The cross may gather all, both Jew and Gentile; but they are gathered to Christ, not to the cross; and the difference is a most important and essential one, because it is of all importance that the person of the Son of God should have its place. Christ Himself, not the cross of Christ, is the centre of union. The two or three are gathered to His name, not to the cross. Scripture is uniform in its testimony as to this.
But further, where saints are gathered in unity, without any questionings, they have the truth and holiness to guard. It never was, nor I trust ever will be, the notion of brethren, that the truth of Christ’s person, or godliness of walk, was to be sacrificed to outward unity. It is making brethren of more importance than Christ. And even so, love to the brethren is false; for if true, it is, John assures us, “love in the truth, for the truth’s sake.” Supposing a person denied the divinity of Christ, or the resurrection of His body, still declaring his belief in the cross—supposing he declared his belief in the cross and resurrection, but declared it was only a testimony of God’s love, and no substitution or expiatory value in it, as many clergymen of high reputation now do—is all this to be immaterial? I shall be told that no true believer could do this. In the first place, a true believer may be seduced into error; and further, the test offered becomes thus the opinion formed that a man is a true believer, and not the plain fundamental truth of God and His holiness.
If it be granted that the gathering is round the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is quite true; but what person? Would it be equal if He were owned to be God, or if it were denied? If He were the Son, the object of the Father’s delight at all times, or if He were a man or really risen from the dead? If it be said, All this is supposed, then neutrality is a delusion and denies itself. For what I insist on is, that I must have a true Christ, and that I am bound to maintain the truth of Christ in my communion. I am aware that it is stated we can deal with conduct (with morality), but not with these questions. But this is just what appears to me so excessively evil. Decency of conduct is necessary to communion; but a man may blaspheme Christ— that is no matter: it is a matter, not of conduct, but of conscience. It is hinted, that perhaps, if it be a teacher, he may be dealt with. In truth, the apostle desires even a woman not to let such a person into her house. It is not therefore so difficult to deal with. Just think of a system which makes blasphemous views of Christ, which may amount to a denial of Him, to be a matter of private conscience, having nothing to do with communion! And here is the very root of the question.
I affirm that that is not a communion of believers at all which is not founded on the acknowledgment of a true Christ. Where the truth as to this is commonly held and taught, I may have no need for particular enquiry. But that is not the case here. If I find a person even in such a case denying the truth as to Christ, communion is impossible, because we have not a common Christ to have communion in. But here all faithfulness is thrown overboard. No call to confess a true Christ is admitted: it is a new test or term of communion!
We are to meet as Christians; but a man is not a Christian in profession who professes a false Christ. I cannot judge the state of a person’s heart while his profession is false. I may hope he is only misled, but cannot accept his profession. If wholly or not willingly ignorant, it is another matter: but we have to do with the case where, heretical views being held, they are declared to be matter of private conscience; that a false Christ is as good as a true one, if a person’s conduct is good— we can judge only of the last! Now this principle is worse than false doctrine; because it knows the falseness and blasphemy of it, and then says it is no matter. I do not own such meetings as meetings of believers; for fundamental error as to Christ is immaterial for communion—a matter, not of conduct, but of conscience.
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth, the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Suppose a person held Christ was a mere man, and quoted the passages to prove it that God raised Him, and made Him Lord and Christ, would he be received? If not, you do try whether a man has the faith of God’s elect: otherwise a Socinian is admissible as a believer; or you make your opinion of his being a believer the test, entirely independent of the faith of Christ. It is said, You can only require a person to say he receives all in the scriptures. The supposed Socinian would accept such a test at once. They do so. Why should you ask even that? A man may be a believer, and a rationalist in theory (sad as such a thought is), and not accept all the word of God, and say, I am a believer in the cross: you have no right to make a difficulty. If after this you object to any doctrine, or insist on any truth, you have not even scripture to lean on against his denial of it. Scripture says “whom I love in the truth,” and “for the truth’s sake.” The other principle says, That is no matter. You think the person spiritual, a believer; the truth of Christ is no matter—a false one is just as good.
I add no human document to the divine; I make no term of communion besides Christ. God requires that those who have blasphemed Christ should not be admitted. I am told that it is a matter of conscience, &c, and people cannot read doctrines to know whether He is blasphemed or not. These blasphemers have been received deliberately and avowedly, upon the ground that no enquiry is to be made; and therefore the plea of additional bonds or terms of communion is all dust thrown in the eyes. Is it a new term of communion to affirm that faith, faith in a true Christ (not a false one), is required for communion, and that blasphemers of Christ are not to be received? That is the true question. If persons think they are not safe in reading the publications, how are they safe in fellowship and intimacy with those who have written or refuse to disown them? I confess I do not admire this argument. Simple believers do not hesitate, reasoning minds do. Ask a truehearted believer if Christ had the experience of an unconverted man? He would soon say, I will have nothing to do with one who says that. A reasoning mind might make it a mere matter of personal conscience. Is the truth, of Christ’s person and of His relationship to God a variety of judgment on a particular doctrine? Here is the whole question—value for Christ, and the truth as to Himself.
Definitions are not required, but that when blasphemous: definitions have been made, the blasphemers should be refused.. Is it the Shibboleth of a party to reject such doctrines, as that Christ was relatively farther from God than man when they made the golden calf; and that He heard with an attentive heart the gospel from John Baptist, and so passed from law under grace? Or is it faithfulness to Christ to extenuate them by saying, that in such deep doctrines we shall not express ourselves alike?
It is not real love to the members, nor love for Christ’s sake, to despise Christ so as to bear blasphemies against Him. The truth of His person and glory is a test for those who are faithful to Him. I cannot talk of liberty of conscience to blaspheme Christ, or have communion with it. Christ, not opinion, is the centre of union; but I never meant, nor do I mean, that a true Christ and a false one were equally good as a centre, provided people are amiable one with another; for this means that union is man’s amiability and the denial of Christ. What do I want of union, if it be not union in Christ, according to the power of life, through the Holy Ghost?
The business of those united is Christ’s glory. If Christians ever unite on a condition of that not being essential, their union is not christian union at all. I have no reason for union but Christ, the living Saviour. I do not want any union but that which makes Him the centre, and the all and the hope of it. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren;” but to make this a plea for indifference to Christ’s personal glory, in order to be one with him who, calling himself a brother, denies and undermines it, is, in my mind, wickedness.