The Times of the Gentiles
There is an outward symbol and instrument of unity in the partaking of the Lord’s supper, “for we being many are one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.” And what does St. Paul declare to be the true intent and testimony of that rite? That whensoever ‘we eat of that bread and drink of that cup, we do show the Lord’s death till He come’. “ Near the close of this paper from which we are quoting he shows how deeply he was exercised as to the becoming path in view of these things he has just been saying, things which could not be gainsaid. He says, “But if any one will say, if you see these things, what are you doing yourself? I can only deeply acknowledge the strange and infinite shortcomings and sorrow and mourn over them; I acknowledge the weakness of my faith, but I earnestly seek for direction. And let me add, when so many who ought to guide go their own way, those who would have glady followed are made slow and feeble lest they should in any wise err from the straight path, and hinder their service though their souls might be safe.” We quote this last sentence just to show the deep exercise that prevailed lest there should be any move not directly of the Spirit of God, and the natural shrinking from a path that seemed so radical in character and so daring in result.
But God was leading on and the more implicitly the saints obeyed the Word as it was opened up, the more light was vouchsafed to them. They were cast wholly on God and His Word. One cannot help turning back again to that wonderful time in Israel when they returned from Babylon. When was there at any time in their history such Bible readings as prevailed then? Never! Read through the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah and see how everything was regulated by the one standard. Again and again we have the expression, “They found it written” or its equivalent. For many years before the days of the captivity in Babylon the Word of God was little known and less read, now they resort to it for guidance in every move they make. So was it with those dauntless souls who ventured forth on this path. Step after step was taken as light was given and the movement spread among saints everywhere.
Naturally enough, one of the matters that demanded attention was the question of ministry. In the Reformation this was left practically untouched and clerisy as an institution remained unjudged in Christendom. But now that the Word of God was getting its place as the one court of appeal this must be settled by its decision. And when the Word of the Lord was brought to bear on this class known as “the clergy” the result was certainly astounding. The same writer from whom we have quoted more than once was so affected by the light the Word of God threw on the whole question that he wrote another paper and had it printed entitled, “The notion of a clergyman, dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost.” It was not published at the time because the writer was entreated not to send forth such a radical declaration and yielded to their entreaties. It was published later on, however, and shows plainly how thoroughly the system was exposed to the light of the Word of God and seen to be a gigantic fraud, hoary with age but nevertheless without one shred of the Word of the Lord to support it. He says, “The statement which I make is this, that I believe the “Notion of a clergyman” to be the sin against the Holy Ghost in this despensation. I am not talking of individuals wilfully committing it, but that the thing itself is such as regards this dispensation and must result in its destruction. It is the substitution of something for the power and presence of the holy blessed, and blessing Spirit, by which this dispensation is characterized, and by which the unrenewedness of man and the authority of man, holds the place which alone that blessed Spirit has power and title to fill, as that other Comforter which should abide forever.
If the “Notion of a Clergyman” has had the effect of the substitution of anything which is of man, and therefore subject to Satan, in the place and prerogative of that blessed Spirit exercising the vicarship of Christ in the world, it is clear that however the providence of God may have overruled it, in the ignorance which He could wink at, it does, when stood upon and rested in against the presence and work of the Spirit, become direct sin against Him — pure dreadful and destructive evil — the very cause of destruction to the church. I must be observed here to say nothing against offices in the Church of Christ, and the exercise of authority in them. It were a vain and unnecessary work here to prove the recognition of that on which Scripture is so plain. But they are spoken of in Scripture as gifts derived from on high: “He gave some apostles” (Eph. iv. 5); so in 1 Corinthians 12, they are known only as gifts. My objection to the “Notion of a Clergyman” is that it substitutes something in the place of all these, which cannot be said to be of God at all, and is not found in Scripture.” One more quotation and we are through; “What is the remedy? The recognition of God’s Spirit where He is —personally seeking for that holiness and subjection of spirit which will discern, own and bow to His guidance and direction, and hail His blessing as the hand of God, wherever He operates in the measure and way He does so — that other Comforter sent to abide with us, whatever else did, forever.”
Here then is the feeling engendered by a study of the Word as to ministry, a complete repudiation of the system of clerisy and a recognition of the presence of the Holy Ghost as the dispenser of the gifts needed for the maintenance of the Church and its blessing in testimony. A class of men who had some special place because they had been by an ordinance of man set apart for preaching was not found in the Word at all. Ministry was, as it means, service and one who could serve was one endowed with a gift from the Lord wherewith he served.
Now let us turn to the Lord’s own judgment of this period as found in the letter to Philadelphia. The word Philadelphia means “Brotherly love”, and this of itself is significant, because this was a return to the primitive condition when it was seen to be a reality, that “One is your Master and all ye are brethren.” Not only so but a stronger bond even than that between brethren was discovered, even the same kind of bond that exists between the various parts of the human body, every part at the service of every other part. It was in no sense an attempt to set up the Church again, but a recognition of its ‘existence, though in a ruined and scattered state, and the finding of a path that meets the Lord’s approval in that state. In the Word, division is condemned and saints are called on to walk in unity. Names, save those that He gives us are forbidden and condemned in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, the Apostle Paul speaks plainly and strongly as to this. Let us listen to his solemn words, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all, speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the Name of Paul?”
Hear then the word of commendation from the Lord “Thou hast kept My word and not denied My Name.” This sums up in divinely chosen terms the characteristics of this period. It was a return to His word, not merely in the matter of salvation but in all things. Creeds and confessions and rules and regulations and books of discipline and traditions of all kinds were thrown to one side that He as Head of the Body and Son over the House of God might have His place among His own. Not only so but all names that through time had obtained a place among saints were discarded and the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone was allowed to be named on His people. It may seem a small matter to be called by any other name and people do so regard it but it is much to Him. If Paul indignantly refuses to permit his name to be named as head of a party, what about lesser names? What about Luther or Calvin or even names that are not personal but characteristic such as Presbyterian or Episcopal? Surely they must all be refused.
But there is more here that we should notice. He speaks of Himself as having the key of David with all power to open and shut in spite of men. The allusion here is mainly to the fact, that all power in Heaven and Earth is committed to Him alone. The Church had been for years accustomed to lean on the power of the world to maintain its place and an unseen Lord and Protector was hardly thought of. But in this period He is again in His place as Lord over all circumstances. One cannot help going back to the early days of the Church as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. They were not dependent on the secular power for anything, indeed, all they met with from that source was opposition and hatred. In the twelfth chapter of the Acts Herod with the hearty co-operation of the Jews shuts up in prison two of the leading men among the saints, Peter and James. One of them is permitted to earn the crown of the martyr and the other is kept for a later day to gratify the relentless enmity of the Jews. But the saints gathered together in prayer and He who has the key of David the master key of all locks, opened every door that held Peter and sent him forth a free man. So those saints that in the Philadelphia period ventured forth into this path of separation learned the meaning of an unseen Master in Whose hand was all power. What prevailed around was leaning on an established system that the world acknowledged because it was palpable to the senses, but a living Christ, still “watching o’er His ransomed people,” and still supplying all that was needed was practically unknown. Faith in His place at the right hand of power was merely a theory, now it had become by grace a great reality to a few.
And this thought put every servant into a place of direct dependence on Him. No longer was it the archbishop or bishop or even the presiding elder or conference assigning to each man his sphere of labor, but each servant to whom had been given a gift, was cast upon the Lord Himself for direction as to where and how he might exercise that gift. This ‘abolished all idea of grades of Service, each One’ was a servant Of the same Lord and it was Simply the gift given by the Lord, not official place, that made one differ from another. Furthermore as to the temporal support of such as were called to give their whole time to the work, there was the same earnest desire to find what was written and act on it. Such a thing as a man hired to preach was utterly refused because it was not found in the Word. What was discovered was that each man to whom the Lord had given a gift was responsible to Him to exercise that gift, counting on Him Who had called him to support him in it, and on the other side what was plainly seen was the habit of the Church in early days to minister to such as had gone forth in His service, for His Name sake. See as to this the Epistle to the Philippians, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter ix., and for individual action in this way read 2 Timothy, 1:18, and also the Third Epistle of John. In one word it was a return to faith in an unseen but real Head of the Church and He was found to be all that He ever was in the palmiest days of the past.