and our path with God today.
by Frederick W. Grant
The “Christian Update” series
(A discussion, defense, reproof and exhortation concerning the principles and practices of so-called “brethren”)
Published 1990 by BELIEVERS BOOKSHELF INC.
P. O. Box 261, Sunbury, Pennsylvania 17801
The Christian Update series consists of outstanding religious writings of 19th century authors, which writings have been edited to make them easier to read and understand. We have a gold mine of truth from these God-gifted writers who opened up for us the Scriptures in a way not known for 1500 years. Unfortunately, today, many of these writings are not being read, or when read, are not easily understood, because the style of writing has changed in the last century from a strong emphasis on literary beauty (with long and involved sentence structure), to emphasis on simplicity and readability. Also, words have changed meaning or are no longer in common usage. Therefore, believing it to be the Lord's leading, I am editing some of these writings to make them easier to understand, while maintaining the writer's exactness of meaning and as much of his style as possible. Some footnotes have been added, and references to papers no longer in print and to events no longer well known, have been omitted. I pray that this "Christian Update Series” will help those who read it, to grow in the truth and give them a greater appreciation of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Roger P. Daniel
Table of Contents
Introduction (By the Editor)
Chapter 1 Philadelphia: What is it?
Chapter 2 The Overcomer in Philadelphia
Chapter 3 “You Have Kept My Word”
Chapter 4 Holy and True
Chapter 5 “You Have Not Denied My Name”
Chapter 6 The Question of Association
Chapter 7 A Circle of Fellowship or Independency
Chapter 8 Clerisy and Ecclesiasticism
Chapter 9 Heresy
Chapter 10 The Assembly in its Practical Working
Mr. Grant's “A Divine Movement” has been selected for Volume One of the Christian Update series because of the unique, practical and important truths it presents, not because it is an easy book to read even in its edited form.
These truths generally are not taught to Christians today, first because these truths are not popular — they do not agree with the position taken by most Christian leaders. Secondly, I fear that many of us who know (in differing degrees) and should be teaching these truths as a practical reality, have so let them slip that we shy away from presenting to others what we ourselves fail to practice. Thirdly, some may feel that the finer details of the truth about God's Church are too difficult for, or beyond the need for particularly the young Christian to know.
However, the most complete knowledge about God's Church and our practical relationship to it, is one of the most important doctrines (truths or teachings) that any Christian can learn. The Church is Christ's special object for this present dispensation. He is its heavenly Head, and each believer, simply by being saved, is a member of the body of Christ which is the Church. “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish … For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones … This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:22-33).
I pray that the thoughts that Mr. Grant presents in what follows, concerning our practical relationship to the true Church, will cause each of us to carefully search both Scripture and our own hearts — two things that we often don't like to do, perhaps because we are afraid of what we might find. The subjects which Mr. Grant discusses definitely are the 'meat,' not the 'milk' of the Bible, but I believe that the words and thoughts of this book will be understandable to any Christian of at least high school age who desires — purposes — to chew up and digest the meat of Scripture, instead of simply being content with the easy, surface truth — the milk of God's holy Word.
The Bible quotations are from the New Scofield Bible except when wording is critical. Then, the very accurate “New Translation” by J. N. Darby or Mr. Grant's own translation, have been used. Also, the old-English words such as 'hath' and 'thou' have been updated to the 20th Century 'has' and 'you.' However, when reference is to God, the old English words “Thee, Thou, Thine” have been retained. Although I don't see any Scriptural reason for retaining these words, I have found that many Christians feel very strongly that the older words are more respectful to God than “You.” R. P. Daniel
Philadelphia: What is it?
My purpose in this book is to follow a gracious movement of God and to show the Scriptural principles that characterize it. I also will discuss the difficulties and oppositions to this movement. My aim will be to exercise people with relation to it and to help those already exercised to settle questions that may disturb them. (The people involved in this movement commonly are called “brethren” or “Plymouth Brethren” although they do not accept any such name, Ed.)
I do not propose to discuss any history of this movement, for a history would prejudice minds in opposite ways by the introduction of names. We tend to make men commend the truth rather than making the truth approve the men who follow it. Therefore, I will look only at principles, with their necessary results on our conduct, only referring to history when necessary to explain their importance to us.
Each person then must apply the principles for himself. But with divine light and an unprejudiced soul truly before God, the application should be reasonably easy. It will test us, of course, as to whether we really are following God's path. Let us not seek to escape the test but find the blessing which God has for us in it.
When special times of sifting come, the sense of spiritual weakness and the love we have for one another would make us gladly seek escape. But, escape would be unwise and unbelieving. Satan is the sifter of God's wheat, and it is a serious thing to let him win, because sifting is God's method for purification. Take Simon Peter in the Gospels: he is in special danger, foreknown by the Lord as specially likely to fail, and yet Peter cannot be spared the sifting. “I have prayed for you,” says the Lord, not that you won't be sifted, not even that you may not fail, but “that your faith fail not; and when you are restored, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). Here, good was to come from Satan's sifting, even for one who might seem to have failed completely under it.
What comfort there is in this for us! If the Lord is ready to put into our hands any work for Himself, what wonder if, first of all, He is pleased to let us, like Peter, find in sorrow and suffering the value of Satan's sieve in breaking down our carelessness and self-confidence.
Going on to the question at the head of this chapter, I propose to look briefly at the Lord's addresses to the seven 'churches' in Revelation 2 and 3, which addresses are prophetic of seven successive conditions of the Church at large, covering the entire period of time from the apostles' day until the Rapture. A great proof of this is the exacting correspondence between the prophecy and its historical fulfillment. Let's briefly look at the first five churches.
EPHESUS, to which, in its fresh eagerness, Paul gave the doctrine of the Church, here heads a history of decline. Outwardly, things still look good. The departure is realized only by God. First love is no longer there. This is the beginning of the end, a root upon which many evil fruits will develop if there is not recovery.
SMYRNA shows us the double attack of Satan on the Church in this weakened condition. Outwardly, there is persecution by the Roman Empire. Internally, there is the introduction of Judaism into Christianity which develops as the enemy's seed, the “synagogue of Satan” — the mixing together of true and false in a legal and ritualistic system claiming earthly possession and promise, and already slandering (blaspheming) the faithful remnant.
PERGAMOS shows us the lost pilgrim character of the Church. They are “dwelling where Satan's throne is.” The Nicolaitans, religious subjectors of the laity, now act as such, while Balaam-teachers seduce God's people into idolatry and evil alliances with the world.
In THYATIRA, we see the above fully developed in Romanism. That which Balaam-teachers did before as individuals, a woman (type or picture of the professing church) does now, speaking as a prophetess with the claim of divine authority. But God brands her with the terrible name of 'Jezebel,' the idolatrous persecutor of the true prophets in Ahab's day. However, development of this evil line ends here. A remnant begins to be marked out again (“the rest in Thyatira”) which prepares us for a different condition of things in the next address.
Accordingly, in SARDIS, we don't see Jezebel or her corruption. Things have been received and heard, but they are ready to die. The general state is death, but with a “name to live” and “a few names that have not defiled their garments” in this place of the dead. We have here the national (government-controlled) churches of the Reformation, with their more-Scriptural doctrine, but which is difficult to maintain in the midst of what (the world claiming to be the true Church) is spiritually dead, with only a name to live.
This brings us to PHILADELPHIA. If the previous interpretations are correct, Philadelphia must be something that has developed in the years since the Reformation, outside of the spiritually-dead state churches.
Philadelphia has the Lord's approval in a way that no other of the seven churches has, except Smyrna, with which, in another way also, Philadelphia is linked. Here the synagogue of Satan once more appears, as in Smyrna. There seems to be some revival of the Judaistic-principles typified by this, or at least something brings these principles to the front of the Lord's address.
It is understandable why Christians would shrink from appropriating to themselves the Lord's commendation found here, although that very approval must cause every Christian to desire the character which our Lord can thus commend. But, since no circumstance can make it impossible to fulfill the conditions necessary for His approval, there surely must have been Philadelphians (people with a Philadelphian-character) in every generation since these words of Scripture were written.
It is blessed to see that what the Lord approves in Philadelphia is given in such plain words: keeping His Word, not denying His Name, keeping the word of His patience. All this seems simple, and it is to one who is simply leaning on the Lord! Yet, if we apply it carefully, not letting ourselves off easily, these words will search us out to the very bottom.
Although there always have been individual Philadelphians, a Philadelphian-movement is another matter, and this is what we should look for as occurring sometime after the Reformation. Although we shouldn't flatter ourselves with being what we are not, we must consider that, if there is such a movement, what is our personal relationship to it? This may cause us anxious inquiry, and it would be very disappointing if a satisfactory answer was not available.
If the Lord has given me in these addresses, clues to His relationship to the successive phases of the Church on earth, then I must ask myself where I fit into this. If I do not belong to that line of development that ends in Thyatira (Papal Rome) and I do not belong to the state-churches of the Reformation, or those churches similarly constituted, then I must find my place either in Philadelphia or in Laodicea (the seventh church).
Now, if the Holy Spirit is at work in the midst of such a state of things as Sardis implies, not merely to sustain a remnant, but in testimony against evil, in what direction will He work? It will be to separate the spiritually living from the spiritually dead. He will lead Christians to seek out their own company, giving expression to the 'love of the brethren' — the meaning of the word Philadelphia.
This work of the Holy Spirit has characterized, in varying degrees, many movements that have arisen since the Reformation, which movements taught and practiced, more or less, the separation of Christians from the world and the communion (fellowship) of Christians as a visible reality. Every protest against the misery of an unsaved church-membership and every attempt to maintain the difference between the Church and the world has proclaimed the related truth of the Church's practical unity. Philadelphia — brotherly love — is a word that covers all this seeking to make visible the true Church, so long thought to be invisible because of being hidden in the world and in the religions of men.
Thus, 'Philadelphia' stands for a well-defined movement in the history of the professing church, which movement has assumed many different characters. These differences may be used to deny the nature of Philadelphia as defining any distinct path for God's people today, but this is only a superficial view of the matter. Other considerations will make us modify this first conception and make us realize that the Word of God, here as elsewhere, requires complete honesty in our obedience to it, to get His blessings. Let's now consider the first warning that the Lord gives us in the address to the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13).
The Overcomer in Philadelphia
If the desire of the Philadelphian is the separation of the Church from the world and its restoration to visible unity on earth, how the Lord's words “you have a little power” appeal to us. Power for such work plainly is not man's, although God graciously acknowledges what is there. The ideal is not attainable, but this is to be distinguished from an impractical aim. Infidels have rightly declared that the Christian standard is not completely attainable, but every Christian knows that to “walk as Christ walked” is very far from an impractical aim.
If we are acquainted at all with the feeble efforts of Christians to walk with God, we must realize that, in the path in which Christ would lead us, we must have the deepest humility to escape the deepest humiliation. The warning given to the Philadelphian speaks volumes here, for all depends on his heeding it: “Hold fast that which you have, that no man take your crown.” It is by holding fast that 'overcoming' is accomplished for the Philadelphian, since this verse (Rev. 3:11) gives the only evil that is in view in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia's “little power” makes the above warning more impressive. The unattainableness of the ideal, the little progress that we make towards it, the weakness manifest in others as in ourselves, all combine to dishearten us. But, that which often seems to be the failure of principles is only our failure to act on the principles, but this is bad enough. If the principles have failed by not being carried out; if they are too heavenly, would it not be wise to 'materialize' them somewhat? If a lower (more earthly) path is more practical, is it not better? Don't you realize that to give up a single point of the Lord's will is to give up 'obedience' as a principle! How many points we then give up is only a question of detail.
It is not difficult to find the wrecks of failed Philadelphias littering the centuries since Luther. Every genuine revival, being the work of the Holy Spirit, has tended in the Philadelphian direction. It has brought Christians together, it has separated them from the world, it has proved afresh the power of Christ's Word, it has revived the sweetness of His Name. The sense of evils in the professing church, intolerable to the aroused conscience, has forced many, in obedience to God's command, to “depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19).
Is it not the constant reproach of such movements that, in a generation or two, they sink to nearly the common level of things around? They have not been able to retain the blessing. If gathered to some principle that the natural conscience owns, or some assertion of right that men value as their possession, such movements may still grow while the old men weep at the remembrance of past blessing, now lost, and realize their temple to be in (spiritual) ruin.
All this must take place unless God prevents it. The first generation had to break through natural surroundings at the call of God, and they willingly followed Him in suffering and self-denial. Then their children came into the heritage their fathers had obtained for them, but without the exercise that their fathers had. Nature attracts them to the path by force of habit. They accept easily and easily can let go. They don't know the joy of sacrifice. They don't have the vigor gained by painful work. So, it is easy to predict what will follow, not necessarily from anything wrong with what they hold as truth, but from the incapable, unexercised hands that hold the truth.
The argument of success resulting from such failure, deserves consideration. Does success, as men count it, imply that the success is good in God's eyes? Or conversely, does failure and break-up prove that the wrecked thing was evil? Carry out honestly such a supposition and see where it will lead you. Take, for instance, the Church in the days of the Apostles, as seen in Scripture, and the blessed truth given it at the beginning. Where will I find this Church or the truth possessed by her when I come to the beginning of uninspired history?
The answer is plain and terrible; God even prepared us for it. It was needful even 1900 years ago that Jude (v. 3) should exhort us to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” Paul speaks of “the mystery of iniquity already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7), and he and Peter, of the special evils of the last days. John found the signs of the 'last time' in there being already “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18).
Outside of Scripture, the historical church, in the words of J. N. Darby, “never was as a system the institution of God or what God had established, but at all times, from its first appearance in ecclesiastical history, the departure as a system from what God established, and nothing else.” And as to doctrines, “it is quite certain that neither a full redemption nor a complete, possessed justification by faith as Paul teaches it, a perfecting forever by Christ's one offering, a known personal acceptance in Christ, is ever found in any ecclesiastical writings after the Scriptures, for long centuries.”
So, what about this apostolic church which seems to have vanished? Were its principles at fault in its quick failure? What principles of Scripture secure us from failure? Scripture exhorts us, if we are Philadelphians, to “hold fast,” and this recognizes the danger of not holding fast!
No one should be surprised, then, that the wrecks of Philadelphia are strewn along the road, while Rome retains her boasted unity and power over people. It is accounted for by the simple Scriptural fact that error roots itself in the world easier than truth. So the Lord asks by Jeremiah (2:11), “Has a nation changed their gods, which yet are no gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.” May we not argue the reverse way, that in an adverse world with Satan's power rampant, if a people could find a way of steady Scriptural increase and prosperity, this exceptional vigor would have to be accounted for, and not the fact of reverses and discouragements.
We clearly should understand what the Lord's warning words mean: “Hold fast that which you have, that no man take your crown.” What are we to “hold fast”? It is not a certain deposit of doctrines. I do not deny such a deposit or that it should be held securely, but this is not what the Lord speaks of here, as it is in the message to Sardis.
The comparison between the two is important. It is said to Sardis, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and hold fast and repent.” There, a measured amount, a clearly-defined deposit of truth is indicated. This is instructive when we recall what Sardis stands for. A wonderful blessing was given in those Reformation days. They had received and heard many important truths and they knew the value of it all. But, in their eagerness to secure it for the generations to come, they put it into creeds and confessions. They weren't wrong in this, for they had a right to say for themselves and to declare to others what they believed they had received from God. Those confessions, when read by the light of the fires of martyrdom for the signers, are blessed witnesses of the truth for which, when felt in power, men willingly could give their bodies to the flame.
But the wrong was that they took those creeds and forced them, with all the emphasis that penalties enforced by a State-church could give, upon the generations following. Their measure of knowledge only, was to be that of their children. If there was error in the creed, that error must be continued. Finally, all this was placed for maintenance into the hands, not of spiritual men, but of the world church they had started!
The Holy Spirit thus was grieved and quenched. He was leading them far beyond where they actually stopped and was ready to lead them into “all truth” (John 16:13). But they wrote their creeds, not just to show how far the Lord had led them, but as the ultimate degree of knowledge. Henceforth, it was to what they had received and heard in the 16th century, that they looked back. The word was no longer, as with the Reformers themselves, “On with the Holy Spirit, our Teacher,” but rather, “Back to the Reformation.”
The words of the Lord to Sardis are, therefore, marvelously accurate, saying literally, “You have taken the measure of truth you have, as if it were all the truth. Well, you have limited yourselves very much, but at least be true to what you have: be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die.”
Philadelphia is also called to hold fast, but hold what? What she has, of course; and that is a little power and Christ's Word kept and His Name not denied. Notice that there is no longer a measured quantity. Nor is it His commandments or His words, but His Word that is to be held securely. The distinction is drawn in John 14:21-24. Love is not measured by profession or emotion, but by obedience. The Lord says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” The response to this is, “and he who loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him.”
But there is a deeper love than that shown by keeping commandments. It is a love which takes account of all God's Word, whether positive command or not. And here, God's response is correspondingly greater, “If a man love Me, he will keep My Word (not Words) and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make our abode with him.” Here is a full and permanent communion not found in the previous case.
Philadelphia has kept — is keeping, as long as she remains Philadelphia — not His commandments but His Word as a whole. She doesn't know it all; that is impossible. Just for that reason, she doesn't have a certain amount of truth to which she is faithful. She is like Mary at the Lord's feet, to listen and be subject to whatever He communicates. His Word as a whole is before her. Not limiting the Holy Spirit, she is willing to be led on. Her ear is open. She has the blessedness of the man “who hears Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors” (Prov. 8:34).
Of course, this is not unique to any special time, for it is always God's way to lead on one who is ready for His leading. But since the mid-1800s, Scripture has been opened to us more as a whole than at any former time since the apostles. Further, this has been in connection with a movement that has all the features of Philadelphia. Certain great truths, having been recovered to the Church, have helped to open up in a new way both the Old and New Testaments. The dispensations have been distinguished; the Gospel cleared from Galatian error (law-keeping); our place in Christ learned in connection with our participation in His death and resurrection; the real nature of eternal life and the present seal and baptism of the Holy Spirit in contrast with all former or other Spiritual operations and gifts, has been learned; and the Rapture has been distinguished from His Appearing. We owe it to the Lord to fully acknowledge what He has done. Must we not connect it to the fulfillment of Christ's word to Philadelphia in contrast with the “received and heard” of Sardis?
So we must ask ourselves the solemn question. Is the previously discussed attitude still maintained and is it to be maintained? Are we to go on, still learning from the Lord, or are we now to be content with no more than these blessed truths? A large measure is still a measure, and once we get back to what we have received, we accept the bucket in place of the flowing well. At the feet of Jesus, who will presume to say that we have all of His blessed Word?
You Have Kept My Word
The more we understand what is implied in the keeping of Christ's Word, the more we will realize its importance. To really keep Christ's Word implies going on with Him in steady progress, not wilfully permitting any part of it to be dark, unfruitful or in vain for us; not allowing ourselves to be robbed of difficult books or chapters. We often permit this to happen without a thought about it, as if God had given us too large a Bible and we were confused rather than served by the largeness of His gift. Do we really believe that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)? Are we sure that this is true of prophecy, history, type, parable, even of the long genealogies, of the lists of David's officers, of the cities of Israel, etc.? Are we personally seeking to make all of it profitable to us?
Let us be absolutely honest with ourselves and with God. If we do not accept the profitableness of all Scripture, are we not denying in some measure the doctrine of God's inspiration of Scripture? If so, then we are not “men of God” for whom all Scripture is fruitful (2 Tim. 3:17).
Is this not a serious matter? Take the admonition from the typical history of Israel. Was it not evil that Israel, brought into the promised land by God's power, failed to possess it all? Is it not a serious matter that for us also, “there remains very much land to be possessed?”
Two things — apart from unbelief as to the inspiration of God's Word — are used to argue against the above, but they are both evil, unbelieving arguments. However, since they sound reasonable, they need exposure.
The first is an old argument of Isaiah's day (Isa. 29:9-11) against the divine vision. Delivered to the learned with the request to read it, the answer of the 'learned' is, “The book is sealed.” So today, man's argument is, “The language can't be understood: history, type, parable, are strange speech. People everywhere disagree as to the interpretation. How can we succeed where so many have failed? What good is guessing?”
Of course, no good can come from guessing, for uncertainty as to truth makes it dangerous to proceed or even to stand still. The plain duty of every Christian is to keep on the firm ground of known truth. Scripture has been used so carelessly as to make it the mere plaything of the mind, hardly to be taken seriously. However, there is certainty at every point for anyone who, in faith, will seek it. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God … and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). “If any man wills to do His (God's) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God…” (John 7:17). If we believe that God deals truthfully with us, the above verses must be true. So, let us use the greatest care as to the interpretations that we accept. Otherwise, free license is given to the imagination.
The second argument, which also is as old as Isaiah, is the most widespread and the most dangerous. It is the language of the people, not of their leaders. It appears as the language of humility: “I am not learned, so I can't understand.” This denies the all-sufficiency of the Holy Spirit as the Teacher of Christians, or it denies His presence with His people. It makes the understanding of God's things to depend on a man's education or on his I.Q., instead of on the Holy Spirit. It makes Christ, who dwelt among the poor and the needy, now to only reveal Himself to the educated, intelligent and wealthy. It makes the Lord's disciples, those unlearned Galileans, an anomaly for all future times. It gives the intellect a huge practical advantage over the heart and conscience — the moral being. It makes the learned the judges of truth for the unlearned. It makes Scripture filter through the minds of the learned before it is fit to be the living ministry of God to others. Thus, it subjects the many to the few, and fulfilling its own argument, makes Scripture inaccessible and impracticable for the mass of mankind. What wonder if, under the influence of such a belief, people find what they expect to find — a closed instead of an open Bible. What wonder if the Holy Spirit, grieved and limited by the unfaithfulness of Christians, will not “lead us into all truth” (John 16:13).
The above isn't intended to discredit learning or to deny the right place of intellect in the things of God. In spite of sin, one who believes God must believe that God has made his understanding, reason, imagination, conscience and heart all for Himself. Consequently, when one receives the gospel and is in real nearness to God, all these things are made alive and greatly enlarged. Let a man really desire to know this God who has revealed Himself to him; let this desire be his top priority in learning, and then every bit of truth that he learns will be the means of daily strength and growth — not monstrous as when only the head develops, but the growth of the mind, heart, conscience, all alike and together, on towards the perfect, always proportionate man.
This learning from God is the privilege of every Christian, regardless of his social-economic-educational position. Christ said, “Labour not for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27). This food is spiritual knowledge — knowledge of the highest kind, which is needful for the proper control of every other kind of knowledge. Since “all things were created by Christ and for Him” (Col. 1:16), it is not possible to see things aright until we connect them with Him for whom they were created.
Then, all natural science will become spiritual science; all -ologies will work into theology. What value will the world be to me if it is not God's world? Since the world and even the universe were made to manifest Him, how great should my interest be in them! Christians are partly guilty for the neglect which has allowed the natural sciences to become the possession of unbelieving men. So, instead of Christianity standing firm on the two feet of Nature and Scripture which both testify of God, it limps along with one useless foot a burden on the other.
Knowledge? Yes, labor for knowledge, but first get Christ who is the key to it, and then the whole field lies open to you. Take possession for Him of all things. Labor, be loyal, be in earnest: “every spot that the sole of your feet shall stand on shall be your own.” Labor more earnestly for spiritual food than for what you call your 'necessary' food. Every instinct of your spiritual nature desires spiritual food and if these are denied, starved, neglected, you will dwarf yourself spiritually and become satisfied with what is almost starvation. Only eternity will reveal to you the extent of your loss, but then, it is too late.
As I have said, I believe that God has since the mid-1800s opened up the Bible to us in a remarkable way, and now He is testing us with it. Alas if we turn away! Are not these newly-revealed truths for us? Do we have faith in Him who has given them to us, that He has not mocked us with His gift? Shall we be bewildered and oppressed by the greatness of these riches? The field is boundless, but its green pastures and glorious distances invite us to explore them. Where are the people who find in the labor needed for this exploration, the necessary exercise for spiritual health and vigor? Here are endless beauties and glories, so little realized, which can be the possession of all of us because they belong to all of us! Do you say that your measure only can be small? Beloved, have you earnestly tried to find your measure?
Are you positive that you have reached your God-given boundary line? Could you tell God that you are honestly and with your whole heart working hard to learn with Him all that He has for you? If so, God's rule, given in several places including Mark 4:25, will apply: “To him who has, shall more be given.” Where, then, will your limit be found?
Think of what God has done for us in giving us these things! Here is continuous occupation for us. Is that a loss or a gain? With the necessity of much occupation with the things of the world just to get daily food and clothing, is it loss or gain that we should have, at the same time, an equal necessity for spiritual things?
It is a necessity. “Labor not for the food which perishes but for that food which endures unto everlasting life” (John 6:27) was spoken by lips that cannot lie, and here, the spiritual labor is said to be the more necessary. Who will disagree with the Lord? Who will say that this rule applied only to the Galilean peasants who could follow Him, not because of the miracles, but because they ate of the (spiritual) loaves and were filled, and does not apply to the hard-worked masses of today!
The necessity for this spiritual labor is inherent to the spiritual life itself, and has its corresponding reward and blessing. Among other things, it balances and relieves the natural labor. The weight of the earth's atmosphere presses on the average-sized man with a force of about 14 tons, yet we are not conscious of it because, as the air penetrates the body, there is an equal force acting outward. In like manner, the pressure of natural things can be met by the opposing pressure of spiritual things so that we may walk at ease and in freedom. I'm sure that you will find this true, for spiritual occupation increases our faith and spiritual energy, enabling us with divine power to meet life's demands.
Our spiritual land is good, but it must be cultivated for its value to be realized. Then, the profits from it will make it impossible for us to be spiritually poor. Unworked, however, our heavenly inheritance still will leave us in spiritual poverty on earth. Since we need so much occupation with our own things to meet the constant demands on us in the world, God in His faithfulness to us has not put the truth into creeds which we might easily learn by heart and lay aside, nor has He written everything out so plainly that there is no difficulty in understanding it. Bitter arguments have raged about even basic fundamentals. It is better in God's thought, that we should have constant need for reference to, and the most careful study of our Lesson Book, caused by exercises of the most painful nature, than be allowed to sink into spiritual laziness.
Most truth is not in the plain language of the epistles. The Lord taught much in parables. The book of Revelation uses symbols almost entirely. The Christian truths in the Old Testament are taught in types and history, which we are taught to allegorize. The man of understanding in Proverbs is expected “to understand a proverb and its interpretation, the words of the wise and their dark sayings” (Prov. 1:6). So, “if you cry after knowledge and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures, then shall you understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:3-5). We even are told that “it is the glory of God to conceal a thing” (Prov. 25:2) — hiding it where a diligent person can find it as a reward.
All this implies a personal labor that cannot be delegated to another, although we all are to help one another in it. God does not recognize a laity to be spoon fed once or twice a week, taking with little question what is given them. God does not recognize a division of labor — worldly things for the common people and spiritual things for a special class. No, we personally are to “be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height” (Eph. 3:18). Indeed, we need every Christian to help us understand the Scriptures.
Of course, there are God-given teachers. No one with Scripture before him could deny that. But Scripture does not restrict teaching to the teachers, any more than it confines evangelizing to the evangelist. It is the intended glory of all these special 'gifts' to enable those whom they (the teachers, etc.) speak to, to do without them — to send men from themselves to Christ. Sitting at His feet, then, we hear Him say, without reference to any special gift, “one is your Master (Teacher), even Christ, and all you are brethren” (Matt. 23:8).
Teachers are special helps given to the entire Church by the ascended Lord, and he who undervalues the help given, dishonors the Lord from whom the teachers have their mission and qualification. But men often turn special help into special hindrances and this often has been done with teachers. The moment the teacher is allowed to give authority to the truth — making it true because he says so — instead of the truth he teaches giving him authority; the moment the teacher is allowed to come between men and the Word, instead of bringing them to the Word; the moment the teacher is made the substitute for personal labor in the divine Word instead of a help and encouragement towards personal labor, then there is perversion of the gift and disaster follows! The whole evil of the Church teaching — man's rule usurping God's rule — has come in this way. Clergy and laity are thus formed.
The message to Philadelphia presses on us that Christ's Word, which all Scripture is, is given to His people, and those who keep (obey) it are commended by Him. What I have been urging is that, for this, they must know for themselves what it is that they are to keep. All Scripture is before them, and they cannot have the spirit of a Philadelphian if they willingly allow any of it to be taken from them; if their Bibles are willingly permitted to lack, as it were, whole pages, perhaps whole books of what is inspired of God for our profitable use. Further, the need for earnest, untiring labor in the Word is what is insisted on as necessary for all progress, for the maintenance of spirituality and for a right state with God on the part of all of God's people, not of just a special class.
Let me further press the last part of this theme. What a new state would begin for us if we would find that between our necessary work in the world and our still more necessary and fruitful occupation with Scripture, our time was so fully taken up that we would have little or none remaining for anything that was not absolutely productive and profitable; if all that was idle, vain and frivolous, disappeared out of our lives; if the newspaper (radio, TV, etc.) were supplanted by fresh discoveries in the things of God.* Peter exhorts us that “laying aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and all evil speaking, [we should] as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word that we should grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:1). God does not desire us to remain babes. The milk is to make us grow up spiritually. Peter conveys to us in these words some of that energy which, under God, had helped to make him, the unlearned Galilean fisherman, a leader in divine things. We are to be, he says, as ardent after the Word as a newborn babe is for milk! The one business of a newborn babe is to get milk. Is the Word of God sought and longed for like that in your life?
Then notice the exhortation concerning the incompatibility of spiritual occupation with “all malice and guile and hypocrisies and envies, and all evil speaking.” If the Word of God is feeding our souls, all evil things will pass away just as the dying leaf falls, crowded out by the new bud. Psalms 1:1 gives us a delightful picture: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” This is the negative side, but the positive side follows, and the power is in this: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law does he meditate day and night” (v. 2).
This is a sweet and glowing picture. Look at the result: “And he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he does shall prosper” (v. 3). It would be a blessed thing if that picture was true of each one of us.
Holy and True
“You have kept My Word” is the first commendation to Philadelphia. The people thus commended are first of all Philadelphians, so what God commends in them is all the more important. Let's emphasize that, while God is speaking to a company of people who are characterized by love of the brethren, His praise is not that “you have loved the brethren.” This does not even form a part of the commendation, which is, rather, “You have kept My Word and not denied My Name … you have kept the word of My patience.” Yet, in the promise to the overcomer, God does refer to their Philadelphian name, for inscribed on the pillar which he who has only “a little strength” finally becomes, is not only “the name of my God” and “my new name,” but also, “the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem.” This city is the eternal home of the brethren (believers in Christ) and has, I believe, distinct reference to Philadelphian-character. However, in His approval of them, He says nothing of this character. Why?
The title under which the Lord addresses them fully accounts for it. He is addressing Philadelphians. Thus, if people don't have this character, He isn't talking to them. He is speaking to those who seek the recovery of the true Church which should have been like “a city set on a hill (or) a light on a candlestick,” but which has dropped almost into the invisibility that men ascribe to it. God's first words remind these seekers of Church-visibility of His holiness and truth: “These things says He who is holy, He who is true.” How much they will need to remember this!
Think of the Church that is so scattered and which we would so desire to see restored. What are we to do for its restoration? Shall we proclaim to all that it is God's will that His people should be together? Shall we spread the Lord's table, free from all denominational names and terms for communion, and invite all who love the Lord to come together? The one loaf on the table does witness that we are one bread, one body, and there is no body that faith can own, except the body of Christ. Why then should we not do this?
I answer, “Tell them that the Lord welcomes all His own, but also tell them that it is 'the Holy and True' who welcomes them, and that He cannot give up His nature.” How has the true Church become the invisible Church? Is it her misfortune or her fault? Take these seven epistles of Revelation 2 and 3 and trace the Church's descent (as we did in Chapter one) from the loss of first love in Ephesus to the allowance of the woman Jezebel in Thyatira, and on through dead Sardis to the present time. Can we just ignore the past and simply, as if nothing had happened, begin again?
Suppose all Christians accepted your invitation and you were really able to assemble all the members of Christ at the Lord's table with their jarring views, their various states of soul, their entanglements with the world and with their evil associations. Would the Lord's table answer to the character implied in it being His table? Would He really be owned and honored as Lord (Master) in that coming together? With the causes of all the scattering not judged, your 'gathering' would be a defiance of the holy discipline. It would be another Babel (confusion). Do you think that outward unity is so dear to Christ that He would desire it apart from true confession, cleansing and fellowship in the truth
This address to Philadelphia intentionally opposes all such thoughts. Why doesn't the Lord present Himself here, as He did to Sardis, as the One who “has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars” — fullness of spiritual power, with His people in His keeping? It may seem strange that dead Sardis is thus reminded but not Philadelphia. However, such a statement to Philadelphia would indicate the recovery of the Church by their own means. To Sardis, the statement is exhortation instead of assurance. Rather, Philadelphia needs the warning that they are living in the last days — days of apostasy (falling away) — and thus must guard against an outward unity that would set aside all the godly value of unity. How perfect, in its place, is every word of God!
Let's notice again what the Lord commends. “You have a little power … have kept My word and not denied My Name, and … have kept the word of My patience.” Mark these 'My's' which occur eight times in this address. They show that the true Philadelphian clings to Christ, to His Word, to His Person, to His strangership in the present time, and to His certainty of the future. The work of a Philadelphia is to obey Christ, to hold fast the truth as to Him and to be waiting for His coming. The work of gathering will look after itself if the above is done. The Lord will see to that! Christ the Center is to unite us, not something that is external to Him. Thus alone will there be fruit for God and commendation from Him who here speaks to His people.
It is easy to see how the Philadelphian character may be lost by a false idea of it. Real true brotherly love is a precious thing, but see where the apostle Peter puts it: “Add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). In God's order, many things need to come before brotherly love. No doubt, all of the above things are true of all Christians to some degree, but there is a relationship of these things one to another, shown in the order of appearance in this verse, and that is what is important here. There is no true love of the brethren — no Philadelphia — unless all these things are found in it. For it all, Christ must have the first place in our lives.
Philadelphian-gathering is to Christ, and it is Christ who gathers. A common faith, a common joy, a common occupation find their source in the outward sign of the spiritual bond that unites us. Those who know what gathering at the Lord's table means, know that communion there can only be hindered by the presence of what is not communion. Harmony cannot be increased by discord. I'm not speaking of lack of understanding. Rather, I'm speaking of an unexercised conscience and of a heart not receptive to divine things (which means it is receptive to worldly, fleshly things). How must the power of the Holy Spirit be hindered by such! The Scriptural rule for times of decline is to gather “with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22) and the way to find those is not to advertise for them, but to “follow righteousness, faith, love, peace,” walking on the same road that they are on. The Lord will bring you together.
If we really seek the blessing of souls, we will guard carefully the entrance into fellowship (the breaking of bread). We are responsible to see that such an entrance (reception) is “holy and true.” Careless reception is the cause of much trouble and is part of the cause of the general decline in spiritual things. “Evil company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). Men cannot walk together unless they are agreed. When trial comes, as it will, those who have never been firmly convinced of the divine reason for the position they have taken, will scatter and flee from it with reckless haste, carrying with them an evil report of what they have turned their backs on. Such persons usually are beyond recovery and often develop into bitter enemies of the truth.
We are taking a great responsibility on ourselves if we press people to take a position for which they are not ready; in which, therefore, they act without faith. The apostle Paul warns us of the danger of leading people who do not have an exercised conscience, to follow a faith that is not their own: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). No wonder that there are wrecks all along the road of a 'divine movement' for which real, exercised, personal faith is so constantly required, and in which so many are trying to walk without it. We should remember that it is the Holy and the True who is seeking fellowship with us, and only that which answers to this holy and true character can survive the tests that surely will come.
You Have Not Denied My Name
Philadelphia is produced in practice only by understanding and obeying Christ's Word and by a new sense of relationship to Him and of what He is to His people. Every genuine revival has something of this character. I am here speaking of the revival of saints, although the effect will be seen in a new power for the saving of sinners. When genuine interest in the Word of God is revived and the love of Christ is felt in new power, increased communion with Him will cause the 'communion of saints' to be more valued and sought after; and the desire to be obedient will cause any yoke with unsaved to be an intolerable bondage.
If such a revival were felt in the whole Church, every unequal yoke (2 Cor. 6:14-18) would be broken by the energy of the Holy Spirit and the whole Church would be brought together! But such a complete revival has never taken place, so the consequence of partial revivals has been more or less to separate Christians from Christians — those who want to go on with the world from those who do not. Hence, every such godly movement has to bear the reproach on the part of both the world and of many Christians of causing divisions, as the Lord's words declare that He came to do: “not to send peace but a sword” and to make a man's enemies to be “those of his own household” (Matt. 10:24-39).
In such a situation, compromise and expediency soon begin their fatal work. That which the Holy Spirit alone can accomplish, is taken in hand by the wisdom of man. Scripture is perverted for their 'causes,' for they cannot do without Scripture. Truth is partly suppressed or ignored; the cry of 'love' is invoked; and liberal tolerance with the promise of wider and speedy results, becomes the method of operation. From such activities of men, the religious confederacies of today have arisen with their large followings, which seem so triumphantly to justify them, but in which the truth of God tends to be watered down or ignored so that men may keep peaceful company with one another.
The uncompromising truth does arouse men and set them at opposition. The jarring sects of Protestantism have arisen from those 'private interpretations' of an open Bible, which 'wiser' Romanism has condemned in favor of what is strangely called 'catholic' (universal). Rome's word is not compromise but authority. Protestantism also dislikes the word compromise, preferring the word tolerance. They say that you must be liberal in divine things — the very thing in which you have no rights, for the Word of God claims to have the highest authority. Scripture is not tolerant! “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
Therefore, the sharp-edged teaching of 'all Scripture' tends to be in disrepute today. As men did with Jesus in His day, so now, they bow it out. They seldom allow Scripture to dictate to them where obedience will cost them much. There seems to be only a few people who are ready to receive and welcome all the truth of God. There can be no other reason why all Christians are not of one mind today, than that they do not desire at all costs to follow the truth. The Lord Himself says, “he who wills to do God's will, shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17). How could it be otherwise? What then does the confusion in Christendom tell of the condition of God's people?
In general, the problem is not strife about doctrines, but laziness and indifference to them. Some, very active in evangelism, almost have given up doctrine as only hindering their work. However, if they pause to realize the meaning of this, they must admit that either God or they are mistaken, because God's Word is full of doctrine (teachings) which we are told to obey. On the other hand, how many simply have received what they have heard without exercise about it, without following Paul's rule to “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
As a consequence of carelessly receiving many things, Scripture seems inconsistent and unintelligible. The searching of Scripture brings only perplexity. People who hold Scripture in a general way but give up its 'minor' details, would be astonished if they really knew how much of what they think that God has given them, is not the living Word of God at all.
This carelessness and laziness affects even the most fundamental truths about the Person and work of Christ. There are many conflicting views about atonement in the so-called orthodox denominations. What is the remedy? Many answer, “Leave out the views; do not define.” But suppose Scripture defines. Then they will say, “Don't go too deep into Scripture.” But Satan is the one who suggests this. He says to one person, “Be humble, don't imagine that your opinion is better than anyone else's,” and to another, “Be charitable: good men differ about these things,” and to another, “Don't contend for this: you will make enemies, you will lose your friends,” and to another, “You are not learned: don't occupy yourself with what requires a theologian to decide,” and to another, “The 'church' has settled this.” Getting more the dragon's voice, he says to another, “Surely there are mistakes in the Bible: you do not mean to contend for verbal inspiration?”
The form of the argument varies, but the voice is that of the liar, the one who “abode not in the truth” (John 8:44). Satan's constant aim is to discredit the truth. “Don't go too far; Don't be too sure; Don't be dogmatic; Don't be uncharitable.” The Devil knows exactly what approach to use that will make each of us most responsive to his touch. Further, he can mix his poisons so well, that there is little taste or smell of the main ingredient, but it will do its evil work.
The easy-going apathy of Christians is amazing, that will allow their best blessings to be stolen from under their eyes. In other matters, they quickly fight for what is theirs. “The children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). Many Christians have all the wisdom of the world in worldly matters, but the most childish incapacity in the things that should be theirs as Christians.
What is the meaning of this word to Philadelphia, “You have not denied My Name”? Perhaps you think of such denial as gross apostasy or as the lapse under pressure of past days of persecution when a little incense offered to some heathen god would save a Christian's life. Since few are tested that way now, you may believe that you have no need to look closely at this matter. But if Philadelphia specially applies to professedly-Christian times as today, then it is strange that not having done what few believers today have any strong temptation to do, should form a special commendation of Philadelphia! If the above were all that is meant by our subject phrase, we don't need to put much emphasis on the warning to hold fast that which you have, and overcoming won't be difficult or even possible since there is, for most, no problem to overcome.
Have we possibly, then, misinterpreted? Must not there be something special in both the commendation and warning that indicates a special liability just on the part of Philadelphians to this specific sin — some special trial to which they would be exposed, which would make them deny His Name?
What does it mean to deny His Name? What is His Name? All names are significant in Scripture, but the names of God are significant above all! If God acts “for His Name's sake,” He declares what He is. If we are gathered to Christ's Name (the true form of the words in Matthew 18:20), it is because of what we realize Him to be, that draws us unto Him. Thus, His Name is the revealed truth of what He is. He is away from the earth, so we do not have Himself, visibly, to come to. But the truth of what He is, draws us together, and as drawn, we confess what He is to us. Also, in so coming, we have the promise of His presence with us (Matt. 18:20). We are united together like a wheel. First, we are united by the circumference — ourselves one to another — but if that were all or even the main thing, the wheel would have no strength. Its strength primarily depends on the center. Likewise, our union is formed and maintained by the Center, Christ. In direct proportion to the strength of attachment to the Center, the circumferential union — that to one another — is defined and made secure.
Carry this thought back to our subject. Think of what Philadelphia stands for. If the true gathering of Christians is expressed in it, and it is to a true Christ (to the truth of what Christ is) that they are gathered, then what is more central for the Philadelphian than not to deny the truth of what Christ is — this all-essential, all-sufficient Name!
Now, another question, and let no one who values Christ treat it lightly. How would the devil, the enemy of God and man, the constant and subtle opposer of all good, and with angelic knowledge of what he is opposing, seek to corrupt and destroy a Philadelphian-movement? The answer is obvious. He would attack the central point on which all depended, the truth of Christ, His Person and His work. Thus, a main test for a Philadelphian movement would be the CONFESSION OR DENIAL OF THE NAME OF CHRIST as the Center of gathering!
Have I strained the argument? If not, let us take one more step. These addresses in Revelation 2 and 3 are prophetic, so this address to Philadelphia is a prophecy. So, we see implied here, in connection with this Philadelphian movement to recover (on principle) the Church of God, an attack of Satan on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Center of gathering. Has it occurred? I ask you who have knowledge of the history of the last 160 years in relation to this movement, to bear witness of this before God. Have there been questions affecting the Person of Christ and the gathering to His Name? Has not history fulfilled this prophecy? Then, how does this prophecy affect our position? Are we, by our position, denying His Name?
Let us remember that Satan is well versed in this terrible warfare. He has skill acquired in 6000 years of experience with man. “He is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Nothing is more common than to see him in the clothing of religion, and he is familiar with the speech of 'love.' He can appear as an angel of light and his ministers can appear as ministers of righteousness. Well may we look to our armor; well may we cling to the Word of God; well may we be praying with all prayer; well may we be “not ignorant of his (Satan's) devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). All the world is on his side. The flesh (the old nature), even in a Christian, pleads for him. We cannot defeat him by using his own weapons and tactics. In the battle with him, we should always keep in mind what Proverbs 5:6 says of the strange woman; “lest you should ponder the path of life, her ways are changeable that you should not know them.”
Let us fix in our minds that the Lord, in commending Philadelphia for not denying His Name, shows that the great danger in such controversies as have arisen is that the Philadelphian, in his desire that the people of God be together, will forget in some way the gathering Center and link himself with the denial of the Name of Christ. We will look at links later, but let us anticipate the apostle's warning words that one who receives or even greets the man who brings not this doctrine (of Christ) is a partaker of his evil deeds (2 John 7-11).* Therefore, one who knowingly greets the denier of Christ's Name, is part of that denial. The history of Satan's first attack on this divine movement in the mid 1800s clearly began with a practical denial of Christ's Name. Only on one side was there even any suspicion of such denial or of greeting the deniers. Even those who were separated from (now known as open brethren, Ed.) could not and did not charge the other side with such a denial or with any compromising adherence to those persons who were denying the Lord's Name. There, if anywhere (and the attack of the enemy is sure), the danger signals of this prophecy display themselves!
In this so called open-exclusive division,** God allowed Satan to sift God's wheat and he did his job well. Plenty of failure could be pointed to on both sides. Godliness, too, could be urged on both sides. In a sieve, things get well mixed. Thus, it is important to clearly stand on the ground given by this prophecy and see that, while on the one side of this division, men were pleading for the Center, the other side was thinking mainly of the circumference. Both need to be maintained, and it is quite possible to err on all sides, but the one who holds fast to Christ will find that He is the attractive power for His people. In drawing a circle with a compass, the circumference only can be drawn from the center. Philadelphia is neither praised nor blamed for her conduct in relation to Christ's people. It is “My Word, My Name, My patience” that are spoken of. To get His point of view is all-important!
If Christ is honored, the Holy Spirit is free to work, so truth finds its place in relation to Him, and there is progress. People can be led on. All who will, can judge the above case. The Holy Spirit cannot be mistaken or turned aside into other channels than those connected to the Rock from whom the water flows. And here is a distinct and precious evidence of Christ's approval. Apart from this connection, the stream grows sluggish and dries up. People may be blessed and ministered to, because God is gracious, but the supply is elsewhere.
The Question of Association
In this section, I will turn from the question of the doctrine of Christ, since in connection with the division discussed in chapter five, there are counter-charges and later developments that cannot be ignored.
We must look at association in the light of Scripture to settle how far reaching is the guilt of denying Christ's Name. Its importance demands a close examination. The question of association closely relates to the whole character of things today and should deeply concern us all. Scripture is strictly against principles that weave the Christian into the texture of 'society,' making it difficult to gain his attention as to what is spiritually harmful to him. Yet “the world passes away … but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
The association of man with man is a divine necessity. The institution of the family recognized it from the beginning. The differences in capacity of men bring them together; the lack in one is met by the other's efficiency. Union means ministry of each to each; the need of it being a most helpful discipline; the supply of it, an appeal to affection and gratitude. The Church of God is an organism in which this principle is fully owned — a union founded on both difference and unity, a body built up by that which “every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part” (Eph. 4:16).
Sin, however, transforms all good into evil; the greater the good, the worse the evil. The religious unions of today often are mere 'confederacy' or even 'conspiracy.' In it, the individual, which God's union always provides for and maintains, is interfered with. Conscience is suppressed, evil is tolerated for supposed final good, and morality is superseded by permissiveness.
Whatever motivates people to unite, the true fear of God is the only remedy for wrong union. This fear effectively will purge evil from all our unions, or else it will set God's free-man loose from a desire for a wrong union. If we want to walk with God, we cannot hold the hand of one who refuses His will as sovereign. Our goal must be His goal, and the way to it, His way. To seek to unite God with evil is profanity. (One meaning of profanity is “to pollute, to make common,” i.e., to mix evil with good. Ed.)
Thus, our associations are of great importance. They witness to the path on which (whatever our profession) we are really walking. Scripturally, we can only “follow righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
In the true Church of God, where our relationship to one another is of His establishment and not of our own will, it is inevitable that reconciling holiness in our ways with the eternal bond that unites us with one another, will cause serious perplexity. The world in which the Church is, is the Church's complete opposite, and the evil in the world constantly is appealing to the evil, old nature in the Christian. We should fear the world's friendship much more than its hostility. Not even a truce is possible between its prince (Satan) and our God.
Already in the apostles' time, the wisdom of the world, the lust of the flesh and the power of Satan were invading the sacred enclosure. Paul again had to define its boundary lines and repel the intruder. The foundation doctrine of the resurrection was being denied. The Corinthians' whole profession of Christianity was being brought into question. If such things could come in so soon in Corinth, in the very presence of an apostle, how can we expect better times and be permitted to escape necessary warfare? It is in Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians that he insists so earnestly that any yoke with unbelievers forfeits the enjoyment of our relationship to the Father. We must come out from among unbelievers and be separate and not even touch the unclean thing. Only then will we have the assurance, “I will receive you and be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18). The peril of evil association could not be more emphatically affirmed.
Some say that the unequal yoke has only to do with unbelievers and thus does not define our attitude towards Christians. Before looking at specific Scriptures, I want to deal with an argument that connects itself with such an objection. It is urged that we must have direct Scripture, not inference, to guide us in all these matters.
But, Scriptures gives us principles and not a complete code of divine law. This necessitates inference at every step. Inference can't be separated from a rational life, and God condescends to reason with His creatures, “Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord” (Isa. 1:18). The argument against reason in God's things has been carried to lengths that are as unscriptural as they are irrational. Scripture nowhere discredits any God-given faculty that man has. In speaking against what God has given, we necessarily speak against the Giver. God is honored as Creator when His creation is honored.
Sin has come in and perverted every faculty, but the work of God is to purify and not destroy. When one begins to realize his relation to God, reason becomes most reasonable in accepting the creature-limit, and rationality fills the life and character of the new man in Christ. One might as well say that, if we have light, we don't need our eyes, as to discredit reason in the things of God. It is only in the light that the eyes are of any use!
Moreover, God tests us by our use of reason. He holds us responsible to have our eyes open and to use them honestly. The apostle speaks of this exercise as being what he found necessary to have “a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man” (Acts 24:16). Exercise shows that a man is morally and spiritually awake; and by it, he is kept in spiritual health and vigor. Therefore, God insists on the necessity of this and acts with a view to it being maintained. Scripture is so written “that the man of God may be perfect” (2 Tim. 3:17) — not all the world, and not even the drowsy and sleep-loving among Christians.
Now, let us apply these things to the unequal yoke and we shall see that the refusal of such texts as having an application to fellowship among Christians is unspiritual and immoral. Does the principle involved in the question, “what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion has light with darkness?” apply only to a yoke with unbelievers? Suppose we are all believers. Are we free to yoke ourselves with a believer who is walking in unrighteousness?
God's personal holiness and the requirements of His holiness are the same for the saint and sinner alike, except that the sin of the saint is worse than that of the sinner in proportion to the difference in light and grace between the two. Thus, the unequal yoke fully applies to a yoke between Christians if one of these Christians is allowing in himself the unrighteousness which cannot be gone on with in the unbeliever.
Because men will not infer, in no way hinders the just judgment of God as to the matter. The consequences of our acts will as surely follow as if we swallowed poison in the belief that it was good food. Many have found the disastrous effects of alliances, whether social, commercial or religious, made under the pacifying illusion that the alliances were OK because they only involved Christians! How many, so deluded, have wakened up to find that after all, the question in Amos 3:3 was much deeper than they had thought: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?”
The various ways that these principles affect our lives are easily seen. Wives go with their husbands in things they believe wrong before God because the verse “wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18) is supposed to release them from all moral responsibility. Likewise, “Children obey your parents in all things” (Col. 3:20, Eph. 6:1) is used to reverse the moral nature of things, placing the earthly tie above the divine one. We are also told that we have no Scriptural authority for judging assemblies. If this is true, then we can't treat the sins of assemblies as we treat sin elsewhere. All the above are the fruit of an immoral principle. How can those who preach and practice such things escape the woe of the prophet on “those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20)? The eternal principles of God's government and the changeless holiness of the divine nature are against them.
Returning to the Scripture teaching on association, 2 Timothy gives us Paul's last words when the Church already was far gone into failure. The Church is no longer called the house of God, as in 1 Timothy. Although it was still that, Paul rather compares it to both a great house with its vessels even for dishonorable uses, and to a house in ruins, except for its foundation. Notice the inscription on its foundation stone: “Nevertheless, the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). Precious assurance, but what does it indicate? It indicates that the Church was becoming invisible except to God who knows every person who has come to Him for salvation. But there is more to the inscription. Just when all the difficulties of the path are being shown, just when the evil might seem to have won, and laxity to be thus unavoidable, the directions — God's road map for the path through all the tangle — are found, simple, straight and stable: “And let him who names the name of the Lord, depart from iniquity” (v. 19).
Thank God. Here is the answer! Here alone is absolute safety. Commit yourself unhesitatingly to this, no matter what is the question to be decided, individual, social, religious; no matter what the issue may be; no matter what may threaten you. Here alone will you find the path through the desert, up over the most rugged mountain, down in the valley of death, yet “the path of the just is like the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18), because the light of heaven is upon it.
Notice how the Lord's sacred name is here. If one only names “the Name of the Lord” (the correct word) — the Name of Him to whom, in the face of man's opposition, one is to be subject — then he must depart from iniquity (unrighteousness). What is unrighteousness? Righteousness is all that is right in God's eyes, and you can only measure this correctly as you think of the place that the blood of Christ has put you, of the grace shown to you and which you are to show, and of the blessed path in which you are called to follow Him. Unrighteousness is the opposite of all this. In all this, you will find plenty of daily exercise.
The next verses (2 Tim. 2:20-22) say, “but in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honor and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and fit for the Master's use and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
These verses show us the disorder and the directions to follow in a time of disorder, regarding both separation from the evil (the negative) and association with what is good (the positive). “Those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” are the same as those who, “naming the name of the Lord, depart from unrighteousness.” Thus, the man who purges himself from the vessels to dishonor, finds his own class. But, are the vessels to honor and the vessels to dishonor the only two classes found here? If only those who purge themselves from the vessels to dishonor are vessels to honor, then all who are unpurged must be classed either as vessels to dishonor, or there must be a third class, simply left aside as not fit (not prepared) for the Master's use — a solemn condition in either case!
Are we to apply this to fellowship in the assembly? There are no exceptions made to these words. The following of righteousness, faith, love, peace with those purged from evil associations, implies that the unpurged cannot be righteously breaking bread in the assembly. If these are unfit for the Master's use, they cannot have their part in that place of responsibility and privilege where God uses each and all as He sees fit. The members of the body are, by the fact of being such, responsible to edify (build up) one another. If they are unfit for this, they are disqualified for the responsibility and privilege of being part of the outward expression of that one body — the local assembly. If they cannot call on the Lord out of a pure heart, they cannot really call upon Him at all. The local assembly, if of one mind with the Lord, has to approve His judgment.
This principle again is shown by the question, “What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). By being put as a question, a clear and positive answer is implied. Every conscience is expected to respond.
Assembly fellowship must be based on righteousness. The voice of the Holy and True is heard there. Permit evil to be allowed in one person or many, and full practical fellowship with Christ must cease. We cannot walk with God and go on with sin!
Thus, the entire Corinthian assembly, with the immoral person in its midst, was leavened (made part of the evil) by their allowance of it. They had to purge out the leaven (evil) by self-judgment and separation from it, that they might be a new lump (1 Cor. 5). As long as the sin was allowed, they were not a new lump because the leaven was in the lump, not just in the individual. In Christ, they were unleavened, but they were to represent in their practical condition what grace had made them, positionally, to be.
However, some people say that even though Corinth allowed evil in its midst, it was unleavened. Even if it was leavened, some add, it would be too late to purge out the leaven. The last assertion denies the power of divine grace for every condition that can be found among God's people. Yet, there was something exceptional in the state of things at Corinth which cannot be pleaded for in any other assembly since. They may not have known what to do since such a case had not been provided for. They might have mourned over it to God. God then tells them what to do, that none might again be able to say that they didn't know what to do.
They were to “put away from among themselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13). Some object to saying “from the Lord's table,” but, in fact, the command goes even further, saying, “from among yourselves.” To only put someone away from the table might, for the careless, be perfectly consistent with treating the person as one of themselves in other respects. But the apostle Paul shows how much farther this 'putting away' is to go, by adding, “with such an one, no, not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). There was to be the refusal of all association, even to an ordinary meal!
A leavened lump means that every part of it is capable of spreading leaven. That is the idea in old leaven — a piece of the old lump that could be introduced into the new so that the new lump would become leavened too. It shows that every one who approves the retention of evil, is really a partaker of the evil. He, in practice, denies the holiness of God and thus cannot himself be holy. I'm not speaking of physical contact. One might work in the same factory or office with the evil person, without defilement. Rather, I'm speaking of a corrupt and corrupting principle that associates the Name of Christ with that which dishonors Him, and in that sense, denies His Name. Thus, the Philadelphian is reminded that God is “the Holy and the True,” but holiness is lost in communion (association) with evil.
Purging out the evil means separation from it. Here in 1 Corinthians, the assembly acts. In Timothy, one who would be a vessel to honor must purge himself from the vessels to dishonor: that is, he must, at all costs, personally act. If the local assembly stands in the way of this, then, to keep a good conscience, he must separate from the assembly. In this, there is the judgment of an assembly. If one rightly has separated himself (and the rules are well-defined; not just some whim or something we don't like), we too must separate ourselves and thus judge the assembly. If we do not, we are not with God. Thus, we are forced to judge every individual in this leavened lump. To go on with those who deny the holiness of God is to be, ourselves, unholy. To deny the Name of Christ as the Holy and the True is to cease to be Philadelphian!
A Circle of Fellowship or Independency
We now must consider another question which closely connects to what we have just considered. Independency is the most successful way yet found to evade Scriptural discipline and also the most successful snare to cause the children of God to resist His will, while often honestly believing themselves to be standing only for the principles of the Word: against confederacy, for purity and for unsectarian maintenance of the body of Christ. Therefore, we must look carefully into, first, what independency really is, and then at its fruits.
In its simplest and boldest form, independency denies any Scriptural authority for a circle of fellowship outside of the individual (local) gathering. This denial is made in the interests, they reason, of unsectarian recognization of the one Church only, the body of Christ. They claim that to form and maintain a circle is sectarian and that the adoption by such a circle of a common discipline is absolute sectarianism because it makes the whole a 'party' that may take the Name of Christ, as some did at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11-13), and make that precious Name an instrument of division.
This charge may not be one of denying the Name of Christ, but it comes so close as to make it most serious. Those who hold to a circle of fellowship and yet refuse to adopt a sectarian name (a name that sets them apart from other Christians), can neither afford to give up their claim of gathering simply to Christ's Name, nor accept what is charged against them. Let us examine, then, what is meant by these assertions and bring all to the test of Scripture. The truth will become clearer by every fresh examination, and the only danger is in our examination being done carelessly.
What is meant by the expression “circle of fellowship”? (The expression itself is not found in Scripture, as neither are other words like trinity or rapture, but the truth expressed by each is found there, Ed.) The thought must be partly believed even by the objector himself if he has others gathered with himself in any local assembly, for these few obviously do not make up the entire Assembly of God in that city. So, there must be a within and a without, a being, in some sense, of us or not of us; a something that is kept from being a part — a sect — by it having no arbitrary, no merely human terms of admission. If there are no terms, then it is a mere rabble of lawless men, to be refused by every Christian.
If you say, “We are to be subject to Scripture only,” that implies that it is Scripture as you see it, not as your fellow Christians see it, and you take your place as before the Lord, to be judged by Him regarding this. Your being separate from others makes a circle of fellowship, but it does not make you a sect. You own Christians everywhere as members of the body of Christ and receive them wherever a Scriptural hindrance to their reception does not exist, and you speak of being gathered simply to Christ's Name, without any thought of making the Name of Christ an instrument of division.
Well, then, at least in the city of our above example, there is a gathering of Christians that I can and should recognize, apart from the whole body of Christians in that place. I say should because I am responsible to God as to whom I can assemble with. So, here alone, I find those with whom I can assemble, no unscriptural condition being imposed on me. Now, were there another assembly in the same city, of the same character, then I would have to ask why they were not together, for the sin of division is a serious one (1 Cor. 1:10), and I would have to refuse this.
If then, in this city, there is a gathering that I can and must acknowledge, suppose now, I move to another city and find a gathering that I equally can own as gathered to Christ's Name only, would it be right for me, in the new locality, to now refuse to own as a separated company those in the old city, whom, when I was there, I owned, and if I were there now, I would still have to own? Is it possible that my going from New York to Boston would make that wrong for me at New York which at Boston, would be right, and if I went back to New York, would be right again? If so, that is either complete independency or the most curious shifting of right and wrong that one can imagine — morality shifting every few miles of the road. However, if not, then we are connected, in principle, to a circle of fellowship — a grouping of local assemblies, meeting on common, Scriptural ground and discipline, wherever they may be located.
The recognition of each other by such gatherings throughout the world is thus right and everything opposed to it, is wrong. However, Scripture and history have shown us that it is impossible to maintain this in practice for the entire Assembly (Church) of God, if God's principles are of any value to us. For, were I taking the trip spoken of above, must I not ask for those in Boston who are of one mind with us? Would those in Boston expect anything else of me. A circle of fellowship may be refused in theory, but the facts disprove the theory. The only alternative is grossest independency — associating wherever one wills and recognizing obligations nowhere but where the individual wills. This would be the most complete sectarianism that could exist.
We are to recognize the whole body of Christ, but not their unscriptural associations. In the interests of the righteousness demanded by God for the body of Christ, I refuse denominations, but in the same interests, I must accept the circle of righteous, unsectarian fellowship. The gracious words of Matthew 18:20, which provide for a day of failure and confusion and approve the two or three gathered to the Lord's blessed Name, obviously approve such gatherings in every place. Therefore, a circle — a grouping — of such gatherings exist. It would be as sectarian to refuse identification with these as to take our place with the various denominations. Nor would it save us from this, to say that we were acting for the good of the whole Church of God when the disproof is so easy from Scripture itself.
Further, to accept these Scriptural gatherings is to accept their Scriptural discipline, for the Lord's approval of the gathering is His approval of their discipline. Of course, I do not mean that they can add to Scripture or invent an unscriptural form of discipline, or that the Lord approves what might be a mistaken judgment. He always is the Holy and True, the Lord and Master of His people. But, these “two or three” of Matthew 18:20 have authority for discipline, and woe to him who resists its rightful use: “If he hear not the church (assembly), let him be to you as a heathen man and a publican (tax collector)” (Matt. 18:17) refers to just such feeble gatherings as we have been discussing.
The same things are true for the discipline as for the gathering itself. If the discipline is righteous and respected at “A” where it is applied, it must be respected at “B” and at “C.” If the decision is a local matter, then the Lord plainly has put it into the hands of those who are in circumstances to judge it aright, although protest and appeal are surely to be listened to and those who judged the matter are required to satisfy those elsewhere who are honestly exercised about it.
Questions about truth as opposed to conduct affect all, and can be put before all. No local gathering has authority in any such matter, for that would be making a creed for others to obey. Further, the truth as to Christ is an especially deep and vital matter, for we are gathered to His Name. Where truth of this kind is subverted, the 'gathering' ceases to exist except as an instrument in Satan's hand and we must refuse both it and all who continue with it.
If the question is about facts, then those who have the facts are required to make them known to their brethren. Here, a circular letter could have its place, not to establish a rule or principle of action, but as a witness, which, of course, is open to question as all 'facts' are, if there is contrary evidence or that given is insufficient. No letter has authority in itself: it can only present facts and all must judge the credibility of the testimony.
With these limitations resulting from the fallibility common to us all, we must acknowledge both a circle of fellowship and the discipline connected with it, if we would be free from independency.
Independency always acts against God. It makes the members of the one body say to each other, “we have no need for you.” It denies the unity of the Spirit which should be recognized throughout the body. The more we lament and refuse the sectarianism* that exists all around us, the more we are compelled to and shall rejoice to own simply the body of Christ wherever possible. This circle of fellowship, while it is not the body, provides us the means of owning, in practice as well as in theory, the body of Christ in a truthful and holy way, so far as the Church's state of ruin permits it to be done. With love to all Christ's own and with an open door to all, on the conditions of truth and holiness, such a circle is not sectarian, but a protest against it.
Gathering on the ground of the one body is completely different from any claim to be the one body, and it does not imply any man-made (sectarian) condition of intelligence for communion. The maintenance of a common discipline is not sectarian, but it is an essential part of that communion itself: absolutely necessary because the holiness of God is the same everywhere and is not a thing for the “two or three” here or there to play with as they desire.
Independency, in setting aside the practical unity of the Church, also sets aside a main guard of holiness. Holiness is no longer the object of common care, nor is there common exercise about it. Independency releases one from a sense of personal responsibility to the house of God. Rather, it makes one feel that it is only his own house that he is to keep clean, in his own way. This laxity towards the people of God at large (but which is so consoling to an unexercised conscience, that it is a great charm of independency to multitudes today), naturally has the effect of lowering one's estimate of holiness, thus preventing one's own house from being kept really clean!
Where a circle of fellowship and a common discipline are not maintained (perhaps as a natural fruit of independency), the unholy principle is contended for, that an assembly cannot be judged for the same sin that would compel the judgment of an individual. Thus, almost any local discipline can be evaded by a little dexterity. If the gathering at “B” will not receive you from “A,” it will receive you from “C,” and “C” will receive you from “A.” So, by a little juggling of which assembly you attend, no one is safe anywhere from the violation of a discipline which you recognize as a Scriptural one. Any person, if not too well known, becomes lost in the maze of bewildering inter-communions between independent local gatherings. One who has a conscience and would be clear from unrighteousness, soon has to resign himself to a general hope that what looks so confusing, will in the end, uphold the interests of holiness; or in despair, wash his hands of what he can't avoid.
Independency is an ensnaring system because both pessimism and optimism can find excuses for it and thus go on with it. One gets free of an amazing amount of trouble without seeming to give up all the Scriptural principles of gathering as many others have, and yet be almost as free as these others from the wearying responsibility of being one's brother's keeper. Why should we be our brother's keeper, they ask, when we only get trouble for our efforts? Find a narrow path instead of a broad, open one that is so pleasant to all of us; and for all this we have only to shut our eyes at the proper time and ignore what we can't help.
The countless small divisions of independency make less show than the terrible rents which we are exposed to otherwise. Why not let this sad-faced Merarite go, with his pins and cords of the tabernacle always getting tangled, and be content with Kohath and Gershom? But, if the Lord's tabernacle is to be set up in the wilderness, we must have the pins and cords.
In result, the truth of God suffers and tends to be lost. But what should we expect when we choose what we will have of it and what we will discard? Fellowship becomes of uncertain quality, with obedience to the Word having little to do with it. Worship is largely displaced by service, for we have lost the necessary pins and cords. One may still go on with the help of what little truth he can still find room for, but the full truth tends to slip away in the jangle of the many opinions of men.
One's voice may be little heard in a day like this, but I would press upon the Lord's people, first, their Master's claim. I press that independency, little as one may imagine it or care to think of it, means ultimate shipwreck of the truth of Christ because it means independency of Him. One will find plenty of associates in independency, for it gives the kind of liberty and freedom so coveted today, but Christ's authority is not in it. Thus, it cannot have the approval which Philadelphia, in spite of its “little power,” finds from her gracious Lord: “You have kept My Word and not denied My Name.”
Clerisy and Ecclesiasticism
There is no position that we can take, however right it may be, that will free us from the dangers of Satan's snares. We have no sooner escaped them in one direction, than we realize that we have come nearer to them in another direction. The Church truly is militant. To have learned our proper, God-given place in the ranks is a very different thing from withdrawing from the battle. In fact, Satan specially attacks those who are walking with God, God permits us to learn spiritual warfare so that every spiritual sense will be forced into activity, that we may “by reason of use, have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14) and also to make us learn thereby, the value of what is our own, as men realize the value of what they are in danger of losing.
In Israel's wilderness journey, all the people were in the camp. The dangers that surrounded them were dangers for all alike. Further, in Christianity, the warfare comes nearer to us in proportion to how spiritual we are. And there is no non-combatant class. There are none, by sex or any other way, exempted from the drill, discipline and actual encounter. Just as every Christian is both a priest and a minister of Christ, so every Christian is a soldier of Christ, and to be a good one, he must have the knowledge of his spiritual weapons, the nerve and dexterity (only acquired by practice) to use them, and an understanding of the tactics of the enemy he faces.
There are leaders in this warfare. In Israel, every person was ranked under his captain. But, there is a great difference between fleshly and spiritual warfare. In man's warfare, the responsibility assumed by the leader removes responsibility from those who follow him, and one may admire those who go at the will of another, knowing that, perhaps, someone has made a mistake.
However, in spiritual warfare, we may pity but not admire such followers. The responsibility of the leader removes none of the responsibility from the follower. If the follower is misled, he is guilty of being misled and has not only compromised himself, but the whole cause with which he is identified. He is guilty because there is only one infallible Leader for His people, whose voice is to be heard everywhere amid all the din of the battlefield. The responsibility of every lesser leader is to make men listen to that Voice: every one of these leaders has to say, “Be you followers (imitators) of me, even as I also follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
If we value the welfare of God's people we must press on them their personal responsibility to God, and that no one can save them from it in any part of Christian practice. Yet, the great mass of Christian men and women seek to escape from their responsibility. They believe in the practice of substitution — letting someone else do it — in almost every line of Christian activity. Specially in that which concerns the assembly, this principle of substitution so blinds the eyes and so leads God's people astray that it calls for the strongest repudiation by each person to whom the Lord has given any ability to influence the minds of his fellows. This form of substitution proceeds from that state of spiritual sluggishness like that of Proverbs 6:10-11, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall your poverty come as one who travels (a tramp) and your want as an armed man.”
My Christian friend, allow no one to stand between you and Christ! Christ alone is your Master. You must give account to Him alone. The vigor, brightness and faithfulness of your life depends on how you abide (remain) in dependence on Him alone. Of course, you don't refuse the help that He gives you through another: that would be pride and self-sufficiency. God has given us to each other for all the mutual help we can give. Don't let that truth be weakened in the least. But we fall into one of Satan's most subtle and successful traps when we allow the esteem (respect) we have for one another, the rightful confidence in someone's genuineness, wisdom, godliness, etc., to make him the director of our consciences in the things of God. Such would be Romanism in principle, for Romanism gives Christ a human vicar (substitute) — the Pope — to whom people give Christ's place, as if Christ was far away from His people.
We must seek no substitute for ourselves and have no substitute for Christ. We must not falsify our blessed relationship with Him, into which He has brought us. We must be completely with and for Him. We must have nothing worldly in our lives. Finally, we must not approve another to fill the offices that we have vacated.
Clerisy means the official taking up by a class (specialized group) among Christians of what the rest — the masses — have given up to them. It means the unspiritualizing of the masses, the laity, who resign the duties for which they are 'unfitted,' into more capable hands. Of course, they are unfitted only because they give up so much of their relationship to Christ so they can be correspondingly freer for the demands and pleasures of the world. However, people don't think of it in this way. Most Christians have grown up in a clergy-laity atmosphere and therefore don't realize its sinfulness or how it cleaves to them. Even if we have escaped from clerisy to some degree, let our spiritual warmth be chilled a little, and almost insensibly and quite informally, we fall into it again.*
As an example, doesn't a person's sex have something to do with our degree of conscience? Isn't conscience considered more a masculine than a feminine characteristic? For instance, as to discipline in the assembly, are the women as much exercised about it as the men? Is it even admitted that they have as much right to be exercised? Yet the women are responsible for every act of discipline and if they take part in it with a bad conscience, it will affect their whole spiritual life. In fact, if they are unexercised, they make it a small matter whether they are pleasing God or not, and thus must have either a dull or bad conscience. Some women even have been taught that matters of this nature are outside their realm because they are not part of the assembly or that they are not moral beings.
Many women are inclined to take the place that is so often assigned to them. Whatever the motives, it is a serious mistake. It begins a habit that will cling to them in other things and spread among the men too, until a large part of the assembly simply confirm the judgment of their 'leaders' and the reign of clerisy is, in practice, established. If serious questions now come before the assembly, the incapacity of the majority will become more apparent. Their habitually unexercised, now-dull consciences won't have the ability for judgment. The merely human motives which always have swayed them, will sway them still. They will be swayed by arguments that derive their force mainly from the people who use them, or they will drift and perhaps break up under the influence of family and social ties.
Drifting is a serious matter: it always tends towards stranding and breaking up because there is no intelligent guidance of the vessel. This is truer in spiritual things than in natural things because divine wisdom does not govern. This wisdom is only given when formally sought after. In the divisions among the Lord's people, drifting and the use of human wisdom have always intensified the evil. Christian men and women, really exercised before God, will necessarily walk and act together, but the unintelligent followers of leaders will fall apart with these leaders or break up into smaller fragments (groups) when God permits the inevitable collision to test their spiritual condition. A right spiritual state of the mass of Christians would, to a large extent, hold the leaders in check, who as leaders, naturally lead the divisions; who knowingly or not, have in fact formed divisions.
The masses of Christians are responsible for that helpless leaning on their leaders, which leaning has helped the leaders to fall. The masses have lost the One Voice (which never can divide or contradict itself) amid the many, often-discordant voices of men. Thus clerisy — a state of spiritual decline away from Christ — can be remedied only by returning to the One who must be Master in every detail of individual and collective life. We must allow no substitute — no vicar.
We must look beyond the actors in the various divisions among the Lord's people, for there was a state of things that necessitated the divisions. Wherever you find an unspiritual, unexercised mass that can be wheeled into line at the bidding of some trusted man or men, with at best, only slight knowledge of both the facts and the Scriptural principles connected with the problem, you have the state of things that is at the bottom of the trouble. It is clerisy and ecclesiasticism (devotion to a certain man-made church order). These two things are the complement of one another and they exist among even those who have a horror of them elsewhere, while they don't realize that they are cherishing the very things that have produced them!
You will hear intelligent Christians say something like this, regarding things in which they have taken definite sides with their party: “Well, we personally didn't know much about these things, but Mr. X looked into them and we all have confidence in him,” etc. (I leave the word party stand, offensive as it rightly is, because for those who can say the above, they have acted only with a party). Sometimes, even when widespread division has taken place among the Lord's people, many who divided from each other have never known what was in question, and everything that would have enlightened them was kept from them! How can the commendation “You have kept My Word” apply to such, when they neither knew nor cared enough to find out, to what and how God's Word applied?
Most assembly decisions involve practical local matters and must be reached on the spot and shouldn't be spread around. I don't speak of such things. These are not the matters that usually cause division. What does cause division is usually some question of truth or principle as to which the local assembly has no binding authority at all for others. Of course, if a teacher of error is in their midst and they are satisfied that he subverts the foundations of Christianity, their duty is simple: they must clear themselves. But their decision may be appealed to the Word of God and Christians everywhere are required to consider the appeal. The judgment by an assembly, in this case, has no force whatever unless the assembly can show the evidence of the evil that has necessitated their action. If the doctrine taught was Scriptural, such a decision has no power at all. The Word of God is the charter under which the assembly acts and thus is above all its actions. The Church does not teach or define doctrine! The very semblance of power in the hands of an assembly to set forth what Christians are to receive is to be refused by everyone who would be loyal to Christ. Thus, individual exercise is an absolute must. We cannot hide behind one another. “You have kept My Word” rings in our ears.
The truth committed to Christians is the most important trust that they can have. If it could be said of Israel, “What advantage, then, has the Jew? … chiefly, because unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2), what then must be the value of our inheritance? God has allowed a few believers to return to something like the simplicity that prevailed at the beginning of the Church and to recognize the common relationship of Christians to one another. He has freed us in measure from the traditions of men and from human inventions in the things of God. He has done all this so we can enjoy and profit by the unadulterated Word of Christ! It is all that we have for blessing. The Holy Spirit, who has taught us both His presence with us and His authority in the Assembly, is the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). His great work on earth is to show us the things of Christ. He is the Holy Spirit — holiness is the holiness of truth, sanctification (being set apart to God) is by the truth. We are taught by God to love one another, and this Philadelphian spirit is shown us by the apostle of love (John) to be “love in the truth” and “for the truth's sake” (2 John 1-2).
Today, men are talking of the unity of Christendom (professing Christianity) and they are proving the practicality of bringing masses of Christians together for many good purposes. But who can expect anything beyond good ends when truth as a whole must be set aside to maintain good fellowship? Differences must be avoided, even gross error condoned, and since “evil company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33), what must be the end of such associations without even the guard imposed by discipline maintained in the churches?
The Church can maintain the truth only by allowing full liberty for the truth to maintain itself, without sectarian (man-made) restriction of any kind. Where the “doctrine of Christ” is upheld, and thus the gathering to His Name is guarded, Scripture allows for no further restriction on the part of the assembly. The assembly may, of course, always refuse to listen to what is unprofitable and vain, but the truth only gains by being trusted as having full power to speak with its own authority to the believer. “Let the prophets speak … and let the others judge” (1 Cor. 14:29). “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Thus, the exercise of conscience is for the blessing of all. Those who can go to sleep under a not-to-be-disputed creed, are wakened up by a lively (but godly) discussion of the Word. The relationship and consequences of truth are, in this manner, searched out and made known. Haven't we been too afraid of such discussion which, while reverent and brotherly in character, tends to make the truth a present and living issue and therefore to give it power? If God had seen the creed to be the better way to maintain this, He would have given it.
We now come to the formidable word heresy. There is not much difficulty in what Scripture says about it; the difficulty is in the meaning that men have given it. The Greek word for heresy often is translated 'sect' in the King James Version of the Bible: the sect of the Pharisees, Sadducees (Acts 5:17; 15:5) gives the general thought. These were not divisions in the sense of separations from Judaism, but were doctrinal parties in Judaism. When Paul speaks of having “after the strictest sect of our religion, lived a Pharisee“ (Acts 26:5), he acknowledges other sects of his religion and certainly would not have used the word in an offensive way. The impossibility of using the word in these cases as something offensive, shows how little our modern idea of it can be taken as the idea of the New Testament. Christianity was looked at, in its beginning, as a similar sect — the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). At that time, Christians were not as yet fully separated from the Jewish worship.
Thus, when the apostle Paul before Felix confesses that “after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers” (Acts 24:14), we must not put unscriptural thoughts into it. The Jews would have used the same word for the parties to which they themselves belonged, and that was the force of the word — literally a choice or an adherence. Those who used the word did not mean to decide by it as to right or wrong, but simply to classify as different the existing schools of thought or doctrine. The apostle resented the term heresy as applying to Christianity because it ignored the divine revelation given in Christianity and characterized it as a mere human choice — an opinion.
On the other hand, Paul could not resent the implication that Christianity was a system of doctrines, which it is and is intended to be, claiming men's adherence and gathering disciples. The apostle asserted this claim (which always is the claim of truth) in the very presence of those who called him before their tribunals for it. He even sought to proselytize — win over — King Agrippa before their eyes (Acts 24-26).
Yet Paul refused to allow Christianity to be called a sect because God had spoken in it, and all men were to hear. It was no opinion but revealed truth, and this is the key to the condemnation of heresy in the apostolic writings. There is to be no opinion, no mere human choice among Christians. The one truth claims the allegiance of all. The Word of God has been given to us, and the one Holy Spirit is given to bring us all to one mind about it. All departure from this is to be utterly condemned.
Heresies are spoken of in only three passages in the Epistles. In 2 Peter 2:1, the “damnable heresies” of the King James translation has hidden the true meaning. The phrase is literally “heresies of destruction” — heresies that destroy men. These are doctrines brought in by false teachers — doctrines that even deny the Lord who bought them. Here, the teaching obviously is fundamental error, but this does not prove that all heresy is fundamental error. The term is a much wider one than this.
Notice that these false teachers bring in these doctrines “secretly” — not necessarily just whispering them about, for the word means “by the side”: thus in an indirect or not straightforward way. Satan, in attacking the Lord among Christians, naturally takes his own subtle, sneaky way. To expect straightforwardness in the teaching of error is not to know or understand Satan.
In view of the divisions that Paul had heard of in Corinth, he adds, “and I partly believe it, for there must also be heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:18-19). Here, the differences among them were openly showing themselves when they came together at the Lord's table. These differences came from following different and discordant teachers (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Therefore, Paul calls these differences the fruit of heresies. Also, in speaking to the Galatians, Paul calls these heresies the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-20). This is all we have in Scripture as to heresies themselves.
There is one mention of a heretic: “A man who is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he who is such, is subverted and sins, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:10-11).
For reject, the Revised Version has refuse, with avoid in the margin. The Alford and Ellicott Greek text uses the word shun. J. N. Darby uses have done with. Literally, the word means ask off, or in familiar talk, ask him to excuse you. Thus, “have done with” seems to be the best rendering among the above. The discipline of the assembly is not implied here and the assembly is not in question. This verse deals with a man determined to have and maintain his own opinion. When this is clear, the instruction is to leave him to himself — refuse to listen to him.
The reason given is, “for he who is such, is subverted [turned aside, gone out of the way, can't be helped], and sins, being self-condemned.” The truth bears its own testimony to the conscience, but such a person hardens himself against it. Therefore, there is no use going on with him.
We must find elsewhere the principles that regulate assembly discipline in such cases. The whole question as to whether it is a matter for assembly discipline, is whether the doctrine taught is fundamental or not. For this, every Christian has the means for judgment — the Bible — and the responsibility for making that judgment. As to what is not fundamental, one could not expect all to have the same competency.
So, we should treat party-making as the apostle treats it, by appeal to the conscience and heart. The assembly also has the right to refuse to listen to what doesn't build it up. For the rest, God must be trusted and we must learn patience with each other. The truth can be trusted to prevail with the true-hearted and authority (short of divine authority) can never help it. All manner of creeds and laws have failed to maintain the truth; and an unwritten creed of conduct in the assembly concerning non-fundamental heresy will be worse in this respect, not better. Such a creed would subject all to the will of the few, which will vary with their character and temperaments, with their knowledge or ignorance of the matter in question and with the many influences that may work on them.
Nothing must stand between the Word of God and the believer, and the Holy Spirit must be the only authoritative Teacher! “You need not that any man teach you” (1 John 2:27) should be engraved on our hearts. Only where the Holy Spirit is honored and relied on, and only where the Word of God is received as God's Word, can there be any assurance for anything. If God's Word is doubtful, where shall we find anything that is less so?
On the other hand, nothing must stand between the teacher's conscience and his Lord as to what he teaches. The Lord says, “He who has My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28). Who shall dictate to a teacher what he is or is not to say? Who is to dictate what the Lord's people shall receive or not receive? Who is able to be the substitute for the Holy Spirit among God's people and to do for them what He refuses to do — to keep them from the need of “proving all things” by keeping them from ministry that needs proving, and giving them only what has been decided previously to be good food?
Even if the above sifting of ministry could be done, it would be bad, because it would keep the children of God as babes, unexercised and unaccustomed to decide for themselves between truth and error. Were their teachers not as competent as they believed them to be — possibly in error in some things — it would insure that those accustomed to receiving ministry without exercise would receive the error with no more question than when they were receiving the truth. Such principles, when received and acted on, introduce more than all the evils of an ordinary clergy: they introduce a practical Romanism which prepares the way for a large departure from the truth.
Such infantile Christianity is advocated today in many ways and places as the proper condition of the saint. For instance, I have some letters of two brethren with a third brother, and one of these letters refers to a book by a rationalistic, high-church Episcopalian. The other answers with a remark as to “his allusion to an infidel's book, which he should know nothing about!” There is no qualification whatsoever, although he knows nothing of the motives that might have led the brother to read such a book. He is not suggesting caution. His words are a statement that no motive could justify a Christian to read such a book.
Others go farther. They refuse even to read the defense of those whom they know to be Christians, and who they themselves have charged with heresy. One gave his reason for not reading a reply to his own pamphlet as “those who read it, fall under the power of it!”
Such Christianity is suited only for some paradise where evil carefully has been fenced out. Such ideas condemn every book that has been written in defense of Christianity, for such books suppose a knowledge of what is said against Christianity. Actually, such thoughts are as well suited to keeping in error as keeping in truth, or to keeping out truth as keeping out error. For such persons, the apostle's command to “prove all things” either must be too lax, too dangerous, or it must be intended for some special safe class who are to be the custodians of others, but who, unfortunately, are not indicated by Scripture. These rules would, with slight alterations, allow every kind of heresy, while Christianity would become a mere hot house plant to which a breath of cold outside air would almost be fatal.
God forbid that I should cause people to be careless as to how they expose themselves to the attacks of Satan, but carelessness is the very thing caused by such ideas of men for shutting Satan out. In proportion to how much we think we have shut Satan out, we shall be less on our guard. Where does the soldier stand most at ease? Not in the battlefield! Shall we prosper most by being ignorant, or “not ignorant of his (Satan's) devices” (2 Cor. 2:11)?
The trouble everywhere is caused by light, loose, careless dealing with Scripture. Scripture is the pilgrim's guidebook, the soldier's manual, the fitting of the man of God for every good work. But, for Scripture to be all these things for us, we must be pilgrims, soldiers, men of God! There is no hope except in this. Further, Scripture, as interpreted by the Holy Spirit to the honest heart, is sufficient for all demands on it. Let us trust it and not be afraid of, or for it.
The unreasoning cry of heresy has been used for years to terrorize those who, if any, should have been God's freemen. They have been made afraid to look at the Word of God for themselves, apart from the guidance of some recognized interpreter. People have been cut off as heretics for putting forth that which, in a “believer knowing no more,” would not have excluded him from fellowship. Others have been put away because they wrote what they might have held privately or talked about here and there to others without such action following. To publish what they held, was to form a party by it, it was said, and a man became a heretic by this.
I want you to see that this human view and treatment of heresy both hinders and limits the Holy Spirit and, therefore, stops progress in the knowledge of divine truth. The only safe thing becomes to reiterate the old truths in the old formula; or if there is development, it must be justified as a development of human standards, not fresh truth from God. Thus, the Christian gathering becomes a sect or heresy — a school of doctrine. The spring of living water is exchanged for the more or less stagnant, reused waters of the cistern, which may become in the end a marsh.
Again, the Lord's commendation to Philadelphia must be heard here. “You have kept My Word” implies, for all who will receive it, that they allow nothing or no one to rob them of their right and responsibility of knowing for themselves what Christ's Word is. Paul's “prove all things” applies to us all individually, and we cannot commit this proving into the hands of others! No assembly, whatever its Christian character, can be permitted to decide for us between heresy and Christian truth. “My sheep hear My voice” is too precious a privilege, too absolute a characteristic of God's people, to permit it to be taken from us under any conditions!
If I have any truth that I believe in my heart to be truth, God's people have a right to claim it from me, and I have it in trust to give it to others. That done, it is for each one of them to decide whether they can receive it as truth; and here comes the opportunity for all the help that we can give each other by brotherly conference and free discussion, which these ready charges of heresy tend to make impracticable. If there is nothing being taught that subverts fundamental truth, there is nothing to hinder the freest and widest circulation of all that can be said about it. The more fully this is done, the sooner will that which is of God be sifted from any error and the honest person will find what God has in it for him. Exercise as to the Word will accomplish for us the more intelligent possession of what we had before, even if no fresh truth resulted from the sifting.
The Assembly in its Practical Working
We will now consider the local assembly itself in its living operation as filling (in the Holy Spirit's power) the place for which God designed it. It must fill this place to satisfy and be owned by God, and the ruined spiritual condition of the Church as a whole has not lowered His standard for it. He is gracious or who could stand before Him, but this does not imply that He tolerates even the least departure from His Word. If He did He would give up His holiness, truth and love.
The Church has failed miserably, and this failure has changed the circumstances in which we are placed today. It has made our path more difficult and has deprived us of much of the help that we should have gained from one another. But this failure does not force anyone to be disobedient to anything that God has spoken, nor does it deprive us of either the wisdom or power to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). Difficulties only help us realize more of what He is for us: as Joshua and Caleb said of the giants that Israel would have to fight in possessing the promised land, “They shall be bread to us” (Num. 14:9), for faith is strengthened by those demands on it that expose the weakness of unbelief.
Thus, we are to look at the assembly in the character which the Word of God has given it, unhindered by any reasonings derived from the changed conditions of today. The assembly of which we are speaking is not the whole church of God, but the local assembly which in God's thoughts, however, represents the whole Church in the locality, being those alone who can actually assemble — the practical Scriptural gathering together of the members of Christ, simply as such.
If all the members of Christ were gathered together, we would see the entire Assembly as the body of Christ. Thus, each local assembly is the body of Christ in the place in which it is (that is, each assembly is the body of Christ in practical operation. If there are other Christians in the locality, they are part of the body of Christ, but they do not gather together on Scriptural ground, and thus, in practice, do not represent that wonderful body. Ed.) The assembly is a divinely-constructed organization* and the only organization that God ever owns as of Him — all-sufficient to give us all that can be rightly expected or desired.
Let's look first at the members of the body of Christ. They are spoken of individually in the same terms as the whole body is, because each individual is a picture of the whole body of Christ. The whole body is joined together and united to the Head by the Holy Spirit who indwells it all. The Holy Spirit likewise brings every member into a living and practical relationship with every other and with Christ. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, “he who is joined to the Lord is one Spirit,” so that “your bodies are the members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:17, 15). The whole of each individual belongs to Christ, and there is no one and no part of anyone permitted to be worldly or self-controlled. Thus, not only is the white garment of practical righteousness to cover us completely, but the “cord of blue,” the heavenly color, is to be seen on the hem of it, just where it comes in contact with the earth (Num. 15:38).
The moral basis for all right fellowship with God and with one another is lacking unless we “purpose in our hearts” to live our whole lives — our every faculty of mind and body — for God. We must allow ourselves to be (spiritually) taken out of this world by being set apart to Himself, and then to be sent back into it again as His representatives (John 17:15-18). If we won't do this, we do not and cannot fill our place in the assembly regardless of how much we physically take part in the meetings, because our place essentially is a spiritual one and can only be spiritually filled!
Our Lord's words, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matt. 12:30) are true in particular matters as well as in a general way. If we are not with Him in any habit or practice, in that respect we are against Him and are in the miserable condition of being divided against ourselves. As a consequence we lose spiritual vigor and lack ability to make progress in God's things or even to stand firm in Satan's presence. Paul says that things that are “lawful” to him — not specifically unscriptural — are not all “expedient” (wise) and he immediately adds, regarding these things, “All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). Lawful things might develop a power or influence to which even Paul feared becoming captive.
Now, the question of fellowship with one another begins here. Are we personally in true and whole-hearted fellowship with Christ, with no fence to keep Him from certain portions of our lives? Has obedience to Him no secret limitations? Do we divide between what is ours and His? Do we know that to have Him own everything that is ours, is the only way we can enjoy and find satisfying sweetness in those things?
Only thus will our bodies, in practice, be the members of Christ. Then, our hands will be for His work, our feet for His errands, our lips for His communications and His praise. Our entire lives will express communion with Him.
Whatever shortcomings we have to confess in actual attainment, nothing less than the above must be our honest desire and aim, or how can there be a walk with God? How can He agree to other terms than these? Would it be for His glory or our good if He did so?
Think of what is implied in the expression “body of Christ” where the Holy Spirit links all together in harmonious subjection to the will of the Head and gives in each, a living unity with one another. This living unity plainly is the practical “unity of the Spirit” which Paul tells us to “endeavor to keep” (Eph. 4:3). Paul doesn't mean the unity of the body (which God keeps), but the unity of that which makes it in practice the body fitted to Christ, the Head. This is what should be seen in the assembly of God if it is fulfilling its proper character — a living, speaking, working unity of obedience inspired by devoted love. What a testimony to Him of even “two or three” gathered together in this spirit! It was this way at the beginning of the Church when “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that any of the things which he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). This is the true spirit at all times, whatever may be the difference as to how it is expressed.
Where the above is not true, men “seek their own [things, and] not the things of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). Various interests lead in various ways, the wisdom of the world comes in to secure these ways and the door is opened to every kind of departure. It is only the sense of what is ours in Christ, where all have all in common, and joy is increased by sharing with others, that keeps the heart from evil and produces much fruit for Him. Thus, we see again why Philadelphians are those who keep Christ's Word. Communion only exists where the heart is held by the revelations of God's grace and we are kept in communion by the fresh manna (spiritual food), gathered every day.
The reading (Bible study) meeting thus is a great test of the state of an assembly, for it is there, if things are right, that the knowledge gathered during the week by the individual brethren is tested and made sure by discussion and comparison, which helps to make truth the realized possession of the soul. Here we may learn too, if there is the frankness of brotherly love, the individual needs for the truth so that the truth can be used for real edification (help, building up, strengthening). In these ways, we can test how completely we have got hold of the truth, while what has been learned by each is thrown into the common fund to enrich the whole. It would surprise even those who know the least, to know how much their questions, suggested by their own need, help the very people who answer them. This is one of the many ways in which the minister is ministered to.
Thus, the Bible study meeting is never made needless by more detailed and connected teaching. In fact, such added teaching only creates a special need for the Bible study meeting so that the food laid before the whole may be individually digested.
Indeed, “the sons of this world are wiser, in their generation, than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Someone who inherits a large worldly possession soon realizes the need to become acquainted with what he has so much personal interest in, but in the case of spiritual wealth, given us by God, how few of us earnestly lay hold of it. When, in the early 1800s, the Holy Spirit moved to recover His people to one another and to revive the almost lost idea of the Assembly of God, the Bible study meetings were a prominent sign of the awakened interest in His Word, and that God's people were claiming for themselves their portion in it. No class of men, however gifted, educated or accredited, were allowed to stand between them and their possession. So, any decay in the Bible study meetings means the lessening of that eager enthusiasm for the truth and a lessened consciousness of the Holy Spirit as the One who gives the power needed to personally possess the truth.
God never intended theology to be for a class of men called theologians. Rather, all treasures of His Word are for all His people. Nothing is hidden except from the careless and indifferent — those who willingly exchange their heavenly birthright for a serving of the world's pottage. Teachers are only God's pledge of His eagerness to have all to know His Word. He has not restricted the possession of spiritual knowledge to teachers. Teachers are to show others that, in the living fountain from which they drew, there is the living water for all, as free to others as for themselves. Teachers make God's Word to stand out before the eyes of those who have not as yet found it where God put it for them. A motto of encouragement to those who have faith in a God who cannot lie, is, “Everyone who seeks, finds” (Matt. 7:8).
The success of teachers is shown by their ability to make others independent of them — to make the Church of God realize its ability for self-edification (self-help). The apostle Paul says that Christ has given gifts to men, “some, apostles; some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints unto (with the view towards) the work of ministry, unto the edification of the body of Christ, until we all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (complete) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). The work of ministry is what all the saints are to be perfected unto — made completely skilled in God's Word. Every believer is free to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31) and is responsible to use all the ability that he has to enrich others. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for profit” (1 Cor. 12:7). Although there are special evangelists, all are free and called on, each in his own measure, to evangelize. Although there are special teachers, all are free and responsible to communicate to others what God has given them of His truth. Love of each other and love of souls is to have liberty to be manifested and is to be encouraged everywhere.
How blessed is an assembly in this condition, with every person realizing that the fullness of all spiritual knowledge is open to him (or her) to enjoy; that the best gifts are his to covet; and that he is, by the wonderful fact of his having the Holy Spirit, the ordained minister of Christ to the world and also the ordained servant and helper of his brethren! How intolerable is the thought of class restrictions to limit and hinder the grace of God to His people! Yet, we constantly tend to sink into it. The development of gift is hindered by class distinctions and this is a major reason why so few among us are going forth to labor in the ample fields and why the gatherings have so little strength and stability! We don't need to talk about a laity to have one! 'Gift' is unlikely to develop among God's people if they sink down into careless, silent submission to others regarding their spiritual privileges.
On the other hand, when spiritual life is strongest, we will be most conscious of our needs of one another. Spiritual feebleness always means a strong world element in our lives. The spiritual child of God can have no fellowship in the world's occupations, aims and pleasures. There will be little spiritual help to one another when our occupation is with the world; our spiritual links will become theoretical, formal, sentimental. But where spiritual life is practical and earnest, its needs will be felt and the grace realized which has united us together. Wherever we find life in nature, it is in conflict with death; and the organization (order) that always accompanies life is its defense against death. Nor is organization a sacrifice of individuality, for every part of the body is distinct from the rest and has its own work and responsibility. Only by maintaining this individuality can the welfare of the whole be maintained. Likewise in the body of Christ, everyone has a place to fill; a place that no other can fill. Thus, every person is necessary!
The Church of God is an organization — the body of Christ — the body on earth of an unseen Head in heaven. The body is always looked at as on earth, just as the Head is in heaven; and as governed by that Head, one with Him. Joined by the uniting Holy Spirit, the Church is God's representative in the world, to be the expression of His mind, His will, His nature. Every individual also is this, but that is not enough. It has pleased God to link these individuals together. Thus, individual duty is not pleasing to God if one's God-given place is not filled in the body. There is to be an “epistle of Christ” (one epistle, not epistles) which, as Paul tells the Corinthians, “you are” (2 Cor. 3:3).
Since we are livingly linked together in such a manner and for such a purpose, how necessary it is that, as gathered together, we constantly seek God's mind to learn what He has for us to do as yoke-fellows together — you and I working together in His service. The value of organization for this, seems least appreciated by those who should know it best — by those who have had recovered to them the knowledge of God's own perfect organization for His work (the Church) which demands the very utmost of our united energies!
Organization is everywhere appreciated among Christian workers today. Nothing can be done without it. Organizations now are so abundant that they are becoming parasites on the bodies from which they sprang, and they often over-burden what they were designed to support. Thus, there are good reasons for the distrust that some of us have of them. These organizations are undisciplined and the destroyers of discipline. All distinctive faith is in danger of being lost in many organizations due to their loose associations with unconverted persons — Christians with the deniers of Christ, in an unequal yoke, forbidden by God under the severest penalties (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
Further, by their human rules, many of these organizations suppress the conscience and substitute the will of the majority, or of an 'official' for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, we have learned to link all this with the very thought of organization and thus tend to look on every suggestion of it with suspicion — as being, at best, unspiritual.
But what then shall we do with the body of Christ, which is both a Scriptural and divine organization? Our common relationship to one another causes us to “consider one another to provoke (stir up) to love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24); with which the apostle connects “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting (encouraging) one another” (v. 25). Don't such words imply that we should assemble together to consider both individual needs and the Lord's work among us, in ways and times more than open meetings, Bible studies, and prayer meetings, as these exist among us, can unitedly supply?
Isn't fellowship with one another sadly limited if there is not fellowship in the Lord's work among us and around us — if there is no gathering together to consider this? Such gatherings should be the rule, not the exception, and should be earnestly entered into as essential to our corporate duties and thus to our right spiritual health.
In many denominations Christians come together to consider the Lord's work, to express their interest in it and to identify themselves with it. Is it necessary that we, as two or three or more gathered to the Lord's Name, are cut off from all gathering together for such purposes? I believe that wherever such a lack of gathering exists, it is a most serious lack. It tends to restrict our interest in one another and deprive us of much of the good that should come from the differences among us, which make mutual help so necessary.
Further, the ministry of that help binds us together. Such lack of gathering together makes our Christian activities to be disconnected and feeble, and deprives us of many doors that would be found open to us; exposing us to the reproach of being, as a whole, not very useful.
Why is it that we who have and can present the gospel as simply as others, even are capable of being attacked with such reproaches? Why have we been left so far behind in the evangelism of the world by others with much less light (truth), but zealous in their cooperation with one another for such purposes? Have we been too weighted down by the truth we have? If our truth is dead truth — head knowledge without the heart-felt practice backing up that knowledge — this probably is the answer, but not if it is living truth. Truth in its living power is weight as wings are to a bird. Had we gone in the same zeal, after the same people that others have sought, no ecclesiastical prejudice could have robbed us of the blessing. The hindrance has been something beside the truth or the position that we hold.
There has developed among us the dangerous tendency to break up on slight occasion over non-fundamental matters, even though Philadelphia is a brotherhood. We often fail to cultivate that spirit of brotherly fellowship, of which the hand-to-hand occupation in the Lord's work is certainly a very important part. We have left room for the development of gift and have been very thankful to see evangelists, teachers and others raised up among us, but we have lacked the seeking, by gathering together in the ways suggested above, to make the Lord's work a matter of common responsibility and widest fellowship!
Business meetings and brothers' meetings will not fill the gap. We need something wide enough to take in all the Lord's interests on earth, free enough to give everyone a place in it and practical enough to concern itself mainly with the places in which we live and in the spheres in which we daily move. We want something that constantly will remind us of our individual duties as the Lord's workers; be suggestive, encouraging and helpful in our fulfillment of them; fit us more together in practice as the co-members of the body of Christ; make us realize His mind for us as a whole, and give us practical wisdom for the days in which we live. We want to be like the men of Issachar who came to Hebron to make David king, “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chr. 12:32). We want something that will develop all the truth we have into practical expression for the help of all those around us.
The Church of God plainly is an organization, but we have yet to use it for all the purposes intended by God for His organization — the organization that God has given the responsibility of representing Christ and of being the practical expression of His mind on earth. So, even if we are only two or three in each place, instead of thousands, while sadly acknowledging the broken condition of things, we are just as responsible to show what the Church of God should be — a living, united, working, cooperating membership, a body moving in unison with the mind of its unseen Head, in the energy of the Holy Spirit who formed and inspires it.
No one suggests that since we all can read our Bibles at home, there is no need for our coming together for Bible study; or that, since we can pray at home, there is no need for prayer meetings in the assembly. Why, then, should the work meetings — the means for practical communion — be the only thing thought unnecessary?
Yet, for the lack of such work meetings, the prayer meetings become vague and general because definite individual and corporate needs are not known. Service that is merely personal or shared only by a few, in which general fellowship is not sought, is not prayed for. Then our Bible studies lack the personal application, the freshness of interest that only is supplied by incidents of service, but which often are unknown except to individuals. Instead of a practical working unity, we often are only individuals, touching each other at a few points, but hidden from each other in most, except as personal friendships join us here and there. As a consequence, without the larger interests of the body of Christ to steady them, these friendships tend to form us into parties and in times of pressure, break us up into them!
How little we “consider one another, to provoke (stir up) unto love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). Exhortations often are pointless due to lack of knowledge. How little in general are we near enough to each other in our inner lives to be able to encourage or exhort! Yet as children of God and members of Christ, we are in a relationship one to another that is nearer and more abiding than any other can be!
Thus, we need in everyday practice to draw nearer together as Christians. With the stress of the world on us, we need to take each other by the hand and strengthen each other in the things of God. In the presence of evil we need to show a strong, united front. In a world away from God, but over which His mercies linger, we need a more practical fellowship in the gospel and we need to encourage everyone to take an earnest part in preaching it. In all that concerns the Church of God, we must have something that will give us better opportunity to know that we are “members one of another.” As partakers of the mind of Christ, we need to give this more united, practical expression.
Membership in the body of Christ automatically means service. Every part of a body is in necessary working relationship with the whole, and there is no independency. Each part needs and serves and is served by the whole. God has acted on this principle throughout nature and nowhere more fully than among men. God said, “it is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), so He made a helper for him — woman, the complement of himself. He united the weaker to the stronger so that by her weakness, his strength is better served. She is given to him to be ministered to, so that she may minister to him also, drawing him out of himself, developing his heart — a blessing that all he gives to her cannot repay. Similarly, society has been built up by men having different interests and jobs; and even the regions of the earth are helpful by the differences of their productions in binding together the nations of the earth. A city is the highest development of this principle among men; all must work together to make it function properly, and God has prepared for His people “a city that has foundations” (Heb. 11:10) where all will function perfectly together, forever.
Thus, ministry is both God's law of nature and the expression of His nature, which is love. “Love seeks not her own”; “by love [we] serve one another.” Love is freedom, happiness, the opposite of all legality, the spirit of heaven, giving and reflecting blessing. That fullest description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 finds its proper home and means of expression in the body of Christ. Here, the necessity of all parts to one another is just what provides for and makes necessary the constant outgoing of love to one another which binds all together and greatly reduces the chance of unnecessary division. There are some small animal half-organisms that grow by division, but the higher the organism, the more its unity is enforced by the refusal of division! A part lost is not supplied again: the creature is maimed and goes mourning its loss, refusing substitution.
Such is the body of Christ — the highest pattern of fitting together that can be: and if only two or three can, practically, be together, this does not free them from their obligation to all the members. Love abhors the thought of this as freedom to do as we please, to play loose with God's Word. Rather, love holds fast the true local expression (the local assembly) of the greater thing (the whole Church) which has failed, yet love sees that this holding fast does not degenerate into mere sectarian display. True love looks out and beyond as partaking of the divine love towards all, not forgetting the tie that exists between all Christians. It looks out over the whole field of Christ's interests and identifies itself in heart with all, seeking ever to widen the outlook and extend the sphere of practical sympathy. Thus, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings become more definite but larger in scope and more according to the sadly-forgotten apostolic rule, “for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1).
If such a spirit moved us, we might see other divine movements among Christians elsewhere, even though, mixed in with that which is of God, there are elements too purely human and doctrines and practices too unscriptural to allow us to walk with them in practical fellowship. We also would learn that God has practical and profitable lessons for us from all around, if we were only humble enough to learn from all sorts of teachers, and wise enough to “take forth the precious from the vile” (Jer. 15:19), the mandatory condition for our being “as God's mouth.” We frequently would find things that would be a rebuke to us in what others said or wrote, and this would test us much. It would show if we proudly desired to believe that all spiritual wisdom was with us, and outside was only darkness.
I do not mean to encourage people to run here and there which in general is only the expression of restlessness and lack of proper occupation with our own things. We are to keep our feet in the known path and not allow them in doubtful ones! The heart is to be enlarged, not the path, which always must be a narrow one — the one clearly outlined for us in Scripture. A wanderer is too little heedful of God's path to be able to guide another into it. “Let him who names the Name of the Lord, depart from iniquity (unrighteousness)” (2 Tim. 2:19) should keep us from every doubtful thing, which may therefore be evil, as well as from known evil. It also will keep me from that in which I may see the working of the Holy Spirit, as long as it still is mixed up with things that I have to judge as contrary to His mind.
I firmly believe that we scripturally gather together as worshipers and hearers of God's Word, but we almost never have gatherings of the whole as workers under the Lord, our Head, to seek His mind for us, wherever, however expressed, in all the largeness that we must recognize His Mind to have. I believe that such meetings are necessary to maintain the full reality of true Christian fellowship with each other and with the Lord alike; and to help make the assemblies a living, intelligent representation, however feeble, of the body of Christ.
This book has in no way fully covered all that the Lord has for us in the address to Philadelphia in Revelation 3. But if the Lord is pleased to use what we have gleaned to exercise the consciences of His people as to what is surely a special word from Himself for the present day, the object of this book is attained.
F. W. Grant. (edited)