To the same.]
Dearest Brother,—I think you misapprehend the disturbance of mind occasioned by the Taunton meeting; one or two have felt, and sought to produce it in others, but it has produced a great deal more peace than disturbance in the most, and I think only where people were absorbed by Bethesda, and as to that (without judging, I would trust) the Lord a little displaced by it. When I came over to England I assembled the brethren at Rawstorne Street, and told them I had done with it, and could not be for ever on questions, and desired to get on fresh with Christ, making a fresh start; that I did not make myself responsible for what had been done in my absence: it might have been much wiser than what I should have done, but being away I could not answer for it. And we have never been occupied with B. since, only taking up every individual on christian principles. Not that my or their principles were changed as to it in the least. It was a clear ground of judgment when any case arose involving it.
And now as to the meeting. The real difference is that your mind, as was ——’s, is much more absorbed with B. than mine. You speak of parties, and so on; my mind is quite off this ground. I believe that a testimony of God was confided to brethren in these latter days which they had to maintain in the unity of the church. God, I believe, has in no way given up this testimony, but I believe, brethren (we all) have grievously failed in maintaining it, and God’s glory in it. This was a ground for humiliation, let B., or Rome, or any other thing be what it may. As to confession, it was left to every one to acknowledge in his heart—aloud, of course, if he thought right—his own part in the bringing in the evil. The meeting was for humiliation, only so, that we might be in our right place before God. As to the causes, I, of course, did not prescribe the confession of any. But they date long before the B. affair. This was but a consequence, and it is just in owning ourselves the guilty party from previous failure, and thus getting right in our own place of humbleness before God, that He could help us as to any circumstances arisen since. To raise the question as to B. as some, as taking the clean place against the unclean, would have been to get out of our own proper place before God to take, in that by which God had chastened us, the place of righteousness.
Is it that my judgment is altered as to the cause of B.? Not at all. But I am outside and beyond that question. I am upon my own evil before God—humbled because we have not maintained His glory. Each could in such case, if led to it, confess his own fault. It was an effect. The meeting was for humiliation. There were prayers that we might be led deeper into it, brought to know more fully our real place before God. Humiliation was the one object of the meeting. It was left to God to direct any particular confession. The ground of the meeting you state might be blessed is exactly what was taken, and I undoubtedly believe has been very greatly blessed. I look to its working effects individually, as God may own it. I think too this character was preserved, and God’s power distinctly shewn in that.
I have no old position whatever. When I left Ebrington Street I stood alone. I walk with God’s saints where I believe they are walking on His principles; and so far from the meeting putting me in the old position (save so far as it was abstractedly of God), that in its effect, though in itself it had nothing to do with it, the only link, which unawares to me connected me with the old position—namely, my circular—I haw withdrawn. I have no more to say to B. than I have to Rome, and I feel that ground the happiest and the truest—no more, save as positive acts may give occasion to judgment.
As to the evil, I am on no different ground than I ever was. If a thing is wrong and contrary to Christ it remains so, and I am under the same obligation to abstain from it and keep myself clear from it, and others, if I can, as ever. These things do not .change. I may add, that evil doctrine was not the ground at any time of my dealing with B.: and I should not, on the other hand, have invited any in evil doctrine. But I deny most strenuously that division because of It has been the cause of the evil results. It is here that we are upon totally different ground, and that the real question as to the meeting is. I consider the B. matter, however sad their course, which I quite think, the cause of the sad results, and hence not that our faithfulness is the cause of what has arrived. Now I am not denying in a certain measure the faithfulness. But I look upon B. as a mere occasion in God’s hands, for chastening us for our own previous unfaithfulness. Why did we fail rightly to judge and put away the evil? I admit brethren did. But how came this? Why did God permit them to be thus sifted by an evil they did not know how, had not the wisdom and courage, to deal with? Does God lightly and for no cause send such affliction and humiliation?
The incapacity of brethren was to me frightful and inconceivable as regards B. I think, seeing their state, they went wrong not because B. was right, but because they meddled with it out of their place. I begged them not, but they would not hear me. I could as to this take clear ground from all; but I go much farther back, and bow myself first of all for letting the evil come in—failing myself—of which I consider all this but the chastisement. When you speak of parties, and mutual humiliation, you are on a ground I know nothing about, and recognise nothing of whatever; because, as I said, you are occupied with B. as the one question. I have nothing to say to it, nor the meeting, save so far as historically it had become the occasion of sorrow. Individuals were invited; there was nothing mutual in this question that I know of. The only thing was to hinder consciences being so embarrassed as to prevent their coming. Individuals really concerned in the testimony brethren ought to have borne were welcome there, provided they came to humble themselves, and did nothing to shock the conscience of brethren, when judgment as to B. was distinctly resumed.
As to the conference: in the first place, the Taunton meeting is over. I should entirely decline mixing it up with any conference, whatever effect it may produce. I declined having the conference which was at Bristol at Taunton, that the Taunton meeting might fully preserve its own character. I should decline any ecclesiastical conference. If individual brethren wish either to open their hearts, or inquire even of. the Lord what they ought to do, I have no objection. I shall take my part in it, if I can go on my own individual responsibility. I do not at present feel led to promoting such. I prefer letting the humiliation produce its natural fruits; and it has in those who took part in it produced such already largely, and certainly manifested the state of hearts in a wonderful way. Humiliation was our right place before God, and whenever we get into our right place before God He can bless, and delights to bless. It is possible a conference may have its place. It has seemed to me more the desire of anxious minds at present than of those quietly led by fie Spirit of God. Does He lead us to it, I have no kind of opposition, and can conceive a state of soul in which it might have a very useful place. Souls are on the move, but under God’s hand their competency to settle things I doubt.
Forgive me, dear brother, if I think that at —— you have not adequately reached the just measure of want of confidence in your position.
Do I want you to doubt as to B. or any evil? God forbid. Quiet godly certainty as to it, I believe to be of the last importance, and especially in these loose and uncertain days. Or do I wish you to doubt the competency of God to help and direct His church were there but three met on earth? They might be a brighter testimony than three thousand. But I cannot help thinking that there was a confidence in your own position which does not reach the due extent of humiliation. Perhaps that arises partly from not having been mixed up with evil, which we who are older in this work have to mourn over. But so it is, there is an idea of competency to act with authority (not to be separate from evil—all evil—which is quite right), which I doubt that you can make penally good before God. Used for His glory He will bear with and bless you and purge out what there is of pretension in it, but He cannot approve and sanction the thing itself.
I repeat, as to our present question this may arise from your being never much in the position you have taken: a happy reason. Still it does not alter the great ground of the position brethren have to take before God. Brethren in general are quite outside these questions. I doubt that a conference got up as you wish would allay; I apprehend it would rather excite at this moment people’s spirits, and much is passing at this moment that might impede its really occupying people’s minds. They are occupied with other things. W. is withdrawing his papers, and has written to some as to the spirit in which he took things up. T. and W. are meditating withdrawing their circular, and stating on what grounds, though I have no particulars nor know whether they are decided. So that I should feel at this moment it would be the, moment to wait awhile.
Further, I have made and know nothing of any compromise on anything, nor would not on principle on any moral subject whatever. Compromises are in my judgment always wrong. As I said, the mind of G. and yourself, and perhaps one or two others (for there are only one or two, and some of those that assisted), have not seized the positive subject of the meeting from being occupied with your own point of view. No one there thought or dreamed of a compromise; such a thought never crossed anybody’s mind. But I do think the fault is in your position, not in that of the brethren who humbled themselves. I think there has. been a tendency to an assumption of capacity of judgment, which God may own in its desire, but not in the wisdom of the position taken.
I thank you sincerely, beloved brother, for your letter, and, as you see, have answered openly and fully in all confidence. I quite believe the brethren who stayed away did it from a motive of conscience and a dread of compromising with evil, which I entirely respect and rejoice it was in exercise. I do not think that humiliation and a sense of failure had an adequate place in their mind; but some brethren I particularly value had scruples; some got over them, others did not. I do not blame one, quite the contrary.
Ever affectionately yours, beloved brother.
July 30th, 1852.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dearest Brother,—Your letter gives little difficulty in answering, because as to its great principles it is quite what I feel myself. And I will add, as regards the Taunton meeting, the difficulty of acting in the Lord’s mind as to humiliation, and yet keeping clear of evil ourselves there—for that was the point—was so delicate a one as to succeeding in practice, that had I not felt guided of God I should have felt it hopeless. And while I believe He graciously did help us, yet feeling it a very nice point to attain, not in principle but in practice (with one hundred and fifty people one could only, as to particular right estimate of the position and individual acts, in the main trust God that we should be kept), and earnestly desiring there should be no practical loosening of any separation from evil, I could in no way be surprised if persons felt scruples or difficulties as to the point reached; and their jealousy as to committing themselves to any compromise with evil I heartily sympathised with. Our affair was not to arrange communion, but to avoid any communion with what could affect the conscience as denied, and yet have the humiliation on the ground you state.
I now turn to the difficulty you mention, as to Bethesda being on the ground of the Dissenters or the Establishment. This has been pressed much by persons who sought, while owning there was evil, to involve us again in looseness of fellowship with the principles of B. This is not your object at all, but your difficulty turns on the same point. But to me far graver considerations make a total and complete difference. There had been fellowship rightly or wrongly with B., and the first question was, was it to be continued. That is, people had been received if they came thence, and brethren went there received in like manner. Subsequently to this, persons holding the most horrible doctrine as to Christ were received, inquiry refused, and the doctrine laid down and accepted by the body that no such inquiry should be. That is, they took as a body this position of unfaithfulness on foundation matters to Christ. The Establishment has not done this; indifference to persons holding a false Christ has never been proclaimed as its principle. Nor has any dissenting body that I know ever done so. This is the difference then to me, a grave positive sin against Christ, the body having accepted this as a principle. Where a dissenting body has done this, I would not receive its members, unless the individual were cleared of the sin. Nor can I consent to set ecclesiastical faults of judgment (however grave as regulating my conduct in connection with the unity of the body) on the same ground as positive indifference to what concerns the personal glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. An Independent goes ecclesiastically wrong; when he comes to me, though inconsistent perhaps through want of conviction, he goes ecclesiastically right; but as to Christ’s personal glory, and the foundation of union, he is perhaps as jealous as I am, and, it may be, more faithful.
Supposing now B. unfaithful, for I am only shewing the difference of principle—supposing they are as regards the Person of the Lord Jesus, I am, in receiving one who forms part of it, acquiescing in this sin, which is in no sort cleared by his coming amongst us, but rather acquiesced in by us. Fidelity to the truth as to Christ’s Person is in question in one case, and not in the other. Now, this is a difference all-important, which is before all unity, and at the foundation of all unity too. To hold unity independently of it is to put the church—that is, unity of men—in place of Christ, not to build it on Him. To me this is as clear as the sun at noonday, and I believe it to be a question of the value we have for Christ. If persons say we are now separated for good, and have nothing whatever to say to B. as being outside the pale of Christian unity, I should have no objection to examine each case, provided the sin in which they have been implicated be inquired into and pressed, and continuance in it taken account of—in a word, that indifference to Christ be in no way accepted or acquiesced in. That is the whole matter with me; though I think there are other grave points in the B. case, all fade to my mind before this.
I would not on any account have invited one whom I knew to be in false doctrine to Taunton; one case when I feared it might be, I took particular pains to guard against any mixture with it. I do distinguish between persons actually deliberately guilty of the sin, and persons, through not knowing what to do, or prejudice, or ecclesiastical difficulties, not cleared from ecclesiastical connection with it, though they would abhor it in itself. I certainly would not have invited a person I supposed to be deliberately and unrepentingly guilty of it. It was proposed to me to have it open to them, and I declined. Two courses were open—excluding B. as a body by name, or inviting individually on some well-known principle (not of course on private choice). I first thought of the former, and finally acted on. the latter, but in a way I believed to be effectual, and which was carried into effect on the same principle which would not let in those who held to the sin. Without, of course, pretending that all was perfect on these points, still careful godly pains were taken to maintain the fear of God, and certainly our gracious God watched over the matter for us.
Some I might not shake hands with, others I should; I cannot lump all together in the same moral judgment. I see scripture teaches me in certain cases when I condemn, not to treat as an enemy, but admonish as a brother. This is the ground I publicly took on returning to England. I believe I am on right ground, and I must deal with each case individually.
I have been interrupted and distracted in every possible way while writing this letter, but I trust I may have conveyed the point of my thought. If you have any difficulty, I am sure you will kindly write again. The whole question with me is, the real faithful maintaining as far as in us lies, the glory of the Lord Jesus, for its own sake, and as the basis of union.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
London, August 6th, 1852.
[From the French
* * * Where His will is, there is happiness, and I am quite happy here. Christ is my happiness, beloved brother, but it is in the path of His will that we find the enjoyment of His love. Thus, feeble as I am, I find in Him a source of profound and ineffable joy. This joy has a character of peace which is connected with the revelation of Christ Himself to the soul, and when He is in question, it leaves no room for the idea of something that changes; not that we reason about it, but we know whom we have believed, and He will keep that which we have committed to Him until that day. Besides, our treasure is Himself. Peace be to you, beloved brother. May God keep us near Himself. It is scarcely a conviction of faith which assures me that happiness, the only happiness, is there. When, in spite of so many shortcomings, we have found His love always faithful for long years, and are in the present enjoyment of His love, no doubt it is faith in one sense, but it is more than that: we dwell in Him, whatever may be our weakness, and He dwells in us, and we find our rest in Himself. Everything else is only folly which passes with the breath of the life which is occupied with it (and often long before), and is but vanity while we possess it. God will have us walk by faith, but this turns to knowledge by daily communion.
London, October, 1852.
* * * * *
[From the French,
* * * May God keep you, beloved brother, in the patience of His work, mortifying the flesh, and filled with Himself, really fighting the good fight. The only thing which can be truly blessing to our brethren, so precious because they belong to Him, is that which we reproduce of Him. May He vouchsafe to bless His church. That is the only thing upon earth, the gathering of those who are to form it included. And that it should manifest Christ in all its ways. May He fill it with His grace!…
* * * * *
To the same.]
[From the French.
* * * The more I look into infidelity, the more, by grace, I am attached and cleave to the simple truth; the more I love it in its simplicity. The more I value revelation, as revelation, and the goodness of God which has given it to us—but I value yet more than any means of receiving the truth the precious Saviour who is the subject of it—and that in all its simplicity, receiving it as a little child—the more I desire to be a little child; and I am ever seeing more that one must be such if God speaks. It is my joy to be a little child, and to hear Him speak. I may add, that the perfection of the word, its divinity, ever develops more to my heart and understanding.
* * * * *
Dearest ——,—You have no reason to regret dear ——’s note. It is the most gracious and moderate I have seen. It would seem as if the decay of his bodily health, of which he is sensible, is letting down the pride and excitement of his nature, and the gracious work and nature of God getting through to shew itself.
Our gracious Head is faithful, and can bring the spark of life through what we in a church way, from love to souls and to His glory, ought not to bear. Besides, excitable and overexcited temperaments judge justly sometimes that there is evil, and not being able to lean soberly on the grace that meets it, set up for special righteousness and superiority of grace in judging it. There is their own fault which they are not aware of, but when it has real zeal for the Lord for the root of it, I can sympathise a good deal with it—as regards myself, bear it all; only one must watch it does not produce confusion in the church, and seek patiently, and sometimes firmly, to check the amazing self-confidence which sometimes accompanies this.
I have got on latterly slowly with my answer to F. Newman. Besides my daily work, which, of course, in London, as every one used to it knows, is very great—being alone for it besides —I have had to answer a violent public outburst of heresy at——, which has drawn public attention much. I have sent down one tract, and I have prepared another, which I fear is more desultory and less pointed. But as one said (though we ought to have perfect guidance as we have full help in everything), I have not time to write briefly.
Peace be with you, dear brother. I rejoice in your blessing as in my own. The Lord keep us humble, and in unfeigned and constant dependence upon Him, a dependence which goes to Him about everything.
He is certainly working graciously here. Souls are bringing back—and some even bringing in—I mean back from personal wandering; but how little compared with what the grace in Him could do, were we able rightly to avail ourselves of it in personal faithfulness. Still, He will surely do His work infallibly—praised be His name.
My head has once or twice begun to give way a little from overworking, I mean in pains and sense of pressure on the brain, but I am very well and, thank God, very happily sustained by mercy and faithfulness.
* * * * *
Dearest ——,—As to ——’s paper, his statements as to the double object of the epistle are good and useful, but on chapters 8, 9, 10 he is, I think, without bottom in his argument. He does not descend in the class nor character of priesthood; he sometimes urges Hebraizing Christians not to go back, and sometimes to advance. The importance of the remark is this—that he supposes a different kind of Melchisedec priesthood coming out for future time (applicable- to such a state or class) distinct from His going in as Melchisedec; the Son now, Christ may have a priestly character as Melchisedec in the world to come, of a modified character in its exercise, and this may serve as a link in the apprehension of it. But He is never seen as coming out in the Hebrews. In chapter 9:which he refers to, in verse 24, He is gone in. He does apply it to the passing away (chap. 8:13), but the priestly place is the same as in chapter xiii., only there he applies it to the further point of their leaving Judaism entirely, which was passing away. So that we have the contrast of earthly and heavenly, the passing away of the old, the advancing into the new, eternal and heavenly, and the actual leaving the old before it passed away, or was publicly judged here below. But whatever suggestive links we may gain, the coming out Melchisedec which he supposes is not in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but solely the going in Melchisedec in every part of it.
There is another mistake, I think: “Compassed with infirmities” is not, as he supposes, applied to Christ, but to the Jewish priest who is such while he is. Christ was not a priest at any rate till He had left His humiliation. He is quite right as to his contrast of “taken from among men,” only he has not carried it far enough. “Maintain failure” is incorrect, though I understand it—maintain failing saints he means. His point is not stated with sufficient clearness for many to get into any difficulty by. And I do not deny that as Melchisedec, He is the surety of a better covenant, and still is so on high, and thus a link of truth is gained; but He is that as going in, not as coming out, in which character He is never seen in Hebrews. The Epistle is not putting any on millennial ground, but taking them off old covenant and putting them into the heavenlies, and nowhere else.
Hereford, December, 1852.
[From the French.
* * * I have been struck lately, in reading the Acts, with the way in which, when the power of God is there, all the evils surging around do but cause that power to be displayed, turning them into good, into positive gain of testimony and development. It was thus with the opposition of the priests, with the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, and with the murmurs of the Hellenists; all this made way for a development of spiritual power outside the apostles, and opened a way for carrying the testimony, according to the mighty liberty of the Spirit, outside Jews. But, for that, power is needed; brethren have failed in that, I doubt not. But our God does not grow weary.
March 29th, 1853.
* * * * *
Beloved Brother,—I write just a word, as it is possible I may not see you; as it may be, if my foot which I have sprained allows me, I shall have left England even before you, the Lord ordering so, and I would not let you go without a word. I do not think so much of partings as I did here below if in the Lord’s will; I should have desired much to have kept you in England, if the Lord had so pleased. But if it be His will a little further or a little nearer, all is far, far off heaven, and all on the way thither; and heaven is near enough everywhere to make earthly distance nothing. I am, as few think, a pilgrim and a stranger upon earth. I see all kinds of evil in me, great laziness and sloth among the number. I have no home—though countless mercies; on earth my home, for the home belongs to the heart, is the place of His will; for the rest, it will really be in heaven; and Montpellier, Düsseldorf, or New Zealand—what is the difference? For rest of body and mind, New Zealand would be more of it than France, but none unless it was His will.
O Thou by long experience tried,
Near whom no grief can long abide;
Where’er I roam my home I see,
Secure of finding all in Thee.
I wait for heaven and for Jesus, trusting He will give me to finish my course with His help through grace. Hitherto my sadly feeble failing steps have been led along. It is this gives me joy when a saint falls asleep according to God’s will; I do not feel separated, I feel less so; what separated is gone on one side, and nothing is lost.
I should have been glad—longed to have been still able—to see you in the face, but if it be God’s will, had rather you were where He would have you. If you are to go, I hardly sorrow not to see you; to me, humanly speaking, partings go dreadfully deep. In spirit all is well. We are only going along the road where Christ has left His blessed footsteps, and the cross characterised it. We have to suffer with Him, but it is but the road, and all right; one thing only is needful—that to live be Christ. The rest all perishes, and in simply doing His will, He is always with us, and all is peace. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. We know when we have walked a little way with Him in whom we have believed. One has committed one’s happiness to Him in the proper sense till another day. Then He will gird Himself, and make us sit down to meat, and come forth and serve us. Glorious place! What a sense of His love, and what joy and glory to Him thus to serve even then, and see the fruits of all His work and toil of grace. Till then it is ours to serve, and be girded, with our lamps burning, waiting constantly for Him. Simple-hearted faith will doubtless have conflict, but will be always happy in Him.
The Lord bless you, dear brother, and prosper your way by His will, and all yours. May He keep your heart in New Zealand; a new place brings new temptations. Here we are in an old world, sick with sin (how gladly we look out for Jesus), there it is a new one, rife with material hopes and its future. We must value Jesus for His own sake to wait for Him. But it is no other really, but the same, alas, alas, alienated world which turns away our hearts from Him. The Lord keep you, not slothful, God forbid, but from the snare of material cares in the shape of the duties of a new settlement. But if temptations are new, grace is as new, as various, as infinite to meet them, when we are where He would have us. One of our mercies is, that He keeps us from all evil by filling us with His own good. Filled with that, all is well everywhere. I should like a settlement away out of this dreadful world, and I am here by God’s will as much a stranger, and alone, as if (I) was there, with more to do according to my calling for Him.
I trust and take for granted we shall hear from and of you. The Lord keep those around you. They will have their snares, but home will be even more a home, for them. May it be a mount from which they look higher, taking them away from the worldly world, and not sinking them into materialism. For a family home is God’s home down here, but how many things have come into the world to break it—yea, now in one sense, even grace itself. This, if kept by grace, you may have more for them out there. This so far consoles me, but here or there Jesus is the bond which no distance breaks, and no nearness can give without Him, and which will, blessed be His name, last for ever. He has thus united us: I thank Him with more thanks than I should know how to give till I get to see Him in heaven. The rest is all just His will by the way. Peace be with you, beloved brother, and every mercy by the way individually. Kindest love to your whole circle, the Lord keep them and bless them there. I trust they may learn to be useful in keeping close to Christ and His word. The Lord keep you all. The Lord be with you.
Ever affectionately yours.
Montpellier, early in 1853.
* * * * *
Dearest ——,—It is a serious though a most happy thing to undertake direct service—that is, a service which takes up all our time. I would there were many more really gifted by love to souls, and zeal for the Lord’s glory, to lay themselves out in and for it. The mere fact of an inclination does not shew that we are called to it. I believe the surest sign is earnest love to souls, and intercourse through the need of the heart with Christ about it. I doubt not there is a pressure often of the Spirit of God which forces you out into it. Many may be most useful, giving up a portion of their time to it, who would not be giving up all, because they cannot fill up the measure of allotted service with Christ. On the other hand, men of much energy and zeal can serve and support themselves (witness Paul, and in his case even others) when one of less could not who might be very useful if given up to it. It is not the desire to speak, but for souls and the building up of saints which is the real moving spring of service. I know not how far this presses on you.
I should be most glad to help you in scripture as far as I am able. Constant application to it would suppose the Lord leading into it, and in your case a wife and a child have to be thought of. I have now coming to me for an hour, twice a week, three or four, and probably shall soon have the whole of an evening generally free for this. I leave, of course, entirely to themselves the Lord’s call to them. Those who come are more or less at the work but, save one and an ex-clergyman who is with me for the moment, labour for their livelihood. I leave to and cast entirely on the Lord any further carrying out of it. I shall, if you feel called to the work, be most glad to help you in reading. As to the reading on the Psalms, it would depend on many others besides me.
Local ministrations well supplied from Christ and the word are greatly wanting, but that love and care for souls which cements and makes happy is an essential element in such service. Devotedness is the first grand question of all; would there were a thousand-fold more of it! I should not be afraid of the Lord’s taking care of people. I trust you will weigh over before the Lord how far He calls you to this.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dear Brother,—I feel your course and steps to be of great importance in this matter at this moment, because it may give an impulse to a most useful means of helping in spiritual truth and development those who labour; and hence every step should be taken, looking earnestly to God that He may guide it. As to time, I will accommodate myself to brethren or the times of their leisure. I am in Ireland, and hope somewhat to go to Clonmel, Kilkenny, Athlone, and the north.
I should think you had better, while earnestly begging God to order this, invite speedily as many from perhaps a smaller circle than sixty miles, at once those entering on the work or entered—if some cannot come, fill up by enlarging the circle still with workmen, asking some older students to help in the study. I should suppose inviting the active workmen around, and older workmen whence you felt disposed. There is no idea of exclusion, but of nearer neighbourhood, and some more distant to help in the study. It ought to be bonâ fide study, or not so private.
Of course, you would be free to ask any particular person at a distance whom you wished to see there—any labourer—or if any labourer wished particularly to be there from a distance, accede to his wish if you were not too full. May the gracious Lord direct it all.
Here I have found a number of young men in a very lively interesting state, recently converted, ever ready to feed on the word. Some have doubtless been a little hurried into peace, but it seems to me deeper and more solid than in England. The blessing has been unequivocal of those in communion as others; several are engaged in the work in rooms about the city, where there are conversions, and as it would seem not a few. Indeed, the Spirit of God is at work around the country.
Peace be with you, dearest brother, and the Lord guide you in this effort for the study of the word, and bring those He would bring.
I am in a different position here, as to which I have to be on my guard. I meet many I have known of old, some relatives, more of the upper classes of society interested in divine things. The revival brings people of all sorts, gentlefolks of the Establishment (besides, everybody knows everybody in Ireland) —persons really interesting, and I have to watch as to being as absolutely and solely a Christian as I am wont in England and abroad; I do not mean in purpose, but not to slip into the stream of society—it is no use. There is most interesting work on all sides, and God leading souls on; but I desire to be a Christian and nothing else, passing on, knowing no man after the flesh. Yet I need not say how thankful I am to find doors open on all sides. But what good for others—what loss for oneself—if one does not bring in a perfect and unmodified Christ, in where they are open. But the good and gracious Lord is ever faithful, and enough for all. Oh, what a difficulty a place is in the world for those who are in it! The Lord has-indeed said so, yet there are some most graciously seeking only Christ. Kind love to the brethren and all around you.
Ever affectionately yours, dear brother.
Dublin, May 16th, 1854.
* * * * *
Beloved Brother,—I rejoice with my whole heart that you and J. have been so happy together, for I know that both seek unfeignedly to glorify the Lord and hold the truth in its purity. It will be a joy to me to visit——, and see you, when the Lord shall allow me. I know not when exactly by the Lord’s will h[dh poteV eujodwqhvsomai [“now at length I may be prospered”], but gladly as soon as I can.
Four weeks were cut out of my stay here by an unexpected call to France. Besides some seven or eight hundred last year, of which a great portion were new conversions, I hear ninety or a hundred have been converted since October last in Rhenish Prussia. This occupies me a little, as I have a smattering of German, and my tracts and writings have almost all been translated, and helped on the work. They have been sent to the King, by some circumstances connected with the refusal of military service, by a brother—less powerful there I suppose than with the poor of this world, chosen of God, but it may be used for shewing there is no Schwärmerei [fanaticism], and we should pray for all men. Also God orders all these things; He has ordered it with the Emperor Napoleon and his home minister. In France there is blessing, but some persecution, but where there is, conversions many. In Switzerland there have been many conversions lately, and in one district violent popular persecutions; but it is an out-of-the-way place, and it happened there once before.
I have got Tischendorf. I have been struck with the great uniformity of result on questions of text in all the editors, unless perhaps Matthiæ, who you know follows the Russian MSS., namely, Textus Receptus as a system. In translating the Greek Testament, which I have done now a second time from Komans to Colossians, I had Griesbach, Scholz and Lachmann open before me, and Matthiæ and others at my side, that when all agreed I might, if no particular reason, translate from the common text of best editions. There is scarcely ever any difference between them; and however Scholz may talk of the Constantinopolitan family, after all, at any rate in the epistles, wherever he has the chief Uncial MSS. one way, he follows them, just as the others do. This is not so with Matthiæ, who indeed does not consult them. I have held the check of Bloom-field over them. He is useful for the Greek idioms, and usus loquendi, and a diligent conscientious study of the text. You know Augustine attributed the omission of John 8:1-11 to the false difficulty about morality of some persons.
As to Bosh (Ezek. 38:2), I do not see the force of the argument. If Ezekiel prophesies that the prince of Kosh, Meshech and Tubal shall come up to Palestine in the latter day, I do not see what the origin of the name of Rosh has to do with it. If Cush or Phut is to suffer in Egypt, or in the lower Euphrates, what matters it where the point of their first migration was from? The prince of Rosh may have sprung from the Northmen, and acquired power over Meshech and Tubal, and Persia be at his steps. How do the Russi, coming from Scandinavia or the Cimbrian Chersonese, hinder that?
I rejoice in the blessing you enjoy. There is blessing here, but it goes on enough without me to make me feel disposed to migrate to more unworked lands. Two years and a half ago I came here: they were at the lowest—four at a prayer meeting, including me, and no one even to preach, and disheartened. God has, in mercy, putting down, humbled, raised them up and added very many, and one of such energy in working; and I, though still glad to labour as opportunity offers, may be off.
Kind love to all. I shall gladly come when God shall permit, but I have journeyed constantly for a long while.
Ever affectionately yours.
Dublin, May, 1854.
[From the French.
* * * * *
* * * The principle of Hebrews 13:17, to which I would add 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13, and 1 Corinthians 16:15, 16, is more important in our day than ever, because regular authority, established by the apostle and armed with his sanction, no longer exists. There is only one thing which modifies the application of it, that is that the care contemplated in these verses is so extended generally in practice, that it has not the same hold upon the conscience. Then, on the other hand, God permits the jealousy of the clergy, that plague par excellence of the church, the great barrier to the progress of souls. It opposes itself to the progress which is necessary for their deliverance from the influences of this present age, and from the principles which are carrying on the external church in the way of destruction which will be accomplished in the last days. However this may be, if you examine the effect of a clerical position, you will find souls stunted, scarcely any spiritual development or intelligence in the ways of God.
As regards the moral condition of individuals, I believe that it consists, in many cases, in despising the influence that,. God grants to services rendered to His church by the power of the Spirit. But, as soon as this influence is placed between the action of the conscience and God, the clerical principle is established, and moral declension begins.
The relation of individual conscience with God is the great and true principle of Protestantism, no doubt greatly lost now, in that which has come in. It is not the right to judge for oneself, as is said, but the direct connection of the conscience with God. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Man has not the right to judge, but neither has he the right to interpose himself between God and man, so as to intercept the direct action of God on the conscience. The ordinary interpretation of this principle of Protestantism is the root of Rationalism; the denial of this same principle, taken in its true sense, is Popery. Real intercourse between God and the soul preserves the Christian from each of these errors. As long as there is only man, there is but place for one or the other of these two things, because it is only man that is in question. If God enters upon the scene, there can be neither one nor the other, because God is there. But, in order that it may be so practically, we must be»kept in His presence.
When the conscience is before God, we are individually humble, and, for this very reason, recognise God in others: when will acts, we reject God in His own Person as well as in others, and that is what is evil; it is also what the apostle had in view in the above exhortations. When the influence of true ministry is in exercise (and it is of great price), it is gentle as the relations of a nurse with her child, as Paul said; the more so that spiritual power, acting in personal devotedness, is but little manifested now as in the cases indicated by the apostle. It also supposes a workman made “manifest to God,” and consequently to the consciences of those in the midst of whom he acts. I have never seen, when such a person acts, and his action flows from much communion with God, that this influence, this moral authority, has not been recognised. Moreover, such a workman is not, in this case, carried beyond what he has received from God, so that his ministry finds its sanction in hearts without any pressure. There are, however, cases where things go on badly, and the workman is put to the test. In such a case he must keep before God, and act solely for Him; he must be at the service of Christ, and commit the result to Him alone. The Lord will always keep the upper hand; and in the end, if patience has her perfect work, the wisdom and justness of the judgment of the person who has acted will be made plain. Without having sought it, his authority will even be much increased by it, though perhaps he may, in appearance, have entirely lost it. But for this, one must know how to act with God. I speak of what happens, and of the principles which are connected with this question.
I find that in these times the principle of these passages render them of great price, because it is a question of a kind of authority that no condition of the church can weaken. All other authority might be lost, this will but shine the more. It is exercised by the direct action of the Spirit of God in service. Besides, he who seeks this authority will not have it, while he who, in heart and by the love of Christ acting in him, makes himself servant of all, as Christ has done, will obtain it. To be servant of all is what Christ is essentially in grace—it is what love is at all times.
There is another kind of authority. Christ exalted on high may institute apostles to represent Him officially; these may institute other servants to exercise a delegated and subordinate authority, each in his sphere. That has taken place. In the passages with which we are occupied, the apostle speaks of another kind of authority. He does not speak of that which represents Christ seated on the throne, regulating the official order of His house, but of that which represents Christ, a servant in love. May this be my portion!
Now, in the present state of ruin and scattering of the church, this latter authority, which is acquired by service in love, is of great price; but it is evident that it is exercised in conditions of devoted service, of humility and of a nearness to Christ, such as excludes all other influences, and makes us act solely from Him. As to the measure of the confidence granted, it is a question, as in every other case, of spirituality. Through indolence, the flesh places confidence in the flesh. The soul is not then before God. Walking after the Spirit, I am before God, and I have the consciousness that there is more spirituality, more that is of God in another, and I recognise these things. This never stifles spirituality in me, and cannot stifle it, for it is the same Spirit who produces spirituality in the labourer and in me; only it enlarges my spiritual capacity, as to the fact which is realised, and raises it to the height of him who has more of it. A lower degree of spiritual intelligence and affection in one Christian can discern that which is more excellent in another, and accept it, when will does not work; although he would not have been able himself to make the discovery of such or such a course of action, proposed by greater spirituality and greater love than his. As I said at the time at Geneva: the waggoners know if a road is good and well laid down, and they know how to use it; but only the engineers knew how to plan it and lay it down. Now the presence of God in the church comes to our aid, and regulates everything, when the difficulty appears otherwise insurmountable. God is there for this, and He suffices for it. If the assembly has too little spirituality, if will acts with such force that one cannot follow out what one knows by divine intelligence to be the will of God, one has only to commit the thing to God, and wait for Him to manifest His will, or to manifest Himself, to put others in the right way.
I do not speak of that which demands absolute separation. When an assembly positively accepts an evil which the Spirit of God could not suffer, God will make good His rights in favour of what He has given. We must commit ourselves to Him for this. I believe that the confidence of a simple soul, and its submission for conscience, not to man as man, but to the manifestation of God in man, is one of the sweetest and most profitable things possible.
The difference between the influence of true ministry, and that of the clergy, who have borrowed the name, is as clear and simple as possible. Ministry presents God to the soul, and places it in His presence. It desires to do this, seeks to do it, hiding itself in order to succeed. The clergy places itself between God and the soul, and seeks to keep its position before souls. Every spiritual soul will clearly discern its place. It finds God in the one case; in the other, it sees Him despised and set at a distance, in order that the usurped influence of man may be exercised.
London, May 27th, 1854.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Dearest Brother,—I was delighted to receive your letter, and to read what you say in it. I rejoice, dear brother, at the blessing that God is granting you as if it was through my own means, and I think more so; for naturally I am passing out of it little by little, and nothing rejoices me so much as to see that God is raising up labourers, and putting on them the seal of His blessing. Then I am unworthy of it, and I am quite happy that He is granting it to others more fitted to serve Him; as to that, we both know well that it is to His glory, and that it is He Himself who accomplishes it, and neither you nor I. Still we shall enjoy it together with Him; what deep and sweet happiness! His love is so precious, and alas! so above our poor stupid hearts. However, I rejoice with all my heart for those precious souls brought to Jesus. What a thing the possession of eternal life is! At times it amazes me; we do not think enough about it…
People do not feel, or I do not feel, sufficiently what the possession of eternal life is for a soul. May God bless you abundantly, dear brother, and may He lead and keep you very near Himself: we always need it, and it is our happiness. I know what it is by rare instances—hardly ever—to enjoy a few days of rest with God. God, for want of sufficient habitual communion, grants it to me at times through illness, but in London, sufficient for daily bread is indeed much. Besides, I have not yet strength for rising early or sitting up late, but I feel well. I think of setting off first to Germany, then going to Switzerland to see them perhaps for a little. I may pay some visits in France before returning, but I am bound not altogether to neglect England. You know our brethren H. and D. are in prison: God will be glorified thereby. D. is very well, I hope H. also, but all I know of him is that he was taken at St. Jean de Gard, and that they are about to try him.
Farewell, beloved brother, may the peace of God be with you in its fulness. Let us watch and labour for souls until the end, till the Lord comes to take us to Himself; this is all that will remain, except His grace towards us.
Your very affectionate brother.
They are making great efforts to have a work on the Continent, and to monopolise souls here, but they are thrown much on the side of worldly ways of Christians of whatever connection.
London, August 10th, 1854.
* * * * *
Dearest——,—My eye has been again bad, though not very bad, the effect, I suppose, of work and change of living; the weather has been severe—all was ice where I slept. It is not so cold now. I rested my eye, and only listened as we were reading over our work for correction. We are getting it a little faster now, and more than half is finished. I feel somewhat a prisoner here with it, but I trust it may be blessed. It was dreadfully needed; one cannot often quote Luther, and never trust him to prove any truth…
As regards Bethesda, I am on quiet but unmoved ground. I have judged, and the conviction is only strengthened by the consideration, that they have deliberately tampered with dishonour—open, known dishonour done to Christ. Hence, if all were to go back there, I should not. I say nothing of motives, though many present themselves, but the fact is so. I fear love being asleep towards them, but my sober judgment, formed I believe according to God, remains unchanged. God has allowed that they should put their hands to it in the Letter of the Ten, for every upright soul that will not tamper with evil, and so blind himself. Men have been angry that I have spoken of a fresh start, but such is equally unmovedly my position. It is a humbling one, and it is great grace that we are permitted to make such. It is the confession of failure on the first, so that there is no indifference or pride. The principle and object is the same, I hope, the attempt with more intelligence of what we are about, and more resolute purpose of heart through grace. I have not a new truth to maintain, but I hope not to yield what I had for men’s sake, as much as I did before. I did not understand its value before as I do now, nor its importance. I mourn over many simple souls involved in the departure I cannot join with, but the Lord does all things well, and knows why He has permitted it; they will need, I suppose, the process of delivery… I think you would find no wavering as to the position in which I believe mercy has set me. I would do anything to testify to souls, led away in it, my anxiety and love to them. But I decline going through the evil and proving it, and occupying myself positively with it. I told them so in Rawstorne Street, on my return from abroad, a couple of years ago. My position is a quiet but ascertained one. I desire to be acting with Christ, without closing my heart against any movement of God’s working in those who are astray.
I have good news in general from France. Where I was stopped and my passport taken from me, and the meetings broken up, the commissary of police and the sub-prefect have been removed; and——, who was subsequently awhile in prison, was there the other day, and they met in peace and, instead of some sixty, are now a “hundred breaking bread in increased firmness and experience: such are the gracious and sovereign ways of God…
In general, my own soul has, I think, gained and profited by its restraint here. I could not work, read, or study as wont, and I must needs be more with the Lord, or it was more subjective, as men say now. I have gone on, however, at intervals with the Etudes, and have gone through part of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians—of the last learned much more the character than heretofore. I have also translated in English from Hebrews 7 nearly to the end, and practised a little German reading to consolidate the heard and spoken, but I shall be glad to be free. The under police were a little disposed to make a difficulty as to my stay, but the upper removed it at once when they were in the office… . Peace be unto you. Thank you much for your news of London. Kindest love to the brethren. I shall be rejoiced to see all the brethren again.
My eye is to-day sensibly better, but I cannot use it so as to work freely or apply myself.
Elberfeld, [about] Jan. 25th, 1855.
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * The time to come is the time of the glory and perfection of the church; the present time, that of faithfulness and of faith, but of a faith which counts upon God, that the church by His power may manifest His glory, even in this world, by its general superiority to all that governs it, and to all that exerts an influence over it. The church is the seat of the power of God in the world. What have we made of it? (See Eph. 3:20, 21.) The Epistle to the Ephesians presents the perfection of the church’s position before God; that to the Thessalonians gives us, in the most interesting manner, which has greatly edified me, the perfection of the christian position individually.
Elberfeld, February 10th, 1855.
* * * * *
My dear——,—I am at length free, and the Lord willing, start on Monday for Frankfort and Switzerland. I thought to have gone through Siegerland, and seen the brethren there, but my time would have been so short that I should have had no satisfactory visit, and I had not even time to warn those some way off that they might come. I had an opportunity of preaching to a large assembly of strict Baptists, who are dreadfully under the law—the first time I spoke in a large company of strangers. They were assembled from all sides on Easter Monday, and the Lord was gracious, and I was able to set a full gospel before them, forgetting the assembly, and only thinking of the Lord’s love in His work. The attention of a vast number was something remarkable; one saw they had never heard a simple gospel —it is law and experience. Some older hands were equally visibly uneasy. And German came, thank God, in full flow. I hope the truth may have remained in many; through grace, at any rate, the testimony was important, and went to a large number, so that they knew what it was. I have been happy in the work in neighbouring places lately, and I hope there has been blessing. One very interesting man out here has found peace a few Sundays ago, and having an active mind searches all out—already has found the cross through it. His testimony has been nice and faithful. He has taken no decided outward step, but sees the Establishment impossible to remain in,
In these [parts] the persecution is still pretty sharp, but the blessing going on rejoicingly. In other districts there is continued encouragement in the work—conversions; but though this is ever eternal grace and wonderful, nothing particular recently. My stay here has been a peculiar discipline to me, but I hope profitable. With the brethren I have found all love and kindness. Though the translation was a great exercise to me, undertaken as a needed service for them, I can commend it to God and trust it to Him. I am not content with it as a work done carefully enough, but I believe we have in it the best and truest translation to be had, and the poor brethren find it very plain and easy to understand—far more so than anything they had.
Elberfeld, April 20th, 1855.
[From the French.
* * * The brethren recognise no other body than that of Christ, that is to say, the whole church of the first-born; thus they receive every Christian (since he is a member of it) who walks in truth and holiness. Their hope of salvation is founded upon the atoning work of the Saviour; they await His return, according to His word. They believe in the union of the saints with Him, as the body of which He is the Head. They look for the accomplishment of His promise, that He will come and receive them to Himself in the Father’s house, that where He is, there they may be also. Meanwhile they have to bear His cross, and to suffer with Him, separated from a world that has rejected Him. His Person is the object of their faith; His life, the example which they have to follow in their conduct; His word, namely, the scriptures inspired by God, the Bible, is the authority which forms their faith, and is its foundation, and that which they recognise as ordering their conduct. The Holy Spirit alone can render it efficacious for life and practice…
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * Without having anything very new, I have much enjoyed and, I hope, profited by the Word. The Psalms have formed the subject of our intercourse, and a number of passages, here and there, have assumed more force and clearness in my mind.
I have been a good deal struck with the effect of the judgment-seat of Christ on Paul. He sees all its terror, but the only effect is to induce him to persuade others. The Christ before whom he would appear was his righteousness, and judged according to that righteousness; thus there was no possible question. That which judged and that which was before the judgment-seat were identified: this was one side of the truth of the nature of God; the other side is love. Now it is this latter alone which, in consequence, is set in activity: he persuades others on account of this terror. I know few passages which more forcibly set forth the power of the gospel and the perfection of justification. But there is a precious operation of this judgment-seat: the apostle realised his appearing before Him; he did not fear to be manifested in the future, he was, in fact, manifested to God; conscience, perfectly purified relatively to God, assumed all its sway, and being kept in the presence . of God, all that was not according to that presence was, in fact, manifested in the light. This was necessary, and, through grace, he had the light of God to shew, to give the consciousness, that there was nothing. It is very important to be there; many things are judged there which often are not judged in a tolerably well-regulated christian life; and when conscience is before God, and clear, love is free. In this way we know also what it is to be always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal bodies; or rather walking thus, one is capable of being, one is fully in His presence.
Among other things, I have also been struck with chapters 15 and 17 of Genesis. It seems to me that the disinterestedness of Abraham, at the end of chapter 14, was the reason of God’s saying to him in grace, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” At first sight one might have thought that Abraham would have nothing to do but to rejoice with ineffable joy at the thought that God Himself was his reward; but he says, “What wilt thou give me?” God condescends in grace, when it is a question of a real need founded on promise. But there is an element which stamps its character upon that grace: “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward;” the blessing does not go beyond the personal needs or privileges of Abraham. Quite naturally his heart enters into this, and it is the development of the need of his heart according to its own state; It is immense grace, but grace which, in a certain sense, is measured by the needs of the creature. In chapter 17:God says, “I am the Almighty God.” He does not say, “I am thy…” It is what He is in Himself: “walk before me, and be thou perfect” (upright). Abraham falls on his face, and God talks with Abraham. He promises him the son, and afterwards reveals to him, as to a friend, what He is about to do. Then Abraham, instead of making requests for himself, intercedes for others. It may also be remarked that chapter 15:does not go beyond Jewish promises; in chapter 17 he is the father of many nations. It is the difference between the goodness of God, which is connected in grace with us and our needs, and communion with Him.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Dear ——,—As for me, I have been detained by a happy motive; it is, that for two months, there has hardly been a preaching without a soul being blessed—led to the Lord, brought back from a state of carelessness or from a fall, or who has found peace. I had no thought of remaining so long in this town, but you will understand that one does not like to leave it under such circumstances. Moreover, in general the brethren are doing well. They are leaning peacefully and with joy on the Lord, and they are blessed. This is the case almost everywhere. I think of going, if God will, to the south before reaching Switzerland.
Do you know I am not so young as I was twenty years ago; and though I work almost as in the past, the spring of life does not play so well, it has lost ever so little of its elasticity. It is no sorrow to me to think that I am nearing the end: very far from it. The long journeys are not so pleasant to me. Besides, England depends a little more of my time, for doors are open in many part. However, I hope to see you once more, if God will: if He takes us to Himself, that will be indeed much better.
I have much enjoyed the Word all this time, while meditating on it in public and in my closet. What riches it contains! All the fulness of the grace of God is unfolded there, so that we may know Him in the whole extent of his being, and all the better that, at the same time, it is in such a way as to adapt Him to us. The mutual connection of all these minute parts shews that it depends on a living God, who reveals to us these things; like a tree in which the branches are not seen growing detached in the ground, but an assemblage of branches, so that we cannot see the smallest twig that is not connected with the trunk, and united to all the others as parts of a whole.
I have been much struck by the reciprocity of interest about us between the Father and the Son in John 17. They are not separated from each other in their love for us: we are the common object of it. The Father has given us to the Son; the Son has saved us in order to present us to the Father. He prays for us because we belong to the Father, but the Father will keep us because the Son is glorified in us; and so on. This is very precious, and it gives us a profound idea of this love. The Father and the Son are occupied in common about us. The Son taking care that we should know the Father as He Himself knew Him, and He desires to present us to the Father according to His own heart, so that the Father may find His delight in us. But I end my letter, the little room remaining also giving me warning.
Yours affectionately in Christ.
Bath, November, 1855.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—Thank you for your letters, which always interest me. God is so faithful towards His own, that if there is any disposition to be lifted up, God humbles them: witness the assembly of——. It is not His will that we should be out of the place of safety and blessing. Discipline is more difficult than we think, because we are not sufficiently humbled at the thought of sin in a brother. What we are ourselves is not enough felt, nor, consequently, love for others.
I have been deeply interested and touched by the reciprocity of interest between the Father and the Son in their love for us. (John 17.) Their communications are between themselves, or at least by the mouth of the Son, who addresses the Father, and I learn the manner in which they share this love. The Father has given us to the Son; the Son has manifested to us the name of the Father. He has kept the disciples in the name of the Father; now the Father is to keep them. The Father is to bless them because they are His, but also because the Son is glorified in them. The Son has also given us all the words which the Father has given Him for His own joy. What a thought, that the Father and the Son think thus about us!
In general, in John, it is the love of the Father and of the Son that characterises grace. God is light, but the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not; but if no one hath seen God at any time, the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him. Thus, in chapter 8 it is His word; it is, “I am.” In chapters 9, 10 it is grace, and, “I and the Father are one.” They will think that they do God service; it is “because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
December 13th, 1855.
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * I find everywhere that a full, clear, positive gospel, the proclamation of a real salvation, attracts souls; they need it. Insist on holiness as much as you please in nourishing the soul with Christ; but let the grace that saves be grace, let it be God; an entirely new life, and a divine righteousness accorded to man already entirely lost, and being flesh, without resource, even in God—man led to own this condition in the presence of God, but there clothed by God with the best robe, a robe that he had not even in his innocence: a sovereign act of grace, of God, which having absolutely put away our sins, introduces us into an entirely new position, and that by the communication of the life of Christ risen, in which as He is so are we. For ourselves, dear brother, let us seek ardently, constantly, and with confidence, communion with God; so that self set aside, and our thoughts and intentions judged, we may have entire confidence in Him. He is faithful, and there is nothing sweeter than to have the conscience at home with this faithfulness, with this love that finds its joy in blessing us. Let us watch against the enemy in the path of God’s will…
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[From the French.
Beloved Brother,— … As you say, communion (and nothing else) is the regulator which maintains the equilibrium between dependence and the activity of love. But this is, I think, what explains it as to the principle. The new man, so far as it is a participation in the divine nature, is in its activity, charity, love. Then the love of God, being shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit that He has given us, becomes a powerful impelling force in this same way. The Spirit directs us, whether it be towards the saints individually, or in the exercise of gift, or whether it be towards poor sinners. One is father, pastor, evangelist, perhaps all three. But at the same time, the essential quality of the new man, as it is seen in Christ, is dependence on God and obedience. It lives with God, and in the consciousness of its real relations with Him. Now this relation is to wish nothing, to do nothing without Him. The new man cannot. Then he is led by the Spirit. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Thus the Lord Jesus, love itself, did nothing where He had not the will of His Father for the motive. Not that the will of the Father would stop Him in the activity of His own proper will, but that the will of the Father alone was the motive of His. Love was always active, but its exercise subject to the will of the Father; it was directed and set in motion externally by the will of the Father. This is why it was obedience. So far as the new man acts in us, it is the same with us. But alas! the I, self-will, self-love, tend to enfeeble love and to turn us from obedience, from entire dependence on God in our activity— as a consequence, more or less of uncertainty, or activity of our own. Now the intercession of Christ, and communion with God, then the action of the word in our hearts, the restoration of the single eye, are alone able to re-establish the balance.
As to 1 John 1:1, for a time, but long ago, I thought as you do, and it is impossible to separate the pre-existence of the divine nature in a person. However, I think that in saying, “That which is from the beginning,” the Spirit speaks of what Jesus was on earth, of what John had seen and handled. In the Gospel, “in the beginning,” relates to the whole previous existence of God, that is to say, the phrase states the eternal existence of Christ as the Word. John’s great subject is the manifestation of God, and of divine life on earth. To this end, he speaks of the eternal Word, and of His incarnation; but in the Epistle he goes on to the reproduction of this life in us, and with this object he traces up this life in us to its origin and to its perfect manifestation—what Christ was on earth. Chapter 2:7 seems to prove that this is the force of the passage. In these days, when people will have something more perfect than Christ, it is not unimportant to insist on that which was from the beginning.
It is of the utmost usefulness to cultivate a healthy spirit, which does not search after questions, but piety. It is of this that Paul speaks to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:4. Thorns never nourish us. This sort of thing is a proof of a bad state of soul.
I have been struck latterly with the three characters of experience, or of the action of the Spirit of God, in Philippians, 2 Corinthians and 1 Corinthians. In the first, the soul raised above everything, can do all things, always rejoices, is troubled about nothing, does but one thing, knows not whether it is better to live or to die. In the second, he despaired of his life; when he arrived in Macedonia, he had no rest; without were conflicts, within were fears. But in the first case he rested on Him who raiseth the dead; in the second, God comforts those who are cast down; thirdly, he glories in his infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon him. In a word, it is power and divine consolation when one is pressed down by difficulties. In 1 Corinthians the Christians were in a very bad state: he reproves them sternly, but begins by saying, “God is faithful, who will confirm you to the end, that ye may be irreproachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What grace in all this! And this has done me good, and I have found it instructive.
Dear brother—— gave me good news of the work in your quarters. God be praised for it. The labour of His own will not be in vain, if we do not relax. May God sustain you, dear brother, and bless you yourself in your soul. One must drink for oneself in order to have the rivers. Salute very affectionately all the brethren, although I do not know them by sight. May the Lord, theirs and mine, bless them.
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Dear ——,—I do not think coming forth from the bosom of the Father scriptural. The reason seems to me evident, because the expression is used to express a present apprehension of His love and favour which depends on His being in that place. To come forth from it would be at best the thought of memory, and this is evidently much stronger; it is the present being in, and in the enjoyment of, what tie phrase expresses. He came forth from the Father and into the world, and left the world and went to the Father, but never, I think, is it said from His bosom. But it is evidently to express an idea like Abraham’s bosom in another order of ideas, not a physical fact; and man, in expressing the love and joy He left for us, may have used it in a certain sense harmlessly, namely, with right affections, though not quite accurately seizing the force of the expression in John 1:18. I may have done so myself, for aught I know. Coming forth from the Father is the point de depart, not the intimacy of affection and position. Hence we have the only-begotten Son, He who concentrates in His own Person all the affection of Him in whose bosom He is.
As regards oJ w[n (“who is”), it is, I doubt not, somewhat emphatic, but too much must not be ruled on it. The participle is used with article, or it is left out, in many cases without much difference of sense; toi'" aJgivoi" ejn *Efevsw/ or toi'" aJgivoi" toi'" ou\sin ejn *Efevsw/ is pretty much the same: oJ w[n by itself is the name, I am; still I think as w[n is not necessary, the subsistence and existence of Christ in this position, its being a part of that existence and subsistence, is intimated, as it might be supposed He had left it; for oJ eij" toVn kovlpon could be very well said, and I do not believe the Holy Ghost has put the wjn there for nothing. But it is more its being constant and essential than its being divine that is intimated, though to be essential and constant it must be divine. I do not think it is a question of doctrine, but the force of the expression is lost if we speak of coming forth from—namely, leaving it in a certain sense. Christ’s being in the bosom of the Father is of so much the more importance, that He declares the Father’s character as He thus knows Him. The importance of this is increased by 1 John 4:12…
Seraphim12 are never used that I know of but in Isaiah 6, unless the serpents in the desert, or perhaps the general use of saraph. I do not exactly know the moral import of the expression. I suppose they are symbolical beings, expressive of the consuming power of God’s holiness as the cherubim of judicial power, at least in their relation to others. I could not say that there were specific beings called seraphim anywhere. There may be those who are near to God specially in this character.
As regards death in creation before man’s fall, I must remark that probably the question only refers to death in this earth’s state as it is since Adam’s creation. Since man’s creation, I am quite satisfied that death never took place till his fall. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Now here the apostle is occupied with sin’s effect upon man; still he states that death entered by sin. Hence I conclude that death was not in the creation of which man was the head until his fall. But of what may have happened between the creation of the heavens and the earth (bara) and the forming the present world out of chaos, scripture says nothing, but leaves us to gather rather that the state of the world, the tohu bohu [“without form and void”], was the ruin of some previous state; for I hardly think that the state in which God would create it, and make all the sons of God shout for joy. Hence if geologists find Megalotheria, and Plesiosauri as many as they please, they do not touch the statements of scripture one way or another, for scripture makes none as to it: only into the creation connected with man, death entered by man’s sin. That scripture states, though it does not touch on its consequences for beasts; but Genesis 1:30 confirms, for it gives the green grass to the beasts of the earth. I know not whether——is aware of the discoveries of geologists and the use made by infidels of it on the point in question. Scripture decides as to the present state of the world in which man is found, and says nothing as to what preceded it.
I am at Nismes, after going round many places in the mountains; the blessing has been real and the work extended; we had a useful conference of three weeks, with more detailed study of the scripture. More than one new labourer has been raised up, still the field has been so extended that still they are few… There is need of feeding and building up, but in general encouragement.
At——they have been harassed by the ardent Baptist party… But if I had needed anything to convince me that it is all wrong, this would have sufficed. Such a display I have rarely witnessed, or evidence of a fleshly work. It was deplorable. I have, however, declined controversy, and sought only to calm and claim liberty of conscience. But while desiring and wishing before God and men this liberty for Baptists, and feeling that God can allow in the midst of abuses that this point should be brought on the conscience and before the church, as a means of proving its state, the examination of the point this has occasioned has more than ever convinced me that the whole Baptist principle is a mistake from beginning to end, and nothing more than conscientious want of light … I trust now, save with a very few, all are disposed to leave people free in conscience… . And all having been in the main left to God, He has, and I am fully assured will, set His good hand to the work. So little were those who baptised infants disposed to contest or enter on the subject, that some who were carried away in the torrent, complain of them for not speaking to them and teaching them on it. I am very glad they did not, and occupied them rather with Christ, for half the evil (though not all) is being occupied with ordinances, whatever side may be taken. It was a sore trial to——and those who cared for the work, but a useful exercise. It partially hindered the world from listening to the gospel naturally enough, but one must expect the enemy to use all such means, and the Lord will accomplish His work and gather His own. Peace be with the brethren and yourself also.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
Nismes, June 2nd, 1856.
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[From the French.
* * * I have lately much enjoyed the beginning of Genesis. Nothing is more beautiful than the communications of God with Abraham: he knew the Lord when He visited him at Mamre; but in the presence of others, while shewing Him special respect, he leaves Him in His incognito. When once the two angels have departed, and Abraham is alone with the Lord, he opens but his heart to Him, with perfect intimacy and entire confidence. This whole chapter is perfectly beautiful. The spiritual man ought to maintain propriety. He lets himself out in blessed confidence when he is alone with God.
I have occupied myself, during some spare moments I have had, with the order in which the events are related in the first three gospels, and the reason why they are transposed. I have made a table of the three, and am occupied with what is special in the order of Matthew. This throws light also on the purpose of the evangelist, and on the manner in which he pursues that purpose.
February 12th, 1857.
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Dear ——,—I looked over the [Addresses on the] seven churches which, as notes, barely corrected for what was wrongly taken, were imperfect enough; and I apprehend they are tolerably intelligible, but I did it at request. I know not how far it is to be desired as useful truth, or more available in a spoken lecture. I will do anything about it that is wished, if it be thought useful. I have not a very clear idea of my own as to its practical utility, and therefore thus speak… At Rotterdam I have found access to a good many, and had one very interesting evening besides visits. I think there is opening for truth, and our position is clear, as we broke bread—four persons, three who were blessed at Pau. I cannot doubt there will be opposition gradually, but I hope some souls will get into a new consciousness of connection with the Lord, before the enemy can close the doors on a good many… I speak generally in French, with some in German, and if on religious subjects, understand nearly all that is said in Dutch.
As to christian individuality and fellowship in the work, I can only write on what comes to me, nor indeed speak, but I have often spoken on it with my mind clear on it. The examples in scripture are clear enough, as Paul and Silas, Barnabas, Timotheus, Apollos, and others.
Rotterdam, September 2nd, 1857.
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[From the French.
* * * The important thing, and one that is often wanting, is, that Christ should be all; it is to know that we are of the new creation which is in Him, and even that we are the first-fruits of His creatures; that we have to live as being of the new, in this world which is not the new, but the old creation, long ago put to the proof and judged. And what blessedness to be of the new, where all is of God, where all is perfect, and in the unchangeable freshness of the purity of its source! It is infinite blessedness, and ours according to our very nature, only we must have objects. The more I go on, the more the deliverance of souls from this old creation, from this world which passeth away, is the desire of my heart, and that the devotedness of the love of Christ should govern the hearts of brethren…
Some have not feared to say, “We are the church;” and really they give themselves such airs, and facts answer so pitifully to it, that there is nothing more hurtful. They assume to recommence the church ab ovo; they do not do so. One comes out of an immense system of ruin and corruption to recover what one can; and when we pretend to have all, it is that conscience disregards our true state. From that moment there cannot be solid and lasting blessing. False pretensions are not the way to blessing.
Rotterdam, September 7th, 1857.
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To the same.]
[From the French.
* * * It is good, dear brother, that we should be brought to think of death. The coming of the Lord is our hope, we desire, that that which is mortal should be swallowed up by life; but it is good for us to feel that death has entered this scene, that all is passing, that with our last breath all is gone, except the responsibility which has accompanied us all the way through. Thanks be to God, as to the imputation of sin: the cross is the perfect answer to that responsibility; but, with regard to this latter, it is good that the heart should be exercised, to have everything settled in the presence of God. It is thus that the apostle used even the judgment, not to cause fear in thinking of responsibility—he was pressed to persuade others—but for his walk. I am, he said, manifested to God. By faith he applied to himself what will take place when the day shall have come.
Elberfeld, October, 1857.
12 Queries, “Are there seraphim in heaven, so far as you see?” Also, “Would you maintain as against an infidel, that there was no death in creation before man’s fall, or only none among men?”