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[From the French.
* * * It is clear that afflictions are trials of faith as well as chastening; so we ought not to suppose that what happens to us is always for the purpose of chastening, properly so-called. There is discipline as well as chastening; that is what purines, what helps to, mortify the flesh, what breaks the will, and helps by an inward work to shelter us from outward temptations, which would otherwise surprise us, because of the innate levity of the heart, which yields itself so easily, alas, without knowing it, to vanity, if there is nothing to counterbalance it. I do not speak of outward levity, but of this tendency to forget the presence of God, which is so natural to us. There are then chastening, discipline, and the trying of faith. Chastening ought to affect the conscience, awakening it as to any failure (at least, through the operation of the Holy Spirit which accompanies it); but at the same time the work is not done until the root of the failure is discovered to the conscience, and this applies to all sorts of discipline.
Want of dependence on God, pride, may cause us to fall into many failures; the soul is not restored before that which has given occasion to these failures is judged in the heart. Discipline applies rather to the’ condition of the soul. There are negligence, pride, inward forgetfulness of God, a thousand things which need the pruning-knife of the Husbandman, and it is even necessary that things which are in nowise laid bare to the conscience should be hindered from acting upon the heart. The flesh needs to be thus kept in check beforehand. But there is a perfecting of the new’ creature which leaves room for trials: Christ passed through them. Although the new man is in itself perfect, still there is progress. In us these various kinds are mingled; in Christ there was this last only. Not that He was not always perfect, but He “learned obedience by the things which he suffered;” His faith and His obedience were put to the test by circumstances ever becoming more difficult, and this even to death. His perfection was not to act, but to suffer; in suffering there was a more entire surrender of Himself. It was so likewise with the apostle Paul; we find this more particularly in the Epistle to the Philippians. God allows the enemy to put difficulties in the path of the new man. A trial comes; the energy of the new man is exercised by it; it is strengthened by it, and in the end it gains the victory. If one does not act according to faith one shrinks back, one loses joy, or at least the light of the Holy Spirit. The new man, while perfect in his nature, is a dependent being. This is the place which was taken by Christ. Sometimes external trials are necessary that we may distinguish between what is of the old man and of the new, which are often confounded in our deceitful hearts… When there remains in the heart any groan which is not uttered to God as to a God of grace, any distrust of Him, it is the flesh, and the work of the enemy. When we do not go forward when God has shewn the way, because of some difficulty, the flesh acts, and the Spirit is grieved. Have confidence in Him, and rejoice in His love. We may be cast down at times (although scarcely ever without some want of faith), and yet everything goes on well, if we bring it all to God. If it is trial only, we shall certainly be comforted; if there is failure in us, it will be discovered there. However matters stand let us go to Him, His peace shall keep our hearts…
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* * * Thank you for——’s letter. I like it much, but all this shews a sad state of feebleness and incapacity in brethren to act in the purification of the body. I have not doubted it, and this it is which makes me regret the offensive character of attack adopted, as I have already said. I have no doubt at all of the evil principles at Bethesda. I judge its position worse than when the letter of the ten was published; hesitation on the subject .’s only a proof to me of moral blindness, resulting from having some other object than Christ. But I do not see capacity of deliverance, nor do I see sufficiently the need that love has to deliver. I think you will find this feeling on the increase, though I have not meddled in what is passing, nor intend to do so…
Here, in general, the Lord has graciously shewed His mercy to us in one or two cases which gave uneasiness; one of division, which has yielded to love and grace, and one of exaltation shewing itself in condemning marriage, which has disappeared, at once I may say, before the light. We have great need of workmen in Switzerland, and I have been overcharged with work, going from place to place, but in general, reason to bless God for His goodness in encouraging; and in France, very sensible blessing continues… The doors are open wide, and in many places the press of summer work does not hinder the awakening and blessing.
Ever very affectionately yours.
Lausanne, July 26th, 1850.
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Beloved Brother,—I was on the move when I got your kind letter, so that I could not answer it at once, but I thank you much for it. It has not been my desire to interfere in matters in England, until I could do it seriously on the Lord’s behalf, as called upon of Him to do it, and thus pursue it with the advised certainty of His calling as His service and obedience. It makes all the difference as to one’s work, in certainty and effect too; indeed, nothing else is properly work. Save in two places (and in the second only with one person) where I was specially asked, I did not touch this question in England. I was in general very happy, always indeed, as to the course this matter is taking. Every prevision of God’s working in it has taken place, and been surpassed considerably as to blessing. Individual souls have been exercised, and much more reality in Christ exists, without which all is nothing.
A mass of brethren had received blessed truths, superficially though really, and they were unconnected with an inward walk which associates the soul with Christ in them. The first wind blew much of this down; but where the inward state of the soul laid the ground for it, all this deepened exceedingly, and strengthened, and made to understand the relation between the soul and Christ in these things; and a large increase of real growth has been the consequence.
I blame myself, as unfaithful in passing over many truths for the sake of what is called peace. And God took the matter in hand, and now I doubt not the ground of the truth which God is using will be far more deeply felt and understood, and a path according to it more intelligently pursued, by those who through grace have laid hold on it. This I thankfully believe God is doing. A humbling sifting was needed for it, but in gracious love and faithfulness, that He has sent us. It will put to the test whether Christ is preferred to brethren (even though loved), to ease, to everything; but this is blessed in fruit, because He will be everything, and thus links our souls to the time when He will be. I regret what was attempted at——; I regret what was done at——… But what was done at——and—— does not affect me, because it was but a needed expression of what was to bring about the sifting. Hence I remained, and remain quiet. Where God is acting, it is useless for man to put in his hand.
I do not speak of fidelity when in the circumstances. My path is to consider it a settled question, and to go on in faithfulness in the truth, delivering according to what is given to me, when the case is presented to charity, as from any other evil, but to seek positive good. What is of the world will sink in, somewhere or other. What is not attached to Christ by the Holy Ghost, according to the needed truth by which He is now acting in and on His church, will fail in the conflict somewhere; but I act on the quiet conviction of entrusted truth, and the assurance that what does not receive it, cannot bear its. fruits without agitation. Those who do not see what the church is, will not stand. But that is not the wickedness itself, but they will not be capable of holding good against it; and I act accordingly, or rather walk, acting only where called on. One may rest sometimes with God, as well as act with Him; for one cannot act without Him, save to trouble, even though meaning to do good. Along with stedfastness in testimony, the saints in general want building up in Christ, and also personal leaning on the grace of God towards them.
In general, abroad we have to be thankful. In France there is very much to be thankful for, and here in Switzerland they have been revived since winter. In Neuchatel there is positive blessing. I was in a part of France lately where I had not been before, in the Doubs (Montbeliard), where the blessing is greater and more extensive than I at all even knew, though I knew there was such. They are walking in a good deal of simplicity and love (though Satan tried hard to make mischief in one place), with little public preaching help, and a good deal of dependence on the Lord. The world in general has the conviction, that if a man is converted he ought to be there. Save a very few, if any, Christians are there, and the world, as men say, “go to church,” but unless one they are all poor. Query— If the rich came, would they remain as simple? The gracious Lord that loves them, keeps them! What a mercy to be kept in the secret of His grace!
My feeling, and indeed conviction, is that there is decided progress, and that of God; His Spirit is working, though with needed (needed through the state of souls) slowness, in the godly discernment in conscience of what is right and wrong— a coming to themselves in the saints. This is the only work of any account: this we must have or nothing; I decline all else as useless. Deputations, and going up to Bethesda, and all such like, are useless and worse, save as God uses everything (and in this I have full confidence), without denying that individuals may do it conscientiously according to the light they have. But it must come to a conscientious judgment in one’s own conscience of evil by the Spirit of Christ, or nothing. And this will always be a humble, not a haughty thing. The rest we must leave behind or cast away.
My purpose is to come to England as soon as ever I can. I am bringing out the second volume of “Etudes sur la Parole” —the only definite thing which keeps me—but paying any needed visit on the way. I purpose (D.V.) to come to England as soon as that is done. I ran over for a few weeks, finding I could not get to stay, and was very glad I did.
One great thing we have to seek is, that communion with Christ Himself be as strong as all the doctrines we hold or teach. Without that the doctrine itself will have no force: besides, we ourselves shall not be with God in it, and, after all, that is all. Peace be with you, dear brother, and much of this communion. It is easy for the life within to decline before the outward exercise of gift or activity does. I am sure the brethren want to be more exercised with Christ themselves. When the full truth God is using is not held and walked in, there cannot be community of service—that is, where it is denied; for there may be ignorance of it. And further, what would be called the highest truth is the only safeguard against the principles of the worst error. If I am not one with Christ —that is, if I depart from tins—I am ready to Judaize and worship angels. It is the easiest lost, because it requires the flesh to be mortified, and that living faith should be in exercise spiritually; and if lost, admits the worst errors. Farewell. Peace be with all the brethren.
Ever your affectionate brother in Christ.
Lausanne [Received], November 30th, 1850.
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To the same.]
I have a profound conviction that the question with God, and that in grace on His part, goes much deeper than the particular evil which gave occasion to the break up of Plymouth. I agree with all you say, but if it was the mere negation of evil, the case would be sad; because I have never found, though this be a bounden duty, that it sufficed to gather. I believe at my deliverance from bondage in 1827-8, God opened up certain truths needed for the church. I believe that, though holding and seeking to help souls by them, for what was called peace and union I swamped them, had not faith to make them good in service. I do not enter into all the questions how far it was permitted, or how far grace entered, or natural dislike of conflict, but so it was. God would not allow this; and what was founded on this unfaithfulness, associated with what was opposed, was broken up. I have no regret at this now, though the passage was painful. It is the grand reason why I have left the exercise to go on without interfering. It is no use attempting to daub with untempered mortar.
I have, as you know, long said that for my part I begin again, that my proper work now begins. In saying this, I only confess my’ unfaithfulness, but on the other hand it is an encouragement, for to begin with God is always an encouragement. He has never lost time—alas, we often. But I have faith in what I believe, only I feel it humbling even that God should be obliged (so to speak) to do so much outside what I am confident is His truth. It does not enough absorb the work. This, however, is true, that the truth now given by grace is not merely foundation or elementary, as at the Reformation, but while setting that again on its true basis, builds up and brings out that needed for the latter days—that which was earliest, and always, is soonest lost—“holding the Head from which all the body,” &c. Hence people can content themselves with a certain Christianity which saves, which gives elementary truth, which has delivered from popish corruption and the like, without that which puts faith to the test.
But the question will go, I do not doubt, on large grounds in England. It is the question which is now exercising it as to prophecy. This will require patience, for the great body have not the ground on which to judge these questions: they have not faith in the doctrine of the church. Now Ebrington Street brought down to its worst form, not ignorance, but opposition to this truth which is what God would have brought out, and—as the corruption of what was best is the worse corruption—was gone as far as possible. I doubt altogether that Raleigh Street has as its foundation anything solid which would hold it together as a whole. It is possible spiritual power might with patience have formed it into something consistent, but as a fact there was little common foundation truth on which it stood. Negations are nothing to. build on, though conscience be a ground of conduct. This many have not understood; and because separation from evil may have been a duty, have supposed it to be a ground of union and gathering. It is not… I should have been much disposed to begin afresh at——, not as rejecting many dear brethren, far from it, but that they and I may enjoy together the refreshings of God’s love in joy and peace: and this is a general principle with me. Perhaps continuance at —— might have got it on this ground, but across many wearisome difficulties.
As to the judgment they form of my separation and all the rest, even supposing there might be mistakes, I am more indifferent than as to the form of the paper I am writing on: because they have no perception at all, I am satisfied, either of the principles on which I acted, or on which God has dealt, or on which He would have us to act. The only point on which I have ever questioned whether I might have acted better or more wisely, they know nothing about, nor any one else. I bless God for it now, though that does not justify me, for I do not think I knew, or in a certain sense ought to have known, the evil of Ebrington Street the least as I know it now. I leave all that, their judgment and their course, entirely out of question.
I should in England, as indeed I have done, go on my own ground, the Lord’s, I believe, and if they liked to come on that, well—if not, well. I shall go on no other; alone or with beloved brethren, I shall go on what I believe the Lord wills I should go on. … I am quite decided to walk in what I am satisfied is the Lord’s. If they do not like it, I have no desire nor thought of quarrelling: we shall not walk together. The Lord will judge who is right. That judgment I accept beforehand, and bow to it with my whole heart. Hence it is I am in no hurry, and, I may add, full of confidence. I see abundant failure in myself, but it is not where others see it—just the contrary; but I believe in the Lord’s grace.
I believe He has confided a testimony to me, however feeble I may be and unworthy. I do not say that to the exclusion of others of His servants, but as that for which I am responsible. I believe I failed in it, and I trust now in my little measure I may not. Until I am myself in England, I refrain from all interference in what passes there, because I wait upon God, not being yet called upon to act. The cloud seems rising to lead me back… In general there is considerable blessing in the work, with the usual opposition.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
[Received] February 25th, 1851.
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Beloved Brother,—I received the two notes, but long after you wrote them, and when on my journey I have just received your last. This difficulty at once presented itself in answering your notes, that to answer them requires a discussion of the whole scope and bearing of the prophetic word; and not only that, but of other subjects, without which that bearing can never be understood. Two means present themselves: the reply to the errors or abuse of prophetic statements, or the substantive development of the truth. Now to this latter there is the difficulty, that the reader is not in possession of the principles which enable him to seize the force of such development, and it is difficult to answer a false system without the elements existing in the mind to be disabused, which render it capable of judging the falseness of it, and seizing the truth. The false system is adapted to the state of soul of the mass of Christians even, but God is faithful. To do this at all properly would require a long work, which would set all on its right base, and thus develop the truth and refute error. But there is always this difficulty, and the truth must ever make its way against it, and so it does at length. Positive evil remains till judged of God. The false systems which abuse the minds of saints perish and disappear before the truth. Besides, many, as Mart-land, Burgh and Co., have used certain truth in Satan’s behalf to undermine important present moral bearings of truth; hence God would permit minds to be rescued from their influence by what restored these moral bearings, though imperfect in interpretation unless both were given; for He will keep His saints as a present thing above all. This does not render the truth less important, but makes one feel the need of God’s help to make it good. I see no means to work effectually but this: to answer the works which mislead, so as to overthrow them, while disclaiming the evil principles of Maitland, &c.; but this, as means of stopping and getting rid of evil, so as to be able to nurture the positive development of the elements of [Christianity].
The great point I judge needed, is a clear apprehension of the difference of the church called for heavenly places, and the government of the world in respect of which the Jews form the centre of the ways of God… I hope the “Etudes sur la Parole” will aid as generally consolidating the statements of the truth. I feel that to do anything in English it would require me to set about and grapple definitely with the books you mention, reading them for myself. I could not master the question otherwise. I always need to make a thing my own in my own mind to be able to deal with it. When I get hold of the bearing of the principle of the thing in connection with scripture, I can deal more easily.
I only await the closing of my immediate work here in the south to turn towards England; when I am not actually at the strain of work, my thoughts all turn thither. In general there is blessing. Some valuable labourers have been raised up, and on all sides the Spirit of God works more or less, and that now even among Roman Catholics.
The Lord be with you, dear brother, and keep us at the post in humbleness till the Lord come. It is a time to be entirely heavenly, for the earth is far from God, and daily its darkness closes in, but we belong to the light, and await another day.
Yours affectionately in Christ.
Montpellier, February, 1851.
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Dearest——,—I have been studying the infidel objections; I find them excessively miserable, most of them as old as Celsus, in general without the least foundation, unless the privilege of doubting, and proof of a desire to find difficulties. The question takes two aspects, historical authority; and as to this, the character of the enmity is proof of it, but of more, namely, of inspiration, and the divine character of Christianity; for there is no such enmity against the history of Mahomet, no such anxiety to disprove it—the why is evident. But what would not invalidate history, may (seemingly) literal inspiration, for all men may mistake, and do—the best informed—the Lord cannot. But I see nothing to enfeeble the fullest inspiration really understood as of God. The great mistake is supposing that it is made to satisfy man according to his thoughts, and not to communicate God’s with perfect certainty. This last is needed, and, I am more than satisfied, exists; but were it in a way to satisfy the exigencies of men’s minds, it would lose for me its divine proofs…
It is astonishing what labour men take to exclude God. Happy those to whom in grace He has made Himself known, so that the proofs He gives of Himself are intelligible and conclusive. But man, away from Him, is not only evil, but contemptible.
Yours affectionately in Christ.
My books are quite alarming, as if I was regularly settled in the world; however, my life would hardly bear out the charge. But I use them diligently now. But I am astonished at all the ignorance there is in learning. Tholuck is sometimes a little flippant, but able in use of details, of which his learning gives him a vast quantity. There are two things: learning as acquirement, and capacity to use it—having it or not having it, save in general, so as to use it.
London, July 11th, 1851.
It is a great mistake to think that nothing can give testimony to itself. Supposing a man, noble, generous, forbearing in his ways, do I want a testimony to him? He is his own testimony. The character of the Lord’s miracles there is nothing like, not merely in false or devilish miracles, but not even in the Old Testament. God’s character as love, power and light is in them. They are not mere wonders. Who ever took a candle to see if he could see the sun? And if a man cannot see it, what do I conclude of him?
As to the fact, there are testimonies not only in the famous passage in Josephus, but Celsus does not attempt to deny them, but attributes them to magic learned in Egypt, and the Jews said He got into the temple and stole the Shem hammaphoresh, the ineffable name, hiding it in his thigh, and wrought them by it. But all this is nothing compared to God’s revelation of Himself.
The responsibility is connected with full adequate evidence, suited to man, being given. (John 5:33-40.) But man’s will and lusts are such that he loves darkness rather than light. And thus God’s power quickens sovereignly. (John 5:21. See chap. 3:11, 32; 8:45.) Conscience as to the faculty is the inlet to light, and none else, save that love draws; for God is love as well as light, and reveals Himself in Christ. If we see Him we see what we are, but we see goodness before us— where but in Him save dimly in those whose life He is? (See John 3:19.)
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Beloved Brother,—I should except more against the general bearing of your argument than against particular passages in it.9 Indeed I know of one whom it sent back into the Establishment, and justly if received; for you quote me as saying it is no church, and hence that they do not apply to it; in your argument upon them you leave room for no such distinction, nor do you even suppose that What has been a church can cease to be so by some principle it adopts. Your general reasoning is this: you are to judge the evil individuals, but in no case the body. Suppose, as in Sardis, very few to be such as will walk with Christ in white, and the mass to be unconverted—never mind, you are not to separate, however degenerate they are become. Now how is an ordinary mind to distinguish this from the Establishment? And you carry this so far, that you go through the churches, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and press that the Lord even never acts against the body, but only against those that have sinned—an argument without any force, because it omits Ephesus, whose candlestick is to be removed for the smallest departure, and Laodicea, which is wholly vomited out of His mouth. Now whatever use you make of this, it makes your deduction of no value; because according to your way of putting it, Ephesus would be wholly rejected for “a fall which no eye marked but His own;” and Pergamos and Thyatira would not, for the grossest allowed evil. The conclusion I draw is, that your manner of reasoning about it is unsound. I think the contrast I alleged as to the Establishment best; but it does not reach this case, though it was a just answer to Mr, J. Kelly;10 and I still hold the principles I there stated: only they do not reach the case either, which was not properly then before me.
I do not think you can justly reason from Christ’s dealing with a church to my dealing with it—a principle I did not enter on, nor perhaps think of, in writing to Mr. K. First, because God can bear with evil with which I ought not: witness His bearing with the world, Babylon, from out of which I am called to come. Secondly, because in many cases He can judge the wicked only by a discriminating judgment in power, as in the cases you refer to in Revelation 2, 3, and as He will do at the end of the age, which I cannot. Hence a conclusion from His judgment to ours is unsound. We do not remove candlesticks either; though the Lord may validate our acts as to it, binding what we bind, or loosing what we loose if it be according to His mind. But we ought, namely, a body of saints assembled in Christ’s name ought, to answer the appeal of the Spirit to these churches, and repent if there be evil, and not continue in the evil—thus, if it had Nicolaitanes or Jezebel, not leave them if it could put them out—unless recovered by and to the truth.
But the case you speak of is not reached yet, or rather which you do not speak of, save by an allusion in a note. Supposing a body refuses to act in discipline, supposing after service as to its degeneracy, or in spite of remonstrance, or in any way which shews deliberate principle, it will accept of false doctrine, or false practice, specially as to what concerns Christ’s glory (though all really does), what am I then to do? Walk with it —namely, accept myself also in my own acts the sin of which the Holy Ghost calls me to repent? I admit such a case ought never to be. My reasoning with Mr. K.. was on the ground, that the principle and system were God’s own. Is that the case when doctrinal dishonour to Christ, heresy, or immorality is accepted as admissible in the church of God, namely, compatible with Christ’s house and with Himself? Is that God’s principle and system? I know well you will say not, in an instant. Whether there has been sufficient patience is another question, and a very serious one; because God will be just and patient, if we are not: whether the right steps have, or have not, been taken, is so too: I think wrong ones were in some cases as to Bethesda. But that cannot now affect my relationship with such or such a body, though it may render my path more difficult. I can only say God will suffice for all, and turn all to good; and we must wait on Him, and on His leadings. We deal thus with hundreds of professing bodies, on one ground or another. If the principle of union in Christ were to be explained as meaning necessary continuance in, or admission of, evil, the brethren would be the wickedest sect or body in existence. Yet if evil is accepted, or refused to be put away, after all due measures are employed; if jealousy for Christ’s honour be not the principle of union, that is, of the action of those united, this horrible principle is admitted. This being so, the question is one of fact. Of that I am satisfied. I suppose you also are now. And the mistakes in the manner of dealing with the evil of which others are guilty can never change the principles on which I am to act for myself, though it may render its application more difficult; which I do not doubt is the case, though I believe God, our faithful God, has overruled it for good, as He does in His wondrous grace everything for those that love Him.
I said you alluded to the principle, in which you evidently contradict your whole tract, and prove (forgive my saying so) that you reason from feeling, not from principle. “Our course here is… thirdly, to reject any coming from a place, or teacher avowedly [you mean, ‘known to be,’ for no one avows it] heretical, however professedly sound themselves, unless they would cease from all fellowship with such place or teacher.” Be it so: but now (supposing it had been once a sound gathering, or treated as such) if degeneracy claimed service, not departure, you compel the sound man to depart from his gathering, though possibly the majority might be sound, and only the teachers perverting them (or indeed, vice Versa); that is, you insist on his doing what you condemn. You are right in insisting on it (unless it be real ignorance of the case or facts); but then, how does, as an absolute principle, evil and corruption or false doctrine not claim departure? Your conscience is right; your tract leads people all wrong.
I have been asked how much, corruption would make me leave a gathering (supposing it once formed on true principle); I answered, no degree of corruption as a fact. But a refusal on principle, or deliberately by the body, to remove the least, or at any rate to seek to remove it, would make me leave it; and for the reason in my answer to Mr. K.: it would be not God’s own system, but the opposite to it in the most possible way. I would make a remark here. You will find when a man walks with God, whatever his progress in the depths of the divine counsels or prophetic apprehension of His ways, and of what is passing around him, certain elementary parts of God’s character and truth retain their full importance, and render him clear in judgment and sound in mind. Evil cannot have to say to or go on with God, nor God with it. Surely nothing simpler. Seducing power will always sin against some such truth as this; hence* the godly man, however simple, is not deceived by brilliant or fascinating power or appearances. See Romans ii., how the plainest elements are laid at the bar of all the amazing scheme of doctrine which judged the wily effects of Judaizing teachers. See the message which Christ brought as the eternal life which was with the Father, in 1 John 1:You will tell me love, and love to the brethren, is one of these elements. I accept it; but I add, love to the brethren is distinguished from the faint human resemblance to it, by its consistency with the principle I have referred to, “By this we know that we love the brethren, when we love God and keep his commandments.” Thus it is distinguished from a coterie, or human kindness of nature. It is clear if I go with two of your children, and lead them away from your will, it is not as your children I love them. There is no doubt that love, love of all the brethren is a distinctive mark of divine life.
Another principle I add in connection with this, dear brother. If we are walking with God, and looking to the church as Christ’s, and that the house should be His, and so holy, and thus His honour sought to be maintained in it in grace, we shall trust Him for it. He is as Son over His own house, and most faithful in it; He will govern and rebuke according to the light we have, but never forsake. If I have failed in a simple ready seizing of the light, I may wait a moment, or go softly till I see my way, but I never shall distrust Him as to it. He it is that works for it, and alone can communicate blessing. For my own part, though I have felt all this very humbling, I have never doubted this a moment. I think it behoves us to go softly, but the more decidedly in the path of our feet, the more we feel that we have been straying. I am afraid afterwards to get at all away from Him. And that is true decision in the conscience; decision in fenergy is another thing, though it has always this for its basis. The camp was at Gilgal, wherever the victories were: if not, it was soon at Bochim.
As to the attacks, notice that the spirit of the world is working in those who condemn the principles I press. Hence I agree entirely that we (when needed) deal with individuals; but then I should see whether they had the principle of inter-communion with evil. If so, they are in heart of the principle of the gathering which you avowedly reject. This is a part of their state before the Lord. And if knowing that the gathering they come from hold this principle, and I could not lead them to renounce it, and necessarily (consequently, if honest) the gathering, I could not receive them. Indifferentism under the name of charity is the great snare now, not avowed error, and it is wickedness of heart, and that is the fruit. If I found them bonâ fide ignorant, and in heart opposed to this horrible principle, for my part I could receive them; only I should plainly warn them of their error and inconsistency in going back where the principle they condemned was acted on; I assume them to be ignorant themselves of the fact. It is only your own principle, of page 11 of the tract, applied to indifferentism. For a poor ignorant saint might never have perceived a heresy in the teacher, and yet gradually have his mind infected; and so of indifferentism; and I have seen sad cases. Let us only remember that both are the influence of Satan over the mind, and we shall seek the deliverance of souls, and charity will not be content without it; though in present circumstances (nay, in such cases generally) we have to avoid the appearance of sectarianism, proselytising, or attacks on others, the appearance of which only turns the ignorant, the very persons I speak of, away. I do seek bonâ fide faithfulness to get such delivered, not the seeking of quiet at the expense of Christ. Getting as you are out of sir mistaken path or judgment, I feel quietness is even suitable, but the more we have felt we have erred, the more will conscience be decided if it is at work. The standing alone is a temptation, [a] mere escaping the burden of the church’s sorrow. Had I sought this, I might have stayed comfortably where hundreds and thousands even [would] walk in peace with me, but I do not believe the Lord would have left me comfortable. He is too faithful. He would have proved me there. Indeed, in these cases it is either seeking to be roused by other and greater trouble, or, worse still, left where we have sought our own ease. No; our path is humbleness and even humiliation and lowliness, but full and entire confidence in Christ. We feel our sins and faults right when we can bring them to Him, and there we find His strength for the sorrow they have occasioned. Up to that, we seek our ease in the flesh, or have preferred some of them, to all the sorrow of heart they have occasioned. I hope that is all done with. You see I go a good deal further than you, but I shall be glad to hear what you say, as regards receiving: the intercommunion principle we have in common. Then further, I desire and seek unfeignedly restoration, but real, to God and before God, not playing at it to ease our own minds, but godly humble true return to and walking with Him according to His will, jealousy for Christ, and deliverance from the deceiving or blinding power of the enemy in habits of thinking; for this is the way He is working; of which we have the plainest proofs to my mind.
I hope I may see you soon, without knowing precisely the moment.
Ever affectionately yours
In the blessed Lord.
What I look for is real jealousy for the Lord. Then I could bear many mistakes.
[Received] August 29th, 1851.
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * The affections and duty towards parents are precious and lovely in their place; but the redemption of Jesus has placed us in a new creation, and if He calls us, according to His sovereign rights as Redeemer, to work for Him, we must be wholly given up to it. No man can serve two masters. This is not despising the parental claims; on the contrary, it is recognising them. If I place myself in this relationship, I ought to recognise it as from God Himself; but then I cannot be entirely at the service of Jesus. Called by Him, I am in another sphere, where family relationship does not enter. If it exists, it is obligatory. This is what was manifested in Jesus. He was subject until He commenced His ministry. From that time He did not know His mother. When His work was ended He recognised her indeed, and with the most exquisite tenderness, even while suffering on the cross. It is not the destruction of the affections, but the power of the Spirit, that carries us into a world the interests of which absorb us. “Salute no man,” said the Lord. “I know no man after the flesh,” said the apostle, For my own part, even while desiring to use all courtesy (for charity demands it); I am unhappy whenever I find myself on the ground of human relationships, however lovely they may be; it is not my Master. We have learned that honey does not go with sacrifice. Later we shall have fully developed, and in a better manner, all the sweetest affections; and we have them already in the church. This is the meaning of Mark 10:30. Yet a little while, and the pure affections of the heart will have all their scope, without any movement of selfishness.
* * * * *
To the same.]
[From the French.
* * * The word of God teaches very clearly that the woman ought to keep silence in the assemblies. If it is only a question of conversation, a gathering of friends, of an evening spent together, the woman, with due regard to the modesty of her sex, is as free as another. She may exercise her gifts (for there were prophetesses) freely, according to the word of God; but in all that-really takes the character of the assembly, that is to say, of souls gathered corporately in the name of Jesus, the woman is to be silent: whether we are taking the Lord’s supper, or not, she is to be silent in the assembly.
Our dear sister … has knowledge, and a facility for communicating it, and she may, without doubt, make use of these gifts in private; for in the epistles we see many women who laboured in the work, and who helped the apostle Paul himself, so that he makes mention of them in his letters, or rather the Spirit of God has honoured them in this manner. May God preserve us from not taking account of it in the present day. But the order of the house of God is always the path of blessing, and no expedient for filling up the gaps which in fact there are can be blessed in the long run, though it may at the moment seem to be useful.
The directions given by the apostle as to the deportment of a woman who prays, or prophesies, in nowise alter the instruction, “Let your women keep silence in the assemblies.” In 1 Corinthians 11, it is only with verse 17 that the directions for the assembly begin.
The case of the daughters of Philip shews that these gifts were exercised elsewhere than in the assembly.
* * * * *
To the same.]
[From the French.
* * * Let us work well, dear brother, while it is day; it is our only affair in this world, and, at the same time, let us be very watchful that the inner life, communion with our precious Saviour, be the true source of our activities. May we be faithful to the will of God in our walk, and large-hearted towards all His children. I earnestly desire to preserve the true character of the work of brethren, poor as they may be—and we are poor, and whenever we have lost the sense of it, God has chastened us. I believe that God has committed a testimony to us, even the testimony necessary at this time for His church. What a responsibility! and in us what incapacity for keeping this precious deposit, if we are not kept of Him, and near Him! Away from Him, from His presence realised in a sensible way, it would be, alas! but one more good thing spoiled, while the one to whom it had been committed would be puffed up, as to the very thing in which he bad been unfaithful. May God keep us near Himself, and in humility. Oh, may we be true and faithful witnesses of His grace, and labourers from Him; and who is sufficient for these things?
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—We are here at a conference in which, thank God, we have been much blessed; we have read in order the Gospel of John, but it leaves me little time for writing to you. I was delighted to receive your account of Lyons. You know that I spent some days in that town coming from the south, and many things had already taken place, and I saw many people also. The meeting and the work have been much on my heart since then, so that your letter has been a great refreshment to me. In the condition in which brethren are there, in which we are all as a whole, it is not an evil that souls should come one by one. I do not believe either that those who have been brought up in system are in such a condition that they could walk without causing uneasiness and falsifying the path of brethren. There ought to be enough power amongst them to be able to receive every converted soul in L., whatever his condition might be; also in fact they would have no right to refuse any; but I rather doubt their being at present in the state to do so, and if God is doing that which tends to render to Him and to maintain for Him a true testimony, I can bless Him for it, although it is certainly humbling for brethren. They ought to answer to all the necessities of the church, but it is useless to pretend to what they are not; besides, we must leave God to act according to His perfect wisdom, and He is acting in grace, blessed be His name for it. We ought to remember also that we come on the scene when everything is already spoiled; however, Christ is sufficient for everything. We must seek to separate the precious from the vile, and we can count upon His grace. As to my letter, I hold fast to not giving to our position, that is at L., an anti-baptist character. While deeply convinced of it, and believing that I have the light of God thereupon, I would as much avoid being an anti-baptist as a baptist. I really desire the union of all Christians in the unity of the body of Christ. If any one has the conviction that he has not been baptised, I think he does very well in getting himself baptised. My desire is that we should be one, as we are one in Christ. Now I should be much grieved if the meeting in 50:was founded on opposition to baptists. We have need to be founded on grace, on that which also edifies; and that the reality of the power of the Holy Ghost should unite us in the practical grace of Jesus Himself; that our life should be of Him, and for Him; that He should live in us and that thus we should be one. If the publication of my letter gave a sectarian colour to our meeting by pre-occupying minds with a subject below Christ Himself, I should much regret it, and this, dear brother, is what I dread. If you can offer them to persons who wish for them as a means of appreciating truth, and in order to prevent souls from falling into a sectarian spirit, I desire no better. With these remarks, dear brother, I leave the matter in your hands; you can dispose of the letter as you think well. You will examine before God if you can use it with this object: perhaps if you think well to have it printed you can do so without publishing it, and you can add by way of counsel what I have just said; I mean the substance of the thought.
I bless God with all my heart for His goodness towards our feeble testimony, for I have good news from Nimes also. I feel this the more because I felt that I ought to come here, and the work in the south was much on my heart. God is blessing us here; the spirit of the brethren is simple, humble, and grace rules in their relations. We are having a conference here for the study of the word in which we have been certainly blessed, and I hope that it has even done much good. I must conclude my letter; I have much to do. Grace and peace be with you, dear brother. Greet the brethren affectionately. I must leave you in order to revise the translation of the Synopsis on Kings for a few moments before our meeting. May God be with you.
Yours very affectionately.
Bristol, September 12th, 1851.
* * * * *
To the same.]
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—Your letter reached me here on my way. I answer without delay. Anxiety which anticipates evil is not the faith which faces the difficulties through which God sees it well to make us pass, and in which the conscience is consequently engaged. Mr. W. had engaged me to write to Switzerland on the subject of this business. I am waiting, while leaning on the goodness of the Lord, who loves His church, who knows if it ought to trouble them. I am waiting on God that He may grant them to be faithful, and give them all the necessary instruction if the difficulty arises. He has done so already in a wonderful way in the case of Mr. N.’s agents who went there: why should I not trust Him for every other case? … I do not wish to raise questions where the brethren are in peace, hoping that God will give the needful wisdom when the question is raised: why occupy them with it beforehand, when the conscience is not yet involved?
With regard to Mr. ——, I have not seen him since the Bethesda question arose, so it is possible that by presenting the matter clearly to him and to his conscience he would be brought back, even if he has at present gone astray. I suppose that he is more or less connected with Bethesda; now if it is so, and if he rejected warnings, and persisted in keeping up connection with B., I could not walk with him; I am going to tell you why, leaving him aside, not knowing what would be the effect of a conversation with him. First I must tell you that I believe that if one meeting receives the members of another, and the members of the former go there in their turn, there is a bond between the two, although I own that in the present case other motives have power over me. This is how it is then as to B. Doctrine is not in question, but faithfulness to Christ with respect to doctrine or holiness. I would not receive a person who knowingly formed part of a meeting which admits heretics, or persons whose conduct is bad, because the principle of indifference to good and evil, to error and truth, is as bad as the wrong action, and even worse. Let me be clearly understood. I believe that the church is bound to be jealous with respect to the glory of the Person of Christ. If Christ is despised, I have no principle of union. I believe that B. has acted with profound contempt for the Lord, to say nothing of brethren. Here there is nothing equivocal. Mr. N. was maintaining a doctrine of which Mr. Müller himself said that if it were true, Christ would have needed to be saved as much as we did. This doctrine placed Christ under the effect of Adam’s sin by His birth, in saying that He had to gain life by keeping the law. We had driven away this doctrine and those who upheld it, and the struggle was ended. The persons who had supported Mr. N. had published confessions with respect to the doctrine, and had made confessions before the brethren publicly of the falsehoods and wickedness by which they had tried to make good their views and to justify themselves; it was a truly extraordinary work of Satan.
Well, a lady wished to introduce Mr. N. to teach in a meeting near Bethesda; this meeting refused; she left the meeting accordingly. She was introduced at B., Mr. M. knowing that she was maintaining and propagating this doctrine, Mr. Craik the other pastor having had to do with her. She went there because they admitted such persons into that meeting. At the same time, two gentlemen, who made part of the meeting which Mr. N. had formed when he was obliged to leave on account of his doctrine (those who had supported him having left him and made confession), these two communicants of Mr. N.’s, I say, were also admitted to B. It is proved true that these three disseminated Mr. N.’s tracts in the B. assembly. The lady induced a young lady to go who was the most active and intelligent agent that Mr. N. had, in order to spread his doctrines. In consequence of these circumstances, several godly brothers of B. asked that all this should be examined; they said that they did not ask even that the judgment of the brethren should be taken thereupon, but that they should examine the matter and the doctrine themselves. This was decidedly refused. I received a letter from Mr. C, blaming me as sectarian for making these difficulties, even when he was not prepared to receive everything that Mr. N. was teaching. They had many meetings of the flock and the ten labouring brothers (of whom two were really disciples of Mr. N.), Messrs. M. and C. at their head, presented a written paper to the assembly at B., declaring that this was a new test of communion, which they would not admit; that many excellent brethren did not give so decided an opinion upon Mr. N.’s doctrine; that they were not bound to read fifty pages to know what Mr. N. taught, the members of his flock being— mark this!—already admitted at B. A brother asked permission to communicate some information about Mr. N.’s doctrine, in order that the assembly might understand why they held to it that the doctrine should be judged; and this was peremptorily refused, and the paper which said that many had not a bad opinion of the doctrine, rejecting as a new condition of fellowship the examination into the doctrine, was laid down as the absolute condition of the pastorate of Messrs. M. and C, without which they would withdraw from their ministry in the midst of the assembly. Those who justified them on the ground of this paper were to rise, which was done by the assembly, thirty or forty forthwith leaving B. So that, with knowledge of the matter, they laid down as the basis of the B. assembly, indifference to the truth as to the Person of Christ; and they preferred to see about forty godly brethren leave, rather than to examine into the question, having in fact in their midst the members of the N. meeting. This was so much the more important in my eyes, because Satan was seeking at that moment, and still seeks, to forbid the assembly of the children of God to examine into and to judge any heresy whatsoever; that once a person has been acknowledged as being a Christian, one has no right to know what he holds. This has been plainly laid down as a principle by many persons who blame us, and they desired to take advantage of it to force us to receive a young man who distinctly denied that there was such a Person as the Holy Ghost. I do not say that all lay down this principle, but the enemy has sought to bring it in, and amongst the brethren who opposed me on this question, some of the most violent maintain it.
Now the principle of indifference as to the Person of Christ being laid down at Bethesda, and the assembly having publicly accepted it, I refuse to admit this principle. They have admitted persons put outside amongst us on account of blasphemy, Messrs. M. and C. are the pastors of the assembly in virtue of this principle. This letter has never been withdrawn: they claim to have done right. Many things will doubtless be told you in excuse, and to make it appear that they have done things which nullify this: I know how it is with them. For me their condition before God has become much, much worse. I should be ready to say why. I believe that they are themselves more or less infected with false doctrine, but I cannot enter into the story in detail. Mr. M. said to me (after having acknowledged that Christ would have needed to be saved as much as we, if this doctrine was admitted) that they maintained the letter of the ten to the full, and that they had done well in all that they had done. Well, indifference to Christ is a grave sin: an assembly which bases itself publicly on this principle I cannot accept as a christian assembly. Assemblies which are connected with B., which go there and receive from thence, are one with B.—save the case of persons who are ignorant of the matter, an exceptional case of which it is not necessary to speak. Fox my part this is what I do; having distinctly taken my position I judge each case individually according to its merits, but I will not receive a person who keeps up his connection with B. with knowledge of the matter, Faithfulness to Christ before everything; I know not why I labour and suffer if this is not the principle of my conduct.
The fact is that brethren had fallen into a state of spiritual demoralisation which required this sifting, and as they get out of it individually they reject B., which is taking place, thank God, every day. Persons who have written tracts against me write their own condemnation, while declaring that they were deceived at Bristol. As to that, my resolution is taken: I am deeply convinced that the basis of the B. meeting is contempt of Christ, and I do not walk with those who accept it, and I will not mix with it; it would be indifference to my own conduct. If consequently I walk alone it is well; I am content as to myself; I deplore the condition of souls. I do not say that all that has been done to oppose it has been wise. I do not think so, but my judgment of the matter in the main is definitively taken. I believe B. in a much worse condition than at the beginning of the question.
I do not desire to introduce such a question into the midst of brethren who are not in fact engaged in the evil. I fear Mr. W. is inclined to do so. He has done so to some degree here in my opinion.
Your very affectionate.
Hereford, October 6th, 1851.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—I doubt not that money will be found, not so that there should be no more needs, but in order to prove the faithfulness of God, who thinks of those whom He sends forth. It is not His will to take us out of a lowly position, nor to destroy the occasion, the necessity (and may it be a necessity for the heart) for dependence on Him. I would not wish it to be otherwise; but He will answer faith without taking us out of the position that requires this faith.
I think it is goodness on God’s part to have taken away our dear sister G. I always trembled for her, and, with Jesus, she will be very safe, and happy too. If we bear many souls upon our hearts, He knows how to bear them not only on His heart but also in His arms. How happy one is to be the object of His care! How tender and faithful it is, and what wisdom! He keeps us here for our happiness and joy; He takes us to Himself for still greater joy, when this world is not suitable for us. May we but know how to live for Him, entirely for Him; and by Him, in order that we may know how to live for Him. It is just when we desire to live for Him, that we feel that we have not the power to do so without Him. But then, how He sustains the life! in what a precious way we learn His faithfulness! and how far even a little food will carry us, because Christ is presented to us in it in so large and full a way.
Yes, our business is to be with Him, that our life should be Himself. The springs of life in the soul are then deep—deep as God Himself; it is fed by what is pure, by what binds it so directly to Himself that everything acquires a strength which it is impossible to have otherwise. A well-nourished life then becomes a well-filled one.
April 5th, 1852.
* * * * *
Beloved Brother,—Few, I should trust, have a larger spirit than myself, or are more disposed to leave the fullest liberty of conscience. I fear being too large sometimes, but I do not quite understand individual liberty in public common discipline… The difficulty of present circumstances in exercising that discipline I understand most fully; but supposing discipline to have been justly, and consequently divinely exercised, surely saints elsewhere are to act upon it; or confusion and disorder, and slighting the saints and Christ Himself in antinomian liberty, is the result. I freely admit that, as things are, it is difficult in many cases, not of common evil, but of ecclesiastical judgment, to deal otherwise than the best we can; but it is always well to respect brethren unless one has a clear case of conscience. Of course ——is free, not to be bound by the judgment of brethren, but if people put things on this ground, why, we might say as much. But woe be to him who, if brethren have walked humbly and patiently with God, holds himself free from their judgment. Such may despise them, and for a time they may for their good have the lowest place, but I do not believe such a course will prosper, for God is with them that fear Him, however He may humble them.
Certainly no one has less sought to make a party than I have: I trust my heart is too much in heaven to find such a thing supportable. I am sure I am too morally lazy. But I shall pursue the course I believe to be of God, and He who judges the secrets of men’s hearts will judge all things and all men. The cry of party does not move me. It is evidently the enemy’s cry: the only danger is others shaking one by it, by giving decided persons the reputation of being a party. But I am not afraid of the enemy, though I would be on my guard against him…
I see looseness is an easy road, but I prefer following Christ. And I see very clearly here that gentlefolks who want an easy berth would prefer Bethesda for unholy reasons. Perhaps God in the present state of the church would give them an easy path, half-way with the world. They have their own cross there for their class, and they are not capable of more. Christ preferred the poor; ever since I have been converted so have I. Let those who like society better have it. If I ever get into it, and it has crossed my path in London, I return sick at heart. I go to the poor; I find the same evil nature as in the rich, but I find this difference: the rich, and those who keep their comforts and their society, judge and measure how much of Christ they can take and keep without committing themselves; the poor, how much of Christ they can have to comfort them in their sorrows. That, unworthy as I am, is where I am at home and happy. I think I am intellectual enough, and my mind—though my education was in my judgment not well directed, save by God—cultivated enough to enjoy cultivated society. I have none of it, but I prefer the cross.
London has given me the opportunity latterly of comparing, through all this break-up, the effect of what I embraced joyfully on principle, and as a principle, twenty-seven years ago. I thought then it was the cross, but took it up in the energy of first and inexperienced zeal. I have had the opportunity of weighing it by experience. And when, perhaps in the most trying way, I have found it to be the cross, and with the additional difficulties arising from my own failure, and poor, feeble, and with little wisdom to know how to walk in it, I accept it still. I am sure more faith might walk more powerfully in this path, but the path is the right one. There I walk with God’s help. I have seen many swerve and seek ease, I have seen my own failure and feebleness in it, but the path is Christ’s, and I desire to walk there still. I did not enter into this path for its success, but for its truth, because I believed it Christ’s. I walk in it still for the same reason. I did hot enter into it for brethren, or brethrenism: there were none to join. I did so because the Spirit and the word shewed me it, and that it was following Christ. It has not ceased to be so; and now that many have left for a broader, and I think more worldly one, I still prefer the narrow one. I did not choose it for them; I do not leave it because they have left it. Faith may be more exercised, the faults of others and my own may have made it more difficult to walk in it, and it is so, but have not altered it. When I left Ebrington Street, I thought myself alone. 1 think the brethren behaved very badly, but I recognise my own failing enough to leave all that, and walk straight now through grace; if others will not, I mourn, but do not change my path, for the world more or less always, when they do not. I endeavour, and earnestly desire, to shew grace and largeness of heart to those I think even wrong. I do not deny that in the conduct of the affair, the failure of judgment as I think of others, has made my own path much more difficult, but I cast all this on God, and go on looking to Him. The result is in His hands. If alone, alone; if He grant union, it will be my heart’s joy, but at any rate faithfulness, and His favour and approbation. This is my answer to these things.
Ever affectionately yours.
London [received], May 15th, 1852.
* * * * *
* * * I have often, of late, insisted upon the fact, that all sorts of things are related in the scriptures: the malice of Satan, the mistakes and evil thoughts of men, their sins, unmixed evil, a mixture of good and evil, things and words where the influence of the Holy Spirit in the heart finds its way athwart the prejudices and the thoughts of men. But all these things are given us in the word by inspiration, in order that we may know man and the ways of God. At the same time, God’s own thoughts are also communicated to us, in order to enable us to judge all this according to His judgment. Thus we comprehend, in a far truer way, the state of man and all that is connected with his relations with God.
What I seek in an inspired book, is the perfect communication of the thoughts of God, such as He deigns to communicate them to me, and a perfect history of man, a history such that possessing the thoughts of God, I may perfectly judge of what man is, as God, the God of truth, would shew him to me. Now, for this, I must know his faults, his thoughts, what he is without law, under law, under the influence of affections which the Holy Spirit produces, whether the flesh is entirely mortified or, in what proceeds from the heart, it colours the affections produced, giving them the form of the individual’s condition of mind.
In this latter case, when it is a question of this mixture, I do not take the result as the proper expression of the thoughts of God, nor as affections absolutely approved of Him, such at least as they are expressed. But I accept what is told, as a revelation from God, which makes man known to me in that phase. For the effect of the work of God in man will only be perfect, when, in the glory, we reflect what He is according to the pattern of Jesus, to whose image we shall be conformed. The moment we have to do with the thoughts of God revealed directly, it is another thing; but man depicted by God, the work of Satan, the effect of the work of God in man, are never that. There is difficulty only in this latter case, on account of the mixture. For my own part, I do not doubt that a powerful effect of the Spirit of God is often produced, where the moral form with which that which produces it is clothed participates, to a very great degree, in all the thoughts of the class of persons who are the vessels and channels of it. The Holy Spirit produces zeal and affections; their form is often that of the religious education of the individual, or even of the nation.
June 16th, 1852.
[From the French.
* * * * *
Beloved Brother,—The re-sifting to separation from the world must begin through this, naturally more painful in Plymouth than elsewhere. Nor will growth upwards as to work begin till this be gone through. As with Christ Himself —many of His disciples went away at that saying, and walked no more with Him, and yet it was the most blessed of all that He said then; but it did not suit their state. Pruning having, I suppose, been neglected, brethren must pass through this winter, to sprout in spring; and it will be a fresh work, not associated properly with old joys, but in the truths, and yet much more in the Christ that produced them.
It is a mercy all did not slip back into the loose worldly religion which generally characterises the decay of revivals. I look on it as a very great mercy from the Lord.
There is an enduring to the end, and patience having its perfect work. It is trying when people are not decided, and have not definitely taken their place as on a finished question. Then we can deal with restoration, but I doubt you are fully there at——yet… It is absolutely necessary to be settled in order to restore, and this must be by being really fixed in the true Christ, or being all wrong; but eternal questions cannot restore. That which gathers is Christ, and grace and real work in bringing Him down to souls: that is what we want. It is that which must always do God’s work, can and ought alone to do it. Now, with looseness as to Christ, this is done in a measure (because the error may not appear—only when this is hollow there will not be power, and God will not bless it), even to conversion, if there be a true witness.
But there may be a mass of souls who are loose, and do not like the trouble of being faithful, or in such a time, the question connected with it. But alas! they are then gathered to acquiescence in unfaithfulness, and the world is more or less there— religious world perhaps, but not the cross properly. If the cross be not taken up, this ensnares; that is, if Christ be not everything and the world therefore not wanted, and its neglect therefore easy to bear. Some few simple souls may be ensnared, but they will get out when exercised in God’s time. But then, on the other hand, this settling of questions even rightly will not gather souls. We must be right as to what they are gathered to: but it must be a Christ in power and grace, without any questions, that gathers them. God alone can give this, and He will not, till there be sufficient exercise to make the Christ gathered to, the same Christ as that which gathers. But it is free out-going grace alone that gathers.
I do not know if at——you are quite at this point; but I count it a great grace the Lord has so dealt with the brethren. The good effect on souls has been astonishingly evident also; they are worth morally incomparably more than they were. If it be not arrived there, it will suffer yet awhile, but the apparent advantage of .the unfaithful will be hollow and worldly, a mere re-descent into the mixed religious system of the day. When it is not, it will be a restless angry feeling, as I see in some gatherings elsewhere, especially when the Lord allows blessing to flow a little elsewhere; and they do not escape worldliness after all. Then they will have more rich and respectable people who like looseness and liberty in religious things, but it is not a real testimony to Christ. But, I repeat, living grace bringing in grace, Christ by the Holy Ghost from heaven, to souls, can alone really gather and recruit souls.
There is, through great mercy, a little blessing here… . Several souls who had wandered from God have been restored to peace and joy, and there is an ingathering recommenced quite as fast as, I feel at any rate, we have power to watch over or help them… The work is very constant, but I am happy in it, and through great mercy—how undeserved I well know, and would say how unworthy, but that it is not a question of worthiness—I feel the Lord with me in it. I have plenty of work besides London and plenty in it; indeed as to care, I feel it is not done, and only find a resource in Him who perfectly cares for His sheep. Kindest love to the brethren. The Lord sustain and bless them. It is a winter time for them: but heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning, and to the upright there ariseth up light in the darkness. There is no doubt the Lord must carry on the sifting work He is doing to the end, with those who need it. I desire earnestly a restoring spirit, grace dealing and seeking souls in grace; but it must be to a known Christ we are faithful, and in our little measure, that the gathering and restoration can be…
Ever your affectionate brother in Christ.
London [received], July 13th, 1852.
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[From the French.
Dear Sister,—I will remind you of one thing: it is that the sisters of——have long been in the habit of judging the preachers; I do not mean only since the beginning of the meeting, but when they were still going to church they did it much. It is a thing against which our sisters will have to be on their guard….It may be indeed that there is not all that answers
to the needs of all the souls that attend the meetings; but if there is true piety, and I believe there is with a good number, if Christ is presented, even if there is not anything very new, a spiritual soul will find, not perhaps all that it desires in the communication, but that which puts it in connection with the source of all that it desires, and feeding itself there—in such a case—it is not much occupied with the state of the meeting, except to pray much for it; and in so doing, it will find the joys and sweetness of love by the work of the Spirit of God in itself. I do not at all say that this is all that is to be desired in a meeting; far from it; but one walks there with God, and the consequence of this is that the. soul is happy in itself and contented. There are souls who make more progress thus, than where there is much outward spiritual help. I can understand that where the word is less completely developed than the habits of the mind demand, the want will be felt; whilst many souls who have not these habits get on well there. But after all, if we are near God, we can bear it, and rejoice even in the freshness of the grace. To mention only the name of Jesus is a sweet smelling savour shed forth for one who rejoices deeply in Him in his soul. There is the secret of happiness; and then to carry the burdens of the church as one’s own. I stop. Perhaps I shall soon go to ——. In any case, if God permits me, I shall not delay very long. I charge you to walk quietly for the moment, and not to take such a serious step as that of separating yourself from the assembly. In doing so, it is difficult to retrace one’s steps.
Your affectionate brother in Jesus.
London, July, 1852.
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My dear Brother,—After a meeting for humiliation11 of some brethren habitually walking in fellowship together, some who were separated from them seemed to have had the desire to have taken part in it, and to have been prepared to do so.
A desire being formed in my own mind for a meeting for humiliation, and having spoken to others of it, I have found it, thank God, to be the common desire of many—universal, I think I may say, with those who have felt bound, as it is well known, to be decided as to what they judged to be evil, and participated in—I am led to believe, by many from whom they have been unhappily separated; for unhappy it surely will be felt to be, even if the judgment may have been convinced that it was inevitable. I feel assured that God has wrought this desire for humiliation, and disposed the hearts of one and another to it.
The point on which I should propose to meet with brethren is, that we feel that we have failed in maintaining the glory of God in that which was committed to our trust, though He may not in grace have taken it from us—a serious and solemn thought.
Each one would in his own conscience take to himself the share in this, for which he would feel himself responsible before God. The subject of our common humiliation would be the result we are all conscious of. I am ready for my own part to take the first and largest share in this. It is not a confession of others’ faults I look for, hut a common one of us all before God, each taking his part as the Holy Ghost may in sovereign grace shew it to him.
No one who comes is supposed thereby to relinquish any judgment he has formed as to evil, or any course he has pursued as to it. On the other hand, those who have blamed many of the acts of the brethren here alluded to are not supposed to be committed to any approval (or disapproval) of them. For my own part, I am ignorant of most, and myself dissent from some I do know of. Any change in this respect must be left to the Holy Ghost, if such there is to be.
I say this, not to raise any question as to what is not the object of the meeting, but to meet one which would naturally arise, and might be a hindrance to one otherwise disposed to join in it, and thus remove the difficulty.
The object of the meeting is one only—humiliation, because we have failed to glorify God. It is to join in this that any one should come, if he comes at all, with the desire that God may grant blessing to us by it. Such is my trust as to the meeting. I trust God’s blessing may attend it. I feel that it is the place that becomes us. Through His grace it may be the means of blessing, nor would I limit the extent of that which God might grant by it. His grace is beyond our measure of it, or our thoughts. Though, of course, it more immediately concerns those who have been placed in the unhappy circumstances known to us all, if any Christian who has never been mixed up with the questions which have given occasion to it, nor belonged to an assembly of those amongst whom the circumstances have arisen, felt really desirous, as a member of Christ’s body, and convinced that the testimony of God was concerned in it, he would have gladly a place amongst those who have given occasion to the humiliation called for. If any in Bethesda desire really to join in humiliation, it is not desired to exclude them, and means would be taken to afford them the opportunity in such a way as would not involve any one in any sanction or acceptance of what they judge to be evil.
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Dearest Brother,—I must, of course, expect every one to take his own view of the meeting, and rely only on my hope that God will take His; but there seems to me to be some haste in your correspondent, as there has been, I think, in much that has been done. Where did he find “any allusion to the sin and separation existing to be excluded?” It is as new to me as to you. How could I pretend to dictate the prayers and confessions each should make? It was a point on which I had pre-eminently to trust God. I desire none to be there but those thoroughly humbled. If they are, God will surely guide in the confessions they are to make. I am sure if any one in his prayer—which .1 have no right or reason to suppose—prayed against me as a maker of schism and the like, it would be to have himself judged as to the doing it on such an occasion. It would work together for good. I have stated as distinctly as possible in every invitation, that those who have been, as I think, justly decided, are to be understood as implying no change whatever by coming. —— wanted to have a vague invitation, leaving this out, but I did not comply. I did not bind the others who came to any approval of the acts of the former by coming, leaving all changes in this to God’s working in individuals. If there are among them any disposed to join us in humiliation and nothing else, without our giving up our judgment, I would not refuse them; what I sought was this one point, because I saw some did desire it. I think if any one went there to accuse B. (and my own judgment is more than confirmed as to its evil) instead of confessing his own part in the evil, and humbling himself because of the dishonour done to the Lord, as a great public fact among us, he had much better stay away; for the object of the meeting is to humble ourselves because we have failed, not to accuse any, however evil they may have been. This is my whole object in the meeting, to take for myself the place of humiliation, and I am content to see those who take this ground with me, that is, that the Lord has been dishonoured, though they condemn me in some of my acts. I have not for that given up my judgment as to the given case of evil at B. or elsewhere. The truth is, I think I see it more clearly, feel it more strongly, and have increased vantage ground against it of a holy kind by this humiliation. A rigid pride of righteousness as to it I believe does not become us; if any feel it their place to take this ground I am sure I do not take it with them, yet I think I am as decided, and I hope I shall be as firm in the long run as they. I think I have sometimes seen something of this spirit; I do not sympathise with it.
Now my desire (led, I believe, of God) in the meeting was to separate this humiliation from everything else. I know of no social meeting together. This introduces the meals. I felt many might be disposed to fast: such was the case at Kingston. I further felt that in a meeting, professedly and solely for humiliation, dining socially together was much less in place than just taking what was needed in the way of food. Every family mourning apart [Zech. 12:12] shews not the letter but the spirit in which such an act may be looked at; and I decided to have no regular common meals, but let every one eat as his nature needed it before God; of course, several could together, if they were led to do it. The effect of this met at the same time a scruple which might be in many minds, and to avoid— what might trouble them—any recognition in worship, for so thanksgiving might be termed, of those who were walking, as they judged, disorderly. It would leave every one free to join where his own conscience was at ease; in a word, while I felt it in itself suitable, this arrangement left every conscience perfectly before God to do what it thought right. The eating makes no part of the meeting whatever; I have for the convenience of all provided for every one something to eat, that they may not have to go away to inns, or be hindered coming. I judge it will make the humiliation more solemn, and that I am very glad of. The humiliation is the sole object of the meeting. Of course, one who could not let into the humiliation he was engaged in, as regards the dishonour done to the Lord, another who desired it who was not decided as ourselves on what has occurred, could not join with comfort in the meeting. This leads me to the invitations. Unless in the case of known false doctrine or such conduct morally as stopped my hand, I did not positively exclude individuals, or by any negative course which amounted to leaving them out. Their writing the bitterest things possible against myself would never have been a reason with me for excluding them, rather the contrary, that they might know personal injury did not weaken my charity…
In fine, the meeting is neither social nor ecclesiastical, but of individuals who desire to humble themselves because we have not maintained the Lord’s glory in what was committed to us, and nothing else. It is not about B., nor. about those who have separated themselves from it. I judge that great dishonour has been done to Christ, and a stumbling-block put in the way of souls finding their way out of surrounding evil. I put myself in the first place of guilt as to this. I meet those who desire to own we have not maintained God’s glory in the exceedingly precious things committed to us. I have found some who have not been as decided about a certain evil as they ought to be, desirous of humbling themselves for what we are all concerned in. I take care they shall understand that there is no kind of compromise as to our decision as to this evil, and I am then willing they should humble themselves with us also. I have sought, not exactly to choose the individuals myself, but to take the best moral care I could that those should come who really joined in spirit in the humiliation.
B. is not the subject of the meeting, but our having dishonoured God: such is the meeting. I understand that with some this sense of humiliation has not the place it has in my mind. Of course, they would not see the character of the meeting as I do; they may be more occupied merely with their own righteous ground as to B.: I do not sympathise with them. I think even great mistakes were committed by those who were right in the main, and that humiliation is the principal thing that becomes us; yet I think I see the evil of B. more clearly and more decidedly than ever: I am not going to make acting against it the spring of my action, but Christ. I think, as I have said, I get moral vantage ground as to it by the humiliation. I trust I have made clear to you the ground I have gone on as to the meeting. Of course, I may have made mistakes in the execution, but I feel assured God approves the object of it, and that He will guard it from any hindrance in the main to its object, which I believe to be dear to Him. It has this character of light at any rate, that it has brought out in a wonderful way the thoughts and state of everybody’s heart. I shall lose the post if I add any more.
Ever affectionately yours.
July 16th, 1852.
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Dearest Brother,—I am very thankful indeed you have been satisfied. I have no doubt the meeting will be a true basis of blessing, for example, the grace of God which gave it, and is connected with it, Many, at any rate, felt the Lord very decidedly giving His hand to help us out of a trying position, a fresh start in grace; I have no doubt of it. The Lord only keep us in the place in which humiliation brings us. Effects shewed themselves evidently in the hearts of several…
The meeting referred, as I said, to our own failing, not to other people’s; I am sure it did with me altogether. I feel on clearer ground as to it than ever I did, and relieved from the difficulty of dealing with evil in the condition of failure. We had a meeting afterwards at Bristol (not to mix it up with the Taunton one) where we were free to speak of matters. Then I took a step forward, delivering to myself, and removing a difficulty in others’ way who complain of me. I declared I had entirely withdrawn my original letter as to B.; not that I saw anything wrong in it, only one passage had been complained of, that in which I said I could not break bread, &c. This I had put in as due to brethren, to tell them openly what I felt about it, instead of leaving them in the dark; it was openness and confidence towards them. But, while it took away what was a barrier to several, a grievance to all who object to me, so that they had spoken about it, I felt that it freed me from a perpetual formal question why I did this, and why I had not done that, and threw it over on the abiding merits of the case, and I drop out of the question, if there be any desire of approaching; if not, it is no matter. On the merits of the case I cannot have a doubt, and there the matter now stands, as far as I am concerned. There exists nothing between me and B. but its own state, and the pains I took to bring it before M. and C. in grace; nor, as regards others, have they this topic to dwell upon.
I do not think they were aware of what they wished; for the act, as far as my position is concerned, has the most complete arid important bearing, but I had weighed it before the Lord, and declared definitively it was done. I was cross questioned and examined to know what I would do, but I refused peremptorily to commit myself to any course for the future. I was Christ’s servant, and what was His will I should do, as far as grace enabled me, and I knew how. I felt that it broke the link with the old organisation of the brethren, if such I may call it. I had left that individually in leaving Ebrington Street, but the error having been generally rejected, that link was, in a certain sense, renewed by a circular to them all, and involved me in their position. Its withdrawal put me again completely free and isolated. I told the brethren that I had not a thought but through grace of having closer ties with those who walked in His fear, but the original link of association, the only ostensible one, was gone. I felt it delivered me from all link or discussion with gatherings, put B. out of court, and set me free in communion with brethren going right on the sole and simple ground of the unity of the church of God.
With them it will consequently bind the bonds tighter and on true and healthier grounds; while however free to act in grace towards any if occasion arise, as I heartily desire, I am free from all link with anything else; I am not involved in their responsibilities, as that letter implied, and what was urged as a stumbling-block to others is gone. I am Christ’s servant, untrammelled by aught save His will, which is true liberty. It astonished some of the brethren, but it was a settled thing in my own mind.
I am prepared to suppose, unless God, who certainly is at work, prevent, and rise above it all in grace—however clearly I explained it—that many will take advantage of it to say I am changed, that I confess I was wrong, and see I was unjustifiable in my judgment as to B.; I am prepared for all this. I have to do with B. as a Christian now, and not to defend what I did then. I feel it a happier ground, though my object was to take what was alleged as a difficulty out of the way. They cannot complain now; the sole question is what are the real merits of the case. It has set my own mind abundantly free; I do not trouble myself the least with consequences drawn from it. It gives a new start, and gets rid of festering questions and details. Others, I suppose, will tell you of the meeting, so I add no details. I felt at the end of the second day it was really closed, as did many others—that its proper character of humiliation had; and though the evening of that day there was much spiritual energy, I believe it was beginning to merge, though there was confession, into rather more intercession for the future—all most enjoyable, in its place, but not our meeting. I believe the Lord ordered the whole.
Beloved Brother, in Him.
W. writes me word he has withdrawn his printed papers from circulation and thinks of something else.
London, July 26th, 1852.
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* * * I am not anxious to explain my conduct—I quite expected the use likely to be made of it by many… I told them I saw no harm in the circular, and had pressed its withdrawal, and as it stood as “a stumbling-block” to many, I took it out of the way. L did not see much meaning in withdrawing a warning, never on sale, and three years old, but as it was a matter of feeling, and they felt it a hindrance, I was willing to remove everything in the way. The merits and demerits of B. remaining I supposed unchanged, I go on with those with whom I am in communion on the broad and plain ground of my duty to Christ. If others are faithful to Him, we shall go together; if they are not, by His grace we shall not. The fact is I never was on any other, only I supposed myself with all the brethren on it, and the Ebrington Street iniquity broke that. I never—not even when in the Establishment—thought that Christ and iniquity, and Christ and fundamental false doctrine as to Him, were to go together. If others think they can and ought (and it is the whole question)… of course this will lead us in different paths. I have withdrawn the circular in grace because it was a hindrance and a stumbling-block to minds of brethren, from before whom I would take every such thing. Any conclusion drawn from it I entirely repudiate. I shall act as faithfully as I am able in every case which shall arise as a servant of Christ. I dare take no other ground: I never did. I know of no “ecclesiastical position” but this: I took it publicly in London. On arriving I told brethren I could not be for ever on questions. I have done with B. entirely, and every case that I meet with I will try and act godlily in. The question for every one is, “What is faithfulness to Christ?” It remains, and must remain, just where it was.
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Beloved Brother,—I know nothing of communion entered into with those from whom I was separated. Would to God this were restored, but it must be on true and solid ground. I could humble myself that it was lost, and not exclude those who could really enter on this ground, but I do not think that humbling ourselves that a thing is lost, is saying that it is there. The moment the meeting seemed to lose the character of humiliation, though keeping its form, but that it was practically spent, and began in spirit to turn into intercession, it was closed. The whole thing I believe was blessed, though doubtless imperfect, and was and will be the channel of blessing. Instead of thinking it puts me or any one who really entered it on false ground as to evil I am not personally mixed up with, I think and feel distinctly it puts me and them on much truer.
There is a ground taken by some, that is simply—Bethesda is wrong and we are righteous. This ground, though not doubting the least as to the evil at B. as to which I feel clearer than ever, I reject altogether. I can quite understand difficulties as to the meeting, and in the fullest way respect conscience as to them. One beloved brother who felt them, came and took part; another who much desired it and came, did not attend, because he could not explain himself as to it. All this conscience, instead of blaming, I am thoroughly glad of, and can understand—having had in it to seek to meet conscience—the difficulties felt, for I found them, though I think through grace we found our way through them. It certainly met the common need; there were twice the number of brethren I looked for. I fully trust there will be blessing. I believe grace was in action towards others, but I have no consciousness of having given up a single principle I have. The ground taken by a very few I do not take. At any rate, it has been so far light as to bring out the thoughts of all hearts.
Ever affectionately yours.
I feel that humiliation of self was a primary need of the soul and primary claim of God. To do it on the bare ground of righteousness, whatever particular evil I might judge, seems to me to deny it.
July 27th, 1852.
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9 [“Is there such a thing as corporate rejection! Do we find in the word of God, cases that warrant our separation from whole bodies and assemblies of Christians, because of evil among them? “Letter on ‘Receiving and rejecting brethren from the Table of the Lord,’ 1851.]
10 [See Letter to Rev. James Kelly, February 26th, 1839. Collected Writings, vol. xiv. 285]
11 [The invitation to the Taunton meeting for humiliation of 1852.]