[From the French.
* * * The word is ever more rich and precious to me. I think it has opened to my soul, to my faith, of late as it has never done before. The counsels of God, and how we belong to heaven, every day become more real; and the place of the law appears more evident to me, both in what is connected with the righteousness of God, and as regards practice. The heavenly and divine character necessary to judge of all things is clearer and more real to me. Does one love his neighbour as himself? No; and this is the normal condition of nature; but one gives oneself for others, animated by a divine devotedness, such as was shewn in Christ. Doubtless, thus we would not fail in love to a neighbour; but what blessing! what privilege! See Ephesians 4:5, where you have the new nature and the Holy Spirit—then God, light and love, and Christ the pattern in these two characters, as elements of christian life. One feels how little one is when one thinks of it, yet it rejoices the heart. The doctrine of divine righteousness has also become clearer to me. Remark also how the Epistle to the Romans is divided in two at chapter 5:11: first sins, then sin; each of the two parts being complete.
March 30th, 1865.
* * * * *
* * * The cross and the crown go together: and more than this, the cross and communion go together. The cross touches my natural will, and therefore it breaks down and takes away that which hinders communion. It was when Peter rejected the thought of the cross that Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me:” it is with a rejected Saviour we have to walk. The whole system of the world is a stumbling-block to turn the heart from God—dress, vain show, flattery, even the commonest things which tend to elevate nature. All that puts us into the rich man’s place is a stumbling-block. Heaven is open to a rejected Christ. Remember this. God’s heart is set upon carrying His saints along this road to glory; He would have us walk by faith, and not by sight. Whatever tends in me to exalt the world that rejected Christ is a stumbling-block to others; in short, anything that weakens the perception of the excellency of Christ in the weakest saint.
Dearest -----,—I was very glad to hear of the brethren. Here I am only, in passage, for a few days with our brother ——, of whom you will have heard, to meet and also to read with a few to whom he has been blessed. I suppose we shall visit Boston… He would be more there at the centre of the work: but I dare say that the Lord sees it good he should wait for more maturity in himself, and the fuller sowing of seed, which (as I have said to others) is what is going on in America now. Gathering will come in its time.
In New York I have not hurried there, nor sought to do so, but the contrary. In general, those who get loose from systems here reject the immortality of the soul, or some such thing, so that one has to be very careful not to found on rottenness. I have been able, through mercy, to combat this with a measure of success in New York, so that there is at any rate progress. Still, hurrying would be rejecting the choicest among the soul§ seduced into this, or admitting the allowability of the doctrine. But the Lord, I cannot doubt, is working… The Lord surely led me there: may He only carry on His own work effectually. There are some precious souls, and, thank God, several of them getting clear. ——has been the ready instrument of a great deal of evil. But the Lord is ever faithful, and comes in in goodness and does good… I want no narrowness; I dread it; but simple faithfulness of testimony is what we must seek: narrowness is not a testimony, but a hindrance to it; but with looseness as to truth one has nothing to testify to. But then we must make the difference of wisdom, and of a law, and of want of their knowledge of position, and a bad conscience. Going about to hear preachers I believe a very unprofitable and positively injurious thing, but you could not make it a term of communion unless it were subversive of Christianity; but souls never make progress who do so. They hear what is inconsistent with truths they know, or a path they are bound to by God, and they lose their hold on truth instead of going on to more. It ends in uncertainty what truth is, and more or less indifference to it.
Peace be with you. Kindest love to all the brethren. May He keep them in the narrow path, and full of divine love and grace in it.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
West Townsend, Massachusetts, June, 1865.
My dear ——,—… I have just returned from Boston and Massachusetts. In general, it is difficult to speak of an unfinished work, but I feel thankful. I have often spoken of its being a sowing time here: it is so, but one finds so many wants, so sorrowful a state of the Church, that it astonishes, though I have believed and taught it nigh forty years, but it encourages. We never ought to be discouraged, because the Lord we trust in’ never fails, nor can. It is just in 2 Timothy, when all was in ruin and declension, that Paul looks for his dear son to be strong in the faith: there never is so good a time for it, because it is needed, and the Lord meets need. I have the strongest sense that all is breaking up, but that makes one feel more strongly and clearly that we possess a kingdom which cannot be moved…
I was at Boston for some days in the midst of their destructionists and annihilationists. The work gathers up those who did not let themselves be carried away, who had got out of sects, and who looked for the Lord’s coming—stops those just sinking in, and recovers some. It is rife everywhere, and spreading. One was delivered at our meeting at B.’s. They have a great deal more light than the sects on certain points and take this ground, the sects being in an awful condition about the country. In England they have not an idea of it. This helps; of course, honest-minded people are disgusted. But they apply all the Old Testament to these times; and when I have shewn that the judgments and destructions of the Old Testament were on earth, and that they had nothing to say to the matter (and they believe in these judgments), their grand array proved to be ignorance, and no more, and the foundations fell. This did every way much good: their whole relative position was altered. Their scraps of Greek and Hebrew I could meet, and their calculations of dates for the Lord’s coming only baffled them, and the word of God resumed its ascendency. But still it was only some deliverances, and an unfinished work. But a door was opened in Boston, and I was greatly begged to stay: one devoted man, I trust delivered from danger, having just now as I was leaving got a fine room, where he wants me to speak. But it is all like a garden wholly overrun with weeds, some plants set free, all half smothered, and the garden still a dreary scene, but I believe God at work… The world reigns everywhere, but that is without. The fact as to the state of things here is, great dread of leaving a church, and effort to increase the importance of a denomination, politics preached, the lowest means to get money for the churches, many hearts weary of it. The Millerites, or Second Adventists (but who fixed a year, first 1844, now I think 1868, but the world to be burnt up, and risen men on earth), picked up a large number of souls weary with the state of things, and pious. Most of these have gone into the denial of the immortality of the soul, very common everywhere, with Boston as a centre, and even the denial of all resurrection of the wicked, and pretty plain infidelity, the Lord’s divinity denied, &c, but many rejecting all this—godly scattered souls not knowing which way to turn. There is much to be done.
If I return now, as I suppose is probable, perhaps from Quebec, August 5th (our conference at Guelph is July 13), I should, if health and strength permit, think of being back for the States next summer, if our God so order it, though I begin a little to crave a measure of rest sometimes. However, I am getting used to the Atlantic, if used one can…
Here at New York it has been complete confusion… It is a work of patience, and I shall soon have to leave, but I am hopeful through the Lord. Could I work on quietly I should be full of hope; this also makes me think of returning. Doors are open, too, in Canada… It is difficult, with such a scattered, desultory work, to give anything very precise; were a positive work carried on, I believe a good deal would be done, but it would require great patience and firmness: discontented would be found, plenty; solid and founded in truth and caring for it as foundation in the fear of God, a good deal rarer. Still grace does its work, and I should be hopeful if the workman were such.
Kindest love to the brethren; it may be I may see them soon. If I do not, it is possible I may remain over winter, chiefly then, I suppose, in the States.
Ever affectionately yours in the Lord.
New York, June 23rd, 1865.
* * * * *
My dear Brother,—My answer has been delayed through constant work and absence from the house for evening meetings, &c, but I should gladly help you in this to the utmost of my power, for this doctrine is a deadly and demoralising heresy, or, rather, infidelity. I ever refuted it, but I never saw so much of it as latterly, at New York and Boston. It issues in denying responsibility and conscience, enfeebling in the most deadly way the sense of sin, the value consequently of the atonement, and ultimately the divinity of Christ. All do not go this length, and are unaware of it, but it has led thousands in America there. It is its just result. Some hold simple annihilation; others, though death is ceasing to exist, yet a resurrection for judgment, and then torment. The greatest part of their proofs are from the Old Testament; and the moment you know that the mass of their texts refer to temporal judgments on earth, all that part of the fabric comes down. Then they dodge to words in the New Testament: as if, for example, “destruction” means ceasing to exist. This is not true, as “Oh Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help.” In the original it is the same word where it is said, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” God can say, “I create and I destroy;” but otherwise it is used constantly for ruin in a general sense, as in the boat the disciples say, “Carest thou not that we perish?” They admit there can be no annihilation in nature, and do not like the word. Next, death never means ceasing to exist. Scripture speaks of casting the soul into hell after the body is killed; so, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, they subsist after death. They say that is a Jewish figure: I admit it; but it is a figure to shew how they subsist after death. Again, it is said in Luke 20, “For all live unto him”—dead men, but always alive to God. Besides, if it be then ceasing to exist, there is nobody to raise for judgment. The second death even is casting into the lake of fire, where they are tormented; that is, it is not ceasing to exist. They say eternal life and eternal death does not mean eternal. This is not true; eternal life and eternal punishment are spoken of together, and it is the regular force of it in scripture—“The things which are seen are temporal, and the things which are not seen are eternal.” Nothing can be plainer than that. So we have “the eternal God,” “the eternal Spirit,” “eternal redemption,” “eternal inheritance,”— all contrasted with time.
What is morally dreadful in it is the weakening of the sense of sin and atonement. For if my sin only deserved death, Christ had only to bear this for me which hundreds have borne besides: sin becomes little and atonement nothing. Hence a vast number speak of what Christ obtained for us by His death, but drop the atonement for our sins as of no consequence. Again, if death means ceasing to exist (and this is the basis of all their statements), then Christ ceased to exist: this leads many on to deny His divinity (I do not say all, though it is far the greatest number in America). If they say, “No, He was a divine Person, He did not,” still He was a true man, body and soul, and truly died; and death does not mean ceasing to exist. Further, this materialism as to the soul is entirely contrary to scripture. In Genesis the way man is created is carefully distinguished from beasts. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: this He never did to the beasts. Hence Adam is called the son of God, and Paul declares we are the offspring of God. Hence to liken our soul to the beasts is false; besides what I quoted from the Gospels as to its subsistence after death. The one text, “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment,” proves demonstratively that we subsist after death. Death dissolves our present state of existence, but that existence does not cease at all. So far from death being the full wages of sin in this sense, it is after death we get all we are adjudged to. That is, death as to the body is the result of sin here; the judgment of the man, to receive the real consequences of it before God, comes altogether after it. Hence there is a resurrection of the unjust, a resurrection to judgment. Remember, we conceive of eternity as prolonged time; that is, we do not conceive it at all. It is an eternal Now. And this is the very definition of the word given by writers of the apostles’ time.
I have thus, dear brother, given you rapidly, as far as a letter allowed, the way the question has actually come before me, and my reply. The effect in destroying responsibility was fearful and, in people with grosser habits, rejection of all truth and immorality. The tree was bad, had a bad sap, and so was cut down, and there was an end of it. Where are sin and atonement there? One, the most eminent, quiet and most guarded (who had learnt much truth from brethren in England, and a very popular preacher), said, he believed that the elect were the only souls God meant to exist; the rest were the fruit of man’s lust after the fall. When asked how he would reconcile the doctrine of this perishing of souls simply bad and responsibility as stated in scripture, he said he could not, but, as he found it there, he did not deny it. But he was wholly a materialist as to the truth of a soul; he would not call it material, but it is born by mere physical generation. I regret to have to refer to such things. Keep your mind simple if you can by grace, and receive what scripture says in simplicity as it stands. I think I have some tracts on it, but written when I had not tracked it out as I had to do in America, particularly New York and Boston but elsewhere too. Thank God, several were delivered and found clearly it was Satan’s power, others arrested who were in danger. I will look up the tracts to send them.
Your affectionate servant and brother in Christ.
* * * * *
Beloved Bbother,—This matter of —— is a matter of profound sorrow and of humiliation to me. If anything goes wrong I feel my own fault in it. Surely if one had been more faithful, such would not come upon us… It is all deeply humbling… There is no good in neglecting evil, and if it is brought before us of God we should look into it, not suffer sin upon our brother, but besides, the Lord not to be grieved by it. It is not that I have any gift for it; I shrink from such things; but I know it is right. But I am so glad you have been with the brethren… We carry with us what is to produce the fruit, and must not expect to find it or anything, save the Lord’s opening the door: that, indeed, we must have. If you have that, take courage. But though not often at——, I have felt it deeply, because it affects the whole fellowship of saints in Canada—us all.
Here things are going on with wonderful rapidity towards the end, though I know it is limited by the Lord’s having gathered out His own, short or long as is needed for that. But it is a time not hard to discern; men’s minds unsettling from what seemed established, and the question before us for faith, How far is there power to gather? I do not a moment doubt the power of Christ nor His faithfulness. He will surely gather His own for Himself. But we ought to manifest His glory. This is what we must seek. The brethren are going on well, here really very much so. Only they want a little stirring up in some places, and there is lack of labourers—their numbers greatly increased. But when one sees the immense mass afloat just now, and the rising power of evil, what is it? But there is One sufficient.
I have felt deeply our position latterly. —— wanted to publish a series of my papers, and I had to look over them. And I found tracts I had wholly forgotten, written thirty-three to thirty-eight years ago—all the truth as to the principles on which the fate of the world now hangs, I doubt not at all, put clearly out. Things have ripened, but that is all. But it shewed God so clearly in it, it affected me from Him deeply. I felt the ground and work was of God so clearly. It made me feel a poor workman, but God’s light—divine light on the path. It is a solemn thing, the rather from feeling such impotency still in carrying it out. Who can move such masses? I know God can propagate in a moment: He would not perhaps concentrate, so as not to have it His own work. We are too narrow-minded; still we ought to look for gathering power. I see a difference when I began. I was content to get the blessed position, and with two or three enjoy it in the freshness of the truth and Spirit of God. But now I would see all the Lord’s gathered before He comes. I have not, I can say, a thought of self, or “he followeth not with us” in it, but that His should be gathered to Him. Oh for more devotedness, more consecration to His glory, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be manifested in our mortal bodies. But the path is simpler. Christianity is what it is, and the world, superstitious or infidel, takes its place: Christianity takes its own. The breaking up used to try me, but Christianity never breaks up. We have a kingdom which cannot be moved. May we serve Him with reverence and godly fear. I must close. I have found the Word very precious all these times.
Ever affectionately yours.
* * * * *
[From the French.
* * * Have I spoken to you of the division of the Epistle to the Romans, which has taken up my thoughts much of late? With verse 11 of chapter 5 the first part of the epistle closes, in which the apostle is occupied with sins; chapter 3, the blood; chapter 4, the resurrection for us. At verse 12 of chapter 5 it is a question of Adam and Christ, and thenceforward of sin: not only Christ has died for us, but we are dead; chapter 5:1-11, the result in joy of one of these truths; chapter 8, of the other. In chapter 8 our position is more excellent, but in chapter 5, it seems to me, God is more known in grace, or rather more known in Himself; but the great point is, sins and sin.
There is another thing, which has been of great blessing to me in thinking of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Responsibility depends on the revelation that God makes of Himself: the Creator, a God of goodness, with Adam; the Lawgiver at Sinai; now, perfectly revealed in Christ. In Ephesians 4, the new man, the Holy Spirit—subjectively. In Ephesians 5, imitators of God in love; to walk in love, as Christ hath loved us, and has given Himself for us, to God—not to love as one loves oneself, but to give oneself absolutely for, but (in order that the motive be perfect) to God. We behave as “imitators of God,” as His dear children. One of the two names of that which God is, is love; only we are not love, for God is sovereign and absolute in love—He is God. The other name is bight: we “are light in the Lord.” Christ is the measure in both cases. “As Christ has loved us;” “Christ shall give thee light.” What a practical position in grace! How miserable one is if not a Christian!
All depends on the fact that we are dead and risen, and that as receiving Christ who is. In His death He met all our responsibilities as children of Adam responsible in this world; but He has gained for us a place, according to the counsels of God before the world was. Compare 2 Timothy 1 and Titus 1, where it is no question of our responsibility, but of the purpose of God; only, inasmuch as we are a purchased people, we see that it is by the value of the act of Christ that we are so, by His sacrifice on the cross, which has fully glorified God.
October 10th, 1865.
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My dear Brother,— … I am in no hurry when a candlestick is put out: God has His own time for lighting it up again. I know I am very slow in discerning people and evil. Certainly I have the kind of charity which thinketh no evil, though it is in danger of being spoiled in a long life. But I feel more when I have got to a conclusion. They have all need of thorough breaking down there… .
I entirely feel with you as to the gathering power. It is a great point now, but the Lord is sufficient and faithful—cannot fail His church. Brethren ought to be an adequate centre of communion for conscience, if it be not power to draw. I look for no rebuilding, but I do look for gathering, though there be little strength. But this must be grace, and that of the Lord.
I purpose (D.V.) coming to Ireland, but I am beset with calls, and plenty of work here. May the gracious Lord guide me in His goodness. I have some twenty unanswered letters, though I have written many daily in this fortnight’s tour to the west I have made.
As to Bethesda, in spite of every effort, many have got out, and many are uneasy. The denial of the church and of the Spirit tries greatly many of them, and the low state and evident want of principle in B. itself. They will say anything to keep people, but by patience, those that are conscientious, through grace, get clear.
Ever affectionately yours.
Ryde, October 12th, 1865.
* * * * *
To the same.]
My dear Brother,—I am not ignorant altogether of the fact that there are such gatherings in the West… But I have distinctly felt that the path of faith, and so my path, is to wait on the Lord’s leading, and not to follow or give way to any restless anxiety which might arise in my own mind if I were not kept by grace in faith. I serve Him, and if Lazarus were dying, must await His sending, and the more serious I feel the case, I wait on His guidance. I cannot doubt the activity of the enemy. But in these last days for true good, sometimes quietness is our true security and strength. Many of those more or less involved in Bethesda in England are getting uneasy. I know too how some entangled here were done mischief to there. It is a solemn time, and the enemy very busy: looseness is easier to the human mind than conscience. Besides, those active in the movement here have not yet either the principles through possession of which they can judge of the evil, nor the facts either; they have made progress in the former. But in general they do not seem to know what the Church is. Some feel all so ruined that isolation may be called for, or fancied isolation, for they have seen it is so when examined. All this does not hinder my being delighted to meet them when God so orders it. As to the evil, I have no kind of doubt of that. We have now seen the fruits, as long ago I judged the root for myself. I am quite ready to meet any one who wishes it.
Ever affectionately yours in the Lord.
Dublin, November 8th, 1865.
* * * * *
To the same.]
My dear Brother,—As regards immersion, I have a little doubt from 1 Corinthians 10:whether it was strictly dipping; but I do not think it was originally sprinkling. In the English system, at first, it was only allowed on certifying weakness in the child. In the Greek it is not allowed at all. Buried and death is the idea which implies something like immersion—at least, going into the water, and then being covered with it by pouring, as was in the sea and the cloud. But I should not think of repeating a bonâ fide baptism because of the greater or smaller quantity of water, any more than I should think I had not taken the Lord’s supper if the pieces had been partially cut up before celebrating the supper. But I should follow what I believed the fullest figure of the truth when I could.
As to the formulary, the variation in the terms, eij" the name of Jesus, the Lord Jesus, Jesus Christ, are a plain proof that these words are not the formulary at all, which I think our good friends have overlooked. Next, remark that they had no direction to baptise at all, save the commission in Matthew (though at the same time that was only to the Gentiles). But as none other is given, I always use that of Matthew—yet invariably, before this question arose, bringing in the special recognition of the Lord Jesus, as the One to whom the child was as baptised. But there is little scriptural light on the subject, our place being the gathering of the faithful into the consciousness of their place in the midst of a great baptised house. St. Paul was not sent to baptise, so that we have, as united in one Body, no commission. It is not abrogated, and we take it up as we find it, as Paul did. The attempt to set right this way fails. Peter and the others began, even with Cornelius—namely, a Gentile—with the names of the Lord. Yet the command as to the nations, of which this was the first specimen, is in Matthew 28. Samaritans, who were not Jews, were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus, and it is hard to see how they went clean against Matthew 28, even if baptism of the Jews is said to be another, which I cannot admit, because “there is … one baptism.” Hence I conclude that “the Lord Jesus,” “Jesus,” gives merely the thought and bearing of the baptism—that it was in His name, under His authority and owning Him it was done—but “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” the full truth to which they were baptised. It is by Him we have the knowledge of the Trinity; the Father and the Holy Ghost through and with Himself. That which some took up, that the commission of Matthew dropped and Paul’s began afresh for the Gentiles, has no application here, because Jesus Christ, and the Lord, are used before that was the case. Acts 2:38 shews it began thus. But the name of Jesus Christ is only as owning Him and by His authority—the confession of Jesus Christ. Here it is ejpiv, not eij"; in other places eij", as chapter 8:16; ejn, chapter 10:48, shewing, I judge, that it was more the nature and purport of the baptism than the form. Hence, my habit is to immerse unless there is special hindrance, or, at any rate, standing in the bath pour water over them, using both the name of the Lord Jesus, and the words of Matthew 28. I am not aware of any special connection of the term Lord and (the) House; Lord and servants seems to me the more scriptural correlation. The importance is that it is individual, which is not without its weight. We are a habitation of God through the Spirit. Christ is as Son over the House, but that is another idea from Lord, though of course He be Lord of all.
Of course, it should be by a Christian. I may not reject or repeat what has been done bonâ fide in christian profession nor seek individual judgment of the state of souls when it was done. But clearly it ought to be done in faith, true prayer, and on the part of the Lord in His name; and who should do that but a believer? I should most assuredly seek the baptism of my child by a believer and none else. I do not say it is not valid else when done, but it is not what I would seek, or accept when I had to seek it.
As regards Sligo, &c, I have more difficulty in answering; but my difficulty is ignorance of facts, and unwillingness to precipitate anything where God is evidently working most graciously—a great lesson to learn. I have no wish at all to enfeeble the distinct ground on which we stand—far from it. I believe God has owned it, and, while exercising our faith, is judging the course the others have pursued. I should hold steadily the ground I am upon; but I desire to have my heart as large and helpful to any of God’s children as possible. These brethren in general have avowedly broken with B——, so that, as far as I know, as to most of them at any rate, I should have no ground to refuse them. But some have not got on ground on which they could be on any solid ground in the path in which we walk; but they have made and are making evident progress, and I wait to see the result, as they are very wisely doing to see their path… If they were ignorant and had mistaken thoughts, I should not impute it, but the earnest effort of many who walk ill is to be acknowledged on neutral ground. I should not accept being drawn into that. I would not force a decision on ignorant persons who had not the principles on which to decide. But there is also an effort to keep a lawless liberty to do what people like (I do not mean there, but around), independent of the general action of the church of God, in which I never should acquiesce. I should gladly associate with these gatherings if they are right or ignorant. But I am wholly reluctant to get on ground which admits of defilement, and when I have got clear of corrupting evil, get mixed up with it again. Of course, if I had to act myself, I should inform myself sufficiently on the subject to be able to judge, and trust the Lord to guide me. I am not at all sorry not to be called upon. All this, I am quite aware, says nothing, save principles and motives, but as I stated, I am not sufficiently informed of facts to do anything else. I should desire to be in communion with them, but I should utterly deplore any feebleness or inconsistency of walk as to faithfulness to the Lord, and, as I said, get defiled over again and loose, when we had cleared ourselves to His glory and got to walk uprightly if feebly. Such I desire still to be my walk. There is a great effort to have looseness and man instead of the Lord, but it is rapidly acquiring its true character.
I feel the question as to S——, &c, a very serious one before the Lord. The last thing I should desire would be to reject them. It would be a sin not to seek otherwise. I only look for care that we do not slip into looseness as to the Lord’s honour; for those who know the difference it is all as one as irrecoverable. You should look much to the Lord. Had I to take up the question, I should set about it with the desire to be in union, but carefully watching that I did not myself go out of the principles I hold to be those of Christ’s truth. Further, I perhaps might not have to go, leaving the process of clearing others to God. Love to all the saints.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
* * * * *
Beloved Brother,—You were surely right in thinking I should be interested in your work, and our dear Indian brethren. Most rejoiced am I at the blessing: may we rejoice with trembling, yet without distrusting Him who watches over the flock I must write briefly, for I am occupied incessantly, and—but that all things are simple with the Lord—anxiously: everything is in movement here.
The first thing would surely be to have the New Testament, yet it is difficult without being master of the language, a word makes such a difference sometimes; but, if you can do it, certainly I would try bit by bit the most important parts that could bring them on, as Romans, Ephesians, Luke and John; then Hebrews and 1 John. Hymns are more important than we often suppose, because the affections get engaged religiously with what is incorrect; so that if you could, I would translate the ones we have; if not possible, I would correct the others, which at any rate would hinder a part of their associations of heart with false doctrine. Such very often are the expression of, and stop the heart at, an inferior state of soul…
I am in Ireland for the moment. Many have worked about, independently formed gatherings, or others after them; know little of the unity of the body, though some have now learned it. There is a great deal of looseness and good nature in Irish habits of thinking, and loose meetings, besides the Bethesda, neutrals but loose and bad enough. This most have quite escaped, but it had and has complicated matters, because many inquirers who have no principle do not know where to go. Many admit we are right, but are afraid of committing themselves: of course, those who like looseness work hard at these. I prefer keeping quiet, assured I am on right ground, and waiting on the Lord to teach them; but one day I was from half-past eight in the morning to nine at night talking, with only an hour’s intermission, glad the last hour and a half to lecture, for I was simply bringing out Christ. But we have very nice reading meetings, crammed with inquirers: the movement and stir is remarkable, and of course opposition bitter enough sometimes. The reproach is on our meeting, of course, but that is well: anything loose or evil, says the world, but that. The brethren, thank God, are going on nicely; the meetings happy; the sense of the Lord’s presence there. I should be glad to abide longer, but I suppose I must run to Edinburgh for a while, where the doors are open, and numbers, as well as at Glasgow, much increased. Systems are breaking up—that every one sees. I think more zeal and devotedness in the brethren here would not have left the field open for everything as it is. In Dublin there is a large gathering; still all was, save just there, for a long time a good deal asleep on every side, and when the awakening came, all had to be formed as it were, and the church little known; even with Bellett it was the family. The dead state of neutrals is owned on all hands, and where there is life they leave, or are very uneasy, which sometimes shews itself in anger against me, but several of those amongst them have learnt what the church is, and are very unhappy at seeing it held among us, and denied among them. One looks up to the Lord and trusts Him.
The brethren in Canada must forgive me if I have not written to them as much as I would; I always long to hear from them. Your own letter interested many; they are interested naturally at the thought of Indians making head among themselves. I have not yet been able to read all the letters I have: this fortnight I have answered sixty. The last volume of Synopsis is finished. John is out and Acts partly with the printer. I have gone through the whole of Church History, Popes and councils —what a history! How good the Lord is, but how it throws the church of God outside, in one sense, all that is called so. But things are riper than you are aware of, I think, in Canada. Grace and peace be with you, dear brother…
Affectionately yours in our blessed Lord.
Dear Trotter is gone to the Lord. As to mere numbers, they are very largely increased. I write with scarce a moment.
* * * * *
To the same.]
My beloved Brother,—Our letters have about crossed, but I take up my pen by reason of the question you raise as to the bride: more than one has been raised on it, some applying it wholly to the earthly Jerusalem. It may not be our highest position, and may be connected with a help-meet in the kingdom when all was subject; its distinction, however, from the earthly Jerusalem is clear. On the other hand, the main point is the distinction of the body: that is our own proper place connected with and founded on the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God. I have therefore no conscious a priori objection, if it be not the habits of thought which always exercise some influence, and particularly when one is an old man,, more fixed than recipient, and I am not young. But I have not yet been able to make the bride the Lamb’s wife other than the church. The Book of Revelation decides nothing absolutely. It says, “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” and, “the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” If the nations of those who are saved, who walk in the light of it [are] contrasted with the kings of the earth, that indeed would decide the matter, and shews Abraham’s place, which has made a difficulty to some minds; but this I could not affirm. Still, up to the present, I am not able to see anything else but the church. The contrast with Babylon, and His wife having made herself ready, seems to point out the present period in contrast with church corruption.
The espousing to Christ, to which you refer, points to the same thing, but I hardly see how Ephesians 5 can be taken otherwise, for surely it points to the present relationship of Christ as Christ, which can hardly apply to the Old Testament saints when He was not Christ at all—the nourishing and cherishing it, as a man his own flesh, for we are members of His body, we are of His flesh and of His bones. This in every way connects itself with Christ become man, and though, as you urge, the church is not termed wife, because in fact that marriage is not come, yet surely it goes from the thought of this relationship, and refers to the relationship of Eve, and connects the thought of membership of the body with being of His flesh and of His bones; that is, the body and the wife. The body is not de facto more complete than the wife, though no doubt present union of members exists with the Head. The marriage is clearly future. Still Ephesians 5:seems to me to identify the body and the wife. Bride is not a leading Pauline thought, but Old Testament and figurative. Union and membership is actual and real. Hence we do not find the bride so much in Paul, but in Revelation, which goes on prophetic ground, but transfers to heaven the images of prophecy. But I do not think the twelve tribes shew Israel—no more than the angels, angelic beings—making part of the city: both I esteem characteristic. The providential power administered by angels, and direct government of Jehovah, as well as apostolic foundation, characterise the church, not so much Paul as the twelve, even so. Abraham’s looking for the city does not exactly make him to be the city: it is another line of thought…
The agitation is very great in these countries, even in England. There is recrudescence on the Bethesda question, though but little as yet, but in Ireland and Scotland plenty; many being in movement, and leaving the Establishment, and in Ireland many meetings being formed without much knowing what they are about, through the labours of young men very hot against the Establishment, rather revivalist, and hitherto knowing nothing of the unity of the body; but there is progress—pretty decided as to breaking with evil, but not yet aware of its craft, so as to assure one they will keep it out; but the Lord is faithful. The brethren are going on happily enough, both in England and Ireland, and there is general growth and peace, though infirmity here and there.
Ever affectionately yours in the blessed Lord.
* * * * *
[From the French.
Beloved Brother,— … The better I understand your position, the more clearly I see that you have nothing to do but to remain quietly where you are just now. Sowing is not reaping; it is not the season for reaping, the plants would be plucked up without any fruit, but to have the harvest we must sow. This is what I felt in Ireland: they wanted to see those who. were separating themselves from nationalism come amongst brethren all at once; for my part, I tried to enlighten them; they had neither the principles nor the facts—for Bethesda, which was opening its arms to them, was in question—nor had they faith to bear the reproach of Christ. I waited; already there is much progress… Some are quite clear, others in the way of getting on. I am thinking of going back there; but, while following duty we can leave God to act.
…You have only to keep up your relations with those brethren by presenting the truth to them in a clearer way, and allowing it to work in their hearts, committing the result to God; you cannot, I believe, do a more useful work for your country at present. In the disputes in which —— and —— have involved Christians, you have only to go on with your work, while keeping yourself entirely outside everything; it is sad, but our place is an outside one: “the fruits of righteousness are sown in peace.” This may leave us, for the time being, very few; but it leaves us with God: only pray much for the poor sheep. Your position is the best possible one, but that it may be so, you need to love these poor souls much, without giving up the sure ground of Christ; if one did that, what good would it be to be interested in them? I bless God you are there.
May your work be positive and not controversial, as far as possible, so that those who have heart for the Lord may get on. Devotedness and faith are the chief things nowadays: there is movement enough, what is wanting is what answers needs; supply this as far as you can according to the requirements that come before you, and be content to sow, happy if you reap; the Lord says, “One soweth and another reapeth;” if we are doing His work we shall reap in His time, if we do not grow weary… I am overwhelmed with work, but it is all right. Keep near the Lord, He will give you strength; He renews our strength: we go from strength to strength, His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He is ever good, ever faithful: “He withdraws not his eyes from the righteous.” …
Yours affectionately in Christ.
London, January 23rd, 1866.
* * * * *
Dearest ——,— … All is still movement here, meetings sometimes twice a day. But I am going to the south of France for a meeting of labouring brethren. [Vergèze, March 17.] There has certainly been latterly a strong desire for the word of God. The loose principle is in conflict everywhere with upright submission to the Lord, still it seems to me that the Lord is working in consciences as to it.
All, I believe, of the evangelists here have entirely broken with B. and its representative here; but there is uncertainty in several what to do. In some, a kind of helplessness as to any discipline; but in all such, I think, non-recognition of the church of God and its action; and in some, more evident lawlessness or self-will (I speak as a principle), often arising from a desire to win A. or B., but never godly submission of mind. But there is progress in all, and one has to keep one’s heart large, and look for their good: they began apart, and I seek their progress, that their work may be sound in itself, so that they may not be open to the evils of want of principle— union, as far as possible, and consistency is our own walk as a body—and look to the Lord to carry all this out. I speak of what I keep before my mind, while following the word in my own path, for with their sphere of work I have had nothing to do; but the progress of the active ones is very decided. Still, it is a narrow path, but a narrow path is a simple one if you are ready to serve others, and to do only what you have to do.
… The Lord’s goodness is ever near and true.
Ever affectionately yours.
Dublin, February 23rd, 1866.
* * * The point I take to be fatally dangerous is confounding private judgment and conscience. We see the full-blown fruit of it in the present state of Protestantism, where private judgment is used to authorise the rejection of everything the individual does not agree with.
The difference is plain in the case put. A father’s authority is admitted. Now if it be a matter of conscience, Christ’s authority or the confession of His name, of course this cannot stand in the way. I am bound to love Christ more than father or mother. But suppose I reject my father’s authority for everything my private judgment differs in as to what is right, there is an end of all authority. There may be cases of anxious inquiry as to what my duty is, where spiritual judgment alone can come to a right judgment. This is the case in the whole christian life. We must have our senses exercised to discern good and evil—to be riot unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is; and such exercises are useful. But the confounding a judgment I form simply as to right with conscience is, in result, confounding will with obedience. True conscience is always obedience to God; but if I take what I see as sufficient, confusion of a deadly character soon comes in. Does one not submit to a father’s authority unless he can bring, even in an important matter, a text of scripture for everything he desires? Is there no setting up of self and self-will in such a principle?
But I go farther; and it is the case in question. Suppose in an assembly a person has been put out for evil. All admit that such, if truly humbled, should be restored. The assembly think he is humbled truly; I am satisfied, suppose, that he is not. They receive him. Am I to break with the assembly or to refuse subjection to their act, because I think them mistaken? Supposing (which is a more trying case to the heart) I believe he is humbled and they are satisfied he is not, I may bow to a judgment I think erroneous and look to the Lord to set it right. There is such a thing as lowliness as to self, which does not set up its own opinion against others, though one may have no doubt of being right.
There is another question connected with it—one assembly’s act binding another. I do not admit, because scripture does not admit, independent assemblies. There is the body of Christ, and all Christians are members of it; and the church of God in one place represents the whole and acts in its name. Hence, in 1 Corinthians, where the subject is treated of, all Christians are taken in with the assembly at Corinth as such; yet this last is. treated as the body as such, and made locally responsible for maintaining the purity of the assembly; and the Lord Christ is looked at as there; and what was done was done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is wholly ignored when one speaks of six or seven clever, intelligent Christians, and a number of ignorant ones. The Lord in the midst of the assembly is set aside. The flesh, it is said, often acts in the assembly. Why assume it does, and forget it may in an individual?
Again, why speak of obeying the Lord first, then the church? But supposing the Lord is in the church? It is merely setting up private judgment against the judgment of an assembly meeting in Christ’s name with His promise (if they are not, I have nothing to say to them); it is simply saying, I count myself wiser than those who are. I reject entirely as unscriptural the saying, “First Christ, then the Church.” If Christ be not in the church, I do not own it at all. I assume that the church has not Christy making them two parties. I may reason with an assembly, because I am a member of Christ, and hence of it—if it is one, help it. But if I own to it as an assembly of God, I cannot assume Christ is not there. It is simply denying it is an assembly of God. The thought is wanting of what an assembly of God is. This is not surprising; but it necessarily falsifies judgment on the point, which is not “if the word”— but if I see not the word for it. It is just trusting one’s own judgment as against others and the assembly of God.
I could not for a moment put a question of blasphemies against Christ on such a ground. It is really wickedness. The attempt to cover them by church questions, or by pleas of individual conscience, I abhor with a perfect abhorrence.
Allow me to put the question as to minor questions in another shape. Suppose I am of another assembly, and I think they judge something in a mistaken way, am I to impose my individual way of thinking on them ? If not, what am I to do? Leave the assembly of God if it be such (if not I do not go there)? You cannot help yourself. If I do not continue in an assembly, because it does not agree with me in everything, I can be of no assembly of God in the world. All this is simply a denial of the presence and help of God’s Spirit and of the faithfulness of Christ to His own people. I cannot see godly lowliness in it.
But if an assembly have judged as such in a case of discipline, admitting all brotherly communications and remonstrances, I distinctly say another assembly should, on the face of it, receive their act. If the wicked man is put out at Corinth, is Ephesus to receive him? Where then is unity? where the Lord in the midst of the church? What led me out of the Establishment was the unity of1 the body: where it is not owned and acted on, I should not go. And of independent churches I think quite as ill, or worse, than of the Establishment. But if each assembly acts independently of another and receives independently of it, then it has rejected that unity—they are independent churches. There is no practical unity of the body.
But I shall never be brought to such wickedness as to treat acceptance of blasphemers as an ecclesiastical question. If people like to walk with them or help and support the bearing with them at the Lord’s table, they will not have me. I distinctly judge, that the principles defended shew want of lowliness as to self and a setting aside of the very idea of the church of God. I am not going to mix the two questions. I do not accept the setting aside my spiritual liberty: we are a flock, not an enclosure. But in questions of discipline, where no principle is denied, I do not set up my judgment against that of the assembly of God in that which God has committed to its care. It is just setting myself up as wiser, and neglecting God’s word which has assigned certain duty to an assembly, which He will honour in its place.
Let me add, there is such a thing as obedience in what we do know, which goes before speculating on possible claims in obedience, where we should like to be free to go our own way. “To him that hath shall more be given.” Doing what we know in obedience is a great way of knowing further.
Again, “the bond of unity between the churches is said to be the lordship of Christ.” But there is not a word about churches [when we speak of unity], nor bond of churches; nor does unity consist of union of churches. Lordship is distinctly individual. Nor is Lord of the body a scriptural idea. Christ is Lord to individuals, Head to the body, over all things. Unity is not by lordship. Of course, individual obedience will help to maintain it, as all godliness will; but unity is unity of the Spirit, and in the body, not in bodies. Both Ephesians and Corinthians teach us distinctly that unity is in and by the Spirit, and that Christ has in this respect the place of Head, not of Lord, which referred to individual Christians. This error, if acted on, would falsify the whole position of gatherings, and make mere dissenters of them, and in no way meet the mind of Christ.
* * * * *
Dear Miss ——,—I think the person who answered the question was frightened by the word infallibility, which I am not. It is simply the poor and transparent piece of sophistry of confounding authority with infallibility. In a hundred instances obedience may be obligatory where there is no infallibility. Were it not so, as y«u can easily see, there could be no order in the world at al^ There is no infallibility in it, but a great deal of self-will; and if there be no obedience where there is not infallibility, no acquiescence in what has been decided, there is no end to self-will and no existence of common order. The question is of competence, not of infallibility. A father is not infallible, but he has divinely given authority, and acquiescence is a duty. A police magistrate is not infallible, but he has competent authority in the cases submitted to his jurisdiction. There may be resources against abuse of authority, or, in certain cases, a refusal of it, when a higher obliges us, as a conscience directed by God’s word: “We ought to obey God rather than man.” But there is never in scripture liberty given to the human will as such: we are sanctified to the obedience of Christ. And this principle, our doing God’s will in simple obedience without solving every abstract question which may be raised, is a path of peace, which many heads miss who think themselves wise, because it is the path of God’s wisdom.
The question therefore is a mere and poor sophistry which betrays the desire to have the will free, and a confidence that the person’s judgment is superior to all that has been already judged. There is judicial authority in the church of God, and if there were not, it would be the most horrible iniquity on earth; because it would put the sanction of Christ’s name on every iniquity. And that is what was sought and pleaded for by those with whom these questions originated: that whatever iniquity or leaven was allowed, it could not leaven an assembly. Such views have done good. They have the cordial abhorrence and rejection of every honest mind, and of every one who does not seek to justify evil. It is possible you may think or say, that is not the question I am asking. Forgive me for saying, I know that it is and that only; though you do not, I am well assured. But the judicial authority of the church of God is in obedience to the word. “Do not ye judge them that are within? but them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” And I repeat, if it be not done, the church of God becomes the accrediting of every vileness of sin: and I affirm distinctly, that when this is done, other Christians are bound to respect it. There are remedies for fleshly action in it, in the presence of the Spirit of God amongst the saints, and in the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ; but that remedy is not the totally unscriptural and miserable one proposed by the question—the pretension of competency in every one who takes it into his head to judge for themselves independent of what God has instituted. It is, taken in its most favourable aspect, not as individual pretension which is its real character, the well-known and unscriptural system which has been known since Cromwell’s time—that is, Independency: one body of Christians being independent of every other as a voluntary association. This is a simple denial of the unity of the body, and the presence and action of the Holy Ghost in it.
Supposing we were a body of Freemasons, and a person was excluded from one lodge by the rules of the order, and if instead of looking to the lodge to review the case, it was thought to be unjust, and each other lodge was to receive them or not on its own independent authority, it is clear the unity of the Freemason system is gone: each lodge is an independent body acting for itself. It is in vain to allege a wrong done, and the lodge not being infallible; the competent authority of lodges and the unity of the whole is at an end: the system is dissolved. There may be provisions for such difficulties—all right if it be needed. But the proposed remedy is the mere pretension of the superiority of the recusant lodge and a dissolution of Freemasonry. Now I openly reject, in the most absolute way, the pretended competency of one church or assembly to judge the other as the question proposes; but what is more important, it is an unscriptural denial of the whole structure of the church of God. It is Independency, a system I knew forty years ago and would never join. If people like that system, let them go to it. It is in vain to say it is not that. Independency merely means that each church judges for itself independently of another. And that is all that is claimed here. I have no quarrel with those who, liking to judge for themselves, prefer this system; only I am perfectly satisfied that in every respect it is wholly unscriptural. The church is not a voluntary system. It is not formed (or rather unformed) of a number of independent bodies each acting for itself. It was never dreamed, whatever the remedy, that Antioch could let in Gentiles and Jerusalem not, and all go on according to the order of the church of God. There is not a trace of such independency and disorder in the word. There is every possible evidence, in fact and doctrine insisted on, of there being a body on earth whose unity was the foundation of blessing in fact, and its maintenance the duty of every Christian. Self-will may wish it otherwise, but certainly not grace and obedience to the word.
Difficulties may arise; we have not an apostolic centre, as there was at Jerusalem. Quite true; but we have a resource in the action of the Spirit in the unity of the body, the action of healing grace and helpful gift, and the faithfulness of a gracious Lord who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. But the case of Jerusalem in Acts 15:is a proof that the scriptural church never thought of, and did not accept, the independent action insisted upon. The action of the Holy Ghost was in the unity of the body, and is always so. The action directed by the apostle at Corinth (and which binds us as the word of God) was operative in respect of the whole church of God, and all are contemplated in the opening of the epistle. Does any one mean to pretend, that if he was to be put out at Corinth judicially, each church was to judge for itself whether he was to be received—that judicial act pass for nothing, or operative only at Corinth, and Ephesus or Cenchrea do as it liked afterwards? Where, then, was the solemn act and direction of the apostle? Well, that authority and that direction are the word of God for us now.
I am quite aware it will be said, Yes: but you may not follow it rightly, as the flesh may act. It is possible. There is possibility that the flesh may act. But I am quite certain that what denies the unity of the church, sets up for itself, and dissolves it into independent bodies, is the dissolution of the church of God, unscriptural, and nothing but flesh. It is therefore judged for me before I go any further. There is a remedy, a blessed, precious remedy of humble minds, in the help of God’s Spirit in the unity of the body, and the Lord’s faithful love and care, as I have said; but not in the pretentious will which sets up for itself and denies the church of God. My answer to the question is, then, that the plea is a miserable sophistry, confounding infallibility and divinely-ordained authority met by lowly grace; and the system sought by the question, the pretentious spirit of independency, a rejection of the whole authority of scripture in its teaching on the subject of the church—a setting up of man instead of God.
I am not very careful or anxious to answer the second question. It is clear that if two or three are gathered together it is an assembly, and if scripturally assembled, an assembly of God; and if not, what else? If the only one in the place, it is the assembly of God in the place, yet I do object practically to taking the title, because the assembly of God in any place properly embraces all the saints in the place; and there is practical danger for souls in assuming the name, as losing sight of the ruin, and setting up to be something: but it is not false in the supposed case. But if there be one such, and another is set up by man’s will independent of it, the first only is morally in God’s sight the assembly of God, and the other is not at all so, because it is set up in independency of the unity of the body. I reject in the most entire and unhesitating manner the whole independent system, which is the only real object of the question, as unscriptural, and a positive, unmitigated evil. Now that the unity of the body has been brought out, and the scriptural truth of it known, it is simply a work of Satan. Ignorance of the truth is one thing, our common lot in many ways; opposition to it another. The miserable use, made by unprincipled persons, trying to make capital out of it, of an expression used with a perfectly right intention in London, I pass under the silence it deserves. The truth of God is the same, whether an expression used by Mr. ——be right or wrong.
Yours very truly in the Lord.
I may add, that I know it is alleged that the church is now so in ruins that scriptural order according to the unity of the body cannot be maintained. Then let the objectors avow, as honest men, that they seek unscriptural order, or rather disorder. But in truth it is impossible to meet at all in that case to break bread, except in defiance of God’s word; for scripture says, “We being many are one body: for we are all partakers of that one loaf.” We profess to be one body whenever we break bread; scripture knows nothing else. And they will find scripture too strong and perfect a bond for man’s reasoning to break it.
* * * * *
To the same.]
* * * As regards what I said as to a higher claim of obedience, it is the safeguard against the exercise of authority where there is not infallibility. Thus Christ tells His disciples to obey the scribes sitting in Moses’ seat; but when they tell them not to preach Christ, they cannot obey them, because God had told them to do otherwise. A parent’s authority is sacred: he tells me (say I was a Jew) not to become a Christian: I disobey him because there is a higher obligation. It is important morally, because no departure or rejection of legitimate authority can be based on our own will or self in any way, but on the direct authority of God. Never have I a right, but I ought to obey. And it is simple that, if it be the authority God has given to a parent or magistrate, or whoever it may be, which leads me to obey them, as it is, it cannot be real when it calls me to disobey God’s direct command. But obedience is always our path.
Ever truly yours in the Lord.
* * * * *
Beloved Brother,—Your letter has been by me some time, because I have been excessively occupied in Scotland, seeking to finish things off in London to be ready to go to America— having first visited Ireland, where there is a great deal of inquiry, and, thank God, progress. I was very glad indeed to get accounts of the beloved brethren, as I always am…
I turn now to the heavenly Jerusalem. The subject is not new to me, and I have had to deal with it with some of the free evangelists and their pupils here, so I have looked at it again. All such researches, carried on lowlily and with reverence for the word, only bring out fuller truth. But all the consideration I have been able to give it has only confirmed me in the conviction that it is the church, but in Revelation not in its highest character. As to the word “Lamb,” I think its use in Revelation is to shew that the suffering and rejected One on earth is the mighty and reigning One, and not redemption, in our sense of it. “Salvation to our God … and unto the Lamb” is a proof, where used, that it is not the church. Those who appeared on mount Zion were the first-fruits to God and the Lamb: they were on earth. (Chap, 14) So the immense multitude of chapter 7:ascribe salvation to God and the Lamb: they are millennial names. Only the heavenly Jerusalem has the nearest relationship to the Lamb at that time; it is His wife. It is not therefore a name of general redemption, but of the millennial position of the suffering and rejected One: hence they dread “the wrath of the Lamb.”
The question therefore is, what is it which is in this closest relationship? What is it that is His bride? I do not deny that there is only comparison or figure in Ephesians 5, but figure of what? Surely of being made “one flesh.” I cannot here separate the bride or wife and the one body. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church: “the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” Surely here the line of thought is the perfect analogy of wife and church. This He is going to present to Himself. Then, “Men ought to love their wives as their bodies;” “he that loves his wife, loves himself:” she is one with him; “no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones”: but this is union with the wife—“and they twain shall be one flesh.” You will say, But this is of the man and his wife. No; it is a “mystery; I speak concerning Christ and the church.” I do not see how the wife, body and church can be separated here. The object is to shew that the wife is one flesh, cared for by Christ as a man does his own flesh, and that this as “a great mystery” refers to the church. I see two distinct parts in this: first, the general view; Christ gives Himself for the church, sanctifies it, and presents it to Himself—here we have the whole referring evidently to Genesis 2:21, 22; only redemption and sanctification, not creation liable to failure. The second part, the present case, when the church is in infirmity; Ephesians 5:29-31, referring to the verses which follow in Genesis. I am quite unable to see how the church, body and wife, are not by union made the same here, though treated abstractedly in relationship, and not historically. We must remember that “head over all things” is not simply the kingdom. I quote 2 Corinthians 11:2 only to shew that the thought and image was familiar to the apostle, as the relationship in which the church stood, only the marriage here not yet come.
I get then in Revelation the bride, the Lamb’s wife, described in contrast with the corrupt Rome, Babylon, the idolatrous harlot. Now I can understand the earthly Jerusalem, the King’s wife, being opposed to this on earth, but I find no scripture recognising anything in this relationship but the church: no husband known before Christ (save Jehovah and Israel). Where the wife is not in question, I find them still characteristically contrasted in heaven, as in- Hebrews 12:23 and 11:40. I admit that the heavenly Jerusalem is a comparatively vague term, contrasted with the earthly Jerusalem as the capital of heavenly power; but I find no use of bride and wife in the New Testament in any sense but the church. When I come to the end of Revelation, and the present relationship of the church is in question, as at the beginning; I find (chap. 22:17) “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” It is not the revealing prophetic part—the book itself; and I know not what expects Him thus but the church. Verse 16 shews it is a present thing. I remember Bellett’s having an idea that the marriage was put off to let in the saints of the beast’s time to have a place in this, but he gave it up: this would not reach the ground you take. And though the Lamb is the Redeemer of all, it is as the actually rejected One He is here seen, as I am persuaded; and the separation of the body and the bride, though the relationship be twofold, seems to dissolve the force of Ephesians 5, which teaches me He reckons the wife as a man does his own flesh. The contrast with Babylon makes Kevelation 19:confirmatory to me, otherwise it is the thing to be inquired into, not the proof of what it is. The other view is at best a deduction and conclusion. There is no evidence of anything being called bride or wife but the church; but I am glad to hear anything. I think the sense of relationship important, and hence should search carefully into the proof of this one when in question. Omitting “of them that are saved” (Rev. 21:24) only makes it clearer. I always applied it to those that were spared in the judgments, but it is much simpler without it.
As regards 1 John 1:7, like all his writings, it is abstract; not “has cleansed,” or “will cleanse,” but “cleanses”: it is its value and nature. So verse 9: when a man confesses his sins truly before God on his first conversion, he is forgiven. If I do so (in another way no doubt) as to a Father, when I am a Christian, I am forgiven—as regards the ways and government of God, I am forgiven. To “say that we have no sin” (ver. 8) is ignorance of myself: “If we say that we have not sinned” (ver. 10) is plain denial of God’s testimony; but “have not” is past, we are not supposed to be sinning. “We have no sin” is present, because it is a nature in me which the truth makes me know.
I have written in a number of times, being excessively occupied; much movement, constant inquiry, of course great opposition, but progress, and several added, some having had to give up at present everything: great effort to keep up loose principles, but the conscientious and zealous delivered, a very great many; and now they have settled tighter ones on dissenting principles, to try and keep them—not Bethesda, but a place ,set up, a kind of fruit of reservation on purpose to leave a kind of free preaching, and then broke bread there. It is the last place whose influence I should think healthful, but brought many out of the Establishment, because they are bound to nothing; but those who felt for the Lord’s glory at His table are out: of course, they are very angry, but there has been distinct blessing and progress. But I have been incessantly occupied; the work very fatiguing, wearing by adverse subtle questions sometimes, but interesting, and, thank God, the Lord with me. I have been very peaceful through it, and feel His hand and approbation, but am as to my body worn, from six to past twelve never ceasing. It is all moving, so that I could hardly tell you what is going on in detail, but great truths are making way, and many consciences have.
Ever, beloved brother, affectionately yours
In our blessed Master.
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My dear ——, — I thank you for your letter. I have no objection to your statements that I am aware of. One phrase I was not quite sure of, but as to the purport of the whole I accept it. I said, as you remark, that I was quite ready to judge and correct expressions. I have repeated it over and over again; I waited only my return to England to take it up, which, with the Lord’s help, I shall do. I could not do it before; I have not even materials. But your letter leads me further. Allow me to state some facts. This question was first raised by the most deliberate and unprincipled fraud as regards my statements, and continued by enemies to myself and the truth in the same spirit everywhere. Others took it up from whom I should perhaps have expected other things. All this leads me to see a work of the enemy behind the alleged difficulties of conscience which I am bound to respect, only the question goes further for me.
Had I not received your letter, I should have waited till I came to England to ascertain how far the consciences of saints were troubled, that is, to see how far the work of the enemy had gone; your statement I take as correct, and act before I return. It is no sudden resolution, but one in my mind a good while, only I waited for evidence of its being necessary before acting on it, or definitely concluding. I shall not break bread in England until the question is settled: I say in England, and I must explain this for other reasons. Had I been judged by any assembly, or had I been found to judge any assembly, as I did at Plymouth, recognising as I do the unity of the body, I should have broken bread nowhere till I were restored, or other assemblies had judged as I did the one I had left. But I do neither: I have nothing to judge the gatherings for, and they have never judged me. As to what is called leaving brethren, I have not the most distant thought of it. I see the unity of the body, in these questions the first of truths, owned there, and in fact there only. I am convinced as I never was, that the testimony of God, and the possession of His will, and of divinely given intelligence of His ways, His own testimony however feebly carried out, is in the testimony and position of brethren. I have not shade upon my mind as to it, and I believe this assurance is given of God. I need not say leaving it would be for me out of the question. I abstain from communion to relieve the consciences of others. Where the difficulty has not existed, I am not forced to do it. If an assembly said to me, You cannot here if you do not there, I should submit at once. I do not separate; if I did they would be bound to do so. I refrain in grace for others’ sake. But it is a defiance to the enemy.
Further, in doing this I maintain as I desire the vital importance of holding fast the confession of the glory and perfectness of the Lord’s Person, and relations with God. If I have touched that, I am alike unfit for teaching or communion. Captain H.’s conviction of my loyalty to Christ has nothing to do with it; it is a person’s judgment of a person. Where Christ is in question in teaching, this is beside the mark; His glory must be maintained. Next, no handle can be given if I act thus for looseness as to Mr. N.’s doctrine through sufferance of mine. That must be judged on its own merits, and, if received, received because it is allowable. No personal attachment of brethren for me, for which I am profoundly thankful, can come, ought to come in the way here. They will not have to defend my statements, because I am amongst them, and they are, the subject being vital, responsible for them. They can judge them freely. I should of course give every explanation to clear up my meaning. I bind them to no acceptance of my statements in any case; many may not enter into them; but that their own consciences may not be troubled by them, as believing they are dishonouring to the Lord…
If the enemy has succeeded in raising this question, my part is to relieve the consciences of all, to cake care that the question of Christ’s glory be maintained at its true elevation, and give every explanation or correction of expressions which the want of clearness may demand. At the same time, I do not conceal from myself that the truth of Christ’s sufferings is lacking in some. Nothing can be more ruinous than the statement, that Christ’s entering into such and such sufferings means that He was in the state that brought them. Yet that, by your own letter, is the question which perplexes men’s minds. Impossible, if the reality of Christ’s sufferings had not been lost or enfeebled with some. If Christ bore our sicknesses and carried our infirmities, was He by this sick Himself? Be assured the enemy has been at work here.
But my object is not to enter .into explanations here. The smiting was on the cross, but there was that which was besides atonement in it. And He did enter into that. All this has, I believe, been already explained. But my object is to say that, on my return to England, with the explanation I have given, it is not my intention to teach or come into communion till brethren are at ease on the subject, but as I have said, as relieving their consciences, and maintaining, as not to be touched, the glory of the blessed Lord, not as in heart or act separating myself from them. I feel it is the best reply too, to those who without would either feel a difficulty, or desire to tamper with evil on that question. I must come to London, and brethren are so necessarily mixed up there with every place and all that passes, that I do not intend to go to any meetings there. You can communicate to any persons whom you know to be concerned about it, my intention.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
Paris, May, 1866
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My dear——,—I hope to be early next week in London. It is not my mention to come to communion or exercise any ministry. You need not fear, nor any, that I have “left the brethren.” It would be leaving my own deep convictions, formed I do not doubt by God in my soul, of His path before Him. But others have succeeded, as——informs me, in raising difficulties and uneasiness in the minds of brethren as to my papers on the sufferings of Christ. I feel that His glory must be maintained unquestioned, and no enfeebling of the consciences of the brethren allowed. I have nothing against any gathering, nor has any judged me, so that I should go on as usual where the question has never exercised any, or they were satisfied; but London is too closely connected with every place to make it practicable to separate it from them, and I must for other objects come there.
I mention it that it may not surprise any of you, and that you may understand it is deliberate. Quite ready to correct or explain any expression which may be unguarded, but not to accept the ground on which the accusations are made, which I believe to be unsound and untenable as regards the Lord’s sufferings. I do not expect or ask brethren to agree with me, many may not understand the question, but I respect their consciences, and would not have them forced on the question, but the contrary, nor act where they were uneasy. I hold it of first rate moment before all church questions, that Christ’s personal glory be intact and maintained. The estimate of it must not be enfeebled on my account. I hold the ground of the accusations to be a mischievous mistake, but I repeat I ought to consider the consciences of those who have been made uneasy by it.
Affectionately yours in the Lord.
Paris, May 13th, 1866.
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My dear Brother,—I trust I should retract at once if 1 thought I was in error, especially in what concerns the blessed Lord Himself. I am quite ready to admit, and have admitted over and over again, that doubtless expressions may be made clearer. My principal difficulty to bring my mind to bear on it is the character of the objections. I admit the objectors have succeeded in troubling some; but I find daily many of these the moment they have read what I have written perfectly tranquil… I should be ready to explain to the humblest and most ignorant. But the attacks have not commanded gay respect. I am aware the enemy has succeeded in troubling some, and leading others to profit by it, to hinder souls whose consciences were making progress; but the Lord has a long look out. Our faith has to wait for Him, and such I seek for myself. I only fear that it may leave some, for whom I had hoped better, in the mud they have sought to create. I only ask to be enabled to do at each moment what is right in. the matter, believing, though it be the enemy’s work, it will do good. I proposed to the brethren to go out of communion, and leave off ministering (not for any difficulty I had), but to leave them perfectly, free; but they would not hear of it in these parts, and in many others.
I am not the least uneasy myself. I feel distinctly it is an effort of the enemy, and that he will be baffled; but I do not want to involve others in it, nor will I make it a matter of self-defence, mingling that up with the Lord’s glory, and raising discussions, when it ought with such a subject to be edification. As regards connecting it, or comparing it, with Mr. N.’s doctrine, were it not for the pure wickedness of what set it a-going, it would be beneath contempt. To say that being born in a state, and seeking to extricate oneself, and not being able till death, is the same as being born in the very opposite, and always walking in that state, and entering into the sufferings of another in grace, does not deserve to be reasoned on. The same thing! One makes the other impossible. I cannot condescend to take notice of these attacks: those who get entangled in them must count the cost for themselves. Explain my own views, or unfold the truth as far as I can, this I am ready to do; but I am in no hurry: I do not want to get defending myself, but prefer trusting the Lord, who will make things clear. Some parts of it are a new kind of trial, but there is grace enough in Christ for it, and I leave all that without great difficulty to God. We shall find out where He is leading. May the Lord save as many as possible from Satan’s power in it. I am ready to do all I can towards it, where it is really sought. I have no doubt many expressions may be made clearer; but, if honestly examined in the context, they cannot have the sense attached to them. In substance, instead of having to retract, I believe my enemies to be in very mischievous and evil error, going far to deny the reality of Christ’s sufferings, and thus depriving Him of a blessed part of His glory, and us of the deepest comfort and vital truth.
I can easily understand that what relates to the remnant of Israel may not be understood, and hence that part is difficult to enter into. That does not trouble me. But the denial of Christ’s sufferings, where these are real, is another matter; and, allow me to say, though I shall reply to your questions out of the New Testament, you cannot understand that subject without referring to the Old. Nor can I consent to give up that which was able to make men “wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” I am aware that Mr. N. said his doctrine was not in the New Testament, but in the Psalms; but one of the devices of Satan is to deprive us of truth by connecting it with deadly error. This is one source of trouble to honest minds now; but it is a reason for going peacefully on in the truth itself, and having patience with people’s minds. His doctrine was in neither. Nor do I admit such a principle. For the Old Testament throws infinite light on what we have often only the fact of in the New. There is sufficient in the New to connect it with the Old, as in the case of Christ’s sacrifice, but far more detail in the Old. If you expect to find the details as to the remnant of Israel in the New, you will be disappointed. Mr. N. connected the blessed Lord with sinful, guilty Israel, and hence had necessarily a false Christ. I say He entered into the sorrows and sufferings of the godly remnant. It is never stated in my papers that He is in the place that brought them on. The attacks on me are founded on a deadly error: that entering into the sufferings, or suffering with them in heart and grace, supposes Himself to be in the state or place which brought them on. Christ was baptised with the baptism of repentance. Was He in the case, or state, or position to need it? Every Christian knows that He was not, yet He submitted to that, or went through it.
There cannot be a more dangerous principle than that on which the charges against my statements are founded. They are really unawares founded on Mr. N.’s principle, not on what they are attacking. I have no thought on the personal or relative positions of Christ which is not that of the whole church of God. The only thing new, and which is not so for multitudes of saints, is there being a Jewish remnant, and His entering into their sorrows. The rest is merely calling souls to, I believe, a most profitable and faith-deepening contemplation of the blessed Lord’s sufferings; and that, for friends or foes, I am not going to give up. Statements may be cleared up, but not truth given up. Thank God, many studious souls have already drawn, and the hubbub raised had led many others since to draw, great profit from it.
I will now turn directly to your questions26 and to the New Testament. But you must feel that before God no divinely-taught and God-fearing mind will leave out Psalms 22, 69, 102, or Isaiah 51 or 53 in learning God’s mind on the sufferings of the Lord.
It is admitted that in Gethsemane Christ was not yet drinking the cup. We know that He could then pray that He might not. Was He suffering simply from man for righteousness’ sake? I merely state this as a general principle, that there is suffering which is not from man for righteousness, nor accomplishing atonement. You ask the question, “if smiting were necessitated on the blessed Lord, except as the sin-bearer?” You have just fallen into the dangerous error I adverted to. Where have I said it was necessitated? I have just stated the contrary. And this makes all the difference. Atonement is wrought in the forsaking of God when Christ was made sin for us. No doubt death was there consequently, but much more than death, and to confine it to the act of death is fatal error—just what one form of infidelity is now doing. And it is just because minds have lost, or never had, the true sense of what atonement is, its unfathomable depth, that they have confounded other true sufferings with it. When the Lord, with strong crying and tears, made His supplication to Him that was able to save Him from death, was it only from wrath and the work of atonement? Where He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with me,” were they watching with Him undergoing atonement? The Son of man was to suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation, and be put to death, and rise again: is this a statement of atonement?
You will say, perhaps, these were His sufferings from man simply for righteousness’ sake. No doubt man’s hand was in it, as it was in the cross, where atonement was wrought. But scripture teaches me that it is not simply that. The disciples had seen His sufferings from men all through. This He only began to tell them of on His last journey to Jerusalem. Not only so, the Lord’s position and theirs was changed—His hour till then was not come. He was acting with Emmanuel power, and sending them forth, and disposing of every heart, so that they lacked nothing. But Messiah was to be cut off, and He tells them in Luke that all was changed in this respect. (Luke 22:35-37.) “But now, let him that hath a purse take it. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors; for the things concerning me have an end.” No doubt this was fulfilled in that in which atonement was wrought; but it is not atonement which is spoken of, but the rejection of Messiah, and the total change which accompanied it. When the Lord spoke of smiting, quoting from Zechariah, no doubt it was in death, or unto death, He was smitten; but He is not speaking of atonement. “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock, shall be scattered abroad.” Does this mean, I will make atonement, and gather into one flock Jews and Gentiles, being lifted up on the cross? Or was it smiting the Shepherd as then having gathered the Jewish sheep around Him, so that they were scattered? If I am to believe the Lord, it was this latter. It was not the gathering power of atonement, but the scattering power pf smiting; not the lifting up, though in the same work, but the smiting the Man on the earth, the earthly Shepherd.
You will say this went much farther. To be sure it did, blessed be God; but this does not alter the fact that there was this. Man’s hand was in it, Satan’s hand was in it. He had departed from Him for a season; now the prince of this world came. It was man’s hour, and the power of darkness. The blessed Lord’s soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death (and note, before drinking the cup). You will say this was only from man and Satan. It was (though His power never changed) a declared change from His spoiling his goods. And scripture shews me that, while tried by this to the uttermost, and suffering, He looked up to His Father through it, and would only take it as a cup from Him—that His perfection was shewn in bowing to it all as His will and way. And not only was atonement made, but Messiah was cut off; all the promises connected with His presence in Israel in the flesh set aside, the beloved nation and city, over which He wept as that which He would have gathered often, cast off and judged. This was not from man’s hand merely, though through it. It was God’s divorce of His people, wrought out alike because of and in the death of Messiah. It was not atonement but judicial, and, while it was because of their rejection of Christ, His heart, who wept over them, entered into it, suffered in it and by it, and in His piety did not take it from secondary causes but from God’s hand. No doubt He at the same time wrought atonement, was wounded for His people’s transgressions, and bruised for their iniquities; as by His stripes they will be healed, but all this on the far deeper ground of atonement: but this does not set aside the truth of the setting aside all blessings in the living person of Messiah, all promises connected with it, nor that the Lord felt all this, and suffered. Was it not in His cutting off the people were rejected (not saved by atonement, true as that is)? Was it God cut them off, or man (not finally, as we know, but as connected with a living Messiah)? Do you think Christ was indifferent, to all this, or not? Was He not true in heart when as yet it was only in prospect that He wept over Jerusalem? I shall be told this was only sympathy. I abhor the statement. Scripture teaches me that He suffered that He might sympathise. I believe it fully, deeply.
Persons hostile to the truth have taken the statements I have made as to the different states of heart of a tried soul, to which, consequently, this interest and sympathy of Christ might apply, and given them as the state in which Christ was. I might, no doubt, have guarded by a positive disclaimer against such an application. To an honest mind it was needless—to a dishonest one useless. When in the general statement I had carefully put it in, to guard against any misapprehension on the very point you take up, it was deliberately and purposely left out, and unsuspecting minds sought to be puzzled by it. With this before me, what do you feel I can think of the clamour that has been raised?
I have answered your question from the New Testament. If you with these facts of the New Testament take the Psalms, you will soon find your mind guided into further truth and apprehension of what passed when “this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” I have no desire to give up what I have learned there. I believe both the atonement and the personal sufferings of Christ are lost by doing so, and true sufferings, in order to sympathise, turned into sympathy. I cannot enter here into more detail. The fact that Christ’s sorrows ran up into atonement, the positive drinking of the cup of wrath, and putting the sin away—that His sufferings merged in this, which hinders the wrath coming on them who have a part in its efficacy—has made it more difficult to estimate those dealings of God which are judicial, but have not in accepted ones ever the final character of wrath. In Christ, one passed on, so to speak, into the other; in us, and spared Israel, it does not, because Christ has taken that for us; but in a legal state we dread it, and so will Israel at the end. We, if at peace, separate them easily; it is not so, if we are not. Judgment begins at the house of God. They are difficultly saved. This has nothing to do with atonement. Jerusalem has received at the hand of the Lord double of all her sins. This excludes the idea of atonement. Does all this pass without any interest of the blessed Lord in it; or did He so suffer as to be able (besides atonement, which alone renders the other possible as a distinct thing) to enter into their sorrows? Read the Psalms, and see. Bead the New Testament, and see if you cannot find facts which are the fulfilment of them.
I am willing and bound to do anything I can to help any, the feeblest soul. I am willing to stand aloof from brethren (I do not mean to separate from them in heart or will), if they have not the courage, or are not in a condition to face the adversaries of the truth, or are so perplexed by them that the connection with it is a burden; but I am not willing to give up the faith I have in the sufferings of the blessed Lord, nor the link of heart with Him which the apprehension of them gives me. But I believe souls are getting great blessing by the consideration of them, and Satan doing a work, as is often said, in which he deceives himself. I dare say many could not explain it theologically; many may make crude statements; but the true of heart will be blessed in learning the sorrows of the blessed Lord. It is not the first time, alas! some have been driven back by the truth.
Your affectionate brother and servant in Christ.
June 9th, 1866.
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26 ‘The question is, Is there such a class of sufferings in the New Testament. If I mistake not, I learned through your teaching many years ago, in the Newtonian controversy, that the New Testament shewed us, first, the Lord suffering as man for righteousness’ sake; secondly, suffering from God as the substitute for sinners on the cross; and that a third class was then excluded, I forget the exact words. Could the blessed Lord be smitten by God otherwise than as an offering for sin upon the cross? If smiting were necessitated on the blessed Lord, except as the sin-bearer, does it not obscure the glory of the cross?’