The Times of the Gentiles
Here is part of what he says: “What is the Church of Christ in its purpose and perfection? It is a congregation of souls redeemed out of this evil world by God manifest in the flesh, a people purified to Himself by Christ, purified in the heart by faith, knit together by the bond of this common faith in Him, and united to Him their Head, sitting at the right hand of the Father, having consequently their conversation in heaven, from whence they look for the Saviour the Lord of glory. As a body therefore they belong to heaven; there is their portion in the restitution of all things, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. On earth they are as a people, necessarily subordinate; they are nothing and nobody; their king is in heaven, their interests and constitution heavenly.” He then goes on to protest against the ministers of this heavenly thing having recourse to the world for protection in the exercise of their duties as servants of the Lord and begs them to take what comes in the way of persecution as what is to be expected in this scene from a hostile world.
We quote again from this same paper to show how the truth of the Church of God was exercising him and others at that time. It may be well in order to emphasize the importance of this to remind ourselves of what was going on at the same time in religious circles but moving in a very different direction. It was what is called by some the Oxford Movement, by others Puseyism. Its nature was an urge to return to the Church of Rome as being the original church founded by the Lord and His apostles. The Reformation was regretted as an unwise step and utterly wrong and many were returning to the fold of St. Peter as it was termed, some of them being prominent men in the Episcopal church in England. All Christendom indeed was astir at the outcome of these conflicting currents of thought and it is with this in mind that the following was written in the same paper from which we have quoted. The writer goes on to say, “What is the Papacy? Satan’s fiction to answer all this. While men are kept down in the lowest desires of a depraved world, in the bondage of the corrupt affections of a nature alienated from the life of God, it presents a head on earth, earthly in its interests and objects, knitting together in a body, not a people separated out of the world to spiritual objects, but one tied by the closest interests to maintain his earthly supremacy, and with it their own importance on earth, and in an earthly way; and by this astonishing and universal scheme of anti-christianity, which is antitheism, precluding the application of the Divine Word to the souls of men. In short, the system of Popery I look upon as an entire counterpart of the Christian scheme, set up by Satan on the decay of faith to hold its place, uniting men to an earthly head and to each other by those interests from which Christianity delivers, and keeping the world in bondage, instead of leading men to heavenly things out of those interests, to be humbled in the presence of the world’s dominion. The members of the Papal system will accordingly be found, in their interests, objects and activities, such as would result from such a system. We know, blessed be God, that in result the kingdom of His Son will be glorified in the splendor of its great Head, and the destruction assured of that anti-Christian counterpart, by which Satan has deceived the world under the pretense of Christianity.”
The only result of this appeal to the clergy of the Episcopal system was to make the writer of it feel how hopeless it was to attempt to heal the system and as the truth of the Church of God became clearer to his mind it led to his separating himself wholly from this mixed communion, not to start something else but to recognize in a practical way what had been started long ago by the Spirit of God, but which had been buried out of sight by the plot of Satan and the folly of man. As we have already stated more than once it was the apprenhension of what the Church of God was that led to this movement. And it is of interest to mention that when some of the saints of those days discovered its true character and compared it with what was all around them they wept copiously at the complete ruin that had been wrought. Not only so but they took a place before the Lord in confession of the sin that had led to this ruin. This is a principle of the utmost importance in such conditions.
When Daniel sought the blessing of God on the scattered nation of Israel, what did he say in his prayer? “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from Thy precepts and from Thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto Thy servants the prophets, which spake in Thy Name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongeth to Thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day, to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel that are near and that are far off, through all the countries whither Thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against Thee. O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee.”
Daniel was an Israelite, a member of the guilty nation and although personally free from the wickedness that had brought upon them the heavy hand of God in judgment, he took his place before God in confession representing the nation. So it was in those early days of Philadelphia, they saw first of all what the Church was as God made it and then they saw its ruined condition, scattered and divided and linked with the world and its ambitions, and they wept and confessed their sin to the Lord.
What then is the Church of God in the sight of God as originally constituted by Him? In order to understand this we must think of our Blessed Lord and His work for the glory of God and the blessings of men. If we break it up, so to speak, into its parts we think of all of His death and resurrection as meeting the question of sin and condemnation under which men lay. This is unfolded in all its glorious details in the Epistle to the Romans. But this phase of His work carries us no farther than what is our individual blessing. That is to say the blessings of Romans do not bring us consciously further than the realization of our place in Christ. Do not imagine for a moment that we are speaking or thinking lightly of this, but again we repeat it is individual blessing. When however, we turn to the Epistle to the Ephesians, what do we find? It is the ascension of the Lord and union with Him in that glorious place as the Body to the Head that is there spread before us in its amazing display of the riches of the grace and wisdom and power of God. The Church is the Body of Christ, each member livingly linked with the Head and with each other, indwelt and animated by the Holy Spirit of God. It is the house of God on earth, in which He dwells by His Spirit, and it is the Bride of Christ waiting here for the absent Bridegroom. It is the manifestation of the very height of the wisdom and love and grace and power and mercy and every other attribute of God, in a word of the “fulness of God” as Ephesians puts it.
Not only so but it is cared for by the Head and from Him comes all the nourishment needed for its blessing and continuance. He sends the gifts from Himself and commits them to the Holy Spirit, His vice-regent here, to distribute as He will. Furthermore, the Spirit is here, not only in the individual believer but also in the Church as a corporate whole, to guide and control all its activities. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we have the Church in its organic being and Divine character, and in the First Epistle to the Corinthians we have the Church in its functioning on the earth. The form it took in manifestation was that of local assemblies in various places but all linked together as members of the Body of Christ and functioning by means of those different companies scattered throughout the world. This touched the question of ministry. In view of what the Word disclosed as to gifts given by the Lord, what was the true character of the system of clerisy that obtained all over Christendom? These questions were faced at that time by a group of men in the fear of God and in the spirit of “trembling at His word.” It seemed a gigantic undertaking to move in the face of all the well-established principles of Christendom, but again the Lord had men who were dauntless in courage and full of zeal for the glory of the Lord, and counting not their lives or their reputations dear to themselves. Bravely they stepped out on the Word of God and acted on what they had learned.
The first account in a historical way of the beginning of this movement in actual deed tells us of four men meeting in a home in the city of Dublin, to remember the Lord as members of nothing but the Body of Christ. Some of them were still connected with the various bodies in Christendom but they were feeling their way out. They did not dream of such a development as came afterwards but their own souls craved real and genuine Christian fellowship based on the Word and they found it in this way. One of the four was J. N. Darby, the young curate whose protest we have copied from. By this time the truth had so developed in his mind that he found it incumbent on him to leave the system of which he was a member. He could not regard it as the Body of Christ even in principle, but a sinful mixture of saint and sinner without any real title to the name of the Church of God. When he left the system he printed and published a paper entitled. “The Nature and Unity of the Church of Christ,” and in it he set forth what he had learned from the Word of God on those points.
How could he do otherwise than leave that which was a combination of saint and sinner when the Church of God is a Body made up only of saints? And when he perceived that the Word calls on saints to refuse all yokes with the unbelievers, he, realizing his membership in the Body of Christ sought a fellowship based on this alone. But where could this be found? In the paper he published when he left the system he says among other things, “In the first place, it is not a union of the outward professing bodies that is desirable; indeed it is surprising that reflecting Protestants should desire it; far from doing good, I conceive it would be impossible that such a body could be at all recognized as the Church of God. It would be a counterpart to Romish unity, we should have the life of the Church and the power of the Word lost, and the unity the life of spiritual life utterly excluded, Whatever plans may be in the order of Providence, we can only act on the principles of grace, and true unity is the unity of the Spirit and it must be wrought by the operation of the Spirit.” Again in the same paper he says, “No meeting which is not framed to embrace all the children of God in the full basis of the Kingdom of the Son, can find the fulness of blessing, because it does not contemplate it — because its faith does not embrace it. Where two or three are gathered together in His Name, His Name is recorded there for blessing; because they are met in the fulness of the power of the unchangeable interests of that everlasting kingdom in which it has pleased the glorious Jehovah to glorify Himself, and to make His saving health known in the Person of His Son, by the power of the Spirit.”