[From the French.
* * * I sympathise with you, dear brother, in regard to your dear mother. Doubtless, until all is desert, and that heaven, Christ, is all, these bereavements break the ties, and make us feel that it is the desert. But it is well, because it is the truth, and because our souls need it. We must be severed [from it]. The first Adam belonged to what? belonged to the earthly paradise. All that is lost. The ties of the life down here remain, those even that God has formed, and that He finds in their place, but death has come in, and the Holy Spirit is a power that detaches us from everything, and binds us to that which is invisible, to Christ in heaven and to the love of the Father. Sometimes this is done at the beginning in a violent way, sometimes little by little; but God works in His own, for He has prepared for them a city, has already given them part in a heavenly citizenship. And He is good; He raises us up for heaven and to heaven… No doubt we have our troubles; I know it well, but we have an ever faithful Lord, faithful and full of love to bless us. We can count oh Him; then the rest will be more blessed, more full of the knowledge of His own joys, for He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: and if we have by grace ever so small a share with Him in His sorrows, we shall have it in His joy for ever above. The cross now, and we know very little of it—Himself, dear brother, and the joy and the glory with Him, that is our prospect.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—I believe that the request for the Hold Spirit is a proof that the professing church denies itself, any more than ever now, that God has, in a remarkable manner, manifested the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. He has acted in an extraordinary manner, has almost shewn Himself to sight, so to speak. I perfectly understand that we are called to bear with expressions which betray ignorance, when the desire of the heart is good and according to God, and that God can grant these ignorant prayers according to His own wisdom.
Individually, I do not take offence when a Christian prays that God would pour out His Spirit upon the church but if the professing church present this request, it is saying, We are unbelieving with regard to the presence of the Holy Ghost, that which has made us to be the church. But now that God has manifested His presence by an action of Hi a Spirit, such as has not been seen since the day of Pentecost, they do not recognise, any more than before, that He is present by His Spirit. They pray that He would send Him, that He would pour out the Spirit, but they do not believe in His presence in the church.
Already, in Ireland, the Presbyterian clergy are trying to put a stop to lay-preaching, that is to say, to that liberty which was the effect of the powerful action of the Spirit of God. We see these young souls placed under the direction of unconverted ministers, so-called, or else under the direction of those who oppose assurance of salvation.
I believe that we may very rightly ask that the Spirit should act more powerfully in us, in the church. This is a thing much to be desired. One can ask for oneself to be filled with the Holy Spirit; and it is always well to try and take the good side, as much as possible, of what is said by the heart of a Christian. But it is none the less true, that the request for a greater measure of the Holy Spirit flows from unbelief as to His personal presence in the church; and the fruits of this unbelief will be met with again.
… I think we must take the passage which you quote, with its context: “He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure.” The direct application of it is to Christ. I believe the principle to be absolute. When GoS gives His Spirit, He does not give Him by measure. He has given Him now, in virtue of the ascension of Christ, and being given, the Spirit is here. It is not a question of measure, but the presence of a Person who distributes, who unites, who leads, who bears witness, &c, and he who says “a measure of the Spirit” denies His presence and His personal action; and it is a very grave and serious form of practical unbelief in the church. I would bear with ignorance, but if any were formally to reject the truth of the presence of the Spirit sent down to earth, I should have a difficulty in associating myself with that.
February 10th, 1860.
Dear ——,—As I am going to the other side of England, and hear you are very bad, I come to pay you a visit with this little note, as I had the advantage of talking with you when I was at——; yet I have but few words to say to you, as what God has graciously set before us is very simple; and thankful we ought to be that it is so. And what is deepest is simplest, that is the perfect love of God. Our difficulty is to reconcile our state, sinners as we are, with His loving us. Now that is exactly what the gospel shews us. Through that unspeakable fact of the death of the Son of God, His love has been shewn to us in what He did for our sins. He commends His love to us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us—His love brought quite near to us where we are. Hence it is that it is only when we know where we are that we understand this love; that is, when we have learnt by divine teaching that we are mere sinners in ourselves, that in us (that is, in our flesh) dwells no good thing, we find that Jesus in this love has come to us there, and, though the Holy One, has been made sin for us. Oh, what a thought that is! How it opens the heart to guileless confession of what it is, and all the sin that is in it, so that it gets rest and peace with God.
I trust you enjoy this rest of heart. The work of Christ is perfect: He knew all our sins and all we were when He gave Himself for us, and has put all away, made us, if our sins were as scarlet, as white as snow. Think of your being really as white as snow before God, and you are bound to believe that, because it is the sure and revealed value of Christ’s blood. Death has put an end to all we were in God’s sight. And now, trusting you have this peace, and assured that it belongs to you, let me speak of another thing, the love of Him who has done this work for us. Think of Him, of His love, of His becoming a man for us, of His going willingly to death for us, that we might escape: how He must have loved you to do it! Do you think He loved you so as to do it? What a wonderful thought that the Son of God should love a poor thing like you, and want (He who wants nothing) to have you with Himself for your happiness and as a part of His own, the fruit of the travail of His soul. See what a difference this makes of death; it is not dying as some think it; it is going to Him, to One we love, to One we know, to One who has loved and loves us; it is departing and being with Christ,
If your soul has peace, think much of Him and His love, and may He be very near you. He refreshes the spirit, raises above weakness and pain to think these are but outward things for a little moment, and what we are going to lose is only sickness and what is mental and perishable, to be with One who has loved u# in spite of all, and takes us to be with Himself. Think much on Jesus—I do not mean as if you could think much in your weak &ate, but looking to Him—and lean on Him as a sick child lies in its mother’s arms because it has no strength, not because it can do much. Peace be with you, dear——, and much of His presence, the true source of joy and strength. If you go a little before us to that blessed One it will surely not be your loss… .
Your affectionate servant
And brother in Christ.
* * * * *
* * * It is the greatest joy to me that the hearts of the saints have been turned to souls, not surely from the Word, but charity thinks of souls. I remember often in olden times saying to you, remember the people have souls.
As to the work, I heartily and with deepest thankfulness delight in it. No doubt human infirmity may accompany its effect and working amongst men. Does that make one turn away from the manifest hand of God? There may be in given cases accompaniments which make it impossible to join in particular meetings or acts, but where God is free, where the Spirit is, there I ought to be; and if I cannot join, as I could not when Christ is preached of contention, rejoice for all that, that He is preached and brought to souls. I see that it will be a judgment on the professing church, because it seeks the credit of God’s work, and does not own the presence of the Holy Spirit, and I have no desire that the truths which have made us own that and our place in the last days should be in any way enfeebled; but if full and happy liberty were left anywhere to the Spirit of God, nothing that grieved Him maintained, this consideration would lead me rather to cultivate intercourse. I judge it would be a deplorable sign if brethren could not freely rejoice, where God evidently works, but I have no desire in having my heart large, and tender too as regards the Lord’s work, to have my feet out of the narrow path.
It is a very great joy to me to know these dear young C.s are converted. Give my kind remembrance to their father and mother, and tell them how heartily I sympathise with them. I was greatly rejoiced too in ——. Surely I remember him, for in two or three weeks I had become greatly attached to him. I never saw, I think, a soul receive Christ and the gospel as he did, a soul open under its influence as his did. The Lord grant his wife may follow his path. I trust the O.s may be in testimony there also, and that they may remain humble, serious, simple and unexcited.; but I say cultivate these droppings of divine grace, this spring-time of the soul. There is need of building by the Word, but the earliest fruit of an awakened soul will be feeling, not knowledge, and this will become feeble and unhealthy if not fed by the word. But this process went on at first, and has given the Epistles, but we see the weakness which may accompany it; they would have given their eyes, but did not hold fast justification by faith. All this needs the continual work of the ministry—not to make a fuss about the first feelings, the flowers which precede the fruit, but to labour therein to feed the soul.
As to conversions in singing, there is nothing at all un-scriptural. If the truth is in the hymn, spoken of with divine affections, or souls’ affections expressed respecting a truth already outwardly admitted, it is quite within the ways and operation of the Spirit of God to act on the soul in a quickening way by it, not without truth, but by truth so addressed to the soul. I do not say that the work will be there as deep, or the foundation as solidly laid at the moment for after exercises, as if it was the direct application of the word by the Holy Ghost to the conscience, but the heart receives Christ convincingly and lovingly, so as to love. I have ever said that the smallest atom of Christ suffices for the Holy Ghost to quicken by, if it be really Him. No doubt a profound conviction of sin by the word casts off a mass of imaginings of the flesh by a deeper inward work, which such a conversion leaves undiscovered; but if God works, He will do His own work, and bring it to a good issue.
The work in Ireland has confirmed me largely in the truth of all I have learnt connected with brethrenism, so called, but it would be deplorable if I could not rejoice in God’s acting wherever His own blessed .sovereign goodness is pleased to do it. I do so with my whole heart, and if one is not ready for Him, there may be first last and last first, without the truth being weakened: salvation was of the Jews; alas, it was in result more for others than for them; the fields were whiter for harvest elsewhere than there.
May the brethren be found with their hearts free and their feet firm; and they may be of the largest blessing to the church of God at this moment.
Here, God be thanked, God has largely blessed my visit, and the brethren I may say are in peace.
[Nismes, April, 1860.]
* * * * *
Dear——,—I suppose from your letter that your boys have never been baptised. If such be the case, it is clear to me that they ought to be. I baptised myself, a number recently converted at Stafford, very recently. I look m no way on baptism or any other ordinance as a matter of obedience. I leave behind me, as being simple ignorance to refer to it, all reference to John’s baptism, which was before the death and resurrection of Christ, and as far as it went would have hindered His being put to death. I reject all notion of a testimony to what we have already received, because it is entirely contrary to scripture. As to obedience; not only is obedience to ordinances, in principle, legal and unchristian, but the language of the word is, “What doth hinder me?” “Who can forbid water?”— language wholly incompatible with the idea of obedience. I reject the idea of its being witness of what we have, because I find in scripture, “Wash away thy sins”—”Buried with him by baptism unto death”—not because you are washed, or are dead—“Wherein also ye are risen”—not because you are already. I see a command to baptise, none to be baptised; nor were the apostles baptised, save Paul. But I see it evidently to be the way in which disciples were received to Christ publicly and outwardly.
It is a mistake to think that it has to do with the unity of the body: for this Christ had to ascend on high and send down the Holy Spirit, and “by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body”—but of this unity the Lord’s supper is the sign, not baptism. This goes no farther than death and resurrection; what is individual, that the flesh is hopelessly bad. Men are dead to it in Christ and alive in the power of resurrection only, of which profession is outwardly made in baptism —not that we are so, but we enter in (outwardly) by this door, by dying and rising again, namely, in owning Christ dead and risen for us. There is no entering into the heavenly and eternal blessing but by the reality of this, nor properly into the outward establishment of it in the earth but by the sign of this. This is the confession made by baptism. This is, I am persuaded, the intelligence of it: as to your dear boys, this I am assured should be their mind, to do it intelligently. The recognition that if any man be in Christ, the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit life because of righteousness; that there is no mending, no remedy for the old man but death; but that in entering Christ we die and rise again in the power of a new life, in which alone we live to God.
The Lord bless them abundantly, and keep them in the deep sense of the truth of this, and in much joyful confidence in the grace of God, the Saviour, and our Father, and in Him who has called them in His love. How thankful I am to think of them as different from what they were when I saw them, though, I doubted not kind, good boys.
* * * * *
Dearest ——,—The London Bridge meeting has been for some time on my mind, and I judge that something must be done. Several causes contribute to its want of influence, and even jealousy as to it, which exists in certain gatherings. Formerly there were many brethren, as ——,——, and others, who exercised a pastoral care, which had a great influence on individual blessing and calmness. Souls were thought of more, decisions of assemblies less, though arrived at when needed. The number of brethren and meetings was less, and the great body of brethren more in one meeting in Rawstorne Street, the rest being succursal, so to speak. Now there are many almost equally important meetings. Hence the difficulty of maintaining the common action is a real one; but if there is a hearty loving desire to do it, it can be effected, surely, with God’s gracious help.
These affairs of Mr.——have increased the prejudice against London Bridge. I regret altogether still the course of——and your own. The more I reflect, the more I feel that it did not rise above the circumstances to act with God in them, but was under their influence. The last act of——finished the matter, and though the brethren at London Bridge did not go with you two, the public effect was the same. ——, seeing this, did his best to destroy its influence, and to awaken jealousy. But I am satisfied that at present in those most uneasy as to the action of London Bridge there is no desire for independent churches, but quite the contrary; nor do I see any great difficulty save in the case of discipline. I should take the ground, not of contesting the duty of the local gathering to investigate and form its judgment—it must be practically so done, you do so I am persuaded at ——, —but that if they hold there is one body in London, they ought not to impose their judgment without giving an opportunity to others to know what decision they had come to, and make their representations if they had any to make, which might often arise.
What seems to me ought to be done would be to invite the chief men among the brethren from every gathering, writing to one only, to propose their coming together to confer upon it, not forming a decision to be announced, but what could be proposed to all the gatherings when it had been laid before the assembled brothers. Thus, suppose I wrote to—— or—— at Deptford, to propose that the brethren there who were interested in the general course of the gathering should come, say to—— at the Priory, and the same to the rest; and then they consulted and arranged that the brethren really interested in the gatherings should meet in any given place on a Saturday evening, the place being agreed on by all, and that the responsibility of these brethren should be felt. It would then have to be considered how in cases of discipline (in receptions it would go on, I suppose, as usual) matters should be arranged.
My impression is that the local gatherings must come to a decision; nothing would hinder consultation on Saturday evening, but they owe it to the others to certify it before it is finally executed. They can come to the decision, and then communicate it through the Saturday evening meeting to all the others, and like a person proposed, it would be final if nothing were said. If any who heard it had any difficulty, they could communicate with the brethren of the gathering who had come to the decision. But this would be considered when together. You must remember there is not a body formed and grown up in one gathering, nor any practical body of elders acting together among the saints as a whole: one must look therefore to God to draw out of what materials exist what He can form to help the saints. And if they help one another all will be well.
The brethren, on consultation, will see what is to be done in ordinary cases of discipline, but they should remember that in sending the names of others as put out, they impose on other brethren the task of registering their act without any power even of objecting. If there be no intercommunication, then we have independent churches, or at least are on the way to them. You may regret the young men, but you must look at the main point, the union of brethren who care for the saints, in common care. In our former Friday morning meetings they were not there, and if one may regret their absence, the union of service in the gatherings is first to be considered.
Do not feel uneasy at young brethren growing up into service. We were all young once. I am delighted when I see them getting into serious service, but I do look for pastoral care. The regular work of evangelisation is more to me than excited meetings, but if the Lord converts He converts, and we must rejoice. The excitement of the moment will pass away, what is solid will remain. One has to go through it, like all else, with God. The power of God is shewn in all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. I am at a conference of labouring brethren here for a few days. There is blessing in the neighbourhood, and a large number of saints, but devotedness and labourers everywhere are wanting. But there has been a great deal of blessing… I must close…
Affectionately yours, beloved brother.
St. Agrève, August, 1860.
* * * * *
Dear——,— … We have just had, I believe, a most useful conference at St. Agrève of the labourers of these parts; many brethren of the neighbourhood came, though it was a busy time towards the close of the harvest. I think I got decided blessing myself- We read Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, 1 John, four books of the Psalms, besides various questions and particular passages. It was serious, and the Lord’s presence felt—very quiet.
I shall (D.V.) be this week either at Geneva or Lausanne, or both. Indeed, I have delayed longer than I thought. Many places I have not been able to visit, but I have been at several new ones—more or less time. The work of evangelisation extends, but the line from Nismes to Vigan wants visiting… But the extension makes the want of labourers felt, though through mercy there are one or two raised up, and some I doubt not hidden, through want of devotedness in us all.
I have still my visit in Germany before me, at least for my new edition of the N.T., of which only 200 copies remain. Kind remembrance to your household.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
September 2nd, 1860.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dear ——,—I am thankful that —— has withdrawn his tract, and borne his witness as to B… We have sometimes the thought of forcing things to our aspect of them. God is above men, sometimes judges, sometimes corrects, sometimes lets things die out in patience when there is no evil will.
You say nothing of what has been done to maintain common action in London.
Here the work maintains itself, and there have been conversions in several places. Everywhere almost room is more needed than hearers for the room. I trust my visit has not been without blessing. A simple gospel, a gospel which is one and which Christ is, often surprises, and at least commands the thoughts of the world. The new neutral gospel, which admits Christ to perfect humanity, and which the evangelical school are generally too dull to discern the evil of, is horrible to me, and a true Christ withers it astonishingly.
Affectionately yours, with love to all.
If the Lord will, I shall occupy myself diligently with the translation when I return. I have got Germany and Holland to visit, the latter in any case briefly I suppose, on account of the language, but there are now some fifteen meetings there, and conversions, and two or three labourers, and the field extended in Germany, but I may be in England first.
Lausanne, October, 1860.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dear——,—I know nothing of what has passed in London but what you have sent me, for which I thank you. I regret the licensing of W. Street, because I look on it as a point of union with the world. It requires ten or twenty heads of families to have it…
About the unity of the saints in London my charity is anxious —about the means little. Independent churches would be a serious matter, and there has been an effort of the enemy that way. But I await the dealings of God.
I have had excellent meetings round here, and in the Canton of Neuchatel. There is certainly a desire to hear, and in some cases conversion, but I do not know that in the old meetings there is much energy of life. In numbers there is progress generally. In France evangeUsation is blessed, but there are weak points in the old meetings… I answer a number of letters arriving at Lausanne for an evening…
If the Lord gives me time in England I shall probably print the whole New Testament, when I have thoroughly revised it. But I often regret not being wholly in active work, and thus hesitate between localised labour, which often spreads wide, and evangelising on fresh ground, where I am always happy. I find a full simple gospel always received gladly by some; and it is good to face the world… . We want more devoted-ness everywhere—that is the great point. My natural spirit longs for quiet work at a centre; but whatever the Lord wills.
Lausanne, October, 1860.
* * * * *
…I believe we ought to preach the love of God to sinners, and appeal to them more than we do, though I do so much more when addressing a mixed crowd of probably careless people than in the assemblies where you would hear me. In these you must remember that the great body are believers, and want rather to be better founded than called. All I look for is that the preaching should be such that it should convict of sin, and the impossibility of sin and God going together, so that it should be well understood that there is need of reconciling. And here Christ at once comes in, and atonement and righteousness. Holiness precludes all sin from God, righteousness judges it. This I believe the sinner should understand, so that he should know what love applies to, yet that love should be fully preached. It does itself often convict of sin, for the conscience has often its wants already, and this draws them out, so that men find consciously where they are. But conviction of sin under righteousness is a very useful thing if grace be fully preached with it, and both unite in Christ.
I think it very important that preachers should go to the world, especially now, with a message of distinct love to them. All I desire is that it should be love manifested in Christ, so as to bring out the sinner’s condition to himself; that it should not be mere easiness as to sin; that it is a gracious love to sinners—grace abounding over sin—grace reigning through righteousness, than which nothing is more perfectly grace. Sometimes I think the love of God is so preached as if it were a kind of boon of the sinner to accept it. It is God’s joy. Still, as a sinner, his being a debtor to God ought to i»e before his soul… I count evangelising the happiest service. Yet my heart yearns over the saints and the glory of Christ in the truth too. Happily there is One above who does all.
* * * * *
Dearest Brother,—I am sure it is of the utmost importance that you or any of us should systematically study the word. You could not do better than give regularly, and, assuming the first of all things direct communion with God, the first fruits of your time to the regular study of the word. A taking the Spirit without the word is a false pretension to power, out of the place of obedience and heart subjection. As regards the guidance of the Spirit and method, only in the highest form I find both in the apostle. If we are “beside ourselves it is to God,” if we are “sober it is for your cause.” There is a power which takes us, as it were, out of ourselves, where God is in divine energy, but there is a calculation of love which is divine too. He was in God’s presence in power through the Holy Ghost, but the love of God working in him made him think of others —two blessed ways of being delivered from self. Sober for your sakes is the method, the calculation of love for others.
As to reading itself, the scripture is plain; “Meditate on these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all.” I find two ways of reading scripture: putting through grace my heart and conscience before it, so that it should act on me as subject to it; and studying it to seize it with its bearing, connection, and depth. It should be a first thing to be filled; then draw from the stores of communion, and then when real the free action of the Holy Ghost. The scripture distinctly speaks of order and method, as it does of the free action of the Holy Ghost. 1 Timothy is, nearly all of it, methodical direction; only now, when outward order is become the power of evil, and Christians are individualised in it, power is become the main thing—God being thus manifested—and all saints not being gathered, the general order cannot be there. And this is the trial of brethren’s faith. But this does not hinder the general principle of order, still less individual order and method. I never thought of such a thing, Unless special claims come, I always work till dinner-time in the house from the time I am up, then visit, &c.
Next as to the Sunday school: it is not for me a question of neglecting the Lord’s Supper and remaining to keep the children, but of devotedness to the service of Christ, for which one deprives oneself of a wonted enjoyment, and thus in no way of the delight in and desire of it. It is not as if a servant is obliged to stay, but as if a mother stayed with a sick child —she would feel the deprivation, but do her duty; as if an opportunity offered to preach to sinners and a person went once and left the breaking of bread. It would be a question of his being called of God and devoted to it. The question then is of one devoted to the children as a work for the Lord, and then giving up a Sunday in three for the work of the Lord, and as devotedness to Him. This must be a question of the individual’s feeling that he is called to it as devotedness to the Lord. There is an accessory question; that is, whether the taking care of the children is necessary to the prosperity of the school and their good. If so, I should feel no scruple or difficulty in remaining so to keep them. Habitual giving up the Lord’s supper for the school I should object to.
As to the meeting: they have already had such in ——, I suppose. It may be simple, I should suppose, to write to a known labourer in a given place, and say that it was the desire of those actually labouring in the word to study somewhat together, and invite such. I should rather think, unless there were a very great desire in labouring brethren to come together, the easier way for you would be to invite those around in actual England, or nearly accessible places, and have the meeting in a private house. It should have thus more a confidential character, not of the meeting in a public assembly. If the desire is great among the brethren who are actually labouring, it may give occasion to a wider circle of country. Nothing would hinder your asking any individual brethren who are accustomed to go everywhere if so inclined.
I am writing, discussing translation of Romans into German, … but I believe, or hope, I have kept myself pretty clear.
Be of good courage, dear brother, be strong, and He shall strengthen thine heart. Read Psalm 27, I mean for the way the heart looks to the Lord.
It is important to know grace and free power; it is also important to see the government of God, and so moral subjection and order. I should also be exceedingly sorry to see that the peculiar principles of brethren, and their just and never to be loosened attachment to the assembling of the saints, led to the giving up of work among souls. It was quite the contrary at the first. And if love is at work—if the meetings are to be blest it must be so—what works in the world blesses the meeting; only we must have the thought of the Holy Ghost really being in both…
Peace be with you, dear brother. Kindest love to the brethren. I shall be glad to see them all.
Ever affectionately yours.
* * * * *
* * * I have already told —— that if I can I will gladly assist at the proposed meeting. It will depend under God on my work here, and at Elberfeld where I have to prepare for the press a new edition of my German Testament, the first being nearly out of print.
As regards the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is to be remarked, that though the word be not used, the fact had practically place for Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. (Acts ii.; 8:16, 17; and 10:44, 45.) You will find the words “fallen upon” and “poured out” so used as to arrive in sum in one common fact. Still, I think this is a confirmation of the thought, that the gift or the pouring out of the Holy Ghost is an original and primary gift to the saints, though each receives the Holy Ghost when he has believed, as regards his own particular portion in it. (Acts 19:2.) The three preceding passages shew that on each distinct part out of which the church had to be formed God put the seal of His Spirit, giving it a divine and independent title to relationship with Himself and to the common unity. But this once formed, and the Holy Ghost dwelling in the one assembly, there was no such formative and sealing power to be looked for, because the Holy Ghost was there, and to abide there for ever. It is an effort at re-commencement of what has already a responsible position before God in virtue of having the Holy Ghost; and to look for its coming on the church is to deny that it is there, and that we are responsible in this way. God may pardon and reply to ignorant expressions, but deliberately used it is incredulity. The last passage shews that individuals partaking of it is a distinct and very important point. To doubt whether Samaritans or Gentiles could receive it, so as to have share in the new privileges, was, if an unfounded doubt, one well worthy of God to resolve in grace, yet in the way of a common unity—I do not mean exactly of the body here, but of the assemblage on earth. The desire that the Spirit of God may act mightily is good; that He may be poured out —may be pardoned and blessing given, but—is unbelief. I can have no doubt that the work in Ireland will be to the judgment of the professing church.
As regards 2 Corinthians 5:10, the use of “we” depends on the context. It is used for Jews, Christians, men by the apostle, and in even vaguer senses. In this passage the following verse demonstrates, it seems to me, that it is men: “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Why, if they were not objects of the judgment in question, which formed the ground of the terror? He did not persuade men that they might come under judgment as Christians, but to be Christians because they were subject to it as men. It seems to me very simple.
The rest of the MS. on Psalm 16:has been sent.17 I got immense blessing by this study of the human position of Christ, but fear it is little clearly developed for others. My writings are my course of arrival at truth, not my exposition of it when attained; my lectures are, sometimes: but I am more and more clear as to the Jewish character of the Psalms, though details of faith are instructive. In the Gospels, save in the answer to the Samaritan, Christ never presents Himself as the Christ, though as a fact it is certain that He did so, and His disciples too! nor demanded vengeance but mercy—in the Psalms always. The way this connects Him in spirit with the latter days is evident, and even the place of legal righteousness in His life, though this would be less readily understood; but it is brought out in Psalm 18.
The Lord gave me two souls for Him the last few days at Vevey. In France the work extends: not only so, but lately one from the valleys sent to drag in the French gatherings into looseness, met so much firmness in the two first that he has returned. The Lord directed everything; they were without special help of labouring brethren, and it has done good.
Ever affectionately yours.
* * * * *
To the same.]
Dearest ——,—It seems to me that the argument as to Revelation has no force at all, and must come from a person who has not taken the trouble to inquire much into the views of which he judges…
The city in chapter 21 I believe to be the church, because it comes down from heaven from God, and yet more because the prophet is invited to see the bride the Lamb’s wife, the heavenly city in contrast to Babylon. Whereas the city in chapter 11 is a city on earth trodden under foot by the nations for forty and two months, where there is testimony before the God of the earth, and it is in connection with Christ’s taking possession of earth and sea by power. The question to what the term city applies is in no way guided by the new Jerusalem, for that conies down from God out of heaven, and from this fact is evidently, as from its whole description, a figure, and more than a figure, a symbolic city. This is on earth before the other is revealed. The question to what city does chapter 11 refer must be judged by the conclusion to which we come as to the bearing of all this part of the book, and of chapters 10, 11 in particular. I believe a certain prolonged application can be given in the sense in which John said there were many antichrists, but they were not the Antichrist. In this moral sense, then, passages may have an application to the present order of things; but I do not doubt that the things which come after “the things which are” do not belong to the present order of things, but to the time when God is bringing in His only begotten into the world, when He is busied with the government of the world, and-hence with the Jews who are the central object of that government. Hence it is said that the witnesses stand before the God of the earth.
The same argument applies in all its force to chapter 7, but more than that. It contrasts in the distinctest way the tribes of Israel, and those of the nations and tongues; to make this the same class is absurd, upon the face of it; to make the tribes the elect and the other not is equally so, for those of the nations are gathered out for blessing; a 4ittle serious simplicity soon decides this question. As regards the 144,000, which is a question of detail, I can understand that it leaves more room for doubt; but in chapter 7 I see all the servants of God of all the tribes sealed before the judgment. In chapter 14 I see a special class most particularly associated with the Lamb, having His Father’s name (not their Father’s) on their forehead; that is, I see, having passed through suffering from their nation, analogous to Christ, and marked according to this special place, and His cortege in the kingdom; I believe them therefore a class apart and marked out before the harvest, “first fruits” of the new system. Chapter 7 has no way this character. The number makes no difference; it is a mystic one, 12 by 12 by 1000.
As regards the application of Luke 15 to a Christian turned aside, I have often heard it, but I reject it altogether. The fact of God’s graciously receiving back a wandered Christian is of course true, but such is not the purpose of the parable. The first verses shew, as distinctly as possible, that that is not its purport. The question is between the Pharisees and Jesus eating with and receiving sinners. He thereon gives the picture of God’s love in seeking and in receiving sinners. The two first describe the seeking (as I believe by Christ and the Spirit), the third the reception. The reception back of a Christian fallen had not its application here. Further, the introduction of the eldest son carries us back evidently to the Jew, or any legally self-righteous person, but literally to the Jew in “all that I have is thine.” The principle is shewn in the two first, joy in heaven over a sinner that repents, and the third the way of original departure and return. Hence all that is seen of the elder is not an original estate, but the Jews’ jealousy of the admission of sinners of the Gentiles. The notion that “son” carries with it the reality of being born of God is all a delusion; because then the eldest ought to be one; whereas on the footing of grace (which makes sons) he would not come in. Adam was the Son of God; “Israel my firstborn.” The remark you refer to is all a mistake, because the first parables shew the seeking, the active love of God; this, the reception by the Father of one who returned. I have myself no kind of doubt of the true application…
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
Chaux-de-Fonds, November, 1860.
* * * * *
To the same.]
I know not that I should have any great objection to compare Matthew 24:and the Apocalypse in many general features; but then I see the gospel times, such as we speak of them, entirely left out. The prosecution of the gospel to all nations is only mentioned as necessary to the end; the subject, and this is the essential difference, is the trial and position of the remnant in Palestine, and this as to detail the only sphere. Though indeed all is very vague in the Revelation beyond, still it does speak directly of the world, and Matthew 24 (save in the cited passage) does not.
I admit the man-child to be Christ most fully, though I may bring in the church in Him. I do not admit that no angel represents Christ. It is an ignorance of the structure of the Apocalypse, in which in a special part all is angelic.
As regards the names of the tribes of Israel—if by the Israel of God the church is meant, I suppose the city does mean this, only it is in its public governmental character, the twelve apostles, not Paul, its foundation. I do not use the term Israel of God thus, but if he does, it is so. I have no doubt of the connection of the three systems, giving the real foundation part to the twelve apostles—creation and providential governmental power, government in the earth in Israel, and apostolic. But he is not in a condition to seize such relationships, being buried in a world-church himself. The taking up of the man-child (Christ) and the casting Satan out, brings necessarily the 69 and 70 weeks together… one cannot but see the beasts of Daniel referred to, and Ezekiel and Gog come in another category of prophecy; this would be easily shewn even in detail.
The seventh head is one which is a head of the Roman Empire, such as Charlemagne or Bonaparte who is at the head for a short time; and then the beast at the end is the extraordinary eighth head, like in nature one of the former ones and who is destroyed.
Dear——,—— has never got out of his head local constituted order, and the unity of the body I doubt ever really into it. The Lord will, I trust, direct the brethren, and, still more, the matter itself in London. It may be that common action there may not be spiritually enough for…
Independent churches would drive many out of communion, who are yet uneasy at London Bridge. I am not prepared to say it would not exclude me entirely. At any rate, the whole question is one of great import, and any rash action in it, or pressure of principles, unadvised. But I only take——’s action in it as an element in God’s ways. The communication of lists would be an outrage on conscience, if the gatherings are independent; the non-communication, a door to the relaxing of all discipline. The case at present is a practical difficulty; a rash solution of it might break up the brethren (if God allowed it) everywhere. For myself, I await the result, quietly trusting God, and as far as I may be given to do it, labouring for real unity. There is a tendency from circumstances to independent action. If independent churches are formed, of course I should not belong to them, or I should never have met at all as I have. Some have driven at this, but it was from the enemy. But serious brethren should weigh the consequences of a given course. Suppose independent churches were formed in London, and a considerable body of serious brethren declined forming part of them as a long settled conviction, the question would arise before all the gatherings in England—could they be received, or could those churches be owned by them.
We have had a most useful and happy conference in the snow at the Chaux-de-Fonds, which I left to-day for a week at Lausannt.
Lausanne, December, 1860.
* * * * *
[From the French.
It is remarkable that in the New Testament no one speaks of righteousness by faith, except Paul. I have found many souls who understand forgiveness, but who know nothing of the righteousness of God, and for whom the presentation of the day of judgment is often good as a touchstone, in order to see if they are really on the footing of divine righteousness in their relations with our good and faithful God.
June 19th, 1861.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—I have just received your letter, and thank God from my heart that He has strengthened you, body and soul. He is ever faithful, ever good. We can always reckon upon Him, whatever the case may be. His love changes not, and He is always thinking of us—wonderful it is, but true— and He numbers the hairs of our heads. Surely it is wonderful that the God of glory enters into all the details of our lives, and ever with our blessing in view—“He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous”—but He does’ enter into them, and “all things work together for good” to those who love Him. Remember me very kindly to Mrs. ——: may God bless your little one too. It is a care, surely, in such a world as this, but a care which God, if we trust in Him, can take, does in fact take as an occasion for fresh proofs of His faithfulness and His goodness. May God grant that you may both be faithful and may know how to bring him up for Him.
With regard to the —— matter, I look at it in a rather different light from the way in which it was told me, at least. Our dear brother F. told me a little of what had passed. I do not look upon the position of those sisters as excommunication. The assembly alone could excommunicate them; but when they said, to J. and others, that they did not wish to come, he was free to say, as his own opinion—and that of others, if they authorised him to say it—that that was their opinion. I do not say that it was a wise thing, or according to God, but that they were free to express their opinion as their opinion. If the flesh produced that opinion, it is clear that it was not according to God. But I do not think that a brother or sister has a right to withdraw, and return at their own pleasure. The assembly must have its word to say about it. It might be that the person who had withdrawn had committed all manner of sins during his absence. Therefore, if any one stands aside, the assembly must say whether it can receive the individual when he may wish to return. I hope, and I will say I have good hope, that this will be so, that the assembly will be blessed and re-established by grace. If it goes on in humility, arid in a spirit of dependence on grace, it will be so. If grace works in the hearts of these sisters, they will judge what has been of the flesh in themselves.
Perhaps——, having been accustomed to rule, may have shewn, on his part, a want of spiritual savoir faire. I am sure that your own part is to labour according to grace, and to communicate to souls what God has given you for them, at the same time feeding your own soul. Besides, that is what is far the best thing for the assembly itself.
I doubt its being God’s will to deprive a soul of the Lord’s Supper because it is in a bad state. The word says, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.” But if I saw a soul in a state as to conscience which sin had produced, and if he did not know where he was, I can, it seems to me, suppose a case in which I might advise a person to keep away until he was clear; but as a general rule, one cannot exclude people provisionally; it is only in peculiar cases that I could give this advice. Pastoral care is the remedy for a soul in a bad state, not temporary exclusion. This care is sometimes rather wanting amongst brethren, and instead of this expedients are used.
I think the “strangers” (3 John 5) were people who did not belong to the place, principally brothers (perhaps others), towards whom they exercised hospitality, and especially labourers for the Lord. Diotrephes would not have it. You can see that the second epistle warned the elect lady not to receive those who did not bring sound doctrine concerning the Person of Christ; the third encourages Gaius in his hospitality. I think that these were in general Christians—at the same time approving his hospitality as a whole (compare Heb. 12:2)—on account of what follows. Diotrephes would not have it, wishing to have the assembly to himself, and to break the link with the apostle and all the brethren.
As to the word “Gentiles,” Diodati writes the words “have gone out from amongst the Gentiles.” But this is not received by many, still there are very respectable names which accept it. I think John, like Peter, was still much attached to the Jewish cradle of Christianity; thus in 1 John 2:2, “our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” Paul himself does this very often, as in Galatians 3, where he uses “we” (Jews) “you” (Gentiles) “we” (Christians). I think it is rather a question of believing Gentiles than of unbelieving, but it may well be that they did not wish to take anything from their relations. The apostles considered the Jews (even the unbelieving ones) as brethren, not in the Christian sense, but in the national. Paul does this in his preaching. The Gentiles were only Gentiles, and it may be that Diotrephes would not receive labourers from among the Gentiles; and that these labourers were to be received (it was their title—amongst Christians, Jews by race) just because they would not receive anything from the Gentiles, their relations, unbelievers or otherwise… Good-bye, dear brother. May our good and faithful Father, full of love, be with you, encourage you, and keep you near to Himself; and in the enjoyment of the love of Jesus one is always happy, always encouraged.
Your affectionate brother.
* * * * *
To the same.]
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,—I am not sorry that the brethren have seen that they were wrong in their way of acting. This often gives the heart more confidence in acting, and in serving the Lord. I hope that the assembly will now walk in peace, and again look for the Lord’s blessing. The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace. It is not my thought at present to interfere, save by prayer, with the course of the assembly at——. There are times when we should leave it to the Lord to act. I trust grace will lead the sisters also to recognise that they were wrong. If the assembly walks in piety—that piety which flows from true communion—I think that is the chief thing just now; it gives, with humility, a firm judgment, and waits on the Lord, jealous for His glory, and seeking to do His will; does not say, “You are wrong and I am right”—where the “you” and “I” play the great part—but, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Moreover, until one is in this state of soul, it is impossible to walk rightly. To restore the soul, so that these souls, so dear to the Lord, may glorify Him, is our chief business. Not that the state of the assembly does not interest me, for I am deeply interested in its condition. If I had stayed in France longer, I should have been glad to spend some time at ——. It was there, too, principally that the work in the South began, when —— settled there, and there were only four women, formerly dissenters. But I do not see that a direct action just now where others are at work would be of any use whatever, at least in point of blessing. I rather wait for the action of God Himself. There are Christians on both sides, and I hope that grace will triumph in their hearts.
With regard to Italy; this is my position in this respect. When the work began at Florence, and certain persons were mixed up with it, and then some Italians, in consequence of the malicious talk of the Genevans, were frightened at the name of Plymouth Brethren, I felt that I could not act with them, and to raise questions for those inexperienced souls would have been cruelty. I could only commit the matter to God; but with patience the time for acting and witnessing for God comes, if we wait on Him. One grows weary of evil, and of what is of man, when there is the desire for Christ. I believe, though this may be a small thing, that time is dawning in Italy, but it is still—not to say always—needful to wait on God. One cannot but respond to the wants of faith. It is not like a first preaching of the gospel; but I believe wants are beginning to make themselves known; and I am sure that our good and faithful Master, and the God of grace will meet those wants; I have confidence as to this. Our brother —— is going there for his health. I hope he may be of use, though he goes there to recruit—God knows. However this may be, I believe God Himself will work.
I believe the neutral party is declining; in one or two places, worldly Christians take the place of something of this kind, and it flourishes, but along with much worldliness; still, in general we see that it breaks down, that they have not the power of God. Moreover, where it flourishes outwardly, souls in need of Christ leave them, and come amongst brethren. They try to sustain themselves by the activity of the revival, but it has no foundation. Conversions are numerous on all sides, and there is excitement, and even some of our brethren who are active in it are deceived in their hopes by counting up the conversions too hastily. This does harm in a measure, but all the same there is much of God in it. The work is somewhat superficial, but true conversions are very numerous. This need? care, for the meetings are increasing enormously, and these inexperienced souls must be established. This is my special work just now, and though I sometimes sigh a little to be preaching the gospel (with this, however, I am engaged at the same time) I am very happy in the work. Besides, in general the brethren are going on well, and there is life, and a brighter waiting for the Lord. If it were a question only of increase of numbers, we should be in a most flourishing condition, but I believe, through the goodness of God, there is much more than that. This engrosses the brethren. There is weakness, no doubt, but they experience the goodness of God. In Ireland there is much blessing.
Be of good cheer, dear brother; we must work for a little while, and with a strength which is not our own, but which is enough for everything; and we work under the eye, and encouraged by the goodness of Him whose love never fails us. Count upon Him, abide in Him, feed on Him; then work patiently on, according to the strength He gives you, “strengthened with all might according to his glorious power.” Remember me to —— and to all the assembly warmly. May God grant them to feed on the Lord continually, and to covet piety and communion with Him. I am away from home, and I see that I have not your last letter with me; if I find there is anything important in it, I will write from London.
Your very affectionate brother.
Rochdale, June 28th, 1861.
* * * * *
[From the French
Very dear Brother,—Through the multitude of my occupations, I had rather overlooked an important subject in your letter. This fresh breaking out of the doctrine of freewill ministers to the pretension of the natural man not to be entirely lost, for that is just what it amounts to. All who have never been deeply convicted of sin, all those with whom this conviction is based on gross and outward sins, believe more or less in free-will. You know that it is the dogma of the Wesleyans, of all reasoners, of all philosophers; but it completely changes the whole idea of Christianity, and entirely perverts it.
If Christ came to save that which is lost, free-will has no mere place. Not that God prevents man from receiving Christ far from it. But even when God employs all possible motives, everything that is capable of exerting influence over the heart of man, it only serves to prove that man will have none of it, that his heart is so corrupt, and his will so determined, not to submit to God (however much it may be of the devil who encourages him in sin), that nothing can induce him to receive the Lord, and to forsake sin. If, by liberty of man, they mean that no one forces him to reject the Lord, this liberty exists in full. But if it is implied that, on account of the dominion of sin of which he is the slave, and that voluntarily, he cannot escape from his condition, and choose the good—even while acknowledging it to be good, and approving of it—then he has no liberty whatever. He is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be; so that, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
And this is where we touch most closely upon the root of the question. Is it the old man that is changed, instructed and sanctified; or do we, in order to be saved, receive a new nature? The universal character of the unbelief of the present day is this: not formally denying Christianity, as in former times, or rejecting Christ openly, but receiving Him as a Person—they will even say divine, inspired (but as a matter of degree)— who re-establishes man in his position as a child of God. The Wesleyans, as far as taught of God, do not say that; faith makes them feel that without Christ they are lost, and that it is a question of salvation. Only their fear with regard to pure grace, their desire to gain men, a mixture of charity and of the spirit of man; in a word, their confidence in their own strength makes confusion in their teaching, and leads them not to recognise the total ruin of man.
As for me, I see in the word, and I recognise in myself, the total ruin of man. I see that .the cross is the end of all the means that God has employed to gain the heart of man, and, consequently, that it proves the thing to be impossible. God has exhausted all His resources; man has shewn that he was wicked, past recovery; the cross of Christ condemns man—sin in the flesh. But this condemnation having been expressed in that another has undergone it, it is the absolute salvation of those who believe, for condemnation, the judgment of sin is behind us; life came out of it in resurrection. We are dead to sin, and alive to God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Redemption, the very word, loses its force when we entertain these ideas of the old man. It becomes an amelioration, a practical deliverance from a moral state, and not a redeeming by the finished work of another. Christianity teaches the death of the old man, and his just condemnation, then redemption accomplished by Christ, and a new life, eternal life, come down from heaven in His Person, and which is communicated to us when Christ enters into us by the word. Arminianism, or rather Pelagianism, pretends that man can choose, and that thus the old man is ameliorated by the thing it has accepted. The first step is made without grace, and it is the first step which truly costs in this case.
I believe that we ought to keep to the word; but, philosophically and morally speaking, free-will is a false and absurd theory. Free-will is a state of sin. Man ought not to have to choose, as being outside of good. Why is he in that state? He ought not to have a will, any choice to make—he ought to obey, and enjoy in peace. If he has to choose good, then he has not got it yet. He is without that which is good in himself, at any rate, since he is not decided. But, in fact, man is disposed to follow that which is evil. What cruelty to propose a duty to man who is already turned to evil! Moreover, philosophically speaking, to choose, he must be indifferent, otherwise he has already chosen as to his will—he must then be absolutely indifferent. Now, if he is absolutely indifferent, what is to decide his choice? A creature must have a motive; but he has none, since he is indifferent; if he is not, he has chosen.
But, in fact, it is not so; man has a conscience, but he has a will and lusts, and they lead him. Man was free in paradise, but then he was in the enjoyment of good. He made use of his free-will, and consequently he is a sinner. To leave him to his free-will, now that he is disposed to do evil, would be cruelty. God has presented to him the choice, but it was to convince the conscience of the fact that, in any case, man would have neither good nor God. I have been somewhat oppressed with sleep while writing to you, but I think you will understand me. That people should believe that God loves the world is all right; but that they should not believe that man is in himself wicked beyond remedy (and notwithstanding the remedy) is very bad. They know not themselves, and they know not God. The Lord is coming, dear brother; the time for the world is passing away. What a blessing! May God find us watching, and thinking only of one thing—of Him about whom God thinks—Jesus, our precious Saviour.
Elberfeld, October 23rd, 1861.
* * * * *
[From the French.
I have owed you a letter for a very long time, my very dear brother, and have thought of writing, but being continually travelling, at conferences, and pressed by chamber work, your letter has remained among the unanswered ones. At length I take up my pen, and be assured that my silence has not been from want of good-will or of interest, for indeed your letter interested me much, as news of the brethren always does.
My stay of two or three days here, after a conference, gives me a little time to answer you. I know something of the “dolce far”—but of the “dolce far niente”—little comes to me. Still there is rest in God, and we do not fail to enjoy it, and there one has nothing to do but to enjoy; this gives strength, too, for work… Be of good courage, dear brother; in God’s appointed time we shall reap, if we faint not, for His strength is made perfect in weakness. Our brethren at——have a good deal of independence, but I have always found that with a little affection one could make one’s way happily with them. One could wish that there were a little more order sometimes; but there is a good foundation. However, it is Jesus who can do all, and His grace that does it.
…In connection with your work, dear brother, seek the Lord’s face and lean on Him. When the body is not robust one is in danger of doing it as a task, as an obligation, and the spirit becomes a little legal; or one yields to weariness, and is discouraged before God. Work is a favour which is granted us. Be quite peaceful and happy in the sense of grace; then go and pour out that peace to souls. This is true service, from which one returns very weary, it may be, in body, but sustained and happy; one rests beneath God’s wings, and takes up the service again till the true rest comes. Our strength is renewed like the eagle’s Ever remember, “My grace is sufficient for thee, and my strength is made perfect in weakness.” May communion with God be your chief concern, and the sweet relationships in which we are placed with Him. All is well when we walk in them; then we discern and judge everything, day by day, which hinders communion, and so the heart does not become hard nor the conscience blunted, and we readily enjoy those communications of grace which give strength. Yes, seek, above all, personal communion with the Lord.
As to your Italy; truly, dear brother, everything is very dark, and not for Italy alone, but for the whole earth. The world will soon no longer be enough for the ambition of man; but that will be checked by Him who has the right to do it. England, hitherto so prosperous, is in difficulty, like all the other countries. American affairs tend to her destruction; with France it is still more so; and also in Austria, Poland, and Turkey. Here the artisans are out of work. Then enormous preparations for war are being made everywhere. What a small thing is the wisdom of man! But what of that? The Lord is coming, and we belong to heaven. In the church there is neither Greek, barbarian, nor Scythian. We are Christ’s servants, sure of our Master’s victory, a victory which will give peace to the whole world; meanwhile —in the place where He has set us, witnesses to the peace which God gives even now. The love and grace of God which set us in close connection with heaven, fill our hearts, and we know how to carry to distracted and suffering souls that calm and peace which nothing in this world can destroy. We are not of the world, as Jesus was not of the world. Our life comes down from heaven and returns thither as to its source. Abide there, dear brother. It may be that in the world we shall have tribulation, but there is One who has overcome the world. May God in His grace keep all the brethren in this mind, so that at the least some may know how to bear the impress of peace upon their faces, because it reigns in their hearts, in the midst of this world of trouble and care for so many. Everything that comes to pass, comes to pass under God’s hand; not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him; He forgets nothing, nothing escapes Him. Then, too, the Lord is coming. Oh that His children thought of this! I believe that this truth has more practical power in the hearts of our brethren in England; God be praised for it. Conversions are still frequent, the meetings increase, and fresh ones are formed; there is a little more devotedness, and, I think, a good spirit and unity. There are some meetings which are ten times more numerous than they were last year, and others twice as numerous; and though there is more activity, and there was a time of peril for some who were in danger of being drawn into the current of the Revival, I believe the principles of brethren are dearer than ever to them. There is much which is superficial in this revival; more here than in Ireland, but many true conversions besides.
Your very affectionate brother.
Elberfeld, October 30th, 1861.
[From the French.
* * * * *
* * * The conviction that the same spirit which is at work here is working in France to popularise German unbelief, and that, consequently, it is an organised work of the enemy, has induced me to reply to the English publication which serves as the flag of the infidel party. I am engaged with it at present. The result of my examination has been, not only that the Bible has gained yet greater value in my eyes, but that I am fully convinced of the superficial spirit and falseness of the upholders of infidelity. Their knowledge is nothing but a bringing together of all the objections which are built upon suppositions and reasonings, without foundation. There is a want of conscientious investigation, which strikes one when one makes such oneself. There is nothing historical in their history. It is an unlimited confidence in the power of the human mind in these days (for until now people have always been mistaken), which is truly ridiculous. They think they are able to say that such and such a thing must be so, that such a period must be of such duration, &c.: that must be, or cannot be—never that is. The whole system of Bunsen, their Corypheus, is but a reproduction of Philo, the platonist Jew, with the name of Christ which they have attached to it, more or less, for appearance sake. They count the long lists of Manetho, the dynasties, and the great number of kings who have governed Egypt, and give them as an evident proof that the world has lasted, or must have lasted, twenty thousand years at least. When the monuments are examined, we find two, four, eight of these kings on one single monument, reigning together, one often subordinate to another. Then, the fact of being free from the grooves of old theology, without having faith, makes unbelievers of them. They knew only that routine; the ice is broken, and, having had nothing but that, nothing at all is left. Truth does not exist. They have seen that the old forms are not tenable, and nothing remains to them. I admit that one has to come out of the old forms, but we ought to bless God that, in place of forms, His grace has given us the truth; we have much to learn, without doubt —more to realise, but a divine certainty with regard to what we possess. What a sweet and peaceful thought!
… They have discovered what brethren, through grace, have discovered before them, that old things are passing away; they note the difference of character of the sacred writers, but they only touch the surface; and all that is of God, all that is connected with His wisdom, His grace, His goodness, they ignore, and are utterly without eyes to see.
London, December 3rd, 1861.
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * As to this article in the ——, I have not seen it, but I have a general idea of the doctrine it contains, and I hold it to be entirely false. Something similar—the same doctrine, only pushed to its furthest consequences—shewed itself (not amongst brethren, but outside), so that I have had to do with it. I believe these views are calculated to do much evil. There is a literalism which to me errs greatly in interpretation. Often the intelligence occupies itself too much with the word, without question of souls, and without having to do with souls, and it is speculation.
The passages in Matthew and Mark, and in Luke also, depict the rejection of the Jews, children of the kingdom according to the flesh, and the children according to grace, received. Also, to take the bosom of Abraham literally is nonsense. The idea of the bosom of Abraham is the best place, in the eye of the Jews. For the Jewish system, riches were proofs of blessing; but the Lord lifts the veil and shews the other world, but He depicts it from a Jewish point of view. For a Jew, Abraham was the head of blessing, and the poor man was the nearest to him, like John leaning on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper. If we take these passages literally, the wicked rich man ought to have a body (Lazarus also); then one drop of water ought to have been able to relieve him. It is real nonsense. Those whom we call the Fathers of the church amused themselves with the same speculations, which proves to me nothing more than this, that the sense of the passages has not been seized, nor, with regard to this, the bearing of redemption and of sin. Matthew 8:11, 12 does not apply to the time of the establishment of the kingdom on earth; it refers to being with Abraham who will be raised, on the one hand, and the Jews rejected on the other, which they will not be when the kingdom is established. If Matthew 13:42, 50 applies to the judgment of the reign, I reply, the judgment of the living is as final as that of the dead: Matthew 25:46 proves it. When we hold firmly fundamental truths, we are saved from these mistakes, which result from conclusions hastily drawn from passages which do not speak of it.
The case of the wicked rich man was certainly not the judgment of the kingdom, for it was immediately after his death. If Matthew 22:13 spoke only of a temporary judgment, no hypocrite would be subjected to any other; if this judgment is not temporary, then the whole system falls. But see the effect when parables which state general principles are used for the details which will accompany them: 1. There will be only one man judged. 2. All who profess the gospel must live till the end, and be judged on the earth. Further, thirdly, it is those who are called, not chosen; they are not saved, or verse 14 contradicts verse 11. All this is but to save themselves. In Matthew 25, the Lord says, “I know you not.” This is not so if they are only rejected for the kingdom. If they mean that those who are excluded from the kingdom will be judged all the same before the great white throne, Matthew 25:41, 46 shews that it will not be so.
Luke 13:24-30 proves the contrary of what is said. It is the total condemnation of those who had the pretension of being children, of having the kingdom by right, and the revelation of the admission of Gentiles… Naturally I can say nothing of the details, for I have not the article; but I understand the principle of this system, and I believe it to be entirely without foundation.
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[From the French.
* * * I tell you this news, because it is right that brethren should be interested in their brethren wherever they may be, so that they may pray for them. We do not count enough on the intervention of God, that He hears our prayers and that He acts, He who disposes of everything. So we do not bring Him enough the difficulties which spring up in the work. How many times have I found that in presenting all to Him, He has acted, in blessing by means that one could not have foreseen. Only, we must stay close to him. John was accustomed to be near Jesus, and when a solemn case arrives, he is in the position to ask of Him an answer, according to the intimacy of his trust in Him—confidence. We have no right to anything, but near Him we enjoy the communications of His love. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him.
In connection with what you tell me about evangelisation, be it of the appeal to souls, I am as far as possible from thinking it a low thing. A faithful brother, who had at heart the walk of the brethren, reproached me for devoting myself too much to it, more than twenty years ago. I have no regret, far from it; I feel that other brothers have a greater gift for it; but it is a joy to me, when God gives me the grace of being occupied with that part of the work. In these last times this work is of the greatest importance. Also, God has led many people into it. With some there is what is superficial, so that a work which acts more deeply in consciences becomes also necessary; but, here at least, it is as if God would urge souls into a place of safety before the end. Thank God, there is more zeal among brethren on that side also; but I believe that, in all times, blessing within is in the measure of the spirit of evangelisation. The reason is very simple. It is the presence of God which blesses, and God is love, and it is love which makes one seek souls. It is not at all to despise or neglect the care of souls that are christian. Nothing is more important in its place, but it seems to me that the two things go together where the love of God is found. Nor is it any more to neglect what are called the principles of brethren, principles to which I always attach the greatest importance, as the testimony of God in these last days. It is the word which makes me receive them as the truth at the beginning; experience has made me feel the importance of them for the whole church, and that in the sight of the Lord and as the testimony of God essential for these times. But God loves souls, and if we do not seek them He will set His testimony elsewhere. He loves us, I believe; but He has no need of us. May He give us only to be faithful to Him, and He will certainly bless us. His patience also is great.
London, January 23rd, 1862.
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[From the French.
Beloved Brother,— … With regard to——, what shall I say to you? It is all so painful. For my own part, the longer I go on, the more importance I attach to the judgment of the assembly, but I am deeply distressed for poor ——. I think that God is dealing with him also on account of his unyielding spirit, because his will is so little broken. He even boasted of never giving way. Now God is obliged to say, Well, I will make you give way. If not, He breaks us. But this troubles me, because he has been blessed, devoted, and has suffered for the Lord. But God wants that we should be submissive; and it is His grace. Will goes for nothing; we are worth nothing, and must recognise that it is all grace. I know for myself that if we yield to His grace, God is full of goodness. He does not take pleasure in correcting us, very far from that; He spares us a thousand times, and blesses us.
I was glad to hear, dear brother, that you are in better heart. Be so. If this courage springs from confidence in Jesus, it will never fail you. His strength is made perfect in weakness.
Remember me very affectionately to all the brethren. I had a little hope of visiting the South, but my eye has lost me a good deal of time.
I have now in prospect a voyage across the Atlantic, to visit the brethren in Canada. If I do not go there (for it depends, humanly speaking, upon a brother who is labouring in those parts), I may very likely see you again this year in France. If I go to Canada, I think we shall start shortly, in the course of this month. It is a long voyage for me at my age; but it is in the Lord’s service, and I am encouraged to undertake it. I should greatly like to see my dear French brethren again, but I know not whether or when God will grant me this joy. May He preserve them for the day of Christ. May He keep them in devotedness, humility, and the joy of communion with Him. My soul is much knit to theirs, and my prayers are for their eternal good.
May He bless you, too, dear brother. If God prospers me on my voyage, and if I have time to see the brethren, I think I shall return from Canada this year. There is much to do here and in Ireland, and there is, thank God, blessing in many places.
Your affectionate brother in Jesus.
London, July 2nd, 1862.
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To the same.]
[From the French.
Very dear Brother,—You are mistaken if you think I have looked upon you as a -drone; such an idea never entered my mind. I have sometimes thought that you were wanting in courage. I do not doubt that the opinion you gave of yourself may be correct. As to ——, I am not acquainted with the details;——had told me in a general way how the case stood. The whole story has been very painful to me, not only for the sake of the family (and I have felt this much), but also on account of——himself. He has been a devoted man; and has been in prison for the Lord’s sake. I think it a burden (or at least should be a burden) on every heart, to think that he is where he is now. I do not at all know just now what brought on the catastrophe, how the inquiry was occasioned, or the matter again brought forward. But we must look higher than the instruments. If the hand of God is .upon us, it is still His hand, always His hand in love—but His hand. I do not think that the evil that has been judged in this poor brother is the only thing which has compelled God to put him, a labourer— for he was one—under the rod. His unyielding spirit made discipline necessary; at least, so it seems to me. God would never have allowed the evil, but He could have brought a heart to bow, to repent, without bringing him forward before everybody, as He has done. And how many Christians who were falling has He treated with a tenderness and gentleness which man might have said they did not deserve, which they themselves have said and felt they did not deserve—for He does not delight in wounding us and breaking us down. Why has poor —— been more in public on account of his faults? It may be, that such an one has been the instrument, and that some have been embittered against him; but God holds all hearts in His hands. What I hope is that God in His grace, God who always acts in love, will work by this means, grievous as it may be, to soften this brother, to induce him to judge himself, to humble himself before God, and surely God will bless him; and this I desire with all my heart. It may be that God saw that it was necessary to treat this evil with rigour, lest it should take root. In every case, we must look at His ways.
I have formed no judgment as to your moving from ——. God guides us, and orders what concerns His beloved church, where the wisdom of man is wanting through our weakness, and even by means of our weakness, where the heart is right. I hope you may be blessed at——. I do not blame you at all if you give lessons. I desire with all my heart that God may send forth labourers into His harvest; but no one can go beyond his gift, and what he does beyond it can only be hurtful to himself, perhaps to others. Yes, I ask God to raise up labourers, and that there may be faith and devotedness—this I ask with all my heart. But I do not pretend even to form a judgment upon every case which arises.
You may be sure that I am deeply interested in the work, and so the activity of the labourers affects me closely; but I believe that our God keeps a strong hand over all, and my trust is in His goodness and faithfulness. Naturally when one is much interested in a thing, one thinks of all that happens. But I am accused of letting things take their own course too much. Still it seems to me that I trust in God that the work is His own. If I can help in that work, it is a favour which He confers on me, but I think that often when we wish to guide and govern too much faith is wanting…
Remember me affectionately to the brethren. If I do not start for Canada, I have some hope of seeing them. May God bless and keep your wife.
Your ever affectionate brother.
I have just had some very good meetings in the country, and the brethren generally are getting on well.
Bristol, July 27th, 1862.
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Dear Mrs. ——,—As regards Romans 11, it is clearly the root and tree of promise from Abraham. No saint before him became the head of a stock, so that they should be for blessing —children of such a thing. None answered to the converse of Adam the head of a fallen race. The promised seed was of course the one in whom all was made good, and so Gentiles come in according to Galatians 3. But there was a natural seed, to whom the possession of promise in this world was assured, and in whom it will be made good—that is Israel, and the apostle is shewing in this chapter that they are not cast off as a people. That stock of promise remains, but many branches have been broken off, and Gentiles have been graffed into their place, that is, of enjoyment of the promise on earth. But then the Gentiles are no natural seed, and draw their standing by faith. If they depart from this, if they do not abide in God’s goodness, they will be broken off as the Jews were (save the remnant), but the tree will abide still in the earth as the place of promise, and the Jews be graffed in as to their own olive-tree. It is quite evident that the olive-tree cannot be the church; that could not be the own olive-tree of unbelieving Israel who were cut off when it was set up. But the tree of promise was originally theirs; even Christ came of them as concerning the flesh. Nor has God cast them off, as this chapter is written to shew. Only they were set aside by their own rejecting the promises to be mere objects of mercy.
If there be anything these few words do not clear up, I shall be glad to write again.
Faithfully yours in Jesus.
To the same.]
* * * There is a principle which we must keep in mind in reading prophecy; that is, that the prophet takes up circumstances near his eye, and in which the faith of God’s people were then concerned, going on to ulterior and final events in which the government of God should be displayed and closed. The transition from one to another is not always at once perceptible: still, once the principle is recognised, it is generally easy to see where it passes from one to the other. A notable instance is in Joel, when a plague of caterpillars and other destructive insects prefigures the northern army at the end of the age, to which the prophet then turns, yet not losing sight of the question of earthly plenty, as you may see. Yet the language changes in chapter 1:15. It is abhorred before it was there. Yet in chapter 2 the images are kept up, and, chapter 3:24, 25, distinctly alluded to. In Isaiah 19 it begins with the present things: in verse 16 it begins to pass on to the ultimate events, taking present judgments as the image. The inroads of Nebuchadnezzar are the prefigurement and partially the commencement of final judgments, because all are part of the government of God, Chapter 20 is a special prophecy as to an earlier attack by Assyria on Egypt. Tartan, it appears, was a title, general, or some such thing. Sargon was, it seems, founder of a new dynasty just before Sennacherib…
Ever affectionately in the Lord.
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[From the French.
* * * Truth is eternal and love endures for ever; both are in our precious Saviour; let us hold them fast through grace. In these last days everything comes out more plainly as the dawn of the day draws on; I can say that the truth of eternal things has a reality that it has never had. Christ becomes more and more everything; the things which perish have only an appearance. We have always to fight, but that which is not seen is eternal, and is ours by grace. May Christ dwell in our hearts by faith…
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17 [“Practical Reflections on the Pealms.” See Collected Writings, vol. xvii p. 22.]