I trust, that, in—to me at any rate—the remarkable work which the Lord is now doing in the deliverance of valued brethren from the recognized snare of the enemy into the blessed liberty of grace and truth, I may be enabled to wait as patiently on that grace, through unfeigned faith in it, as I have felt it right to be active when I was satisfied the power of the enemy was at work. Where our blessed God deigns graciously to be at work, we may surely trust Him to bring it to a good and happy end. But where the enemy is still at work, there I feel the same cause for activity as ever.
Now the “Statement from Christians in Ebrington Street, Plymouth,” is, I am satisfied, distinctly marked by the power of the same evil spirit which so many now recognize to have been at work—disingenuousness, subtlety, reserving all the error possible, while the credit of those concerned is sought to be maintained, a Christ, or that which bears His name, which is no real living Christ of faith, accompanied by professions calculated to blind the simple and unwary. By whom drawn up I know not, or what Christians profess it, or how far to’ be taken as a profession of the assembly, or for the assembly by those who now assume to guide them, I know not, nor can anyone; nor know what authority to attach to an unsigned document. I can deal only with the document itself. It is said, “We can and do say that we have no wish to cloke or defend error;” but as to who can and do say it, we are left entirely in the dark. Still, in the Lord’s hands, I believe this mysterious way of presenting it a mercy. I turn to the document.
A system of doctrine has been denounced, as is well known, by those who have recently left the assembly and others. “This system,” the “Statement” tell us, “it is said, involves these errors,” &c. I need not repeat them here. “With regard to these errors, we desire to state, that the great majority amongst us were wholly ignorant of their existence, so that the assertions made touching ‘our having lost Christ,’ or having had presented to us a ‘false Christ’ for years past, were assertions perfectly strange and appalling to our ears and hearts; and they appeared to us to be not only untrue, but also of a most painful character and tendency.”
Now that damnable heresies are brought in privily there cannot be a doubt, and that many children of God escape many of the real and legitimate consequences of error because of positive truth already in their hearts I thankfully admit, and I dare say it has been the case with many of the poor of the flock in this case, and I bless God for it. But what are the facts here? First, more than two hundred persons had left the assembly, of whom a vast body felt that practically they had lost Christ; many had more definite reasons, no doubt, but with some that was practically the whole matter. Spiritual sense made them feel Christ was gone though they might not have been able to explain what had taken Him away. And they were right. God constantly thus guides His flock. “A stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of a stranger.” They cannot tell who the stranger is, but it is not the Shepherd’s voice. Many taunted them with this being no reason. It was a divine Spirit-taught reason, and God has justified them. But to proceed.
For years the chief teachers of Ebrington Street have all of them held what they now avow destroys the gospel. Do they not know what Christ they presented? This doctrine was taught, diligently taught; notes of lectures assiduously inculcating it were taken and diligently circulated all over England; tracts, with this doctrine contained in it, written and revised by the teachers, and sold and circulated; tracts, since its being charged as heresy by others, put forth by Mr. Newton, and read and approved by others in MS. and in print, and the doctrine justified and applauded: and now the whole assembly, or those who speak for them, tell us they were wholly ignorant of their existence. If their teachers really held this doctrine, their hearers had lost Christ, or had a false Christ presented to them. And whatever we may judge of the notes of lectures or their accuracy, they prove that the doctrine was assiduously and constantly taught. What that doctrine was we have the declaration of all the teachers to let us know. And will anyone believe that this, even when it was not the express subject, did not affect all the teaching and the action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly.
The declaration merely shews that the effect had been so complete that they had lost Christ without knowing it, had a false Christ presented to them without knowing it. And what does this speak for the state of the assembly? And when it was fully discussed and brought forward, what did they do? Was there confession and humiliation in the assembly? Was the matter judged? Or how came their teachers to have left? And now mark the excuse of the Statement: “This system, it is said, involves.” Do not they yet then know whether it does or not? Is this the way men speak who care for Christ’s glory, when His glory is concerned? Of two things one: either they are yet so blinded by the enemy that they do not yet see what has been printed and reprinted, and discussed and confessed, or they do see it and decline to acknowledge its heinousness. In either case the power of Satan is evident. Could any straightforward person say, “it is said this system involves” so and so, when the doctrines have been elaborately brought out in terms in Mr. N.’s tracts, and a good while defended amongst those who say so, and at last confessed openly by most of those who taught them? Does a thing involve itself? Are not these things stated in Mr. N.’s writings? Have they not in part been retracted by himself? I do not speak of consequences but of the plain statements themselves. And when it is said, page 2, “an error held by some of us,” is that honest? Was it not taught by some? Did not the teachers hold it? Who are the “some” who held it?
And note further here, there is subtlety as well as dishonesty. In page 3, the imputation of guilt to Christ, taught and circulated all over the kingdom, and far beyond its limits, by those who learned it in Ebrington Street, is declared to have been seen erroneous, and to have been confessed by those who once held it. But as to the law and its curse, it is said, we believe that this was not held by any amongst us. Indeed! And what are Mr. N.’s tracts and lectures? Will the assembly say that he is not amongst them? Or what mean the confessions of their teachers? “Indefinite thoughts which individuals may have entertained, or do entertain,” are spoken of. And what of the “Remarks and Observations?” And if individuals amongst them (and clearly teachers, for the mass were totally ignorant of the doctrines) do hold indefinite thoughts about Christ’s being under the curse of the law, Christ is lost, or a false Christ proclaimed. For a Christ born under the curse of the law in His own position is a false Christ; and indefinite thoughts in that prove that a man has no Christ at all; and to talk about it in such a way proves something very like indifference to it in those who drew up the paper. And mark, retraction or confession, or anything explicit as rejection, stated as to the imputation of Adam’s guilt, page 2, is not pretended to have been made on this second point. Now the teaching was not indefinite, but explicit enough; and whatever it was, some, perhaps, do maintain it. Who?
But I go farther, and I say, the true Christ, a known Christ, is lost in this very paper. I read, from page 9, “He voluntarily subjected Himself to all these things which were involved in such connections, so far as it pleased God His Father for Him to be placed in them.” Now in this diplomatic sentence, this shameful sentence to have written about the blessed Lord, what was Christ’s place? There is not one positive word of faith about Christ in it. It is declared that “this voluntary position could in no way affect the dignity of His person or perfectness of His work, nor yet could it indicate that something was laid on Him which He had to remove before He could become our substitute and sin-bearer.” That is what I will tell you when you tell me what the position was which He did take. But you have left me without any Christ at all, but a possible one, who was “subjected to all things which were involved in such connections”—connections with sinful man and cursed Israel, mark, “so far as it pleased God His Father for Him to be placed in them.” But how far was He in them? Have you nothing positive? Is it an unknown possibility of the Father’s will, the measure of Christ’s connections with sin and the curse? Was the connection—positively held as a doctrine by some amongst you, and taught, and printed, and applied to the interpretation of the whole book of Psalms—was that possible to be the Father’s pleasure, or the Son of God’s place! Is there no revelation of what were the connections with man and Israel, in which the blessed Lord was placed?
And now, you, who have drawn up this, who say that a position in a moral distance from God is perfectly abhorrent to every christian mind and heart, what position was given to Christ in the tracts printed, and the doctrine taught and defended amongst you? Did you ever read the “Remarks” and “Observations?” And is man’s distance from God, and working his way up to a point where God could meet him, not a moral distance from God? If not, what is? For the sake of individuals over whom I yet sorrow, for your own sakes, you ought to hide your faces for having written such a sentence as this. If this, and many like passages, are not a moral distance from God, what is?
Further, it would have been happy, if, instead of speaking vaguely of what Christ could have experienced, you had stated a little what you thought of what it has been stated amongst you He did experience; or what you think now. But in all this there is an ominous silence. You tell us, indeed, that whatever it was, “whatever he might have felt,” it would not affect, and it would not involve. Now I do not at all agree with you. I say, if He felt certain things in consequence of His position by birth (and that is the question), it would affect His person and it would involve the curse. Doctrines recently taught among yourselves did affect His person, and involve His work. You told us when these doctrines, now confessed to be abominable heresies, were taught and held among you, that you did not see that it affected His person or involved the curse. Now you see it does.
But you come and tell us that whatever Christ experienced, or in whatever way it pleased God His Father for Him to be placed in connection with man and Israel, it could in no possible way affect His person or work. How came it to do so, in what has been retracted? and how can I trust you in the dark for this vague unknown Christ, whose position, you tell me, cannot, and will not affect His person and work? You must let me know what your Christ is first. And so carefully do you guard this vague open door, that you tell us you cannot “know any further than God has been pleased to reveal by His Spirit in the word, and what it was proper for Christ to feel or not to feel”—the italics are yours. But do you know of nothing in the word which is revealed as to what He did not feel? The experience of an unconverted elect man, for instance? Is this the way you speak of Christ still? You are discussing what it was proper for Him to feel, instead of learning and believing in what the living Christ was.
And now let me ask you, here, what you mean by “experiences which it may have pleased the Father that He should pass through,” and what it was proper for Christ to feel? Besides sympathy with others, which is not now the question, nor His death on the cross—”but living feelings and experiences of the Lord Jesus,” could He have had any but what were real, resulting from the position He was in “as a man and an Israelite?” Were His feelings and experiences fictitious? You are speaking of Him as born into the nation of Israel, and as sharer of man’s nature. Could He then have experienced, as a man and as an Israelite, what was not according to the truth of the position He was in? Were His own experiences not true ones, according to the relation He was in? and is it not evident, if they were, that they involve the relationship? What do you mean by experiences it pleased the Father He should pass through, or that it was proper for Christ to feel? Circumstances I understand. He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; but experiences from the Father’s pleasure, and proper to feel, were they the real ones of the position He was in, or inflicted ones? Were they experiences belonging to His position, or not belonging to it? Were they founded on His relation to God and man, or arbitrary and not founded on it?
It is the more necessary you should explain this, not only because my questions apply to doctrines which have been diligently taught among you, as to which your statements have an alarming vagueness, but because in this very passage you speak of “experiences which it may have pleased the Father that He should pass through,” which could not involve “the rejection of His true experiences as the Son.” Now I avow to you such an expression, instead of clearing up your views, looks largely tainted with the abominable and frightful doctrine long taught among you. And this accompanied by a very anxious effort to shew that nothing you may hold could or would involve anything that affected the doctrine of Christ, and the absence of stating what you do hold, and of the refutation of what has been taught on the experiences of Christ, and on the contrary leaving the most open door possible for holding anything, only assuring us that whatever it may be it cannot affect Christ, only tends to confirm the conviction that you are still, as an assembly, under the power of Satan.
The entire want of candour and honesty as to what has been taught, printed, circulated, put in tracts, and confessed by your teachers, only painfully confirms this sad conviction. And, as undoubtedly convinced of it, I warn all who are among you solemnly of it, and exhort and call upon all who value Christ and their own souls to come out and partake no longer of the sins of the assembly, that they may have nothing to do with the judgments which belong to such evil. You, who are Christians, do you not yet see the hand of the Lord is out against all the system, though in love surely to His own? I do not charge all in the assembly as intentionally involved in their errors. Nor do I with the subtlety of this paper, which is an additional reason for having done with those who drew it up. You were ignorant perhaps of the errors, as those misled usually are; but if those who taught among you were full of these doctrines, you had lost the true Christ, for the Christ they had in their minds, which was the one you heard of from them, was not the true Christ. Besides I am bold to say, from my own knowledge, that the grace of God in the work of Christ and His person too were undermined and set aside in the public and private teaching in Ebrington Street; and it was clearly felt by the poor, though they might not be able to reason about and account for their judgment. Will any of you, moreover, stand up and deny that it was systematically taught that Christ was a constituted sinner and worked His way up to life? You cannot. That simple poor ones may, by God’s grace, have escaped it all, I can well believe. Is that a reason for their being subjected to such a system? or remaining in it?
I feel bound to add that the positive doctrine stated is unsatisfactory on two material points, particularly important to notice from the doctrines which have been taught, as they tend to confirm my conviction that those who have drawn up this paper are not free from the evil or from the influence of Satan. That Christ was truly a man, born of a woman, born under the law, is of the very essence of our faith—tempted in all points like as we are, yet without (apart from) sin; all this is the revealed comfort to the soul. But the statements of page 5, as to it, will be found to have, very many of them, no scripture to base them on. Hebrews 2:14 does not make the statement here made but a very definite one—not the one found here. The statement as to Christ’s death, on its only ground, I judge to shew equally defective views, though meant to guard against the charge of holding error. He could only die as bearing the sins of others seems to guard Christ’s death, but it makes it an imposed and necessary consequence. Now, though “if He took the sins, He could only expiate them by death,” it was not the whole character of His death or taken by itself a true one. They have ventured too far in mental dealing with the blessed Saviour, and we always lose Christ, the true Christ, when we do. It is an unsound exposition of Christ’s nature and death. But further, the second point is this: “while He, in living obedience, was working out that one righteousness in which we stand as believers in His name.” This last, too, specially connects itself with the errors which have been taught.
And now I close, only adding this one reflection. We have all known the ground taken by teachers and guides (precious gifts I fully recognize to the flock of God), and the separate authority attributed to them, and the security afforded by them as God’s ordinance. What has become of them? Where are they? Some of them, at any rate, I must thankfully believe under the unquestionably gracious operation of God’s Spirit, but I speak now of the security afforded by such a system, of its comfort to the saints, and the glory rendered to God by it. I pray for the peace of you all.
Yours, affectionately in Christ,
J. N. D.