To the same.]
My dear Brother,—It is very important to observe that Romanism does take infidel ground, and to press this on their consciences; I have often done so in Ireland. God is competent to make men responsible by speaking Himself. This is a most important proposition, and tins is the one thing they have to defend, by His own testimony, that is. In their arguments there is a grand prw'ton yeu'do", namely, that the means of communicating Christ’s religion is the same thing as the rule of faith. This is a fundamental fallacy of Milner’s “End of Controversy.” A mother, a child, may be the means of communicating Christ’s religion, but they are not a rule of faith. These two things may be united, but they are in no way the same things. I suppose the book you have, however, is Wiseman’s.
Now I would take the bull by the horns, and say that there is no living saving faith whatever, but that which is wrought by the operation of the word of God, received on His direct authority without any warrant whatever. If it is received on the authority of the church, it is not believing God. The word of God proves itself to the conscience, and puts man by itself under the responsibility of crediting it, because God cannot speak without man’s being bound to know and hear Him, for none speaks like Him. He may in grace use proofs and confirmations and witnesses, but man is bound to hear Him. God will prove that, in the day of judgment. Nay, the very heathen are without excuse on much lower ground. The reason is plain, too, practically. The word of God judges, and is not judged—“he is convinced of all, he is judged of all;” and the secrets of his heart being revealed, he falls down and confesses “that God is in you of a truth.” That is not authority, but it is the only saving thing. A man does not want authority to know that a two-edged sword is sharp. A faith founded on miracles, though God vouchsafed this confirmation, is no saving faith at all; Jesus did not commit Himself to it (John ii), He knew what was in man. But then in the corruption of the church and its prevalent power, it may be a reason why none but those who receive the love of the truth should escape. But this power of the word by the Spirit acting on, not judged by, man, supposes the unbeliever; all else is no faith at all. But the church has the Spirit and the word, and the spiritual man judges all things.
Hence then, I first take the ground, that the word of God received on authority, is a rejection of God’s testimony. If I receive an account of another because you put your name to it, it is because I do not believe the person who gives the account. God may providentially make it to be received where this genuine faith is not, but then it is not saving. To be saving it must be faith in God; “he that hath received his testimony, has set to his seal that God is true:” he who demands the church’s authority to receive it has not. God may have used all manner of means of preserving, and even authenticating the testimony, and so He has in many as we might expect; and I believe that the scriptures were committed to the church to keep—not to authorise, but to keep, as I keep a document safe. I give it no authority. It has its own. But I keep it safe. Now God, I believe, providentially has done this. But then the Roman body has decidedly failed in this, because at the Council of Trent, which is with them of divine authority, (it) has declared that to be scripture which declares itself not to be so. That is for example the [second book of] Maccabees, which concludes by saying, If I have done well, it is as befits the subject; if ill, it is according to my ability. Now it is profane to suppose for an instant that that is the Holy Ghost’s inditing. The Prologus Galeatus indeed of Jerome, generally prefixed to the Vulgate, declares that the Apocryphal books are not scripture. Many other passages from the Apocrypha could be adduced, such as that the offerings for the dead were those dead in mortal sin— that there are three contrary accounts of the death of Antiochus —but I prefer the fact that one book of the Maccabees declares it is not scripture, as above. Moreover, it is well known, that Sixtus V., acting under the authority of the Council of Trent, promulgated as the only authentic word of God an edition of the Vulgate, which was suppressed, because his successor Clement altered it in two thousand places; five copies only of it are in existence. Clement’s bears in appearance its name. It has been in no sense, what the church ought to be, a faithful keeper of the “oracles of God committed” to it.
But, after all, clever as Mr. Wiseman is, it is a vicious circle he is in; he takes the scripture as an authentic book. This itself then he supposes may be done. But if authentic, in the first place, it is clearly inspired, as any one who reads it may see —that is, it gives us (to say the very least, for I think it goes further) an authentic account of the actual authoritative teaching of Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude, and of the Lord Himself. If this be so, I have no need of the church to receive its doctrine as divine. The authentic record of Christ’s words and the apostles’ teaching, gives me a divine instruction directly, which no reference to a derivative authority can set aside; because the body which would set aside or call in question the authority of that from which it derives, is not derivative from it at all. If it be then authentic, I have the original divine instructions which founded, formed, and guided the church itself at first. If it be not authentic, then to find that the church was founded proves nothing, for if not authentic, I do not know it is true. If I am to receive the church from it, I certainly can receive Christ’s and all the apostles’ words from it directly. But I may go further. If it be not inspired as well as authentic, and if I do not know it to be so, I have no inspired warrant, that is, no divine warrant for hearing the church at all. So that on this ground you cannot set up the authority of the church, without setting up previously the authority of scripture itself. The authenticity proves inspiration, or it gives no inspired authority for the church, and I hear all Christ’s and the apostles’ inspired words, as well as that as to the church. For if I receive something a person says, and not the rest, I receive none of it on his authority.
But indeed, when I examine the point further, I find the authority of this authentic book shewing me plainly a church indeed established, that is an assembly, but quite the contrary to the conclusion drawn from it. I find the test, of being of God, as to doctrine, to be, hearing the apostles themselves, “he that is of God heareth us.” But I have their authentic words in this book. I am not of God, if I do not hear them, themselves, as the guard against error. When I turn to hearing the church, I find not a word about doctrine at all, but a case of discipline (any rules of which, according to Catholic doctrine, are not binding unless where received, though decreed by a Council; though they allege decrees on faith are. The discipline of the Council of Trent was not everywhere received). It is a question of wrong done, carried to two or three, and at last before the assembly, and if the wronging party will not mind the whole body, he may be avoided by the offended one as a heathen. Whereas, I find the scriptures referred (to) as the security in perilous times, and the certainty of having received the doctrines from the apostles, personally,—“knowing of whom.” I find the Lord (whose words all of us would bow to as divine) yet preferring, as to the medium of communication, “the written word; “if they believe not his writings, how shall they believe my words” —“they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.”
Now if we separate the rule of faith from the means of communicating Christ’s religion—which last all admit may be, and is now fallible (consequently, the individual priest)—where is their accessible rule? Is it in the acts of nineteen Councils (and which are they? For you are aware that Romanists are not agreed which the nineteen, are), acts in Latin moreover, or in Greek? Where is this accessible rule of faith? And now further, Romanists are not agreed what the rule is. Ultra-montanes hold the Pope infallible. Cis-montanes hold he is not. Many, as the Councils of Constance and Basle, hold that they had authority to act independent of and superior to the Pope. At the time of the former there were two Popes. The Council deposed them and chose another, who (Martin V.) dissolved the Council. Is the Council of Constance a general council? If so, it has given an authority in matters of faith quite different from the Papal advocates; and it acted on it and deposed the Popes; and yet if it had not this authority, the whole succession of the popedom is founded on a schismatical act. However that may be, the authority on matters of faith Romanists are not agreed on. Not only so, but these Councils have decreed things against the Pope’s authority, and he against theirs. The acts at Basle the Pope declared void after the departure of his legate, having transferred the Council elsewhere, though only a part left. But further, the Council of Chalcedon declared the equality of the Sees of Constantinople and Rome. This Pope Leo rejected.
Now if a Roman Catholic say, I am not learned enough for all this; then I reply, Where is the simplicity and accessibleness of their rule of faith? For this is it. If you say, But I trust my priest; then you are on confessedly fallible ground. I had much rather trust, with God’s help by the Spirit, the writings of Paul and Peter and John, &c, addressed to all saints—expressly so addressed. How fallible this is you may suppose, when I tell you that in the four standard catechisms published by the authority of different Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland, there are not the same lists of the seven deadly sins. But this is by the bye. But is not there a fearfully upsetting thing, that the moment I do turn to the Bible—take the Roman translation— I find it sets aside all the cardinal points of Romanism.
For instance, the Mass—I read, there is no more oblation for sin. I am told by the highest authority of the Roman system, that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. Yet take away this, and all Romanism falls. Again, there is one Mediator. Now the Roman system makes many, and in fact more referred to than to Christ. And it is in vain to say that it is only as praying. Their merits are positively acted on in the Missal, and the Virgin Mary is called upon to save us now and at the hour of death. Nay, so far is this carried, that the Confiteor on which absolution is received, leaves out Christ altogether.
The inadequacy of the scriptures to give unity is a mere claptrap. Has Rome produced it? Clearly not, unless by blood. Look at it from without. Authority, they say, was in the church from the beginning; if not, it is new, and good for nothing. Well, did it preserve unity? Witness the Greeks, Nestorians, Jacobites. Earlier, the Novation system, Paulicians: Protestants —half professing Christendom at this moment is outside their unity. But their authority being alleged to be the original effectual thing, it is clear then it has failed to preserve it. They tried by fire and blood when Protestantism arose, but in half Europe in vain. Present facts then prove its inadequacy to this end. To say that it promotes unity among those subject to it, is merely what the smallest sect in Christendom would say too. I remember a poor Romanist telling me nine-and-thirty religions arose out of the Bible. I told him I suppose his did, or it was good for nothing, which he admitted, and I told him then there were forty. And really the argument is worth no more! Nothing can produce unity, but the teaching and power of the Spirit of God.
Ever affectionately yours.
* * * * *
My very dear Brother,— …I suspect many brethren have had expectations, which never led me out, and which perplexed their minds when they were not met in practice. I never felt my testimony, for example, to be to the ability of the Holy Ghost to rule a visible body. That I do not doubt, but I doubt its proper application now as a matter of testimony. It does not become us. My confidence is in the certainty of God’s blessing and maintaining us, if we take the place we are really in. That place is one of the general ruin of the dispensation. Still, I believe God has provided for the maintenance of its general principle (save persecution); that is, the gathering of a remnant into the comfort of united love by the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, so that Christ could sing praises there. All the rest is a ministry to form, sustain, &c.
Amongst other things government may have its place; but it is well to remember that, in general, government regards evil, and therefore is outside the positive blessing, and has the lowest object in the church. Moreover, though there be a gift of government, in general, government is of a different order from gift. Gift serves, ministers; hardly government. They may be united as in apostolic energy; elders were rather the government, but they were not gifts. It is specially the order of the governmental part which I believe has failed, and we are to get on without that, at least in a formal way. But I do not believe that God has therefore not provided for such a state of things.
I do believe brethren a good deal got practically out of their place, and the consciousness of it, and found their weakness; and the Lord is now teaching them. For my part, when I found all in ruin around me, my comfort was that, where two or three were gathered together in Christ’s name, there He would be. It was not government or anything else I sought. Now I do believe that God is faithful, and able to maintain the blessing. I believe the great buildings and great bodies have been a mistake: indeed, I always did. Further, I believe now (though it were always true in practice) the needed dealing with evil must be by the conscience in grace. So St. Paul ever dealt, though he had the resource of a positive commission. And I believe that two or three together, or a larger number, with some having the gift of wisdom in grace, can, in finding the mind of the Lord, act in discipline; and this, with pastoral care, is the mainspring of holding the saints together in Matthew 18. This agreeing together is referred to as the sign of the Spirit’s power.
I do not doubt that some may be capable of informing the consciences of others. But the conscience of the body is that which is ever to be acted upon and set right. This is the character of all healthful action of this kind, though there may be a recourse in present apostolic power, which, where evil has entered, may be wanting; but it cannot annul “if two of you shall agree … it shall be done.” So that I see not the smallest need of submission to popery (that is, carnal unity by authority in the flesh), nor of standing alone, because God has provided for a gathering of saints together, founded on grace, and held by the operation of the Spirit which no doubt may fail from want of grace, but in which every remaining gift has its scope; in which Christ’s presence and the operation of the Spirit is manifested, but must be maintained on the ground of the condition the church really is in, or it would issue in a sect arranged by man, with a few new ideas. Where God is trusted in the place and for the place we are in, and we are content to find Him infallibly present with us, there I am sure He is sufficient and faithful to meet our wants. If there be one needed wiser than any of the gathered ones in a place, they will humbly feel their need; and God will send some one as needed, if He sees it the fit means.
There is no remedy for want of grace but the sovereign goodness that leads to confession. If we set up our altar, it will serve for walls. (Ezra 3:3.) The visibility God will take care of, as He always did; the faith of the body will be spoken of, and the unity in love manifest the power of the Holy Ghost in the body. I have no doubt of God’s raising up for need, all that need requires in the place where He has set us in understanding. If we think to set up the church again, I would say, God forbid. I had rather be nearer the end to live and to die for it in service, where it is, as dear to God: that is my desire and life…
Ever yours affectionately.
September 24th, 1846.
* * * * *
Beloved Brethren,—I saw so very few of you before I left, and for such a little moment, that I felt anxious to write a line, being separated from you in presence and not in heart.
When I took my place, my heart misgave me a little at leaving you all, but on looking to the Lord I felt it was more my natural heart, and that I was in the path of faith in going to France. I found on going home from the Friday prayer meeting, a letter which confirmed me in the purpose of going speedily, but what at the same time will shorten my absence some weeks at any rate, nor indeed is it my present purpose to be long out of England; my thought is to visit the south of France and return at once, or at any rate make no stay in Switzerland. The same faith which has led me, and made me feel right to go, gives me confidence, beloved brethren, that the Lord will keep you to the blessed testimony of His own faithfulness and grace.
I would urge upon you walking in thorough unity, shewing all confidence one in the other, and casting all that may arise at once on God. His faithfulness to His church and people who trust in Him is infallible, and He cannot but help you in all for which you look to Him. I do not doubt His care over you. I trust that those who take part in any service needed for all, will do it together with common consultation, and that it will be done diligently as a duty. I say this, dear brethren, because uneasiness creeps in where this is neglected, and soon produces discomfort, which hinders both unity and blessing. It is written, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” There is another thing I have on my heart to say, that is, as far as brethren can, they should visit others; of course, they must wait on the Lord’s leading for it, but it will minister to fellowship and unity in brotherly love, and that is our joy, beloved brethren. For the rest I commend you to the Lord; He will guide you in waiting upon Him. If we assume nothing at all beyond what we are, a company of poor saints waiting upon God according to His will, we shall infallibly meet Him in blessing.
I believe we are not properly aware, few, at least, of the unfeigned importance of the position He has set us in, in testimony of separation from evil and waiting on Him. But the secret of all strength in it is, assuming nothing—not expecting to be like other Christians, as the Israelites, who would have a king like the Amorites and other nations, and thus falling back into the common path of unbelief, but truly waiting upon God. If there be gift, blessing Him for it, but swift to hear and slow to speak, counting God’s presence more precious than all, and—while desiring God’s ordinance in the testimony of His word to sinners, and if any can give a public testimony, accepting it—not counting the routine of a sermon necessary to the course of the saints.
Peace be with you, beloved brethren. May the Lord give you to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God that worketh in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Give my love to dear old S.; I do trust that the brethren will visit him now that he cannot come out. Again, peace be with you all.
Your devoted brother.
P.S.—Since I came up I have other letters which make it probable that I could not stay in Switzerland if so disposed; at least, the French troops are an the frontiers, and the Swiss have been marched to watch them. The brethren at Rawstorne Street are getting on quietly and happily, and though my toil, I doubt not, is not yet closed as to service, of which I am persuaded hone of the brethren scarce know at all the evil met, yet I have been greatly encouraged and comforted.
I have a letter from dear——, who is arrived at Bombay, and happily lodged at a Christian’s; he says, “And I pray also the Lord that the brethren at Plymouth, who are simply gathered in the Lord’s name, may never be dismayed in looking at their own weakness in meeting, but be glad that there is nothing to look to but to Him who is in heaven, the only One all eyes are fixed on, and that the brethren may constantly look for Him who will come and not tarry: yet a little while and we shall see Him face to face. In the moment we limit His coming, unconnected with any circumstances, we begin to make our nest in the foliage of this world. And the dear brethren too at Plymstock I do never forget; give to all of them my most affectionate salutations.”
It is a long letter, with all the details of his voyage, and some interesting particulars as to his search into the prophetic question, which I cannot here give. Peace be with you, most beloved brethren. Be of good cheer. Glory with Christ is ours; the love of Christ is ours. Only let us trust the Lord, and we know not how much blessing is in store for us, though we ought to know how faithful, how infallibly faithful He is. The Lord has led out several to labour here of the younger brethren, and I have found others whom I trust He is so leading. I trust quite He is working. He has led me wonderfully every step of the way.
Your devoted brother in Him.
* * * * *
London, November 6th, 1846.
Dear Brother,—My head and paper alike warn me to close. I think of being off to-morrow (D. V.) direct for France, and am hurried toe. Peace be with you, and nearness to Jesus, dear brother; that is our strength and joy. Having been in the third heaven did not give the strength; it in a certain sense necessitated the weakness, and then the strength came in. We do not know how to be weak, that is our weakness.
Guernsey, January 30th, 1847.
Dear——,—There is certainly progress and blessing here, though perhaps there needs some one of energy to pursue and instrumentally give tone to the work. But the Lord will do it in His mercy. He has blessed and been with the brethren, and works in these countries, and the testimony they bear in weakness is telling in a general consciousness that the church belongs to Christ, not to the world, and must lean on Him and wait for Him. There is on the whole very definite progress, and the Lord has been with the brethren—as I said, a little energy called for, but what there is for good has been with the brethren, and people’s consciences have been acted on. I have had persons to hear me who never came near before, and many desirous though fearing to break with the world.
It is very doubtful if I should be allowed in Switzerland, that is Vaud. I have my heart quite towards working in England, but feel I was led of the Lord here, and owed it to them. The Lord enable me to fill up my service. I fear I do not make full proof of my ministry. Love to all the saints.
Your affectionate brother in Christ.
Montpellier, April 3rd, 1847.
To the same.]
Dearest——,—As to me and my work, I have, the Lord be thanked, been blessed in it hitherto. At St. Hippolyte, where it was at a stand in a measure, though the Lord had a people, and there were souls waiting as it were for the fire to be put, there has been an evident working of the Spirit of God, and that in the hearts as it would seem of the most obdurate. At the Vigau, where I spent some days, I was happy with the brethren. At Montpellier the Lord is working, but things will hardly rest as they are; some will go on, and some I should suppose go back (though I trust I may be mistaken), when a certain quantity of light is sure to call for a certain quantity of self-denial. The work is not altogether in the position I should desire it; perhaps I want faith, but there is much that is interesting and souls desirous. The heat has become excessive. It is generally so ir July and August, but this year in May it is, as their meetings are .in small rooms, become difficult. I suppose I must go to Switzerland, but my thought of work as when I left, is here. .
The great difficulty is the desire of Free Churches and Evangelical Alliances to save trouble and conscience. ——declares there are profound evils in the National Church, but they wait for some violent blow which will trouble all their consciences, and they will go out together. By this means it is sought to retain them within the circle of the Establishment; but for plain consciences, under the power of the Spirit of God, this will not do…
We have great need of labourers; may the Lord of the harvest raise them up, for indeed the harvest is great, and the fields whiten for it. It ought to be a subject of our prayers, that God raise up real labourers, such as He loves and can use. It is the great need here; why should we not know how to present our needs before Him, whose glory and work all this is? this is our folly. Dear G., I shall feel his loss, for he loved Jesus much, and I loved him, but I am not surprised at his death nor his joy. It remains for us to work yet while it is called day. It is our glory also.
I have undertaken again a Synopsis of the Books of Scripture, and written in French on Genesis, Exodus, and half Leviticus— some 70 pages or so already. It runs longer than I thought, and will after all be very imperfect. I fear souls may content themselves with it, instead of using it as a help to read the blessed word with. I feel almost afraid in presence of the task I have begun, though it be full of interest and instruction in doing it, but not to give the aim right, which would be very sad. I feel my responsibility much, though we may have pleasure in the study.
Kindest love to all the dear brethren, both in London and at Plymouth, when you see- them. The Lord has care over these dear brethren; that He holds them under His hand is no sign that He does not love them; whatever of the energy of the flesh there might have been in separation, as often there is, is thus subdued and chastened. I have not at all got estranged from England; the work in the south of France however claims attention. … I wait only the Lord’s will, but it is an important moment for Nismes and Montpellier and all the Gard, but requires to set to work in the sense that there is work to be done, and that the Lord gives something whereby to help them. Peace and blessing be with you, dear brother.
Montpellier, June 1st, 1847.
* * * * *
[From the French,
* * * We must distinguish between responsibility and dependence, while fully owning the former, which it is, I think, most important to maintain in its integrity. But if we take this principle alone we are necessarily discouraged. The thought of dependence on God includes the power of Him on whom we depend… Come what may, God is faithful in His love: His grace never fails. Oh that we may have more faith to know how to bring His love into everything, for the blessing of His church, and of His children!
Brethren here needed to be stirred up, but I hope that God is blessing them. It is wonderful how near one can be to the spring, and yet, like poor Hagar, not see it. The bottle does not hold out in the desert… It seems to me, according to my feeble apprehension, that the responsibility of the Christian keeps him constantly on the qui vive, like a sentinel at an advanced post, and that there is for such a soul an exercise which sometimes makes him afraid of failing in it, which must of necessity deprive it of joy and courage. However, we need to be given understanding in all things (2 Tim. 2:7), so as not to lean too much to one side as to responsibility; and so that, while wishing to be led by grace, we should not return to the law. On the other hand, conscious dependence leaves to God all the glory of His work in the soul of the faithful one, as it is said, and the results of this dependence honour the One who gives the desire and the power to walk in it.
July 1st, 1847.
* * * * *
Very dear Brother,—I have heard little in the way of news since I left England. A letter dear—— wrote to me in April I only received in June. Since then I heard from——, both of whom, in the midst of other matters, mention that the question of Mr. N.’s coming to Bath had been raised there. As I understand, our brother B. has laid his ground of objection in the doctrines Mr. N. taught. I am entirely ignorant of what brethren at Bath have done, but it is fair that they should know what is in question, if the question be raised. Now I entirely agree with dear B. in the difficulty he raises. I am satisfied that Mr. N. is unsound in the most important fundamental doctrines, so that if no Plymouth question had been raised, I never could consent that souls should be under his teaching. I am perfectly satisfied that he undermines the truth of Christ’s Person, and justification by faith, and that he has done so, and made souls miserable by it; but I know that he would deny it all, and state opposite statements with the greatest force, or if pinned to a statement made, explain it all away the moment it was objected to. All these things have happened, and I should be prepared with instances… but it is well that brethren should know that Mr. N. and the whole five stand accused of systematic
falsehood where there is no heresy at all. ——has declared that their statements were so utterly false, so entirely untrue, that not only he would not break bread, but that as an honest man and a Christian, much as he loved some of them, he would not sit down in the same room, with them. For my own part, I can only say, I never saw such effrontery and falsehood in all my life. Mr. J. L. H. declared that had Mr. N. been an attorney or an officer he would have been struck off the rolls. Mr. McA. and Mr. N. confirm, as far as they are concerned in it, their testimony. Mr. E. H. declined further correspondence, it grew so bad, and they had to reject the testimony of their own friends in London to get rid of the proof of falsehood there: the path was such as left no trace of doubt in the minds of brethren…
The assumption of position by these brethren in the assembly is such, that no person who has any conscience could admit of it; it is pure popery. Now it would be very easy to gain a reputation, dear brother, for charity, by passing loosely over all these things. But as I am convinced that it is the power of Satan, and that they corrupt every soul they have to say to, the service of the Lord and faithfulness to Christ are more important than a good reputation and the favour of man. I could easily, being here, avoid the responsibility, but I do not choose to run away from the difficulty when my brethren are in it… This is my feeling as to the dear brethren at Bath. They have a right to know what they are about. A great body of beloved brethren are from personal acquaintance convinced that it is the work of Satan. They can say why; and nothing would induce them to go where these persons were. The brethren, if it is proposed to them to receive them, or even if they come to attract them by smooth speeches and fine words, have a right to know on what ground they refuse to have anything to say to a meeting where they are. Many have declared why, as before the brethren in London, and have entirely satisfied them, the rest refusing to come. Brethren must feel, that supposing they receive persons, whom the brethren best informed and who owe fidelity to Jesus, believe to be doing a work of Satan, it is impossible for them who have this feeling to go along in any way with those whom they judge such.
Peace is pleasant, but it could not be purchased by making terms or being at concord with Satan, or those who produce his fruits in the church. My own conviction, I need not say, is most decided, and unqualified decision is my only path. The more I weigh, the more decided I am. Four other brethren have declared that they have the conscience of having been under the direct power of Satan whilst giving it to them. I have seen besides many souls delivered from it, where it was as evident as a first conversion. I have not seen one who gave in to it, who maintained his integrity. This will make you feel, however reluctant some may be to say what they know and have said in private, or when the Lord forced them to it, that where there is fidelity there is decision, and that indecision is unfaithfulness, and that is all.
The principles now in print would suffice to deter any one who owned that the Spirit of God was in the assembly of the saints.
Perhaps the brethren have already acted; of this I know nothing. All I desire is that brethren be aware of what is in question—systematic and constant untruth, declared such by very many grave and serious brethren. Any attempt to clear, in the absence of those able to bring forward the facts and question the parties from knowing what it was about, would be far worse than no clearance at all.
Kindest love to the brethren.
Your affectionate brother in Christ.
[From abroad, exact date uncertain.]
* * * * *
* * *—As in the Psalms, I do not at all admit that they are aU the language of’our Lord. Even as to some in which His voice is unquestionably heard, there are other voices also. For instance (Psalm 102.), where the cry of the blessed Jesus is answered in words quoted by the apostle in Hebrews 1, as addressed to our Lord by God Himself. So in Psalms 20 and 21 it is rather the voice of those who pray and give thanks on behalf of Jehovah’s Anointed that we hear than His own. At least they express their interest and concurrence in His desires, and then acknowledge how all these desires are fulfilled to the uttermost: I have no doubt that in all the Psalms the Spirit of Christ is to be heard, and that the grand theme of that Spirit’s utterance is “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow.” But all this does not prove that the Psalms were all uttered by Christ as His own language at the time He was here on earth. Some of them were so uttered without doubt. But as to most of the Psalms, they have evidently a different character.
There is a well-known passage in Romans 8:26, 27, which, more clearly than anything, illustrates, as it seems to me, the character of the Psalms. In Romans 8:the intercession is that of the Spirit in Christians, and therefore according to the place given us and the calling wherewith we are called. In the Psalms it is the remnant of Israel that is in question. But how is the passage in Romans 8:to be understood? We who pray know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the indwelling Spirit helps our infirmities, making intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. How are the prayers thus inwrought by the Spirit of God? Not according to the poor, feeble, measure of our personal intelligence and desires, but according to the perfect expression of these requests by the Spirit, and according to the value and acceptance of Christ and His work, through which it is that the Holy Ghost has come to make our bodies His abode. “He that searcheth the hearts knoweth” (it does not say our mixed, feeble, imperfect desires, but) “what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to God.” His intercessions are according to God; while, alas! our apprehensions and utterance of them always fall short of this. Still, what the Searcher of hearts finds in us—that which He hears and receives —is this mind of the Spirit—this intercession of His according to God.
Now it is something analogous to this that we find in the Psalms. The circumstances are different: it is another body of people; and in general the blessings sought for are different. The people are the Jewish remnant; the circumstances in many, perhaps most, of the Psalms, are those of the final tribulation through which these chosen ones are to pass; and where this is not the case, the circumstances are those of one period or another, past or future, in the history of the remnant. The blessings sought for differ in two very important respects from those for which we should seek. On the one hand the supplicants evidently do not stand in the consciousness of God’s manifested favour, as the church now stands; and, on the other, they seek deliverance from their complicated and unexampled afflictions by imploring the execution of righteous judgment on their adversaries. In the Psalms we have the confessions, the prayers, the lamentations, the faith, the hopes, the thanksgivings, the worship of this chosen remnant; not according to the feebleness and imperfectness with which they may be actually uttered, but according to the perfect expression of them by the Spirit of Christ, who did identify Himself with this remnant in a most special manner, and whose Spirit will as truly incite in them the desires, &c, thus expressed, as He does now make intercession for the saints with groanings which cannot be uttered.
As to the remnant, and Christ’s identification of Himself with it, several points need to be observed. First, there always was such a remnant, from the time that Israel became apostate, till the time when “the remnant according to the election of grace” became, along with the Gentile converts to the faith of Christ, the church of the living God. I suppose, too, we all agree that there will be such a remnant in the days to come. Further, there have been times of crisis in Israel’s history, when the remnant, or those composing it, have been brought into special distinctness. David and his companions, whether in the days of Saul or of Absalom; Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and in general, the prophets; and then most especially the disciples of our Lord during Hi$ sojourn below, furnish specimens of what the remnant was in the several critical periods in which they lived. Ezra and Nehemiah, with the returned captives of their day, afford another example.
Now I do confess that, as far as I have any light on these subjects, it seems to me incontestable, that it was with this remnant, not with the nation at large, that Jesus in grace identified Himself. And, whatever may be the measure of the manifested favour of God, or whatever the amount of spiritual intelligence enjoyed by this remnant in any period, past or future; and whatever may be their circumstances of outward trial; and in whatever degree their outward trials may be augmented by the lack of .that assurance of God’s favour, in the knowledge of accomplished redemption which it is our happy privilege to enjoy; their relation to God is one of peace and blessing, and that by virtue of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. They are not at once introduced into the knowledge and power of this relation, as we are immediately on believing in Jesus. They have to endure all the outward afflictions which are contained in their cup of sorrow, with the far deeper anguish of receiving them as the tokens of God’s righteous displeasure against the sins of the whole nation, with which sins they identify themselves in confession and humiliation before God. But then, the very fact of their thus confessing their own and their nation’s sins, distinguishes them from that nation, and shews that they are the people of God’s choice. And, however dark may be their condition outwardly, and even inwardly as to any sense they have of God’s dealings with them; and however unheeded their cry may seem to be, and this is surely the bitterest ingredient in their cup; yet, that cry is the cry of the Spirit of Christ in them, and He, blessed be His name! did, in the days of His flesh, and that, too, in circumstances most similar, anticipate all their affliction. He did in spirit, as identifying Himself with them, pass through it all; yea, and more, for He did, as we rejoice to know, bear all their sins as well as ours in His own body on the tree. He thus endured atoningly the wrath which they dread; and the sense of their having deserved it, that is, this wrath, draws forth lamentations and mourning from their hearts. Where now is the difficulty in apprehending how Christ could and did voluntarily enter in spirit into all the depths of their agony and distress, and thus give expression to it all before God according to the perfectness of His apprehension of their state, and of what the claims of divine majesty and holiness are? He thus prepared for them utterances which will be perfectly, because divinely, adapted to their state when they are in it; and which will constitute a cry as entirely “according to God” as are now the intercessions of the indwelling Spirit in the saints of the present dispensation. This is as widely different a thing as possible from Christ being by birth associated with the natural condition of man and of Israel, so as to be Himself in it, and so as to need to be extricated, or to extricate Himself therefrom.
It is, of course, agreed by all, that for them, as well as for us, Christ made atonement. In several of the Psalms, we distinctly hear Christ Himself pouring out the sorrows of His own soul to God, as thus bearing our sin and theirs, confessing them as His own, and appealing (wondrous, affecting, unexampled fact!) to the God—His God—who had forsaken Him! owning Him in such words as, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” It is on the alone ground of this atoning work, that any sinner can be brought into acceptable relationship to God. It is on this ground that the remnant we are contemplating are brought into such a relationship. Now it was with the remnant of His day that our Lord did associate Himself when on earth. From the mass of the nation He did entirely disassociate Himself. Even the closest ties of kindred in the flesh had to give way. “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, my sister, and mother.” (So also in Ps. 16:2, 3.) There “the excellent of the earth, with whom,” says Christ, “is all my delight,” are set by Him in contrast with “those who hasten after another god.” He identifies Himself with the one class; He utterly disowns the other. In like manner it was with the remnant of every period, that His sympathies, as expressed in the Psalms, were found. And such were, I doubt not, His sympathies, that He did enter in spirit fully into all that they had, or have yet to endure; but the language in which this sympathy is expressed must not be understood as His language personally, as to His own relationship to God; but as their language, in which, by the Spirit of Christ, what becomes them in their state is uttered; and uttered, not in the measure of their dark and imperfect apprehensions, but according to the perfectness of the Spirit, who incites the desires, and has prepared this perfect vehicle for their expression.6
* * * * *
Dearest——,—Here I should think the exercises they have gone through have acted healthfully, though they have not yet borne all the fruit, and some help is a little wanting to lead them to judge the bearing of the Lord’s ways; but we are all happy as far as I know, except two, who I trust may become so, though they would be more or less exercised I dare say if let at once again. But the Lord is infallibly faithful, and never haves His sheep, nor fails in dealing with them, though that may indeed run across our ways sometimes, and so much the better if they are not His. The sifting was, I judge, needed and natural.
I trust the brethren will walk quietly, humbly and graciously. The Lord is evidently working for the deliverance of brethren; however little we have deserved it in glorifying Him, still I believe His testimony is with us. He may cause many to learn things they might not be disposed to, but He will abundantly bless if they wait upon Him and keep the word of His patience. I think through the Lord’s mercy things are getting into more healthful and divine action here, but I am very slow and feeble in my movements.
Ever affectionately yours.
Plymouth, October 25th, 1847.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dearest——, —I write a line just to say I am arrived here, but before I can pretend to give much detail on the state of things. I trust the Lord will bless the work, but most of it has to be done here; they are slow, but there is good, which encourages.
It appears that in Switzerland two have been killed, but I have certainty of detail of only one, a woman, a wanton outrage of an individual. A man said he would have the satisfaction of firing at a momier’s house, and did so; a woman just then came out of the stable, and received two balls, and died in six hours; she had been at our meeting; she died in peace, forgiving the man. They meet, and on the whole there is blessing, and they are happy. The Lord is working on in His grace.
I have received your letter. S——’s confession made me happy. I do not say his soul is fully restored, but what there is is true. I have written to him. I should look always distinctly and jealously that there was a full and definite, honest and clear recognition in small and great that they had been under the delusion of Satan, and were glad when they were out of it, without pourparlers and conditions; but when I saw this real, I should open my arms and prevent them with kindness…
We must wait to see the Lord’s hand, and deal with individuals in grace according to God: but what an instruction and humbling for all! But it is rather a moment to be quiet, unless or until God give some new call to serve in the matter…
People have not seen the end yet, but it will come.
I do not bate one particle of the decision of the position I am in… Act graciously and humbly through the Lord’s goodness, but firmly from God. It is not a time to let the enemy in when he has been discovered. Kindest love to all the dear brethren. I trust they walk in peace.
Ever your affectionate brother.
Montpellier, January 11th, 1848.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dear——,—Matters are changed, as I intimated in my last.
Error and the love of error are very distinct things. The assembly and leaders must be treated as loving error if one has to deal with them now; individuals may be different. But the world and Satan are at the bottom of it all…
I trust the Lord may enable the brethren to walk peacefully in the simplicity of the gospel, through the hubbub the enemy may make about religion. Ebrington Street was an awful school to come out of, but the Lord is mighty and gracious. I reserve all my dealings for the time the Lord may bring me into them, and trust His grace to order by the way… Discipline supposes moral competency. Whatever tenderness I may feel towards individuals, and I trust it is most fully my feeling and my heart joyfully open to them as it is, as to things I feel I am on the ground of testimony against known and convicted evil, a ground I do not feel disposed to leave, save so far as the evil is done with, and then of course it is remembered no more. I am very glad you spoke so strongly of the Table, it was an omission in mine. But I return with full quiet abiding conviction to my original statement. I do not, as I never have from the time I left, own it as the Lord’s table at all, but indeed quite the contrary.
The work opens here, and even at Nismes, apparently the most difficult, but the place for which I have perhaps the greatest confidence. We want a positive testimony in work, for nobody defends what exists—all hold it bad, though not leaving it; but I wait on the Lord. At Nismes I have a growing beginning of work, where it is in spite of the world if they come. In the village large congregations come to get blessing, where a while back they were determined not to let us in, but it is blessing to souls, including growth in apprehension, without question of principles—as far as I am concerned, at least.
Ever your affectionate.
Montpellier, February 16th, 1848.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dear ——,—As to Plymouth affairs, I am in no hurry to leave this, that matters, or brethren rather, may quietly take their form and path in the midst of the new order of things.
It is very likely that there will be more liberty for meetings now, for the present than ever before, though all was pretty free here, for God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts. This makes more sensibly our place to be and to act for God in this world: the candlestick is only to carry the candle, and if we are thus identified with the Lord, we are in the same barque with Him. But it is a blessed thought to have only His will to do, and to be under His sure and infallible protection. We are quiet, and I trust the Lord. If difficulties arise, nothing is difficult to Him, but I have no fearful anticipations…
The great affair for brethren is to be content to be nothing but a Christian. And it is a comfort to see every one of one’s previsions confirmed, and one’s principles of conduct established. Were I to set to work with my hands, a thing I am much disposed to do, it is only what I desired a dozen years ago to do as an example; but all this is immaterial but in one respect— doing the will of God.
Your ever affectionate.
Montpellier, March 3rd, 1848.
To the same.]
Dearest ——,—I desire earnestly to meet in the fullest grace, beloved brethren whom I believe the Lord is recalling to comfort and peace. I have my own judgment as to the extent to which they have been delivered, but I have an increasing feeling that all this should not be allowed to drag on, and that I ought to return to restore before the Lord our relations with these brethren. I have difficulty in leaving here, when the doors are open and the Lord at work; and adversaries do not lack, nor speculations on the unbelief and weakness of faith of brethren. Still, if need be, I should trust the Lord, and if it were His will, return here afterwards, though anxious to work in England, for the times press…
——was always somewhat ministerial—not more than I am for the substance, for it is a work of God, and he earnestly desires and seeks the liberty of the Spirit among brethren, but more in form—he would direct in it more than I should; but Christ being his sole desire, it has never in the smallest degree hindered co-operation: only I think in certain acts he has broken down as not being guided of God. But it seems to me there is somewhat of a want of simplicity in all this beating about. I have made plain accusations of untruth, at the same time avowing that I believed dear brethren were under a delusion of the enemy. Has this been cleared up? Let it be cleared up in the fullest grace, for which my heart could not I trust be more ready, though it may be weak; but do not let us cavil at accounts instead of meeting the Lord. I am willing to answer for my statements, and when grace has solved and cleared it up, put them in the fire. I ought not to shirk the responsibility of having made them; I do not the least, and I desire to act in the fullest grace as regards those to whom they have been made. And the Lord will be with those who seek a healing with and from Him… I rejoice with my whole heart in the comfort of the saints at Plymouth, give them my kindest love. They have been, so to speak, companions in sorrow there, and that is always a bond, and I bear them witness they have walked in much love and grace with and towards me, and certainly I felt it towards them, as they had just claim.
Ever your affectionate.
Montpellier, March 8th, 1848.
[From the French:
Very dear Brother,—I write a line in haste, having at heart the course of the brethren with regard to these elections which are about to take place. I found that the brothers at V. had scarcely reflected at all on the bearing of an act which was making them take part in the course of the world. Thanks be to God, from the moment when that was presented to them they saw the thing, and, I hope, clearly. This has led me to think that perhaps the brothers near you may not have reflected upon it either. It seems to me so simple that the Christian, not being at all of this world, but united to Him who died and rose again, has no business to mix himself up with the most declared activity of the world, by an act which affirms his existence as belonging to the world, and his identification with the entire system which the Lord is about to judge; that I think the truth has only to be presented in order to be acknowledged by those who have understood their position; so much the more that these events7 place the world more manifestly (not more really) on its own ground, but more really near the great catastrophe which is about to fall upon those who rise up against God. Oh how my soul longs that His people should be separated to Him, and even with understanding of what is awaiting the world, and still more of what they ought continually to await themselves! May God give the grace to be faithful in bearing this testimony, and everywhere, according to the door that He will open, in season and out of season; for His own, so dear to Him, need it.
Events are hastening on, dear brother, and yet as to us we are waiting for but one, that our Beloved, our Saviour should come. His coming becomes a resource, as it has long been a joy to us, and a reality still more precious, and more near. May we expect it continually; God alone knows the moment. The Christian takes cognizance of the events which are taking place, as a testimony to the one who understands; but his thought, his desire, his portion, is much more within the sanctuary than all that. But is it not true that this voting, as an act of identification with the world (in the very forms which it assumes in the last days), ought to be avoided as a snare by all Christians who understood the will of God and their position in Christ? Always true (I have been acting upon it for twenty years), it is doubly true now. May peace, grace and mercy be with you, dear brother, and be multiplied to you, and may the presence and the joy of the Lord be with all the brethren who surround you. Probably I shall set out immediately for England, but in the hope of returning. Salute affectionately all the brethren.
Your very affectionate.
I think that at the end of Philippians 3, the way in which we wait for Jesus Christ as Saviour, is to deliver us finally from the whole course of this world, such as it is.
Montpellier, March 24th, 1848.
* * * * *
My dear Brother,—I most gladly answer your letter as far as the Lord enables me: perhaps we shall see each other, the Lord willing, in Dublin soon. I distinguish entirely between the church and prophecy. I do not believe the church is the subject, though it is the recipient and depositary of prophecy, as Abraham was of what should happen to Lot. The church has its own proper present relationship to Christ, out of which the scripture does not know it, but it (having received the Holy Ghost) has the mind of Christ. You may except the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, but which is really description, not prophecy of events, though connected with, and closing, and crowning them, when the heavenly government is brought into full connection with the earth.
Prophecy gives the career of earthly events, the wickedness of man, or the dealings of God. But the church is not earthly; its life is hid with Christ in God; it has its place with Christ while He is hidden; when He appears it will appear; we await the manifestation of the sons of God. Hence it was hid in God from the foundation of the world (Eph. 3), and the prophets do not speak of it. Only it is true that it maintains (or ought to have maintained) the testimony to the kingdom, during the interval of the rejection of the Jewish witness. As inheriting the promises as being in Christ the seed of Abraham, it comes in and maintains by divine wisdom their constancy and unfailingness. But the age is the same age as that in which Christ was upon earth—“the harvest is the end of the age.” Hence the church cannot be the subject of prophecy. It was not—as being a kind of wisdom hid in God and now made known to principalities and powers, and now it is not—the subject, but the depositary of prophecy, not earthly but heavenly, though on earth in testimony of what is heavenly, and of a hidden Christ with whom it is as one. Hence what relates to it is, as I have said, only seen when it comes down out of heaven having the glory of God. Hence it has no place in prophecy.
We are properly nowhere, save in the extraordinary suspension of prophetic testimony, or period, which comes in between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week of Daniel, or at the end of that age which was running on when Christ was here, the close of which was suspended by His crucifixion; His return to establish it then, according to Acts 3, being precluded by the rejection of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, which followed—finally declared at Stephen’s death. Whereupon the doctrine of the church in union with a heavenly Head, without distinction of Jew or Gentile, was fully revealed, and entrusted to Paul, who had joined in that rejection, in a ministry, beginning not at Jerusalem but Antioch. In the Revelation therefore, until the heavenly Jerusalem is revealed, the church is never, properly speaking, seen at all. The living creatures or twenty-four elders may be taken, as to which I do not decide, as a symbolical representation in part of those who compose it, viewed in certain positions, but I certainly apprehend that the period spoken of in the Revelation (or from chap, 4) is the interval between the removal of the church from the place of testimony, and the manifestation of it in a glorious testimony, as already stated, in chapters 21, 22. Whether this has had a partial fulfilment since the church failed in giving a testimony on earth at the beginning, and there were but a few imperfect witnesses, I will not say. I daresay it has, but whatever general principle of a year-day system may be admitted, there is no proper literal fulfilment of it, I apprehend, but in that which is to come, in which on earth as such the church will not be witness at all.
The great point for us is, to get distinctly the church’s place, and the church’s faith, and the church’s own distinctive relationship as bride of Christ, to be revealed with Him, and to be faithful during his absence. What knowledge is given us of others, and of God’s ways towards them, and of their witness when the church is not there, is dependent on the sovereignty of God in gift, and our faithfulness in our walk in our place.
The present course of events is not revealed signs to me, but the church ought to discern these times. It is the rapid, but, as I judge, for the present arrested, development of the spirit of the latter day, which will issue in apostasy and delusion on one hand, and in the forming of the Roman Empire on the other, and the preventing collision between northern and western Europe till the great catastrophe takes place in Palestine. Signs, I judge, are for those who have not been faithful enough to keep or find the bride’s position (we are “children of the day”), a mercy to those in the latter-day circumstances, but which would not have been needed had they apprehended the church’s place, and been separated from the world to be in it, and taken the properly heavenly place wherein we await only the marriage with the heavenly Bridegroom, who comes to receive us and takes us there where He is.
Such, dear brother, is the grand answer to your inquiry. If this, in connection with your own thoughts, suggests any difficulties, I shall be most glad for myself to hear them from you—it is thus we learn—and, if the Lord afford time, to answer them.
I write from the midst of much occupation. I have sixteen long letters to answer besides yours, so I say adieu. Peace and grace be with you. Salute the beloved brethren with you, though I know them not by sight. In Jesus we shall know each other.
Very affectionately yours in Him.
Plymouth, May 1st, 1848.
* * * * *
Dear——,—I think there is a rather increasing impression on reflection that the Dublin Meeting was a happy one, that is, that it was not merely the joy of the moment, but blessing from God.
I feel for the Compton Street brethren, but I think that their path might have been .a simpler and happier one, and that they have somewhat complicated it themselves; however, this does not take it out of the way of the Lord’s grace, nor hinder others meeting the case as it is in the wisdom and grace of His Spirit… I should trust the Bath meeting was decidedly useful; but I judge the brethren in general have moral position to recover. It seems to me that, from the character of the evil in certain points, when ascertained, they ought to have said, Mr. Darby or Mr. Anybody is not concerned here; God is in question, and the dishonour done to His name is what we have to think of as between us and you who have used it, for it was used in the most solemn way to support what is now admitted untruth. Here I think the brethren were not on the high ground the church of God ought to take. I do not speak of the evil in individuals now, but the ground the brethren were upon; they allowed themselves to be led into the question of blame to me, which was a mere subordinate question, an escape from the great point. However there it is. I feel what they did not take up, and which, in the position they had allowed me to be put in, I could not help them in, I must take before God; that is, recognise the fact as to the state of things as work yet to be done by His grace, which I wait upon Him to do. As to myself, the Bath meeting, however disagreeable, could hardly have been more mercifully satisfactory; but I think, as I said, there was a want of moral dignity. These form elements of judgment in one’s path.
The Lord is working most graciously here, and, I judge, really reviving the brethren’s testimony in these latter days; but I see He will not allow half positions. How sad, but how necessary, that any should be forced to the division. Peace be with you. I wait upon the Lord to direct it all to a quiet issue—His own in grace. As far as any love on my part to the Compton Street brethren could do anything, I think I can say it would not be wanting, waiting only on the Lord for spiritual judgment.
Leeds, May 31st, 1848.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Here at length, dear sister, is your turn coming, rather late, you will perhaps say; but I assure you that the letters absolutely requiring an answer are so numerous, in addition to other occupations, that I can hardly get through it, and then the consequence is, that my answers when I do write any, are so dry, that I am sorry for my friends who receive them; but I did not wish to leave yours without replying a word, and I seize a moment I have gained by dint of working. Thank God, I am very happy in my work, so that I have nothing to complain of in having work. But we have more than three hundred in communion, and the responsibility of the course falls upon me, and you know something of what that is. They go on well, and confidence exists, and I hope increases, but it is just by paying attention to a thousand little things, and by bringing them to God, that this takes place, things that no one else perhaps hears of, but if the details of them were not cared for there would be difficulties and uneasiness, and when it is done they think all goes on by itself. This is not all I desire, but there is much happiness, and I so love to devote myself to the welfare of the dear children of God, that I am encouraged in Him even when painful little matters arise, as always happens. However, when there is confidence, every one looks to God, and these cases do not injure the general health; on the contrary, they become an occasion for unitedly seeking His wisdom and grace, and He helps us and blesses us with a sense of His presence. You know a great number of those who were still at Ebrington Street left it, being convinced of the bad doctrine, which indeed was dreadful; among others the principal teachers. This occupied me very happily, but in renewing bonds which had been so long interrupted.
As for dear Switzerland, I am indeed rather a stranger there now. My affections are not weakened, God knows; but I am His servant, too happy in being so, and in being permitted to be so, and I have had the conviction that, for the present, France is the field for labour, not at all to prevent me from going to see our dear Swiss brethren, but as a field of work. God ha3 brought several over there, and all I believe have felt it. This might easily change. Circumstances had somewhat decided the case for the moment, and God led me.
When I felt that I should pay them a visit I did so, not knowing whether I should not be sent back from the port of Ouchy itself, and all was guarded. For the present we have been able to hold our meetings, even at the Casino, a remarkable intervention of God. Now I do not know how it would be; if I thought it to be His will, I would return as before. Meanwhile I have been labouring in France. I have felt constrained to leave that country also for the moment, although doors were open on many sides, and God blessed me, and has arranged for the work being done without me, and better done I doubt not. Here I have everything to bless God for, I have seldom been able to do so much in as little time. I hope all the same soon to leave for the south, and if it is God’s will, and He opens the door, it would be a great joy to me to revisit Switzerland. .In these times it is doubly happy to have this precious gospel to announce to this poor world. I felt it so in our manufacturing districts, where society is really morally quite disorganised by selfishness—the masses restrained, it is true, but no bond. How happy to be able to tell them, “There is one at least who loves you,” and to present Jesus to them, and Jesus in all His sympathy, as a remedy for even deeper evils than luxury and the greed of gain plunge them into.
What a world we are living in, if one knows something of the details, and views them with the eye of God. It is surprising what peace the thought of the return of Jesus gives, and not a selfish peace, for He will restore happiness to the world, and re-establish moral relations according to His mind; judgment will unite with righteousness, and then the goodness of God will shine forth in happiness. However, in the midst of the French Revolution, where all was disorder and alarm, I was afraid of losing in some measure the height of my expectation: I had been very happy in the thought of His coming, from the point of view of the heavenly home, united to Him where He will be. When the Revolution broke out, His return became rather a resource than a purely heavenly joy. I blessed God that there was such, but I feared that would lower the feeling a little, but I was very happy. The only thing I found rather troubling me, was the reports of all kinds which were filling minds, but I refused to listen to them any longer, and I never (so) felt how God keeps His people through everything, and that His care was independent of everything, and above everything; this did me much good. The Christian passes through the world happy, if he does so through love to the Lord, when the world is peaceful, and then there is nothing to lose, when the world is against him. But I felt deeply that not a hope, not a joy, nothing was lost if everything broke up. As for personal danger, there really was no question of that unless some unexpected circumstances arose; but as for complete ruin here below, it was never seen so near, and it is well. But one learns in all circumstances that Christ is all. What I desire is that He may be so completely everything in the secret of each day, that it may be an accomplished fact in the outward relations of life; that faith may detach, so that there is nothing to break, nothing to lose, except what God recognises in a certain sense, our bonds with the church here below, for Christ exercises our affections in this way to make Himself everything to our souls in every way; but our hearts are so dreadfully frivolous that we need it.
I have been happy and blessed in writing in French on 1 Samuel since I have been here. One ever learns more, and learns it everywhere, that all is spoiled here below; Ichabod is written on the relations of God Himself with the world, at least, of men with Him. But then one finds that faith finds its way through all. Jonathan could act, and David could suffer, and acting with an energy that had no equal, silence it when the divine instinct of the Spirit’s leading shewed him the way, and retire towards God, instead of being driven from His presence by evil, or revenging himself when an opportunity occurred. The fear of God is a very remarkable element in the power of faith in his character; and in what a touching way God came to his help in the case of Nabal. Abigail had got further into intelligence of the ways of God, it appears to me, than Jonathan; the latter is a remnant more purely Jewish: he does not suffer with David, whereas Abigail apprehended his position. Saul is only a man in her eyes, and she takes part in his (David’s) sufferings; when God has judged Nabal she has much more the character of the remnant which becomes the church.
But I must stop; I am using your mind as a piece of blank paper, on which I jot down my thoughts, and it is quite possible there are better ones, but you see what a letter for a man who has no time. I have only one precious word to say to you: keep close to Jesus, you know you will find there joy, strength, and that consciousness of His love, which sustains everywhere and makes everything else become nothing; there is our life and our happiness…
I am really too much of a stranger, but the circle enlarges, and the difficulty of visiting them all increases.
Peace and the love of Jesus be with you, dear sister. Your affectionate brother in Christ.
Plymouth, June 11th, 1848.
* * * * *
Dearest ——, —We are, thank God, very happy here, though there is much to gain, yet I believe He is working really, and there is a happy spirit… What a mercy when the blessed Lord acts in the church—rest of course we cannot expect here; the trial of faith is connected with praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ. But there is that kind of rest which is in going from strength to strength, a rest to refresh for journeying in the wilderness. And hence the importance of that kind of faith that works in the dark. It is not met, as the reverse is, by “he shall not see when good cometh;” but when this is rested in, it soon wanes; God will not give us what would take the eye off the end, because this alone fully gives the moral trial which exercises and purifies— yea, gives intelligent capacity for the end. The Christ, seen, leads into the capacity for enjoying and being with Him at the end. This I believe was absolute and perfect in Him; hence, “the author and finisher of faith.” The point for us is to rest-in the arm pf the Lord, whatever may be, and not run to get help elsewhere, or before, as He meets in power moral perfect-ness, whether full as in Christ, or in degree or detail: this is the great burden of the Psalms. The judgment of God in this sense is but the bringing the display and sanction in power, of principles acted on, when apparent power—nor its open exercise—was not seen.
And this, I take it, is the bearing of prophecy. Some will have principles in it, some naked facts as testimony, but I apprehend that the facts, which we have to take quite simply however, are the display of God’s power in judgment of, and public sanction of, certain principles as approved of Him. I nave the principles, I have them, but have them in practice by the way, and then judgment returns to righteousness; and so righteousness and peace meet. All this is connected with prophecy; but we have a higher thing, the affections which flow out of relationships with Christ—present, though not fully accomplished relationship. And these affections do form morally, and in the sweetest way, more than in mere righteousness. And to this, I take it, the coming of the Lord and the marriage of the Lamb is the answer, not judgment: still, the other is true, and hence I distinguish between the coming of the Lord and prophecy (though this last by the way), though one acts on the other, because He has associated us with His competency to judge the world and all, though the authority is with Him. But this shews what a very high place the church is in.
Ever very affectionately yours.
Plymouth, July, 1848.
Dearest ——, … And now to the other point you ask about. It is well to remember that symbolical statements are a language, but a language, like others, modified by the context. I have no doubt that [Revelation] 12 begins a new subject. That is, the definite bringing out of the details of the introduction of divine government in the Person of the Son of man, King of kings, and Lord of lords, not the mere general preparatory actings of providence, but the immediate agents in the scene. Verse 19 of chapter 11 is rather introductory to chapter 12, than in its right place. The temple of God is opened in heaven, and the ark of the covenant which secures the blessing of His people is seen there. It is not merely the throne there, nor the rainbow, but the ark of the covenant; of this on earth Israel we know was the centre; this, in which we know the government of the earth is concerned, is what we now enter on—chapter 12, introduces the parties. A woman clothed with the sun and twelve stars on her head, and ready to be delivered, and the dragon ready to devour the child. The child then is born, caught up, and the woman (now seen in her actual condition) flies into the wilderness for 1260 days; this I judge is the last three and a half years. This, note, closes this part. Verse 7 begins another division. In the opening part the woman is seen in the thoughts of God, and I apprehend is the vessel of the accomplishment of His purpose, perfectly weak in herself, but out of which strength is to come, and which is to be clothed with supreme authority, the twelve stars being perfection in humanity (as seven, spiritual things), or rather completeness, as twelve tribes, apostles, &c. The moon—I have somewhat more difficulty, but will say a word in a moment of it. Now this is, in fact of accomplishment on earth, to be in the Jews, and I Judge that when we arrive at the historical fads, we get into the Jewish people as owned of God. Now to them Christ the Son was born (though they owned Him not at first, but now we are speaking of God’s view of the matter). The Son and the strong one who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, was born to this people in the view of God, and as Benoni in anguish and agony (Benjamin is, I doubt not, a type of Christ in strength as head of the Jewish people, as people of His exaltation—meanwhile over Gentiles and to God’s throne), but when born He does not use the power, nor deliver, but is caught away; but then as Israel is the matter in question, nothing is introduced of church connection, and the woman (Israel) owned of God on earth, but not delivered, flies, and is the object of Satan’s rage, the Man child having gone where he cannot touch Him. Now the church is only brought in as being identified with Christ Himself, here according to the promise of Thyatira.
Thereupon the historical course of events is gone into, which leads to the driving out of the woman, and the real character of the period, from verse 7 to the end of verse 17.
Now as to the moon under her feet, I take it, it relates to the entire setting aside of the old phases of Israel, as responsible to God; without the man, and security of Messiah, this character she had lost; she was not. to blow up the trumpet in the new moon—God’s restoring the reflection of His power or light rather than keeping up the light where the sun was not. She was permanently clothed with the sun itself; she was not the sun, but she was clothed with it, weak as she was in herself. I do not know that I have more to add as to the general principles; the setting up the power of the kingdom, though not yet applied to the earth, is when Satan is cast down, on the war in heaven —not saving grace—this is power, but the accuser is cast down. This puts the church, if the man child refer to that (also out of the scene and historical course of events)—out of the scene, nor does it take the warrior power. The angels act here. I leave open the question how far there would be application to any who enter into the heavenlies, as the second class who live and reign, of chapter 20. The general view I think clear: as far as I see, the whole analogy of prophetic truth and order sustains it, but I shall be glad to give any further details I may be able, and to search out any points (the Lord leading) that further questions may suggest. We are at peace, and I trust enjoying blessing here. Some seventy or upwards have returned among us since the last move and inquiry. Peace be with you, dear brother, and the Lord’s near presence—our only safeguard and joy the sense of it.
Yours affectionately in our blessed Lord.
Symbols have this character, that they give the moral character as well as the facts.
Plymouth, July 15th, 1848.
* * * * *
Dearest ——,—… I cannot acquiesce in the want of faith which sets aside God’s original testimony. It was just this that made me think it a very important point,8 because God is jealous; and giving up what He has purged, and so very mercifully rescued and set up again, would not be recognising and honouring His goodness; but then when you do it, as your cover shewed me, individually, that was merely a question of individual state or condition, and the question before God as to owning His goodness was dropped. If there is faith to join with the purged and renewed testimony, it is well. I do so, and have no difficulty, and I feel He is at this moment doing it, as Plymouth in its locality is witness. That the restoration is feeble on our part is true, but as such better quiet in fact as it is here. They are all coming quietly as they get free…
I have, when maliciously hinted at abroad, always openly said, the devil has done his best to upset the testimony, but, thank God, has not succeeded. Now if you or any person called of God to it, has faith for it, it might be, and I suppose would be, very right before God to consider whether any publication should be taken up on this ground if done modestly, for I think that becomes us. It would honour the Lord’s goodness I believe in the way of faith; but if not, I have no difficulty as to an individual publication of papers that might profit saints on its own bottom; I see no harm in it at all. I see no need that it should be collectively done (that is, the other)—collective faith you would find hard to find now. You must have in a measure in the present state of things, faith for them, not with them. But then that sometimes begets it in them, because it brings them before God, and they find God answers it. Were I mixed up with it as editor, I should look to act upon the faith I have as to the Lord’s goodness—poor enough it is after all. But I have no difficulty as to individuals acting on their own, in individual acts. As I said, as to any papers I might have that would profit, they would be for one or the other equally, nor is there any good in any one attempting to go beyond their faith…
Plymouth, July 18th, 1848.
[From the French.
* * * Let us be happy in the thought that in cleaving to Him we shall enjoy all the brightness and the joy of His light. How happy one is to belong to Him, and. in His light to see light! How brilliant and glorious is this light to those who are from home, awaiting the rising of the morning star and the coming of this precious Saviour, who will set them in heaven as the rays of His glory, and the jewels of His crown, as the intelligent sharers of His glory, as the bride of His heart! This star has already risen in our hearts; may it not grow dim there! May brethren learn to enter into all that Christ is in suffering and. in patience, that thus they may enjoy morally His glory when it comes. May the peace and the presence of our precious Jesus be with you all, dear brethren. He is in every way our infinite blessing.
I have been struck of late, by seeing how much more interesting David is than Solomon; for if the latter shews us more fully the time of blessing and peace under the reign of Jesus, the former presents to us the Person, the afflictions, the sufferings and the heart of Jesus, and to us this is worth all the rest.
Keswick, August 14th, 1848.
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * The truth of God is ever more precious; it strengthens and nourishes the soul, for it abides for ever, and because it reveals Jesus, and attaches us to Him, the source and power of all good.
The misery of man unfolds itself more and more before my eyes in the word, but accompanied by this truth, that it is fleeting. I speak of the history of the world; His goodness abides for ever. What a difference there is between the history of the kings and that of Abraham! This struck me long ago. What freshness in the patriarch’s relations with God in comparison with what appeared later. One is weary of man, but on the other hand, what patience on the part of God! For, happily, He is not wearied by man, though even an Elias was. Yet He had to save man by Himself, and in His own way. He has in no respect failed of what His counsels and His love had determined to do on his behalf. I think my mind runs a little in this direction—only we must rise above everything, and work while it is day, bearing witness to His perfect grace. We must try to rise to the height of this, and this will be in forgetfulness of ourselves.
Hull, August 20th, 1848.
Dearest——,— … The Lord is gracious, and gave perfect quiet while I passed through the Canton de Vaud. I had meetings every evening I was in it, and not a word was said. The gendarme looked at my last visa, but did not even ask my name on going into the Canton. I went through Neuchâtel and Vaud, once arrived on the scene of work, save the top of the mountain where we were on sledges, on foot with my haversack.
I confess I like this, I like it morally. The simplicity of a life of faith has charms that they do not know who never tried it. I do not speak of suffering; save taking things as they were in a cottage, there is none, but one is on simply christian ground. In the Canton of Neuchatel there is a great deal of blessing. In Vaud, the persecutions and lack of visiting have produced some languor. I trust the brethren may pray for these dear brethren. By persecutions, I mean the difficulty of meeting together. There is no particular evil, but slackened energy. We get on more simply. It is soon known one is going to pay a visit, and the brethren most able to profit, go off with their haversacks some twenty or thirty miles, and are lodged and fed as they may by brethren, and we spend a day or two with them in reading and conference, and go on, the labouring brethren perhaps all together, to some other centre, then disperse, and visit gathering after gathering, who soon assemble if not warned already, and any persons really interested. The next morning, these able meet to read, and after eating something, strap the haversack and go to the next gathering. Such has been my life for the last three weeks, and though I have felt my feebleness, and it was on a small scale—and little notice on account of difficulties—not without sometimes most happy blessing, I trust, good and always peace.
I have understood that the effort through Bethesda is strong, but though I have felt some things a little, I have been quite at peace in the path I pursue of leaving this matter to the Lord. I wrote a line to——, as an individual. When my own judgment is clear, I am generally peaceful, and everything has confirmed it hitherto. If I am called on at any time to take any step. I shall take it with better face. The times are very serious and the enemy very active, and perhaps more immediately concerned in all these things, than many, in their earlier course at least, are apt to imagine, perhaps, as to most at any time…
Germany is religiously in ferment; oh! for labourers, who after God’s heart might present Christ to souls. It is the testimony that is wanted—after that—judgment. The wickedness of the world brings grace and testimony—the failure of testimony, judgment. And we are living in serious times. A poor half-way testimony without faith is what is sought for now, when certain truths cannot be denied.
Peace be with you. Kindest love to the brethren.
Geneva, December 8th, 1848.
* * * * *
My dear Brother,— … Here there is blessing. 1 write from a small mountain town, where I have met with the workmen of some ten departments to study the scriptures together, and the Lord has been very gracious to us, and even a good many of the townspeople have come to hear the gospel, though the reproach is excessive. In the country round there are some six hundred brethren, and the work still continues. Further south the work goes on, and all are sensible that though men are slow and there is nothing very extraordinary to attract attention, the Spirit of God is at work through grace, and souls are constantly brought to God, numerous new villages and towns open, and the saints comforted, and in general walking in peace and godliness. It is certainly—though, as I said, there is nothing very outwardly remarkable—a time of blessing, and He has raised up one or two new workmen.
I am off for a five hours’ walk up the mountains, to speak (D. V.) to-morrow, Lord’s day, at another centre of the work on the skirts of Ardèche and Haute-Loire.
Vernoux, March 17th, 1849.
Dearest——,— … The Lord is working for an entirely different purpose, I am satisfied, than those who are active in the matter, think. Confidence in His acting is what made me desire it should be left to its own developing… Wisdom is not always with the prudent; “The fear of the Lord that is wisdom, and to depart from evil that is understanding.”
I will (D. V.) send you the Genesis. I found the first number here on my return; I have just looked at it, only having returned yesterday, having been up the country to meet the brethren at Ardèche and Haute-Loire, and the workmen of some nine or ten departments, with whom I studied for two weeks, besides the general meetings, with much blessing I hope and good to all. I think of sending you an original paper on Antichrist, in the way of inquiry… Be of good courage, the Lord is evidently working. In these countries it is evident to all. Do not be anxious about the church, as if the Lord did not care and act for it—be anxious for it. It is our life. The Lord is working for good in England, I do not the least doubt, and in waiting His time His hand will be seen, and with my whole heart I desire it may be in blessing on many I believe to be going wrong. If not, they will suffer sorely, though doubtless ultimately blessed if His, as I doubt not. But a sifting must be. I feel no surprise whatever as to any one. My only surprise, if such a word be permitted, is God’s own abundant grace to myself. But it is a sorrowful thought that many whom we cannot doubt to be saints are blind to the privilege and testimony of God. The Lord give us grace to know how to win, as how to be faithful ourselves. Nothing but His Spirit can guide us. I am again at chamber work, so I hope soon to be able to send you the papers I mention.
Ever your affectionate brother,
In our perfect, blessed Master.
Montpellier, April 3rd, 1849.
6 [Year uncertain. Published in 1859 as an “Extract from a Letter written long ago,” probably occasioned by “Observations on a Tract, entitled, Remarks on the Sufferings of the Lord Jesus,” etc., London, 1847. (See Col. Writ. vol. 15 p. 52.)]
7 [The Revolution.]
8 [The title of a paper to take the place of the original Christian Witness.]