to things which were not connected with the root of the question; but it was needful that I should notice this, because we have been considering this eleventh chapter of the Romans—a point which naturally preoccupies those who take an interest in this question; and I have been obliged to clear up all that has been said on the point, for that is the main subject of the reasoning of this chapter. I still believe that man is responsible for the privileges he enjoys; I here add to Acts 17, Colossians 1:6; 1 Timothy 2:5-7 (already quoted); John 1:11 and 5. He was in the world, but the world knew Him not; the light shined in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. I add this simply to confirm this principle.
When Mr. Olivier says that I asserted that the world, the Gentiles, will be responsible for these privileges, he is not quite correct. I did say that the world, the Gentiles, are placed in a new relationship towards God, and that there are privileges for which the Gentiles will be responsible, as the Jews have been for theirs. Those who have enjoyed these privileges will be beaten with many stripes if they have not profited from them, whilst such as possessed them not will be punished with few stripes. It seems to me that this is quite another thing from saying that the world and the Gentiles, being placed in a new relationship to God, will be responsible for those privileges which they possess, outside vital union with Christ. I spoke of the world as in a new relationship to God, of the Gentiles who enjoyed certain privileges, and of those who have not possessed them. Thus Mr. Olivier presents me as blending the very things which I put in contrast. Besides, does Mr. Olivier deny that the world or any man is responsible for the privileges which they possess? And here the question is not about the responsibility of those called of God, but of an universal principle of any privilege men may enjoy; and even if the called were spoken of, the question would not be of those “standing by faith,” in the sense given by Mr. Olivier— that is, in the sense of true believers. Is not Christendom called? And this is the essential point at issue; only to say more of it here it would be needful to enter upon the second subject I have to treat. Further, it is no question about Gentiles who have had the gospel preached to them, but about that which is called the church of baptised Gentiles, and consequently the conduct of true Christians from the commencement.
In fine, this is the substance of chapter 11. Up to the end of chapter 8 the apostle sets forth the state of man, whether Jew or Gentile, the efficacy of the blood, and the power of the resurrection of Christ, as well as the sweet and precious privileges of which the believer is rendered partaker in Christ, and he shews us the source and security of these privileges, God being for us, and we partaking of these privileges, not only according to the eternal counsel of love, but according to the power of the eternal life, which was in Christ before the foundation of the world, and which has been communicated to us. After this full opening out of truth, the thought of Israel suggesting itself immediately to his heart, he turns to the administration of the promises here below; then he explains in chapters 9 and 10 that what seemed inexplicable in the substitution of the church for Israel was in perfect accordance with all that God had said and done, with His imprescriptible rights on which depended the title of Israel itself; that, moreover, what had just come to pass had been predicted; that they had stumbled upon the stone of stumbling. He asks, Has God then rejected His people? God forbid! I, says he, am a Jew, but there is, as there was of old, an election in the midst of this very people, and that which God now does, does but put a little more forward His perfect ways and His unfailing grace. For have they stumbled that they should fall?92 By no means! It is but a means of introducing the Gentiles as such into the enjoyment of the promises, and thus, as he says, to excite them to jealousy (to excite, note, those who are, says he, of my flesh); for that rejection has placed God in relationship with the world, and caused the wild olive, the Gentile, to be grafted into the heritage of promise into the midst of the branches which by nature were of the good olive—speaking here evidently of the administration of the promises here below, for they were by nature children of wrath even as others. He calls even the unbelievers branches according to nature; but these having been cut off on account of their unbelief, there had been grafted in the midst of the Jewish believers (these also inheriting the promises equally according to the election of grace) some new branches taken out of the wild olive in order that they might also enjoy the promises; but let them take heed, even these branches, to recognise the grace which grafted them in. Otherwise, according to the same perfect administration of the promises here below, God could cast them off in like manner. And on the other hand, the Jews abandoning their unbelief would be grafted in again. The Gentile had reason to fear; he stands by faith; if faith fails, certainly he is no better than a Jew. The apostle not only shews what is to be feared (which is addressed to the conscience, and consequently, in that sense, in order that it may be applied individually); but after that he comes to something positive. Such, then, is the thought of God. Israel is blinded for the moment in part, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and then Israel as a whole, as a nation, shall be saved. God will not repent of His gifts and calling. Enemies for the Gentiles’ sake as to the gospel, they are yet beloved for the fathers’ sakes. One can see the characteristic manner in which the Gentile is taken up, for he is called the wild olive: “Thou being a wild olive.” Also he, the Gentile, is placed upon the root, not upon the trunk, nor upon the branches. He became neither a Jew, nor of Israel. And the reason, as it seems to me, that he says, Thou, O Gentile, in the singular, is because the question was, as to the Gentile, one of principle. As to the Jew, it was an accomplished fact that the branches had been cut off; the church, properly so called, regarded as the corporate body of believers, could not be; and it is thus that the apostle then contemplated them, and it is thus also that they really were; and a threat was so much the more inapplicable under this point of view, that there were Jews as well as Gentiles, and as to the latter, it was the election from among the Gentiles which had just been brought in. In that point of view, then, I could not speak of cutting off. The election from among the Jews—an idea found indeed, it is true, in the prophets, but new in the history of the people, remained upon the trunk, and thus the threat of cutting off could not be addressed to the election newly grafted in, but to the individual, as a Gentile, if he persevered not in that position. The explanation of this mystery is, that there was a partial blinding of Israel until the election from among the Gentiles—their real fulness—should come in; for the church began with a remnant. Israel ended with the separation of a remnant; but that fulness once accomplished, that which is not of faith among the Gentiles, which might be found there, would be cut off.
Paul was entrusted with the revelation of the church in its highest character of union with Christ and in its unity. The subject on which we have spoken, this eleventh chapter, was with him an episode; whilst with Peter, it was his ministry; he had the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and it is this which constitutes the difference in ministry of these two blessed servants of God. If their discourses and writings are studied, this will soon be seen.93
If I have spoken of responsibility in connection with the church, it is because the activity of the love of God, the ministry of reconciliation was entrusted to it, and the application of this doctrine of responsibility to it is practical, and goes home to our consciences; but that changes nothing in the government of God, as we have already seen in the word.
Now, when Mr. Olivier assumes that (pp. 45-47) he expresses my thoughts, I must say that it is not so; that, on the contrary, all he says there appears to me a mass of confusion, and even of error. First, Mr. Olivier tells us that at all times God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, and not imputing their trespasses unto them. This is a somewhat astonishing assertion. At all times! Where does he find this “At all times”? God was in the Anointed at all times; but it was formerly a mystery, etc. Neither was this the mystery: the blessing of the Gentiles, the blessing of all the families of the earth, had not been at all concealed. The hidden mystery was that they, Jews and Gentiles, should be one body in Christ, enjoying spiritual blessings in heavenly places, co-heirs with Christ. This can easily be seen in the perusal of Ephesians 3, compared with Colossians 1:26, 27, where it is Christ not come in displayed glory, but dwelling in them the hope of glory, that is, of heavenly glory. But God was in Christ here below, in the anointed One, according to the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. When God was acting on the ground of law, He imputed iniquity. As to the Gentiles, He passed by the times of ignorance, sin not being imputed where there was no law; Acts 17, Rom. 5. But God was in Christ reconciling the world;94 such was one chief thing He was doing in Christ; a second was not imputing their sins; a third, committing the ministry of reconciliation to others, when the Saviour must needs return up on high, after having been made sin for us. Further, if God was at all times in Christ reconciling the world, how is it that God placed Himself in a new position towards the world, when the church knew it? According to Mr. Olivier, He always was in that position, only the world knew it not; and when it did know, it was the world which was in a new relationship to God (p. 47). But the word does not say that the church then knew that God had always been in Christ reconciling, but that the rejection of the Jews was the reconciliation of the world. The question is not whether those who heard the gospel are responsible for what they heard, but what is the responsibility of Christendom and of true Christians who find themselves therein? That is what concerns us, and of that nothing is said. I cannot understand either how a rejected gospel places them in a new relationship to God; they have committed a fresh sin; but they are not in a new relationship: they remain in their idolatry more guilty than before. I can only see in these pages confusion heaped upon confusion.
On the following pages taken from his first pamphlet I have only one remark to make: it is that to suppose as a general principle that the body cannot exist if there are yet other persons to be grafted into it, is mere self-deception. The apostle calls the assembly a body; that was the principle of the institution; nevertheless it was augmented every day by means of the joints and bands which minister nourishment, Eph. 4. The apostle had no idea that a body could not increase and finally arrive at the point that the fulness of the Gentiles should be come in. An army can recruit itself and be always the army. I do not say the Gentiles were grafted in by the act of an altogether exterior dispensation. That which God had established pure, Satan, availing himself of the sleep of man, had spoiled. Those who had been grafted in did not abide faithful; Christendom is the result, and we must not confound all this with the reconciliation of the world, which is only in a special manner connected with it. Let me also recall to mind, that in setting up the kingdom of heaven the Sower recognizes no other field than the world; possibly all is not sown; but it is the object of His attention, the field of His toil and the scene of His judgments. The Lord speaks of it as a whole. That may be an abstraction, but it is the abstraction of the Spirit of God, received and understood by those who are spiritual. For the Spirit of God makes His thoughts to enter into those who are humble of heart; He conceals these things from the wise and prudent, and reveals them unto babes.
Mr. Olivier finds it is a contradiction to make, on the one hand, the ways of God in the world, the starting point of the failure of the dispensation; and, on the other hand, to shew the failure of tfye church, as having for its starting point a so-called body of Christ. But the wisdom of man is not worth much. I speak thus of a body of Christ, because in Ephesians 4 the Spirit of God speaks of a body upon earth, increasing by that which joints and bands administer; and because I find in Jude also the point of departure, whence we arrive at a state which brings the judgments of God upon the wicked and rebellious, to be in this—that some have glided in among the children of God. Mr. Olivier questions their responsibility: the fact is there; and he now admits that there is a strong presumption of this responsibility. The ways of God in the world form the point of departure in Matthew 13, and in Jude it is found in persons who have crept in among the faithful. One may consider the ways of God in the field of the Sower.; or one may consider, in a more detailed manner, and, so to speak, closer to the eye, the responsibility and the faults of those who were sown by the Lord in the field: the two things are equally true and important in their several places, instead of being contradictory.
I have but one word to say, in passing, upon the kingdom of heaven and the church. If those who compose the church and the kingdom were the same persons, and they have sinned, so that the kingdom has become Babylon, it matters little whether they sinned as bearing the character of the kingdom or of the church; they have brought in all the disorder. The sin and the errors of the children of God, even if they are not the corruption, are something else than the sun and the rain which are the occasion of it here below (see p. 61). Christians at least are guilty, even if the church be not—although a strong presumption of its responsibility is now admitted; and if the churches, true Christians in the churches, are guilty, then it is true Christians who were responsible for these things; and this is the great point. Further (p. 125), Mr. Olivier now admits the common responsibility of the church, of the true body of Christ, that which is composed of true Christians. Well, according to Mr. Olivier, these true Christians allowed persons to creep in that were not so, even evidently not so; if the churches (that is his way of presenting it, pp. 63, 64) have failed (and the common responsibility of the church is now admitted), there they are together, after all, responsible in common for this sin, and responsible in common for the evil that has come in; and this is what I think. All my doctrine is admitted, all my thought is acknowledged to be true. I do not say that it has been formally admitted; but it is evident that if some Christians composing a church have done this evil, and if there is a common responsibility in the church, the church ought to feel itself responsible and guilty in this.
If even we had come to this result through a hundred instead of thirty-four contradictions, I feel too happy at having come to a good result, and if the truth be admitted, I shall not, as I have already said, stop to justify myself as to these thirty-four contradictions, which for my part I believe to be all a mere supposition. I leave all this in Mr. Olivier’s hands, and in the hands of every one. The church is responsible in common as to the acts of its members; but some of the members, such or such churches, have failed, and have been the means of corrupting the kingdom, of producing the state of things where we find ourselves; therefore the Church is guilty of it, as being responsible in common for that which some of its members have done. This is the root of the whole controversy.
I do not know that I need say more on the subject we have treated. But in the word there are certain points connected with it, about which confusion of thought has been produced by what has been said during this discussion: interesting points touched upon, perhaps, for the first time, and from which one may derive real profit by examining them somewhat further.
For myself, I have learnt much while searching the Scriptures on the subject of the kingdom of heaven, as it was needful for me to do, in order to satisfy my mind on the point treated in this discussion. I find that the true idea presented in this expression is the reign of the heavens in the Person of the Son of man. John the Baptist put this forward in his testimony as “at hand.” The Lord did the same; yet still in the character of prophet. All this being rejected, it is the violent only who take it by force; so that it was not set up, and the Lord could say (though Himself actually present) “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come,” Matt. 10:23. After that rejection was made manifest, and the Lord had pronounced judgment upon Israel at the close of chapter 12, the kingdom is preached as a mystery.95 After this it is established in mystery, but administered by Peter, who had the keys of it, when the King was ascended up into heaven. And, lastly, it will be made good, according to the power of its King, when Satan will be driven out of the heavenly places, and when Christ will receive the kingdom, and establish blessedness on the earth thereby.
Such is the summary of what I have found, and present to my brethren as such, evidently without any intention of controversy. The church, such as it is presented by Paul, does not come into mention here. In his writings it is presented as the body, the Bride of Christ, identified with Him in life as He is in heaven, in His nature, position, and glory. The administration of the kingdom is quite another thought. Paul may speak of the gathering together of the saints here below as a body, as the Bride, etc., because such was the extent of their privilege; of this we will speak shortly, but the thought which he attaches to the church is its identification with Christ. At the death of Stephen, the administration, by the Spirit, of the kingdom of which Peter had the keys, was rejected at Jerusalem, as the announcement of the kingdom (in the testimony both of John the Baptist and of the Son of man) had already been, and from that time it ceased to be presented to the Jews as a people. Until then the Holy Spirit acted upon the ground of the intercession of Jesus upon the cross in their favour (compare Luke 23:34 and Acts 3:17), and as if the debt of ten thousand talents incurred by the death of Jesus had been remitted. The love of God still delayed to withdraw, and it is only in Acts 28 that He renounces His efforts towards that people, over the smallest remnant of which He ceased not to hover.
Nevertheless the Jews, ever setting themselves in opposition to the truth preached by Paul, and withstanding the preaching to the Gentiles according to the grace of God, filled up the measure of their sin, and wrath came upon them to the uttermost: they were sold with all that they possessed until payment should be made. From that point of time, the Gentiles are the subject of divine history. The Gentiles appear in the foreground, either as from attachment to their idols rejecting, or as receiving the testimony of grace which was proposed to them. Jerusalem trodden under foot by them, entirely disappears from the scene; and the iniquity and conduct of the Gentiles, such as it was, becomes the object of the judgment and actions of God. Meanwhile the Jews are as if buried (see Isa. 26; Ezek. 36), yet preserved, even as the Gentiles had previously been, as if not in being. It is evident that the Gentiles professing Christianity, and the Gentiles of the four monarchies, subjected to the Beast, are the special though not sole objects of the ways of God in His government; but it is on the occasion of the destruction and judgment of these in particular, that the Son of man will establish His kingdom in power, although He will subject and judge all the others afterwards. Of this the prophecies of the Old and New Testament speak plainly enough.
I have now only one remark to make with regard to Mr. Olivier’s system, which speaks of the corruption of the kingdom: this system still appears to me inadmissible. It still remains true that he makes Christ to be the King of Babylon: this is evidently untenable; but it is what he has done. He seeks to avoid its consequences, not by denying it, but by turning the argument against me, and saying, “What! you make Christ to be the Bridegroom and head of Babylon, the head of the corruption.” My reply is, I have not done so; neither is it what I do now. First, I never said that Babylon was the church, or the church Babylon, as Mr. Olivier has said of the kingdom. I have not spoken of Babylon. I believe it has taken for a time the form of Christianity; but this is not in my judgment its sole or its exclusive form. Perhaps in the sixteenth century the reformers might be justified in speaking of it thus, because it was then the form that it took; but I think that there are other elements and other principles in Babylon. That is not the leading idea of Babylon in Scripture, although it may be an important element of it. But, alas! it is but too true that the church during the absence of Christ might be unfaithful in hei conduct, though espoused to Christ, but placed under responsibility until the marriage of the Lamb. If one cannot reconcile the thought of responsibility here below with the accomplishment of the promises of God on high, one has much yet to learn as to the ways of God in reference to man; for the same thing is true of every Christian: evil is wrought before the church or the Christian is on high, come to perfection. Christ does not therefore cease to be the future husband of the church; and it is precisely when one ceases to recognize that relationship of bride of Christ, that the evil begins. Hence we have not to quit the church, but the church has to purify herself; for it ceases not to be the church although it has ceased to be faithful. But there is no question about purifying Babylon: it will be destroyed. If saints find themselves there, they must come out of it. Again, if it is the kingdom, they cannot come out of it. It is a complete confusion of ideas. There can be no question of coming out of the church.96 If it be said that in its captivity the members of the church are in Babylon (though this I did not say), it is the church, so to speak, which must come out of it. Finally, the idea that the church may have been unfaithful is quite intelligible; but that Christ should be King of Babylon is unintelligible. I admit that it is a thing to be proved that the church has been unfaithful, if the heart feels it not; but in that thought there is nothing unintelligible, and no contradiction; whilst the system which makes Christ to be the King of Babylon is mere nonsense.
And now I must revert a little to this point; but I hope to be brief. First, Mr. Olivier (p. 95) tells us that the practical sense in which Scripture speaks to us of the church upon earth is rather the church as it appears to man, than that which it is in the sight of God—I say then, be it so; but then what a door is opened here for uncertainty, after what has occurred in the history of Christianity!97 But I ask, “Appears to whom?” To Mr. Olivier. But to Mohammedans, to the heathen, it is Christendom which appears to be the church. If one says, Such is not the fact: this requires the judgment of spiritual persons, I say, “Stop a moment. Do you deny that the church was set up as a testimony to the world? that it ought to have been the epistle of Christ? and also one in order that the world might believe?” That which to the world98appears to be the church has then a very great importance in the sight of God. He is jealous for the glory of His Son. And if that which bears His name upon earth, that which appears to be the church in the sight of the heathen world, dishonours Him, and belies all that He is, instead of preaching Him, and if this is nowhere remedied, it is a fact of the most solemn moment touching that which appears to be the church, and which presents the name of the Son to the world in the sight of God. And such in the sight of God in the world is the fact. What appears to be the church is an abomination— is not the church; it is, if you will, the work of the enemy;99 nevertheless it is the testimony rendered to the Son of God. Some will not have it that what presents itself thus should be called the church. It is quite right to undeceive men’s minds upon the point, I fully admit; yet in the sense which is perhaps the most important, and certainly the most important as to judgment and the government of God, it is what appears to be the church. God may for the sake of some righteous still spare, at least until the tares be ripe; but the vintage of God will not be of the fruits of His grace—it is the winepress of His wrath.
But let us consider now the judgment of the spiritual. What is it appears to be the church? Whom shall I consult? Christians in national establishments? What appears even to the most enlightened among them to be the church? They will tell me that the Epistle to the Corinthians is a proof that Mr. Olivier and all of us together are entirely deceived on the subject of the church. Mr. Rochat would take it quite in another way, and Mr. Olivier would be greatly disconcerted to be identified with him, as if they had one view about the church. I believe indeed that the remark is perfectly just, that the word of God calls that the church which appears to be the church; but this causes that now there is nothing in exterior appearance which corresponds to that which is inward, to the true church, to the assembly of the elect. We can use the word church according to what appears to be the church, and there will be nothing which is accurately true, because, alas! the church does not appear at all, unless we call that the church of which an unbeliever could say that “its annals were the annals of hell.” This I at least would avoid doing; yet the words of Mr. Olivier shew us where we are in this respect; and the children of God—have they no burden upon their hearts on account of this? No; I will not say upon the consciences; I will make no appeal on this subject to the conscience. “Where is the flock that was given thee, saith the Lord, thy beautiful flock?” (See Jer. 13:20, 21.) And the Christian flock, the flock of God now—is it less precious to Him? Will the bride of Christ have no concern for the glory of her Bridegroom?
But can one speak thus? Is it right to speak thus of the body upon earth, or to say “this pretended body”? It is an important point as to responsibility. Can we speak of responsibility? First, let us bear in mind that the common responsibility of all the members of the church at all times is acknowledged. This is evidently of all importance. Further, in the practical sense the word of God calls that the church which the church appears to be in the sight of men. Well we speak in this sense with the word, admitting at the same time that there may be therein hypocrites who will never be in heaven. Still the passages I have already cited speak distinctly of the church upon earth. Timothy had need to know how to conduct himself in the church of the living God. The Lord added to the church. The Lord “hath set some in the church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles; then gifts of healing; helps; governments; diversities of tongues,” 1 Cor. 12. He gave them as joints and bands which might serve for the edification of the body “until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”: and by their means the body receives from the Head its increase, Eph. 4.
An effort is sometimes made to invalidate the force of these express declarations of the word by means of a comparison. The church is spoken of, it is said, as detachments of the army; but this is not correct. It is an army which recruits itself, but which is not thereby the less constantly the army as a body. Mr. Olivier thinks the idea ridiculous of a body to which one adds; but Ephesians 4 expressly speaks of a body which increases according to the vigour of each part: so that which is found fault with is really the idea and expression of the word itself. And when John said, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come,” certainly this is not when the church is in heaven with her Bridegroom—was that man of God right? Can one go farther than to call the church, such as it was upon the earth at the commencement, the bride of Christ? Mr. Olivier may say, “I do not recognise one body: it is ridiculous; I know no such thing as the church, it is but a pretended church” (see pp. 49, 125, etc.). With much more reason he might have said, “How the bride? It was but a little portion of the bride.” Nevertheless, the word of God calls that which was then found upon the earth “Body,” “Church,” “Bride”; and the children of God would do better to speak according to the word than to follow the reasonings of the human mind, however wise they may seem to be. The inconsistencies of the word of God are more true than the most palpable deductions made by the intelligence of man, because the word is truth, and has no need of deductions. When we read it we need faith; but here I admit one thing, namely, that when the word of God uses these expressions (and this remark has some importance), it speaks always of the privileges and blessings of the church, because, while placing in that position the mass of living believers, it speaks in view of the final result; but this by no means prevents this glory, in so far as manifested by the Holy Spirit, being confided to these believers, and that Christians should be responsible for it.
And here it may be well to strip the word “responsible” of much of the mist with which men like to envelop it. It has been said, we are not responsible for the acts of our fathers. The one common responsibility is admitted; I do not again revert to it. But further, the question is not only about the acts of such or such an individual. I confide my house to someone, forbidding him to admit to it any save my servants; he, a lover of society, in the very act of entering upon the responsibility of this charge, admits all sorts of persons, and the house is thereby altogether injured, and its appearance spoiled. He will say that he is not responsible for their acts, but he is responsible for the state of the house which I entrusted to him. It may be he has wished to prevent others, when they were doing what spoiled the house: this will not satisfy me, my house is spoiled, my confidence has been abused, and he, to whose care I left it, is responsible for the evil; that is, that he ought to give me back the house such as I had entrusted it to him. It is very important to seize this thought. The glory of the name of Christ, the results of His victory over Satan and over the effects of his power, such were the blessings trusted as a precious deposit to the church; which was by its very position the witness of this. You are the letter of Christ, says the apostle; not the letters, but the letter. There is no need of discussing the particular acts of which the church may have been guilty; it ought to have guarded that which was committed to it. It was the pillar and ground of the truth; in a word, the glory of Christ was confided to it here below. Has it been faithful?
Here I must say a word on the subject of responsibility, and on the difference of that responsibility according as it is viewed in connection with eternal judgment, or with the judgment of God here below. Here is where I find one of the contradictions of which I am accused. Mr. Olivier makes me say (p. 123), on the one hand, that we inherit and are responsible for the acts of sin of those who went before us, and, on the other hand, that we are responsible for the state in which we find ourselves, and not for the acts of Christians who lived before us. But the words, “and are responsible,” in the first phrase, are added by Mr. Olivier.100 I perceive that he wishes to avail himself of this other passage which he quotes, “I know very well that one would not have it that man is responsible for an evil which existed before he was born … but the government of God in the world does not proceed thus,” etc. Here are the words left out, as indicated thus by dots… “It is true that, as to the final judgment of the individual, each shall bear his own burden; but,” etc. It is just these words that make all the difference.
I wish to explain myself on this point, because it is important that all Christians should understand it. I have already said something about it in my pamphlets. That each is individually responsible for his conduct, and that each shall give an account of himself to God, is a principle upon this subject generally recognised, and I need not enlarge upon it. “Each of us,” says the apostle, “shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12)— “Each shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:5) — “God will render to each according to his works in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel “(Rom. 2:6:16); but that is not the government of God in the world. In this God acts often towards masses, on the general result which the whole presents in His sight, and even in the sight of the world, if it is His people who should render a testimony for Him; for without this God would be identified with the evil, and His very character would be compromised. He can sustain while chastening; but, as He said of Israel, the nations shall know that Israel is gone into captivity, because of their sins. Sometimes the sin of a chief person, who draws others after him, but who himself is the most culpable, brings judgment upon his posterity and upon his people. “Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal,” 2 Kings 23:26.
On the other hand, one sees the world suffering the consequences of the sins of their fathers; the heathen are living witnesses of it. God gave them up to a reprobate mind, Rom. 1:17. Thus we may easily see that we ought accurately to distinguish between the eternal judgment of God and His judicial government of the world; for in reference to His eternal judgment it is said of the Gentiles— “those who have sinned without law shall perish without law … in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom. 2:12, 16)—the gospel which Paul preached. As to the government of the world, it is said, as to the same Gentiles, “The times of this ignorance God winked at”; for in truth, sin is not reckoned where there is no law. Nevertheless death and sin reigned. Here man inherited the guilt of his fathers, while, in present government, they were not held responsible for their own acts: they were so, indeed, as to eternity, according to the light they had neglected. When God puts Himself in relationship with any people, and places a testimony in the midst of them in such sort that the light of the testimony is cast upon the sin they commit, and in which they continue to walk in spite of the testimony, then God brings, according to His government here below, judgment of all that sin upon the generation which fills up the measure of the evil, so that there is no more room for patience.
As witnesses of this, see the Jews who rejected Christ and the testimony of the Holy Spirit: all the blood which had been shed since the blood of righteous Abel had to be required of that generation. God had not required it before; He had enlightened them by His law, stirred them up by His prophets, warned them by chastisements, had made an appeal to their whole moral being by the mission of His Son. The very sins of the fathers ought to have been a warning to their children to avoid the same offences, because, after the sins of the fathers, their offences were committed in the light. But they persisted therein, and thus heaped up wrath for the day of judgment; and they had to submit to the consequences of all this, according to the just judgment of God. This in no wise prevents each of their fathers having been and being subject, at the judgment of the dead, to the consequences of his own individual sin; but the nation, the system as a whole, the public object of the government of God in the world has been judged.
If there were among the faithful those that bemoaned the evil, they were transferred into another system; in like manner, the just of preceding ages will enjoy the effects of their faithfulness in the world to come. And, as a matter of fact, the sin of a son, who sins after his father, is greater than that of his father, because, if there is light in my heart, as it shines in the system in the midst of which I live, the sight of the sin will act powerfully on my conscience—will produce a horror of the sin thus committed in the sight of God, and I shall avoid it, astonished that anyone can act thus, as a man does who sees another walk in the mire or fall over a precipice. If I persevere in the sin of my father, I am more culpable than he, in that his sin was a warning to me; my sin is double, is morally augmented by all the effect which his sin ought to have produced to deter me; that is to say, by the amount of what his sin was in the sight of God; for we suppose the case of those who have light and the testimony of God. My sin is augmented by the very amount of his, although he will be equally responsible for what he has done; also, it is evident that my heart in this case is hardened by reason of the sin of my father, whom I have seen, or whom I ought to have seen, in the light of God granted to me, Ezek. 23:11; 2 Chron. 34:19, etc.; Jer. 11:15.
This is what we see of the judgments of God in Israel. Only we may add that God, in His goodness, has constantly renewed His testimony, and that, in His patience, He has sent His prophets, rising up early, as it is said, to send them until there was no remedy (see Jer. 7); and lastly, His own Son. The consequence has been, as we have already said, that all the righteous blood, from Abel to Zacharias, came upon the generation which filled up the measure of the iniquity of their fathers in rejecting the last witness of God, Matt. 13:35. We see here sin inherited and the people held, as to the government of God, responsible for the sins of their fathers; for their sins were morally the accumulation of all those that went before, and which God had borne with, according to the patience which they had despised, and of which they availed themselves to plunge more deeply into evil.101 (See also Dan. 5:18-23.) It is clear that this consideration may augment the sin of an individual; but this prevents not the other great principle of the government of God as to those who bear His name or who enjoy the light He gives, or who are found (in consequence, perhaps, of their own pride, and the blinding of Satan) in the position, or pretending to enjoy the position, in which God has placed His own. (See, for instance, Jer. 23, Matt. 24:48, etc.)
We may add that the judgment of God is according to the iniquity of the people; He brings upon them their iniquity. (Compare Jer. 5:21 and Isa. 6:9, and other passages, as 2 Thess. 2:10, 11.) Now the Spirit of God applies this general principle to Babylon in the Revelation. In her is found all the blood which has been shed upon the earth. The judgment of God renders her responsible for all that which has been done from the beginning, and the apostles and prophets are called to rejoice at the vengeance God takes upon her.
These apostles and prophets had no relationship with her; but the Babylon of the last day will inherit and will be responsible for the evil under which the apostles suffered. Yet each one shall answer for his own sin committed at the beginning or at the end of the ages, although (as we have already said) the individual sin may be aggravated by the perseverance in the same sin, or may be, on the other hand, less grave from defect of light. That the culpability of Babylon is real no one who knows and honours God will call in question.102 Such are the clear examples we have of this principle in the government of God, of holding a system responsible for all evil which has been wrought during the whole existence of that which precedes it, whose privileges or even greater ones it inherited. We inherit the guilt of those who went before us, and we are judged responsible for the whole. As to the individual, he will have to bear the judgment of that which he has done.
I now close. I thought that I ought not to reply to Mr. Olivier’s pamphlet; but it appeared to me that a few words on Romans n and upon the government of God, distinguishing it from individual responsibility, might help in the edification of my brethren. I feel a certain regret that some pages of what I have said on Romans 11 present so much the form of a reply; but this had become necessary, because many were already occupied with these things in that point of view; it was therefore meeting their wants. It has not however, I trust, hindered the development of the subject (quite apart from the controverted points) nor the introduction of thoughts as to the position of the church, the difference between the life of Christ (the eternal life which was with the Father), and the inheritance of promise which He has taken as seed of Abraham, and on the relation of the church with the Father, on the one hand, and with the administration of His promises on the other. These thoughts are, it seems to me, more important aids to the progress of the children of God, than even the leading subject of the discussion. Yet I am perfectly assured, that if any one come to recognise the unity of the church upon earth and its responsibility in that unity, it will make a marked distinction between those who receive that truth and those who, I will not say, are still ignorant of it, but who reject it. I believe that God is at this time acting upon the church by these truths; that it is these truths which, in the sight of Christ, bring out the faithfulness of heart which He desires. I am sure that neither nationalism nor dissent can bear with them; and the more they are discussed, the more do I feel that they are, as to faithfulness, the great truths for the day in which we live. I do not doubt that those who reject them will still seek to represent them as secondary truths; but all that I see in this is a snare of Satan, from which I hope many souls will be delivered. These truths are connected with the presence of the Holy Spirit upon earth, who gives unity to the body here below. It is because they are truths, that the church can, as espoused to Christ, say to the Bridegroom, Come! and he who denies them, denies at the same time the special privileges which link the church to Christ, as well as the responsibility which flows thence, and to which the heart will adhere, that it may not renounce so precious a tie. Only let those who enjoy these things remember that the task laid upon us in our ministry of love, according to that which is entrusted to us, is to give meat in due season. This is charity: it thinks not of our own ideas, but of the need of the souls we meet with.
Ever keep, brethren beloved, according to this charity, the doctrine which is connected with the cross and resurrection of Jesus—the justification of the believer and of the church; and seek to awaken the church from her torpor, by the doctrine of her position as the bride of the Lamb—one and beloved. Take for a banner this testimony of the Spirit— “The Spirit and the bride say, Come!” such is the desire, which comes out of the fulness of the heart. Encourage in grace (for this is all in grace) those who hear, but who have not the persuasion of being the bride of Christ, to come and join their cry to yours and to say with you, Come! And certainly if the heart has entered into the love of Christ in secret, the same Spirit which has made you taste the joy of His love, will make you turn toward the world, and say in the consciousness of that joy and of the possession of those living waters, “And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
The same Spirit which makes us enjoy Christ and desire His coming, urges us to call others to the same enjoyment. In fact, this verse (Rev. 22:17) is the expression of the position of the church and of the presence of the Holy Spirit; but it has been left to her as a last testimony, on the part of the Lord, in order to define that position.
The thought of the coming of Christ and the persuasion of our obligations to Him, as Bridegroom, give to our souls and to our testimony an energy which nought else could give. He who recognises the Holy Spirit down here, soul of the unity of the church which is the body and bride of Christ, witness of His glory on high, and consequently ardently—yes, ardently— desiring His return, will not cease on this account to enjoy that third great truth which is the foundation of the others— Christ delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. On the contrary, he will enjoy it the more, he will understand it the better. But to avail oneself of the last named truth in order to deny the others, is at least to provoke God to take from us the strength even of that which we desire to retain.
May Christians, then, plainly understand what is in question, namely, the existence, unity, and responsibility of the church of God, of the bride of Christ on earth; and may those who believe these things use them, not as a means of judging others, but of encouraging them in grace, as those who hear, to come and hasten by their sighs the return of the Bridegroom. As for him who opposes these things, after having heard the cry of the Spirit and of the bride, whosoever he be, he will bear his own burden.
85 Lausanne, 1844.
86 Mr. Olivier has taken up this expression, as if I had spoken of the body of Christ; but one may speak of a body, without speaking of the body of Christ.
87 It is plain that even when the responsibility is one common among many, the responsibility presses upon the individual.
88 The two truths with which this question connects itself are: the return of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church; for the Holy Spirit has come down to earth, and this it is which gives to the church its unity and corporate responsibility upon earth. It is with the church as with a human body, all the component parts of which are said to be entirely renewed in a very short period of time, yet the individual remains the same man: the spirit of man which is in him attaches vitally to itself, and appropriates successively new heterogeneous elements, and the unity and the person change not.
There are three great truths which are connected with Christ, the centre of all truth, or, if you please, three different positions in which He is seen: dead and risen; then in heaven (with this corresponds, as its proof, the presence of the Holy Spirit upon earth, John 16); and lastly, His return down here. Dead and risen—thus is the church, His body, justified, risen with Him. Such is the doctrine of justification; and although it is evidently true as to the whole church, considered as a body, yet in its application day by day, and for each conscience, it is an individual matter for each. The Holy Spirit dwells as the seal of this doctrine in the body of an individual as in a temple. Then in heaven Jesus is hid in God, yet crowned with honour and glory; the doctrine which thence flows is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church upon earth,* in His body; of the Holy Spirit who gives to this body its unity, and makes the terms “body of Christ”— “bride of Christ”— “church of Christ” to be applicable to those who, upon earth, are united to Him who is in heaven, and who thus form a unity upon earth; the dead in Christ being for the moment out of sight. If this is understood (for one may be converted and not understand it), one desires, as bride of Christ, the return of the Bridegroom. Justification is connected with His death and resurrection; for we know that His work has been accepted on high. The unity of the church, and her waiting for Christ as is becoming for a faithful bride—this it is which is connected with the glory of Christ on high, and the presence of the Holy Spirit down here. These are the two great truths which have been specially put forward, which, as I believe, God Himself has put forward at the present moment, and which have produced so much disquietude in those who desire to remain without the sphere of their influence—whether in the national churches or in dissent. That there should be ignorance of these things, one can well understand; that there should be opposition to them is indeed sad; but to say that these truths are secondary is utterly to deceive oneself. To make little account of the glory of Christ manifested in the unity of the church here below is, in truth, a proof that that glory and the love of Christ for His church are not dear to the heart, and therefore offers little opportunity of speaking to the conscience. If after having urged upon a son his duty towards a tender and affectionate father, and having explained to him the nature of filial affection, he should ask one to trace out accurately his duty, one might well refuse; he has not the mind to understand his position: the request is the request of a hireling. The feeling must be awakened if conscience is to act; but woe, woe to him in whom it does not exist!
* Note to translation.—It is not exact to say, dwells “in the body.” It is in the house, as Ephesians 2, not the body, which is in Ephesians 1. It is just the same with regard to the responsibility of the church, the grace of the relationship must be owned, and it is the heart taught by the Holy Spirit which understands it. I doubt not that there is enough to condemn, by means of the conscience itself, him who thus fails; but to do so is neither my task nor my desire. If the heart could be awakened so as to feel the force of this relationship, of this obligation— that would be the most precious fruit of all the conflict in which I have had to engage on these points. Israel might have been condemned by the law; but is not the appeal of God much stronger, and Israel much more hardened, not to have replied to it, when it is said, and said in vain, “Go yet, love a woman beloved of (her) friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel”? For, as the first principle is love, if that fails, all fails. I admit, and I always have admitted, that one may understand the love which saves without knowing that the church is the bride of Christ; but under existing circumstances, this it is which the Holy Spirit in a peculiar way calls to mind: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.” Such is the normal position, such the primary testimony which the church renders. After that, it can turn towards others and say, “And let him that is athirst come,” for living waters already flow there; “and whosoever will,” etc. But for Christians this is the Spirit’s last behest to the church pointing out her true position. Her sentiments are based upon her relationships to Christ, and the Spirit demands that those who hear should be in unison with this desire of His heart. Is it wrong to engage those who have heard the voice of the good Shepherd, to take the position of the bride and to join in the cry, “Come”?
But the doctrines of the presence of the Holy Spirit here below in the Church, and of the return of Christ, are identified with its unity upon earth, with the position of bride, or rather of her who here below is espoused to be presented as a chaste virgin unto Christ, and with the desire of His coming, which detaches us from all that is not of Him, and attaches us entirely, exclusively, to Himself.
It is easy to understand how those who are in national establishments feel themselves troubled by such a truth. They have quite another sort of unity; and, as to them, division is that which separates from what is really union with the world and subjection to another than Christ. That dissenters—who, faithful in separating from that which is contrary to the precepts of the gospel have made churches, though they have never apprehended, but contrariwise have rejected, the idea of the church upon earth—should be opposed to it, this also is intelligible enough. But it ought not to enfeeble the power of these two great truths upon our hearts, nor alienate us from them. Division in the latter case is sometimes in appearance less reasonable, because the evil among them is less gross than elsewhere, but they have not accepted, and still do refuse to accept these truths. They have no influence upon their manner of acting. That there should be patience there can be no doubt; but that these two immense truths should not produce effects, that they should leave those who oppose them in tranquillity—will never be the case. It is well for brethren, and even for those who oppose, to understand what really is in question. Hitherto the unity and the responsibility of the church have been denied. The return of Christ has had no practical effect upon the opponents of these doctrines. Scarcely are they even now recognised as being strongly probable—which is not such a conviction as can furnish a motive for conduct; while all the affections of the church ought to be formed upon, and her walk regulated by, these doctrines, while awaiting Christ’s return.
I find two things presented in the word as the great means of judging of the state of the people of God:1st, the comparing it with the state in which God placed them at the first; 2nd, with the glory of Christ who is about to return. Compare Isaiah 5 for the first and chapter 6 for the second.
89 This is one of the supposed contradictions, which I should feel ashamed to consider before Christian brethren. Once more, I do not take them up; if I did so, I should have to say some severe things.
90 If the question were about a warning to brethren in Christ as members of the Church, and not about the earthly administration of the economy, how could it be said that the Gentiles were grafted into the place, or into the midst of the Jews? The Jews and the Gentiles were grafted or admitted together; but when speaking about the tree of promise, and the ways of God toward this tree of promise here below, then the Holy Spirit may well speak of the cutting off of branches, because the tree remains always and necessarily there, whatsoever in other respects might be its form in detail. This is really the subject of the chapter, and not the church properly so called. Then, also, in like manner, the Gentiles might be, and were grafted into the place of the dry branches which were cut out; in the meanwhile the green branches, which remained in the tree, of necessity took the form of the dispensation of grace, the mould in which the promises were now cast. It will be the same with the Gentile world; all those who have professed the name of Christ, except the elect, will be cut off—the others will be in heaven—and the dispensation of the promises upon earth will again take the Jewish form; yet according to the new covenant, and in blessing upon the Gentiles also, under the reign of the Son of man. The truth is, it was not only the law which applied to man upon earth, but the promises also of God revealed in the word before the manifestation of His Son, of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been manifested to us. These promises, I say, reached not to the heavens either: they were given since the foundation of the world, had reference to the world, and must be fulfilled upon earth. Even the resurrection itself, concealed as it was in the declaration, “I am the God of Abraham,” etc., presented no distinct revelation of heaven. The promise of eternal life given to us in Christ before the world was, was not of this world, and is not fulfilled here, although we are possessed of it while here in pilgrimage; the life, according to which we enjoy it, existed before the world was, the life of the Word, the life of Christ. This is the life of the church, and what was revealed in order that the church might exist: but it must needs, here below, equally take the position of the seed of promise, that is, though its life is the life which Christ had before the world was made, it must needs, at the same time, be placed in the position of heir of the promise here below. But how does it take that place? In that it is united to Christ (to Him who, while indeed having divine and eternal life in Himself, is the true Seed of Abraham), and in that it is made partaker of His life. As partaker of His life, it expects heavenly things, the same glory with Him; but in that it has that life, it is placed upon the same root, is introduced into the position of the heirs of the promise here below, of the seed of Abraham, according to the promise, because Christ, although He had the life of God in Himself, deigned to place Himself there. By the possession of that life, it is properly speaking the church* (whether composed of Jews or Gentiles matters not); but as introduced into the position of the seed of Abraham and heir of the promise here below, it is sustained by the root. The branches grafted in take the place of those which had been cut off. It is the administration of the promises here below which is treated of; and it is in this latter point of view that the subject is looked at in this eleventh chapter. When I say that the promises made to Abraham do not go beyond this world, I mean not to say that Abraham or any other such had not the enjoyment of other things in his soul; but it was not in such things that the promises by the which he was called through faith consisted. It is only when he entered Canaan, the land of promise, where he possessed nought, that his heart by faith rose higher; Heb. 11:8, 9; Acts 7:5.
As to us we are called by a testimony to heavenly things; it is in heaven that the church in spirit finds herself; in the meantime we are the seed of Abraham and heirs according to promise. There it is, that the administration of God as to His promises and His ways towards Israel enters into the account, even for the church; and it is about this that the chapter treats, and not of the promise of life given before the world was. Therefore it is that He speaks of cutting off the branches grafted in amid others, of grafting in afresh the branches which had been cut off, of the Gentiles, of the people beloved although enemies as concerning the gospel, etc. To distinguish these things, and the government of God which flows thence and is connected therewith, from the power of eternal life in Jesus Christ, is of all importance for the understanding of the word.
* Note to Translation.—It should be, properly speaking, Christian. The church was formed by baptism of the Holy Ghost. Otherwise all is right.
91 I again make use of this word, because it is very much used, and understood by all; every one will continue to speak of the Levitical economy, and the Christian economy, when this controversy is closed, just as before it began.
92 Here, again, it is evident that the question is not concerning individuals as to salvation, but the administration of the promises, for as many as remained in unbelief had stumbled that they should fall.
93 Note to translation.—I have expunged a sentence here, as being a misinterpretation of Acts 3:25.
94 Not imputing, and not only simply passing by.
95 Hence the Lord presents Himself now as sowing; He seeks not fruit from the vine: all had to begin.
96 No one has ever seen Babylon in the church, even if they may have spoken of the church in Babylon (which, however, I have not done).
97 It is of no use to say here—the whole of the elect—for they are known only by means of what is seen; there are, moreover, many who would deny that there is such a thing in the sense in which the word is here used.
98 It is to the eyes of the world that it ought to appear; if it had continued faithful, the question could not possibly have existed for the spiritual man. He was a member of it; he had no need to judge about it.
99 When Henry Martyn was at Shiraz in Persia, a Mahommedan said he was sure he was not a Christian, because he lived near to God; for he had seen the Christians at Calcutta, and they were the most wicked men possible. I myself have had the same sorrow when wishing to preach the gospel to the captains of merchant ships who sailed to and from the Levant. They told me they made no great account of one religion more than another, that they had found Turks much more upright and honourable in their dealings than Christians. It is useless to say they were not Christians. We speak of the testimony rendered to the world.
100 I must add that he does not repeat the words: “when it is a question of His government with regard to an economy.”
101 Moreover, God was forced, as to His public government in the world, to impute everything, for His name was named upon the people. He became, so to speak, responsible together with them for all the sin which His people committed, if He did not judge it. It was His glory to exercise patience, but not to permit for ever sin among the people with whom He was identified, and it is plain then, that it is the sin of the people which must needs be punished, just as the sin of my son accumulates by reason of my patience. It is not the last fault which I punish in the end, but my son, and this because of all the evil which I have borne with up to that time, and which is even enhanced by reason of my patience. It is thus with the people of God.
102 As to Babylon, we find it active in corrupting; it makes the nations drunk. If Israel corrupted itself instead of keeping the law, Babylon corrupted instead of acting in love and truth. The people of God are found in her, and are in danger of sharing in her sins. To me it is evident that, while pride and idolatry are indeed the very root, its iniquity is the result of contempt and abandonment of all the light of God, from Noah to the church, as also of the testimony of the last days. Its heart is then full of all the iniquity of man, in the presence of all the light of God, and of all the privileges of those that are His in Christ, and having knowledge of it all. It will, in fact, be the activity of Satan; but as to men and their responsibility, it will falsify and deny all the relations based upon the revelations of God. The “Beast” is another thing; it contends with the power of the Son of man, with Christ. It is not the complete corruption of man in things which, in principle, he held from God.