“Now if any man build upon this foundation [Jesus Christ] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it.”… (1 Cor. 3:12, 13).
It is, although not a pleasant, at any rate an exceedingly easy task to answer a hostile attack, when the opponent himself gives the answer. Such is the case with the article contained in the “Zionsbote,” “upon Darbyism.” The arguments of the writer are chiefly summed up in the statement of two antitheses, expressed in the words: “We say, Everything must be restored, as it was in the apostle’s time; We can never return, the Darbyites say, to what existed at the time of the apostles.” In his opinion everything must be revived in the church according to apostolic model; and his censure affects the so-called Darbyites, because, instead of assenting to his conception, they rather maintain that, since the church has abandoned her first state and is in apostasy, according to the clearest and most unambiguous testimonies of the Scriptures, she is not capable of restoration.
Then, after the writer has been somewhat zealous over the bad principles of the brethren he indicts, he finds occasion for the remark, which defeats his contention: “Moreover nothing remains until the Lord come, but that every Christian take pains according to the best of his knowledge and conscience to ascertain and to carry out the mind of Christ; but so that the fullest brotherly relationship may obtain between the different church parties.” In fact, no Christian who is unprejudiced and free from bias will be able to close his eyes to such contradictions. What is the meaning, then, of wishing to restore everything in the church as it was in the apostle’s time, if it must be confessed that at the end nothing remains but Christian parties, in which every member has to ascertain and carry out the will of Christ according to the best of his knowledge and conscience? Were there such parties in the time of the apostles? Do they so much as bear the seal of apostolic recognition? Certainly not. Jewish prejudices, as we know, threatened to split up the assembly at Antioch into two parties; but the wisdom of God prevented the deadly evil; and peace even and prosperity grew out of this very evil for the assembly at Jerusalem; Acts 15. In Corinth also church parties displayed their first germs; but apostolic power was present, and apostolic energy was exercised to restore divine order in the church. But where is there now that apostolic energy? Where is there an assembly that sends its ministers into all communities, so that all can enjoy the blessed message? Neither such energy, nor such an assembly is within the range of possibility in our days.
The restoration of the church according to apostolic model, consequently, makes the previous restoration of apostles an absolute necessity. As Christians will not recognise their inability to restore everything, they sink into the state of indifference in respect of the evil which they cannot remedy. But instead of a recognition of their own incapacity, the willingness to continue in a bad, unscriptural, condition is in fact one of the saddest phenomena amongst Christians of our day. They refuse to bow in the dust, and humbly acknowledge, “We are to blame, we have abandoned the first state of the church, and are unable to restore everything; God is faithful; we are to blame.”
The writer must allow me to alter a word in his thesis; for without this alteration, the sentence is devoid of force and meaning. He says, “We must restore everything, as it was in the apostles’ time.” He ought to have said, not we “must,” but we “can,” restore everything. For if we cannot do it, our labour is useless. We know well—and the Lord be praised for it—that His grace is fully sufficient, just as much for our low state, as for that of the apostles. But to what a degree the pretension of such Christians has reached, who ascribe to themselves the ability to restore to its old state whatever the power of the apostles wrought and set up, I leave to the judgment of the reader. Christians need apostolic power in order to be able to do apostolic works. They are able by grace to be faithful, amidst the circumstances in which they are found as the result of the continuous power of evil. They can abandon the evil, but as we have said, to be able to do what the apostles did, they need apostolic power. Why do they not restore apostles? why not gifts? Why not prophets, and miracles? In fact, to restore everything is a wide field!
Where do we hear in our days words like those of Paul, of Timothy, and of Barnabas? Where is the power of the Spirit, which in the days of the apostles was so very active? Paul says, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock,” Acts 20:29. Why such intimations for times after his departure, if others could do everything which he had done?
The principles which the writer supposes to be scriptural only help to confound ideas still more; and they betray only too clearly how little people in general seek to inquire what holy Scripture says about God’s assembly. It is clear that Scripture knows only of a general assembly of God. Christians are regarded as members of the body of Christ. To be a member of an assembly is a thought of which one finds no trace in the word of God. And yet this thought forms the basis of the whole system to which the writer addresses himself. As we are shewn in 1 Corinthians 12, as well as in Ephesians 4 and Romans 12, all gifts were introduced of God not in one fixed and local assembly, but in the whole assembly. Apollos ministered with his gift as teacher as well in Ephesus as in Corinth, because this gift had been bestowed upon him not for an assembly but for the assembly, and consequently, for the whole body of Christ. But where do we find in our days anything like the condition portrayed in 1 Corinthians 12? “Now, that was for apostolic times,” our brethren will answer. But how can they then say, “We must restore everything as it was at the time of the apostles?” Will they then imitate only outward forms? That power cannot be imitated, no one will dare to dispute; for one needs the power to be able to exercise it. But they have not even the form, for to be teacher of an assembly is not scriptural.
But how does it stand with the question of elders? Scripture teaches us that they were not elected by the assemblies. As we find in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas “chose them elders”; and of Titus we know that he was sent back to Crete to appoint elders; Titus 1:5. Who now could claim the right to do that for which the persons named were divinely authorised? Where is there now in our days a Paul and a Barnabas, a Timothy and Titus? Moreover, there still remains the question which settles everything, whether it is in general the will of God to restore all as it was at the time of the apostles. As we have said, “we must” is without force and meaning, if it cannot be supported by a positive “we can.” Therefore Scripture must decide whether restoration is a thing permitted or required by God. We deny it. For “we must” is not scripture; and the writer has in general brought forward no passage for his assertion. He speaks of a command, but he assigns no command. Let us examine then the word of God, to see if it does not speak of the results of man’s unfaithfulness in respect of the kingdom of God, and His assembly upon the earth.
First of all, I would refer briefly to the “Parable of the Tares.” I find on the part of the writer—in noticing some thoughts from a tract dealing with this parable—many hard and bitter expressions, accompanied by the remark: “How much might be said upon this fundamental principle!” But he neither gives another interpretation of the parable, nor does he seek to refute the “singular “one given, by the citation of even one passage. But all such shibboleths are powerless, if not founded upon the word of God.
Let us turn therefore to the alone infallible word. The tares are sown by the devil where good seed has been sown by the Lord. The subject is, of course, not the church itself, but the kingdom. The field is the world. But this parable is of great importance if it be a question of the restoration of the good state of Christianity. The question of the servants, if they should root up the tares, the Lord answers in the negative with the words: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” A restoration of the earlier state is not prescribed, and consequently is impossible. The judgment alone will deal with it. But someone might object, “Why do you not remain in the state-church?” I answer: Because Scripture knows of no state-church, but only of the church, and because it expressly says, that in the last perilous days everything will demonstrate the ruin, and men have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof. “From such turn away,” says the apostle; and thus in following the divine exhortation and turning away, I act in obedience, even if I remain alone. But why, it might be further asked, since everything is not to be restored, do you not remain alone? and I bring forward in reply 2 Timothy 2, where I am taught that, since the Lord knows His own in spite of the confusion in the last days, I am not only to depart from iniquity, but to walk with those who “call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (v. 19, 22); whilst at the same time I possess the precious and comforting promise: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Matt. 18:20. So saith the Scripture. And if now I order my course according to these divine directions, the pretension to wish to restore everything is in no wise hidden therein; but with thankful heart I make use of the instructions which God has given for the last days in His precious word, in individual obedience.
As a whole, the passage quoted enlightens us clearly as to whether a restoration will take place in the last days. But “this know also,” says the apostle, “that in the last days perilous times shall come,” 2 Tim. 3:1. Then follows (v. 2-5) a picture of the sad state of Christendom, become like heathenism. (Compare Rom 1. with 2 Tim. 3.) Will the church then, not be roused again out of this state? No: it will grow worse and worse (v. 13). There is not a trace of restoration. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we see that the apostasy comes, and the man of sin, the son of perdition, shall be revealed (v. 3). Will the apostasy have an end, or the man of sin be removed, by the renewed power of the gospel? By no means. Already in the time of the apostle, the mystery of lawlessness was at work. And this fire, smouldering in ashes, has developed— “worse and worse,” as the apostle foresaw, and will not be stayed until, as soon as every hindrance is taken out of the way, the lawless one shall be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming (v. 7, 8). There is nowhere a thought of restoration. Jude also teaches the same truth. In his epistle we see that false brethren had crept in, of whom Enoch had prophesied: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,” … (p. 14). They go the way of Cain, give themselves for reward to the error of Balaam, and perish in the gainsaying of Korah (v. n). That is the character of the evil in the last days, which already had begun in the days of the apostles. For in 1 John 2:18, we read, “Little children, it is the last time, and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” Already, then, as Peter teaches, the time of the judgment of God’s house had come; 1 Pet. 4:17. In short, everywhere we find testimony to the apostasy, and nowhere a word of restoration, although in the days of the apostles the principles of evil and apostasy had already penetrated into the church.
It may perhaps be asked, “Shall not the world then be filled with the knowledge of the Lord by the gospel of grace?” No. The gospel of the kingdom will indeed be preached amongst all nations, but then will the end come; Matt. 24:14. “The everlasting gospel” will be sent to every nation and every kindred and every tongue, with the announcement: “Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come,” Rev. 14:6, 7. Then follows the destruction of Babylon, and finally the appearing of the Son of man on the cloud. But then, will not the world generally be filled with the knowledge of the Lord? Certainly. But how? By the gospel of grace? Not at all. There are three passages in holy Scripture in which mention is made of this subject: Numbers 14:21, Isaiah 11, Habakkuk 2:12-14. But none of these passages speak of grace: all speak of judgment; and in Isaiah 26:9, 10, it is declared definitively that the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness when the judgments of God are in the earth; but that, though favour be shewn to the wicked, “they will not learn righteousness.” The reader will also see in Isaiah 25:7-9, that at the time when the veil that is spread over all nations is removed, the resurrection has taken place, and the Jewish people is restored in blessing.
It is therefore a lack of spiritual understanding, and is nothing short of disobedience, to desire to restore everything, since for such a work there is not only no command, but Holy Scripture teaches exactly the reverse. It is not obedience to content oneself with Christian parties, because Scripture condemns them; it is not obedience to form a so-called church, and to be a member of it, because Scripture knows only of members of the church, as the body of Christ, but not members of a church calling itself so-and-so; it is not obedience to elect or appoint elders, because in the New Testament this was never the act of the churches; it is not obedience to institute an office of preachers because Scripture knows nothing of such an office, but speaks only of gifts which God bestowed, with which to serve the whole church. But it is obedience to keep aloof from a Christianity which has the form of godliness but denies the power, because Scripture in 2 Timothy 3 expressly exhorts us to do so; and it is obedience to assemble ourselves with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2), and not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together, because Scripture enjoins it, and promises the precious and blessed presence of the Lord to all those who gather in His name.
Certainly a calm consideration of the word of God teaches us that the different churches which call themselves Independents, Baptists, etc., do not answer to the churches at the time of the apostles. For could the apostle send to one of these so-called churches an epistle addressed “To the Church of God at N.”? Which of them would obtain the letter at the post office? If on the other hand I go no further than Holy Scripture allows me, I profess a principle which makes it a sacred duty for me to acknowledge as members of Christ all Christians, whether in the Baptist or Independent communities, or in the state-church. And that I do with all my heart. I am fully convinced that with regard to church questions they do not walk in paths marked out by the word of God, but that they are, notwithstanding, dear to the heart of the Lord; and I hope that in these lines I have said nothing by which the heart of an upright brother could be wounded. If, however, it should be so, I beg beforehand for forgiveness.
The small compass of these few pages allows of my only briefly adducing, and by passages of Scripture establishing, some elementary principles. It were to be wished that the writer of the article which occasioned this reply had in like manner supported by the word of God the points he has brought in question. It only remains for me to appeal to this word, alone infallible; and I hope that the brethren who heap so many charges upon us will perceive why we cannot recognise their path as the path of obedience. In my judgment, but small measure of intelligence belongs to the pretension of desiring to restore everything as it was at the time of the apostles, to the recognition of anything else than obedience. God has never laid down such a path. He does not improve the old man who has fallen, but introduces the “second Man,” and gives us a portion in His glory. He does not renew the Jews according to the old covenant, but we find, after long patience, grace and help at the end of judgment, then to establish with them the new covenant upon the ground of grace. And with regard to the church we can say: What Christ has built for ever will endure for ever, what is divine and heavenly will be indestructible; but wood, hay, and stubble, with which man has built, must perish in the fire.
3 From the German.