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In correcting this tract for a third edition, I have not entered on the distinction to be made between the body of Christ and the habitation of the Spirit—in that one is composed of members livingly united to the Head, the other built (see 1 Cor. 3) by the instrumentality of responsible men on earth: I have treated it elsewhere. It is an important practical point in connection with the present state of the Church of God, but does not affect the great fundamental principles which govern the whole enquiry, as here pursued. I have corrected the passages in which there may have been so far confusion between the two as to lead to any practical obscurity of the mind on the subject.
The importance of the question of the Holy Ghost’s presence in the Church on earth, will render some inquiry into it profitable to us.
It is a great question of principle regarding the position and walk of the saints which has arisen wherever that testimony of God specially committed, as I believe, to those commonly called the brethren, has existed. It is a question of vast importance—a principle resisted abroad as well as in England; and the resistance to which is always connected with the establishment, in one shape or other, of a clergy under the title of ministry. All I shall attempt here is to set the principle clear. There is, I fully believe, as real a question of God’s truth as in Luther’s days: I do not say as important a one; because in Luther’s time the question was one of the ground of individual salvation—of the basis of our standing with God. Whereas the question now at issue is the position and standing of the Church, of the saints gathered when they are saved. But no one will think this a trifling question. It is closely connected with Christ’s glory and the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. The question in Luther’s time was the value and efficacy of Christ’s work; or, in other words, justification by faith. What existed he assumed to be the Church. The question now is the presence and power of the Holy Ghost as forming and embodying the Church in unity. This evidently is important. It has been accompanied among the brethren with the revival, as I judge, of the clear doctrine of justification by faith, which was much buried under collateral doctrines, as regeneration and its proofs, which had really taken the place of justification by faith; so that, in general, assurance of salvation was rare, and considered to be a matter of spiritual attainment. Besides, there are truths to which God recalls the saints as being important at such or such a time, as leading to peculiar and needed blessings, or as bearing on peculiar evils or dangers, and against which therefore the malice of the enemy will be particularly directed, to oppose or undermine them. Such I believe the doctrine of the Holy Ghost’s presence in the Church to be at this time. The unity of the body as Christ’s spouse, separate from evil, is closely connected, yea, identified with, this great doctrine, which is founded on the exaltation of Christ as Son of man to the right hand of God, in testimony of the full completeness of His work, and His infinite favour with God. And hence its connection with the full, free assurance of salvation in the soul, and the joy of adoption by the Holy Ghost. No one taught of God could knowingly undervalue such a doctrine; and I do especially believe that no one specially taught of God now, “men having understanding of the times,” but will on the contrary feel its peculiar vital importance, as ministered of God in the Church for saving souls, and the Church itself from the current delusions of the day. This is the question before us.
There are three great points connected with the doctrine of Christ, or positions in which He may be viewed: a crucified Christ, accomplishing the work of redemption, in virtue of which, as testified of in resurrection, justification is the portion of the believer; an exalted Christ, in whose name, and by whose sending, the Holy Ghost the Comforter is come down on earth, and dwells in the Church; and Christ coming again in Person. Now the first of these, namely, justification by faith, was preached by Luther, and souls were delivered, and many peoples set free from the burden of popery. But the Holy Ghost sent down here, though taught in a measure as a truth, formed no part of that which characterized the Church; and therefore it fell under the power of the magistrate, when delivered from the Pope. The doctrine of the Lord’s second coming fell into the hands of real fanatics, who would have set up what they called the fifth monarchy by the sword; and in Germany did attempt it, and held a city they called their Zion for some time under Munzer.
That which characterized the ministry and testimony of those called the brethren, however feeble, and feeble they were, was (with the accompanying revival of assurance by faith in the simple testimony of redemption) the bringing out and walking in the faith of the two latter doctrines: namely, the Holy Ghost in the Church, and the coming again in Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this ministry was blessed both in gathering many into a simple position by it, and extending the happy influence of these truths among many who were not so gathered. With this connected itself the unity of the Church as the body of Christ by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, and that, separate from the world, as bride of the Lamb. A comparison of what the Church was at first when filled with the Spirit led them to the sense of our present ruined state, and to seek in earnest devotedness more conformity to its early path, and that nothing should be owned which was not of the Holy Ghost. And they waited for God’s Son from heaven. If the presence of the Spirit gave them the consciousness of being the bride, He made them also earnestly desire the coming of the Bridegroom, and the joy of that day when Christ should come and receive them to Himself, and take the kingdom and the glory.
They entered in spirit, in their little measure, into that word, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come”; and they were happy and blessed. And where, beloved brethren, let me ask you with the apostle, is that blessedness ye spake of? Did you suffer so many things in vain, or for an error, if it be yet in vain? Did you begin in the Spirit, or was it all a delusion of your imagination which wiser minds have discovered, and that you are glad to give decently up, and to end in the flesh?
Now the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church was (with the waiting for Christ’s coming), the grand doctrine on which the whole testimony of those so-called brethren was founded. And this it is which it is sought to deprive you of. Let us not deceive ourselves; this is what is in question. It will soon be seen everywhere, save as this truth itself is forgotten anywhere. It may be clothed in terms which may seem not to deny it, because that would alarm—in terms suited, alas! to the failure of spiritual power, and therefore of discernment, which may be found among us. It may begin in practice in one place, and be avowed in doctrine in another. It may change its shape where it is detected, and testified against. But the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church, and His presence as the power of the unity of the body of Christ, is what is in question.
I dare say it may not be admitted: but if one comes to rob me of my treasure, his not telling me he is, nor admitting he is, cannot satisfy me. But this, perhaps, it will be said, they do not mean to do. I will admit they may be ignorant of the truth itself, and therefore of the loss of it, and therefore not be aware of the mischief they are doing. But, if one is urging the vessel on the shoals, and he is mentally innocent, because he does not know them, that will not content me as a passenger if I know, nay, not even if I suspect them. But is it denied? Is it not admitted? It has been distinctly taught that the acting of the Holy Ghost in the body being in the members, the presence of the Holy Ghost practically was by the teachers. Now, because there is truth in this, and that the Holy Ghost does act by the teachers, the denying such a doctrine is treated as if it were denying the Holy Ghost’s acting in the teacher, and, in a word, denying ministry. But it is no such thing. What is affirmed is the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church itself on earth. No doubt when there, He acts, among other things, by teachers, etc.; but He is present in the Church. And anyone can see that, assuming His acting in the teachers, and denying His dwelling in the whole assembly or Church as such; or denying His acting properly in the way of gift in any, but that grace just sanctifies natural talent and education; and that there is no dwelling in the whole body, as distinct from the members (these teachers being the members who are to act), is throwing the whole matter into the hands of certain persons who have more natural talent to the exclusion of the body. It is the reconstituting a clergy who form the Church, and who are to judge of the qualifications of others whom they admit into their ranks: for this is demanded also. It is just the clergy over again. I recognize that God forms the vessel individually for service as well as puts a gift into it, when I look at the individual. I have no doubt that the blessed apostle Paul was a man of most extraordinary natural character. But this truth, which I find in Scripture, does not make me deny that the Holy Ghost dwells in the Church.
But I will first bring out the idea before the minds of brethren, that by it they may be able, through grace, to judge of the statements by which it is pared down and destroyed, and what they are losing for their souls if these statements are listened to. Let us remember the question: the dwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church as such. That I may not misrepresent the doctrine I combat, take ——’s account of it:
“A dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church, apart and distinct from the members, is what I confess my inability to receive.” Again, “But from the way in which I have heard some speak of the Person of the Holy Ghost in the individual, and distinct from this the Person of the Holy Ghost in the Church, the thought has arisen in my mind, which one almost fears to express, Do they believe in two Holy Ghosts? “Again,” I see these precious promises of the Spirit’s abiding and presence during our Lord’s absence, in John 14, 15 and 16, but surely no dwelling here, nor through the Acts of the Apostles, distinct from the individual believer.” We have then distinctly before us the question. It is denied that these two things are distinctively true—the Holy Ghost in the individual, and the Holy Ghost in the Church. I have found this view fully confirmed by the statement, that the blessing of the body is the aggregate of the blessing of the individual members. My view, which is commented on, is, “The Holy Ghost dwelling in and making one the body of Christ, and acting by every one of the members in one way or another”; and, “the Holy Ghost working in the several living members for the good of the body.”
I now turn to the main point—God’s dwelling with man. This I believe to be the peculiar and special blessing of man, and the highest honour that could be conferred on him, unless it be his actually in glory with the Lord, when something more is added, viz., being like the Lord and with Him. God came to walk in the garden, but Adam, a sinner, was not there to meet Him. But this deeply important truth is much more distinctly stated in Scripture. Redemption is the true ground of God’s dwelling with man. He did not dwell with Adam; He did not dwell even with Abraham; but as soon as Israel was brought out of Egypt, and the Spirit inspired the song of triumph, what was the leading thought? “He is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation.” So in God’s own preparation of it: “In the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.” This leading thought of what distinguished Israel is clearly a distinct one from dwelling or acting in an individual. Further, this is a constant thought as distinguishing the people of God. So in Exodus 29:45,746, “And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God; and they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.” So, 2 Chronicles 6:1, 2, “The Lord hath said that he would dwell in the thick darkness, but I have built an house of habitation for thee, and a place for thy dwelling for ever.” So Exodus 25:8; 1 Kings 6:13; Ezekiel 43:7. So indeed to the same purpose, Deuteronomy 23:14. But it is needless to multiply passages.76
We may take notice in all this that it has nothing whatever to do with the dwelling in an individual. It was a distinct thought altogether. The serious question is, are we worse off now as to this? There were then also operations of the Holy Ghost in the way of prophecy and testimony, but it was a distinct thing. We may expect this to be modified in many ways when the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven; because in Christ, where our proper acceptance is, we are characterized rather as dwelling with God—in His house. Still the other is true by the Holy Ghost sent down. What we have to inquire is, whether this presence of God in the midst of His people is spoken of in the New Testament, and that distinct from His gracious presence in the individual. If there be any material modification of it, this may also claim our attention. It would be difficult to suppose that there was less real presence of God in the midst of His people now than under the Old Testament. It is true we look for His presence in glory; but surely meanwhile the main doctrine, as to the actual condition and existence of the Church, is the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, as truly and really the presence of God in the midst of His people as the Shechinah of glory. If God was in His holy temple then, God is in His holy temple now—most truly, though after another manner: not merely in individuals, the aggregate of whose individual blessing is the blessing of the whole, but in His spiritual temple, the Church of the living God. And here I would remark further, that His personal presence as acting in any power in the Church is wholly denied. It may not be in words (this I should think much less of; the faith of simple saints might at once meet it); but it is undermined and taken from us without our being aware of it. It is vain to cry out about its not being fair to impute to a person what he denies. Are the saints to be robbed of their heritage and blessing, because he who does so denies he is doing it? It may be through ignorance, but it is much fairer to detect than to deny it, if the thing be so. Man may speak by the Spirit,77 may use Him, may act under His gracious influence, but He, the Holy Ghost, does not act. That would be impulse. No one pretends to inspiration in the sense of new revelation, but simply that the Holy Ghost acts in leading, guiding, filling and using the vessel. That is, He acts by us. The distinction, however, is wholly unscriptural. The Holy Ghost speaking by a man, and a man speaking by the Holy Ghost, are used as equivalent terms; as Acts i:16; ch. 6:10; ch. 20:24; ch. 21:4,11; compare chapter 11:28, ch. 28:25; Mark 12:36; compare Matthew 22:43. The difference of the expression most clearly amounts to the lowest Arminianism78 as to the Holy Ghost. That is, man acts by it, but the Holy Ghost does not act by man. And I beg the attention of brethren to this—it is just simply not believing in the personal presence and actings of the Holy Ghost. I am satisfied that it is simple unbelief in the presence and actings of the Holy Spirit.
And now to the statements of the New Testament on the subject. That the presence of the Comforter is the distinguishing truth of this dispensation, founded on the work of Christ, I ought not to be obliged to insist on. Suffice it to say, that it is on the fact of this presence that the Lord grounds the advantage of His going away. “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go away, I will send him unto you.” And all the blessing, communion, and testimony (save the personal testimony of the disciples as living with Him, and that was by His bringing all to their remembrance), is founded on the presence, personal presence, of this other Comforter. This is evidently of the last importance. Here it is well to remark on the force of this word ‘Comforter.’ He was One who, by being down here, was to take the place of Jesus when He went away; and was to take up and carry on the cause of the disciples as Christ had done, only more powerfully in a certain way because of Christ’s work and exaltation. It is the same word as is said of Christ, “we have an advocate with the Father” —one who is charged with and maintains our cause. This the Holy Ghost was to do, and to guide, comfort, sustain, direct the disciples as Jesus had done, with the difference noted. And further, He was not to leave them as Christ had; He was to abide with them for ever. This name of One come down to take Christ’s place, and abiding for ever, is of all moment in this case; for the Holy Ghost, come as the Paraclete in place of Christ, was to be amongst them as Christ was. Christ had acted among, and for, and by, them too—not they merely by Him; though, no doubt, what they did when sent out was by His power, as in His name. Now, they were to have another Paraclete, who was to be among them in His stead (though glorifying Him), and to act among and for, and by them; and lead, and guide, and correct, and direct, and sustain them, and to be with them for ever. This was not merely natural qualities sanctified by grace, and man acting by the Spirit; it was a living divine Person acting for them, and by them. That, He being grieved (and withal in the sovereign counsels of God), much of that in which He shewed His power is lost, is true; but to say, because man has abused this grace, and feebleness has followed, because God has not honoured those who did not honour Him, or because the flesh has abused the doctrine, that He does not dwell amongst us, is merely that kind of unbelief hateful to God, which is called in Scripture “tempting God.” The place was called Massah and Meribah, “because there they tempted God, saying, Is the Lord amongst us or no? “And here I will remark on the “with us,” and “in us.” The distinction is perfectly scriptural. The Lord said (John 14:25), “These things I have said unto you, being yet present with you”—the exact phrase in Greek which is used concerning the Holy Ghost, translated, “He dwelleth with you.” Christ was yet dwelling with them, but another Comforter was to come whom they would know (though the world would not, because it did not see Him) because He dwelt with them; and then He adds, as to the manner (which was not so of Jesus come in the flesh) a new thing, and therefore put in the future tense, “He shall be in you.” This new Paraclete was to be thus their Counsellor, Guide, Orderer (as Jesus had been), manage their cause and affairs as dwelling with them. Hence we see the importance of distinguishing this living presence and acting of a Comforter from a man’s using his talents in a sanctified way by grace.
But, further, this is fully brought out in Scripture as a distinct thing from being in individual members. Both are spoken of; but they are spoken of to different purposes in Scripture. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God; and ye are not your own?” etc. (1 Cor. 6:19). Here accordingly it is applied to personal sanctification. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are,” 1 Cor. 3:16, 17. Here it is clearly the Church of God, the building of God which some might corrupt by false doctrine. They were God’s building. The Spirit of God does then clearly distinguish the dwelling in the individual and the dwelling in the body. And this is so much the same thought and connected with the idea of the presence of God in Israel, that in 2 Corinthians 6:16 it is distinctly introduced. “For ye are the temple of the living God: as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And now I would ask, What is there debasing in the blessed doctrine that God dwells in His holy temple? We might perhaps say (were it not for that precious blood of Christ which has cleansed us) that it was a debasing idea that the Holy Ghost should dwell in our poor wretched bodies as His temple. But His testimony is to the value of that precious blood as cleansing us, so that His presence in the believer is a glorious testimony to the infinite precious-ness of Christ’s work, and His presence at the right hand of God the Father. But His presence in the Church as His temple, though no doubt founded on the same great truth, is at least more easily apprehended. Because, when I think of the Church, I do not think of the flesh, but only of the redeemed people of God on earth. Here, my soul says easily, the Holy Ghost can dwell. It belongs to Christ, whom the Spirit glorifies. Both, we have seen, are true, and distinctly true; but when I think of a man, I think readily of what he is in his infirmity; and (though it would be wrong) might be easily led to say, Can the Holy Ghost dwell in such poor vile creatures? But when I think of the Church, I do not think of the first Adam state. I think of the fruit of Christ’s redemption. Here, my heart says, the Holy Ghost ought to be.
But having seen that the scripture does speak of both distinctly (that is, that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that the Church is so too), I would quote some passages which speak of both one and the other, that we may see that both are fully taught in the word. We read (John 4), “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 7, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water; and this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.” These are evidently personal and individual. And this presence of the Holy Ghost is connected with life, joy, the sealing of our persons, and the certainty of salvation (and that, known in our own hearts), and strength to resist temptation, and fruits against which there is no law. “He that stablisheth us together with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” So that we know that “all the promises of God are in him yea, and in him amen, to the glory of God by us.” We are “strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.” Here He is acting in, and on, and in testimony with, the individual as himself livingly united to Christ. But there is another truth besides. God is to be in His temple. What is a temple without God? There was Israel where God dwelt; and a temple built with hands, where God vouchsafed in a certain manner to dwell. Then Christ was the true temple, as we know, when He was here; as He took the place of Israel as the true vine. Is there none now? Or is it only the individual poor weak saint that is so? No. God has broken down the middle wall of partition, and through the glorious though seemingly debasing work of Christ has made both one, making peace, and reconciling both Jew and Gentile in one body to God by the cross, and has built them up together to be His habitation through the Spirit (Eph. 2). In a word, the Church of God (not looked at as individuals, but, on the contrary, as brought together into one by this glorious work of Christ), is God’s habitation through the Spirit. So, as the apostle draws the consequence, there is one body and one Spirit. And it is against this blessed truth that all the effort of the enemy is now directed—a body formed into one, by the cross of Christ breaking down the middle wall of partition, and the presence of the Holy Ghost upon earth consequent upon the exaltation of the Head, so that there should be one body and one Spirit, and a habitation of God on the earth: God having exalted Christ above all principality and power, and given Him to be Head over all things to the Church. The same doctrine is taught in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 as in Ephesians. Now, that the Holy Ghost acts in the members of the body is fully admitted. Moreover this acting of the Holy Ghost in the members is proper gift, as anyone reading 1 Corinthians 12 may easily see: but, though He acts in the members, His dwelling is in the Church or whole assembly. We might as well say, as to my soul, because it acts livingly and sets my members in motion, that it was only as dwelling in the members that it did so, as hold that the Holy Ghost’s dwelling in the Church was only individually in the members: for “so is Christ.” For surely the Holy Ghost is much more, as the other Comforter, an independent living Person and agent distributing severally to every one as He will, than my feeble soul is in my body; and in which of the members was He acting when the place shook where they were assembled? And hence, I am persuaded, it is that one can be made partaker of the Holy Ghost, as in Hebrews 6, and yet lost. Looked at as the individual seal and earnest, by which, after believing, we are sealed to the day of redemption, that cannot be: but as dwelling in power, according to the principle of this dispensation in the Church, it is supposed we may partake of it, not as the power and seal of living union (in that case it would bring forth fruit meet for Him by whom it was dressed), but acting in divine ministry and energy in the midst of the Church as a Person dwelling there: God making it His habitation by the Spirit, so that one could lie to Him; for in lying to the Holy Ghost they had lied to God. So the stranger fell down and confessed that God was in them of a truth: not merely in the individual who spoke, but in the assembly, as He was lied to not in any working in a member: He was there. There might be persons, we know there were, who were false brethren, in whom He did not dwell as a seal or earnest at all; but He was in the Church. It is the presence of the Holy Ghost, as sent, which constitutes and is the power of the unity of the body. Grace acting in the members may aid to maintain this in the bond of peace; but the great and blessed doctrinal truth we have in Ephesians, and I Corinthians, and elsewhere, is that the Holy Ghost, the other Comforter sent down from heaven, is the constituent power of unity to the body. No grace in the members, nor sanctifying natural talents save as practically maintaining it, has anything to do with this. They are in this individuals as before. The other character of its presence is making the outward assembly on earth the habitation of God. (Compare the end of Ephesians 1 and 2.)
And now, suppose man has grieved this Holy Spirit, that the Church has lost many of His manifestations; supposing its practical unity is gone and scattered—that the wolf, because there were hirelings, has caught the sheep (though not out of Christ’s hand) and scattered them, and the ruin is felt. Am I to confess the sin of man, and say, “Let God be true and every man a liar,” and therefore recur in faith to the promise that the Comforter should abide for ever with us? or to say that unity is gone; that opening for the Holy Ghost to act in the members is a “bygone mode of God’s dealing in His house,” because the Holy Ghost acts “neither in mode nor in measure, as in New Testament times”; and therefore that we, not having New Testament directions, must make arrangements for ourselves as to ministry? It may be said the Holy Ghost remains. But His acting is denied altogether, it is impulse.
That is, because man has perhaps abused a principle, instead of correcting the abuse, the blessing is denied altogether. It is just simple unbelief in the presence and operation of the Holy Ghost. For my own part, I desire through grace to correct the flesh whenever it appears; but I am not going to retrace my steps: I “fear” to do so, because I know God led me on the road. I have found the blessing. Were we happiest when this was believed or since it has been denied? And if we have failed in maintaining or in using the blessing, are we to humble ourselves, or to deny the blessing? We found it when there was no such unbelief or teaching amongst us. There was blessing enough to cheer and help us on in spite of much weakness and infirmity. And I shall not deny God in His truth and blessing because man knows not how to use it, if it even be so; but I do not believe it. We may be humbled; but God will help and meet us according to our faith. I own a ministry, have always owned it; but I cannot deny the blessed truth of the Holy Ghost dwelling in the Church, and acting as so present in the various members of the body as He pleases. And here I will add, I do not say among the gathered brethren. The only difference as to those is, they have acted together on this truth.
The Holy Ghost in the whole Church may own a brother’s gift elsewhere, in a chapel where he is minister; only he denies a blessed doctrine which God has taught, and, I fully trust, will maintain among us. And let it be here remembered, that stated ministry has never been denied, but always in exercise amongst us—always owned in principle. In half or more of the services, one who has gift has exercised his gift on his responsibility to Christ. This is known to every one. And for my own part I recognize it fully, be it one or two, if they agree together to do it. The teachers have waited on their teaching. It is an utter untruth or sheer prejudice to deny or lose sight of this. It is only in the meetings for worship, when the saints assembled as such, that this has not been the case. The profit of a stated ministry, all that is true in a one-man ministry, has been in the fullest exercise among those called brethren. In their worship they have not sought sermons, but the presence of God—the accomplishment of that promise, that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will be in the midst of them. I avow I do not go there to hear a sermon; nor do I like to hear one. I go to worship, to find the Lord, and worship Him. And I judge that if brethren are become incapable of enjoying this, it is a very bad sign. I do not go with my ears there to hear man, however gifted, but to worship God; and I beg to press this on brethren. I feel thankful if any one be led of God (I trust we may be forgiven for still thinking this possible, in spite of the efforts to rob us of it), to give a word of exhortation or comfort. I know that the flesh has abused this, forgetting the word “swift to hear, slow to speak”— “my brethren, be not many teachers.” But I add, most decidedly that, though I have seen liberty used for licence (and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”), I have found where God was owned incomparably more of His presence and blessing than where man’s arrangements have taken the place of God. There might be evils to deplore and to correct; but there was God to enjoy, because God was owned. Elsewhere I have found decent things of man, a fair show in the flesh, but a sepulchre. The God I found my delight in was not there. For even God’s grace or gift in teaching is a wholly different thing from God’s presence in the way of worship. But I add that, where in worship this latter is slighted, I never found even the former. It is written, “Cursed is the man who putteth his trust in man.” Correct the evils, brethren; but let us not disown God nor His goodness. If you cannot know His presence in worship, nor what the blessing of this is, humble yourselves. You have suffered great loss, you have spiritually declined. Forgive me! But if (which I cannot believe, for I at any rate have found it among you) you have forgotten this joy—pardon me here also— I, poor as I am, and I feel this unfeignedly, I have not forgotten it. I shall, with His grace, continue to trust Him. I will, if need be, begin afresh, and am not afraid of not finding His faithfulness and love, and of enjoying with a despised remnant that sweet and blessed fellowship with Him which He has granted us in times past. And, if I am to take my place among you, I shall freely exercise, when the just occasion offers, the ministry with which I believe God has entrusted me in my weakness, the gift of His grace; and, when we meet as saints, I shall be glad often to wait, not merely to compose my spirit, to gather up my strength from the Lord, before I enter on His work, or open my mouth to speak in His name, but to wait in the hope to gather up strength through the blessing conferred upon some other beloved one of God, or by our joining together, whoever may be used as our mouthpiece, in thanksgiving, and prayer, and praise. For the joy of the Lord is our strength. I do not expect to be edified if the flesh act amongst us, and we shall do well to own where it has been so. But I do expect the Lord’s presence, and His acting amongst us, if we wait upon Him, to guide, to use, and to bless us. And to Him, and to that hope I cleave.
I would add, in this second edition, some notice of the unity of the Church by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, as intercourse with saints seems to shew that this truth has been little laid hold of. The epistle to the Ephesians offers at once the testimony of the word on the subject. I would first notice that the body the apostle speaks of is of those actually quickened, subjects of the power which raised up Christ, not merely objects of purpose and counsel, though that of course was true of them. They had been dead in trespasses and sins. They were quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Him. They were united to their Head in heaven by living union by the Holy Spirit. Secondly, they were, if afar off, brought nigh by the blood of Christ, having been aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. But they were not introduced into anything of which Israel was in possession.79 Peace was preached to them afar off, and to them who were nigh—to Gentiles and to Israel. The latter were to be introduced as well as the former. That which distinguished them was broken down, “the middle wall of partition,” and of both one new man was made, both being reconciled in one body by the cross. That is, on the foundation of the actual accomplishment of the atonement on the cross, those then actually existing in two distinct conditions, namely, Jews and Gentiles, were reconciled and made one new man of—reconciled to God in one body (the actual accomplished work of the cross, setting aside the Jewish order of things, being the ground of it).
Next, the work itself is spoken of under the figure of a building. They were built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. These prophets are the prophets of the New Testament. This can scarcely be doubted by those acquainted with Greek, because the two words are united by a single article, which, as every scholar knows, proves them to be the same persons, or identified as one set of people by a common condition. But the English reader can easily see that it is so by looking at chapter 3:5, “as they are now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” This passage clearly and definitely shews who the prophets are who are referred to, namely, the prophets of the New Testament. We have then persons brought out from among Jews and Gentiles reconciled to God in one body, and builded on the foundation of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. This grew up to a holy temple. Hence they were builded together for a habitation of God. They were God’s dwelling-place, just as the temple had been of old, only that it was by the Spirit. God was in His holy temple; but it was by the presence of the Holy Ghost there.
The Ephesians, to whom he addressed himself, were builded into this one habitation of God. In this chapter, then, we have in the most distinct way possible, the saints, Jew or Gentile, losing their own proper natural place, and united together, consequent on the death of Christ, into one new man, formed into one body, and so, by the unity of the whole, forming a temple and builded together to be a place where God dwelt by the Holy Ghost. Hence, passing over the development of the mystery in chapter 3 (in which the apostle shews that it had not in other ages been made known to the sons of men, as it was now revealed to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, so that by the Church the manifold wisdom of God should be known on high), in chapter 4 he comments practically on the walk suited to this calling to be a temple of God in the Spirit. They are to keep its unity in the bond of peace. There was one body and one Spirit—this one body, of which we have been learning in chapter 2 as reconciled to God, the power of which unity is the one Spirit sent down from the ascended, exalted Head. The Holy Ghost could not thus come down indeed at all till the Head was glorified on high. The subject of His testimony was not yet there. The ground of His presence in sinners in the effectual righteousness of the exalted Head was not yet established in the presence of God on high. The body could not be formed before the Head was there on high. “The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” Being so given, He was the power of unity in that body so formed into one, by His coming down; and being thus in it, wrought by joints and bands for the edifying of the body of Christ. That is this unity of the body, the new man formed on the exaltation of the Head, by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, and formed on earth, the Holy Ghost having come down to earth, though its title and place and head were in heaven. And while He dwelt in and united it (so that it was the habitation of God), it made increase of the body, each part working in its measure—the body grew. As then before we had the building in which God dwelt, so here we have the body in which He acted vitally in blessing; both designating the saints united in one, and on earth, consequent on the death and exaltation of the Lord Jesus—the glorious Head to which they were united. To this testimony on this all-important subject much might be added from 1 Corinthians 12, where the “so also is Christ,” so clearly marks the present state consequent on the exaltation of the Head, for it was not so before; and the gifts there spoken of had their place of exercise and service beyond all controversy on the earth. But the reader, if he gives himself the trouble of reading the chapter in connection with what has been said, cannot fail to apprehend the evidence it affords of the truth treated of. That the body is one, and one on earth, though belonging to heaven, consequent on the exaltation of Christ as its Head, and acted in by one Spirit operating in members set every one of them in the body, that is, in the whole assembly of saints, and that on earth.
76 It is the final testimony of triumph and blessing; “The tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
77 In every shape and way the acting of the Holy Ghost Himself is denied. Suppose a person believes he is led of the Spirit of God to exhort his brethren (I say nothing now of gift), this is denounced as “impulse.” Man may act by the Spirit, but this would be the Spirit acting by man, and this cannot be. The Holy Ghost could not lead any one to speak, for it is quite clear this would be impulse. And who is to speak? Persons of proved competency. And how are they to be proved, if there is not to be an opening for their action? But the answer is ready—sent by the leaders of principal meetings to try their hand in the country, and these leaders are exclusively “the other” who are to judge; 1 Cor. 14:29. This is the avowed plan in some places. It would be much more honest to fall openly into the old dissenting plan, for it is nothing whatever but setting it up again, and I do not doubt there are men of God there. But my answer is, I believe in the Holy Ghost, not merely as sanctifying competent persons, but as acting as a living Person in the Church of God, and God present in the Church through the Spirit. It may be well to add here, what may perhaps seem incredible, that the authoritative explanation at Plymouth of this matter, in commenting on Mr. ——’s tract and the expression “meeting the Holy Ghost,” is that they go to meet God and not the Holy Ghost, and we go to meet the Holy Ghost and not God. This charge against brethren, untrue as it is, is sufficient, as well as the statement they make as to themselves, to shew their view on the subject, if view it can be called. Any comment on it here would carry me too far.
78 See pp. 20-23 of “Some Thoughts.”
79 This introduction into the place of promise on earth is the subject of Romans 11.