Discipline and Unity of the Assembly

J. N. Darby.

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Two principles seem to be at work at the present moment which it may be well to notice in connection with the title of this publication - The Present Testimony.* We are living in a time when all things are in question, and principles of every kind are abroad. If there are such as seem to destroy the very position of the saints as a testimony in the midst of Christendom - a conscious and intelligent testimony - it is not amiss that attention should be drawn to them. The two principles I refer to are:

First, the denial of the obligation of a Christian assembly to maintain purity in order to be owned as such, or rather, the denying that if it allow evil within itself, it becomes defiled; and

Secondly, the denial of the unity of the body as regards the church here on earth.

{*This originally appeared as an article in The Present Testimony.}

I have heard in such various quarters, both as to morals and doctrine, that no assembly of Christians can be defiled by any evil in it, and even that it has to go on and leave it to the Lord to lay His hand upon the evil and put it out, that I must suppose it to be a principle generally admitted. And what has been often alleged in individual argument on the second point noticed above is now maintained in a tract which has been voluntarily sent me, I suppose for my edification, and which I therefore now take notice of. I am ignorant who is its author, and discuss its principles briefly as a subject that it is well to bring before the minds of many.

A tract has also been sent me on the first point. I have heard by report who is its author, but shall here simply discuss its principles. The two questions are, Can there be corporate defilement by allowed evil in morals or doctrine? and, Is there any unity of the church of God upon earth?

It has been openly contended that, if fornication be allowed in a body of Christians, it is no ground of separating from it. This has been met by others; indeed exposing it in daylight was the best way of meeting it. To say that Christians were to separate from the world, to detach themselves from the great body of the professing church because of ecclesiastical evils, and then to affirm that positive immorality did not defile their community, but that, supposing it was allowed, saints should still own such a meeting all the same, was a proposition so monstrous, such a preference of ecclesiastical notions to the unalterable morality of God in the gospel, that one can only wonder how it was possible any Christians could have got into such a state of moral darkness. It was a solemn witness of the effect of false principles. With the individuals or their meeting we have of course nothing to do, save as the charity of Christ demands. We speak of principles; and let us see where these would lead. Those who are inside such a meeting of Christians are not allowed to break with them. They are bound to accept the companionship of sin, bound to accept disobedience to the apostle's rule, "Put out from among yourselves that wicked person." They must live in constant communion with evil, and constantly in the most solemn act of Christianity affirm the fellowship of light and darkness.

252 But this is not all. In such kind of meetings a meeting in one place receives, as did the scriptural churches, those in communion in another, and, when formally done, by letters of commendation. Suppose the fornicator, or even those who have maintained his continuing in the meeting (another allowance thus of sin), to be commended, or to come in communion from the supposed meeting; and if they receive him deliberately at home, they must of course give him, so far as they are concerned, the same title abroad, and he is received elsewhere; and thus the deliberate wickedness of a majority of the meeting to which he belongs, or of the whole of it, if you please, obliges thus every Christian meeting, and, when the church of God was in order, we might say every church of God in the world, to put its seal on communion with sin and evil, and say that sin could be freely admitted at the table of the Lord, and Christ and Belial get on perfectly well together; or break with the meeting or church, that is, disown its being such at all. But if they ought, those who have any conscience in the meeting itself ought.

The national Establishment is incomparably better than this. There there is no pretension to discipline; each one is pious for himself. Here sin, and communion with sin at the Lord's table, is sanctioned on principle. And if it is admitted that it ought not to be allowed, it is declared, that if it is deliberately allowed, every one must acquiesce in it, the meeting is not defiled, and the disobedient sinners have a right to force the whole church of God to accept it, if not in principle, in practice, and deny their principles. It is the church of God securing as such, and by its special privilege and title, the rights of sin against Christ. How it would be possible to conceive anything worse I cannot imagine; it really seems to me the most wicked principle that possibly can be thought of And it is not merely the habits of a particular class of Christians which lead to this; the scriptural order of the church of God, as shewn in the scriptures, involves this sanction of sin if the theory be true.

253 No person can deny that saints passed from one assembly to another, and, if belonging to one, were received in another. It was not an organization of churches, such as Presbyterianism or Episcopacy, which I name here only to be understood, but it was a full recognition of them as expressions of the unity of the body of Christ. We see the saints going from one, and received as such in another, and that in virtue of letters commendatory. It was because each assembly was owned as representing the body of Christ in its locality that others were bound to receive those who belonged to it as being members of that body. Each local assembly was responsible within itself to maintain the order and godliness suited to the assembly of God, and was to be trusted in it; it is not disputing the competency of the local assembly, but owning it, when I receive a person because he belongs to it. If I do not receive a person who belongs to it, I deny its being a competent witness of the unity of the body of Christ.

Now it is exactly in this place the Spirit of God puts the local assembly at Corinth; not denying the unity of all saints on earth in one body, but owning the local assembly as so far representing it. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members one of another." Now if I own the assembly at Corinth or anywhere else to hold that place, surely I must receive a person belonging to it as a member of the body of Christ - other membership I do not own. I quite agree that scripture owns no other; but for that very reason, when the apostle says, "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular," and "we are all one body, for we are all partakers of that one loaf," I am bound to own the assembly as representing the body, and those who partake of the one loaf as members of the body. If I do not, I fall into the principle of a mere voluntary association, which makes rules for itself, and does what it pleases. Am I then to recognize, as representing the unity of the body, and acting by the Spirit with the Lord's authority, an assembly which sanctions sin, and says it is not defiled by it?

254 On the other hand, suppose such an assembly, say at Corinth, had put out from among themselves the wicked person, and another assembly received him, the latter thereby denies that the first has acted in the character of an assembly of God, representing there the body of Christ. It denies the action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly, or that what has been bound on earth has been bound in heaven. It is a mere sophism to suppose that, because an organization formed of assemblies is disowned, the responsibility of each assembly to the Lord is disowned, and its competent action by the Holy Ghost in the matters of the church of God. If a person were put out at Corinth, and received at Ephesus, the action of the Holy Ghost in the body at Corinth was denied, or Ephesus refused the action and denied the authority of the Holy Ghost and of Christ; that is, the assemblies were owned because each did in its locality act under the Lord and by the Holy Ghost. No doubt they might fail; Corinth would have failed but for the intervention of the Spirit by the apostle. But such is the scriptural principle, and that which we have to look for in an assembly; and the assembly is owned because it acts by the Holy Ghost under the authority of the Lord.

This point being cleared (and 1 Corinthians seems to me not to leave a trace of doubt on it), I would turn to another - the consequent responsibility of the Christians who compose it. They are to act for Christ by the Holy Ghost. "Put out from among yourselves that wicked person." Paul forces it on the assembly; so in cases of wrong it is finally told to the assembly, and the "without" and "within" refer to it; that is, I get the body responsible as well as competent. The Lord, who knew all the coming history of His church, has extended this in His grace to two or three gathered in His name, and connects this with discipline and being heard. When two or three are gathered in His name, there is He in the midst of them. Thus, while fully admitting that all the saints in a locality constitute properly the one assembly in a place, if they will not unite, the responsibility and the presence of the Lord are found with those who do, and their acts, if really done as met in His name, have His authority; that is, another such assembly must own the assembly and their acts, or disown their connection with the Lord.

255 I do not mean that, if they fail in any particular case, they may not be remonstrated with, entreated, and so on; but, in a regular way, one assembly owns the action of the other, according to the promise of the Lord's presence, because if it be a true assembly it owns the Lord's own action in it, its own Lord's action and the assembly as His. It is not a voluntary church, but a scriptural divine assembly; if they are not so gathered, and do not own the unity of the body, the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, and the presence of Jesus as so gathered together in His name only, I do not own the assembly, though I may the saints who compose it. In the other case I am bound to do so.

But, further, we find that the assembly at Corinth did not put out the wicked person, and the apostle set about to correct this, and, indeed, would not go there while they were in this state, unless it were to exercise rigorous severity. His words, in speaking of it in the second Epistle, shew the thought that they were involved in the evil by allowing it - "Ye have proved yourselves clear in this matter." His complaint was that there was sin, leaven - not merely a sinner, but sin among them; and, ignorant as yet of discipline, they had not grieved so as that God should have removed the evil-doer from their midst; and he tells them to purge out the old leaven (not merely to put the person out, which was his practical direction) that they might be a new lump as they were unleavened. They, acquiescing in the sin, were involved in it; they were viewed in Christ and their true standing as unleavened; but they were to put out the old leaven that they might be a new lump, that their actual condition and standing might agree: otherwise they, the assembly, were not a new lump. Hence, in the second Epistle, when the first had produced its effect, the apostle says "that they had proved themselves clear in this matter"; but, if acquiescing in it, they were not clear. The assembly was not a new lump, and the members of it were not clear, if they accepted the principle of allowing sin in their midst. To use the title of our standing as a sanction for acquiescing in sin in fact in the assembly, saying it cannot be defiled, is a most evil and pestilential doctrine; and that persons in it, not guilty of the sin in act, are clear though they acquiesce in it, is a thoroughly wicked principle, and directly contrary to scripture.

But, more, an assembly which admits such a principle has forfeited its title to be owned in the way I have spoken of above. We have seen it is a common point agreed upon, that the particular assembly met truly in the Lord's name represents the body of Christ, and Christ is to be looked for in their midst. But I cannot own an assembly which admits or acquiesces in sin, which takes this ground that sin does not defile it, to represent the body of Christ, or to be met in Christ's name. It is to make Christ acquiesce in the sin - "a minister of sin." God forbid! Christ's body (and we declare by "the one loaf" that we are one body) is a holy body; I cannot say I am one body with sinners. That a sinner or hypocrite may have slipped in, we all admit; but I do not own him. But if a body admit or acquiesce in sinners being there, it ceases to have the character of Christ's body altogether, or Christ's body is compatible with known sin; that is, the Holy Ghost and Christ present, admit and allow the sin. This doctrine (of the assembly not being defiled by known sin being there) is a direct denial of the presence of the Holy Ghost making them one, and of the authority of a present Lord. Does He accept sin in the members of the body? If not, those who do are acting as a voluntary meeting, acting on their own rules, not admitting the animating power of the Spirit of Christ; for it is a blasphemy to say He admits sin in those who belong to Him: an assembly which has this doctrine is not an assembly of God at all. Carelessness there may be - it should be corrected; but he who, as a principle, owns the existence of sin in the assembly, and denies it is defiled, denies its unity and the Lord's presence; that is, it is not an assembly met in His name at all. What I think essential in this matter is the promised presence of the Lord, and the acting of the Spirit of God. If this be so, if I own the Lord, I must own the assembly and its acts; if it has a principle contrary to the presence of the Lord and the action of the Holy Ghost, I cannot own it as His.

256 The other question to which I adverted at the commencement is the recognition of Christ's body on earth. That which is taught in the tract sent to me* is mere Congregationalism or Independency. I will give an extract or two from it.

{*"Christian Unity contrasted with its Counterfeits." Yapp and Hawkins, 70, Welbeck Street.}

"Now were we to understand the unity thus prayed for as designed to consist in all the disciples of Jesus throughout the world being visibly united, and forming one community on earth, or in any considerable number of them resident in any particular country or very large city being thus united, we should assuredly be at a loss to see how this prayer has hitherto been answered. But it formed no part of the commission which the risen Saviour gave the apostles to execute - that they should form all those of whom by the preaching of the gospel they made disciples into one visibly connected religious community. This accordingly is what the apostles, when planting churches and setting them in order, never aimed at; and so soon as there were other churches planted in addition to the first church formed at Jerusalem, believers ceased to form in all respects one community. We read afterwards accordingly, not of one church or religious community, but of numerous distinct religious communities independent of each other. We read of the 'churches of Judaea,' of Asia, of Macedonia, of Galatia, and of 'the churches of the saints,' that were planted in the different other countries and cities in which converts were made to the Christian faith" (p. 2).

257 I only add what it associates itself with. The existence of sects, through the attempt to organize into one body, as the writer alleges, "is probably the principal obstruction to that ample effusion of the Spirit which is essential to the renovation of the world" (p. 9). I will add another. "Such is the oneness, it would appear, for which our Lord prayed in behalf of His disciples; a oneness invisible to mortal eye, but distinctly seen by the Omniscient" (p. 12). The absurdity of this is evident if we only read the passage in John referred to: "That the world may believe that thou hast sent me." So the world was to be led to believe by "a oneness invisible to mortal eye!"

This however, to give the idea of the author complete, "was to be the foundation of a farther union - a union of a visible kind" (p. 14); . . . "the manifestation of it given by every assembly of Christ's disciples" (p. 15). This is fulfilling the "highly responsible office of giving a just representation of Christ's 'one body'" (p. 15). "Thus we are impressively taught, that as the human body is one, so also is Christ's spiritual body, the church, one. But the mystical 'one body' of Christ is nowhere to be seen in this world; nor is the church universal anywhere to be seen on earth as one body, except by representation. Where, then, is that representation given? It is given, scripture answers, by every scripturally constituted church which endeavours to keep the 'unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.' In such a body alone - a body which is the institution of infinite wisdom - is Christian unity manifested, and the 'oneness' of Christ's body to be seen" (p. 17).

258 The author then states there is the invisible unity; and "of this spiritual unity there is a visible representation given by every assembly of Christ's disciples united on their profession of the one faith, walking together in love in the observance of all things the Lord Jesus has commanded, while endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Viewed in the first aspect Christian unity is much more perfect than when viewed in the latter. Though the one is a divinely appointed representation of the other, owing to man's failure and imperfection in this mortal state, it is often, and indeed at best, but an imperfect representation" (pp. 19, 20).

But the author goes farther. "The universal church of Christ may, therefore, be correctly viewed as one in reference to Him, its supreme Head in heaven; but it is not one community on earth; and the various schemes that have been devised to connect Christians in different districts of the same country under the same government, whether the government be avowed or merely virtually exercised, have been all futile attempts to accomplish what was never designed to exist" (p. 22). Again (p. 3), "It formed no part of the commission which the risen Saviour gave the apostles to execute - that they should form all those of whom by the preaching of the gospel they made disciples into one visibly connected religious community. This accordingly is what the apostles, when planting churches and setting them in order, never aimed at; and so soon as there were other churches planted in addition to the first church formed at Jerusalem, believers ceased to form in all respects one community. We read afterwards accordingly, not of one church or religious community, but of numerous distinct religious communities independent of each other," etc. (p. 3).

"Under such circumstances, if disciples thought it advantageous to meet in separate assemblies in the same city or neighbourhood, there would not be any interference with Christian unity; for as an indefinite number of churches in the same district of country, independent of each other, was not considered inconsistent with Christian unity in the apostolic age, neither ought it to be considered inconsistent with it now" (p 24)

259 These extracts will suffice to give the writer's mind. I affirm that, with the exception of the fact that local assemblies were formed, every statement of it is in direct contradiction with scripture, and that the very truth which the Spirit of God has been rescuing from the corruption of ages is laboriously denied in it. The best way to shew this will be to quote scripture as I have quoted the author. Our author quotes Romans 12:4, 5; Colossians 2:17, 19; and Ephesians 4; and 1 Corinthians 12; and says, "Why, it may be profitable to ask, is an assembly of believers such as the assembly at Corinth, to whom Paul wrote, united in faith and love to the Lord Jesus, and united by ties of love and sympathy to one another, compared to the human body?" (p. 16). "To whom, then, was this comparison designed to apply? Was it designed to apply to the mystical body of Christ, or to what is sometimes called the holy catholic . . . church, which, correctly viewed, is the same thing; or was it designed to apply to an individual assembly of disciples? It was designed, we apprehend, to apply to both" (pp. 16, 17). It is then he states what has been already quoted, "But the mystical 'one body' of Christ is nowhere to be seen in this world; nor is the church universal anywhere to be seen on earth as one body, except by representation. Where, then, is that representation given? It is given, scripture answers, by every scripturally constituted church" (p. 17).

Now I have already recognized the responsibility of each local assembly in faithful discipline and unity as locally representing the whole body, because the Spirit and the Lord are there; so that they act by an authority which necessarily is binding on every other assembly, save allowance, as all make, for human failure, if the assembly be a true one. The question is, Is any one body recognized on earth? We are told "it formed no part of the commission which the risen Saviour gave the apostles to execute - that they should form all those of whom by the preaching of the gospel they made disciples into one visibly connected religious community" (p. 3). This assertion is easily disposed of. It is wholly beside the mark in every respect. There is not a word about churches, church, community, or communities, in the commission of the apostles. The mission or missions given by the risen Saviour had nothing to say to them. Either the gospel was to every creature unto salvation or condemnation, or repentance and remission of sins to be preached among all nations, or the nations were to be made disciples of.

260 There is a church spoken of; but the Lord is the builder or adder to it: this is never said of churches. But even when the apostles' work in this respect is spoken of, it is in general, or the whole assembly of God is spoken of, not particular assemblies, though such we know were formed, and in a practical sense in their own sphere represented the whole assembly. But the denial of an assembly as one whole on earth is a great and mischievous error: we will consult the scriptures. The author distinctly states, "We read afterwards, accordingly, not of one church or religious community, but of numerous distinct religious communities independent of each other" (p. 3). This is in the teeth of scripture. "Scripture teaches that it is the bounden duty of every one who becomes a disciple of Jesus openly to profess his faith, and unite himself with a company of his fellow disciples" (p. 33). I deny this entirely. Scripture NEVER teaches anything of the kind; they were added to the assembly; nor is there such an idea in scripture as uniting himself with a church. The writer does not tell us where scripture teaches it - for the best of reasons, because he cannot. Nor can any one be called on to prove a negation; but we shall find that scripture speaks quite otherwise on the subject. Disciples were added to the Lord, and became thus a part of the assembly.

Let us now take up scripture, and see how it speaks on the subject. The first place the assembly is spoken of is in Matthew 16: "On this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it." Now building the assembly is not even a mystical union of individuals with the Head in heaven. It supposes a system established on earth - a building - one assembly. The end of the clause is the plainest proof of this: a promise that the gates of hades should not prevail against mystical union with Christ in heaven, to the exclusion of the conditions of a church on earth, is an interpretation which condemns itself. The gates of hades have nothing to say to individual mystical union with Christ in heaven.

In Matthew 18, as we have seen, for the administrative authority of discipline, two or three met in Christ's name are sufficient.

261 I turn to the Acts. Here we see how the assembly was formed. As yet there was no difference between the assembly and assemblies. The Lord had declared He would build His assembly, and He was doing it. There was no idea of the duty of joining a man's self to a community of disciples. A Jew, or a heathen, as soon as Cornelius was called, was converted to have share in the promises and calling of God. He was introduced (I raise here no special questions on the subject) by baptism most certainly, not into any particular assembly. Into what then? Into THE assembly. He was publicly admitted among Christians. And now mark how it is as to the work itself spoken of: "The Lord added daily [to the assembly] such as should be saved." The Lord added. It was His work, and He added to the assembly. That is what He did with the remnant, preserved according to the election of grace. He did not restore Israel; He added them to the assembly, the nation being about to be cut off. They were put upon earth into this new position; also it was evident that the assembly was upon earth. It was according to the saying, "He died to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Now, if the unity were only the mystical one, if they were believers, they had no need of being gathered into one. They could not be scattered; their unity, as the tract tells us, was constant and unchangeable. Yet Jesus gave Himself to gather them together in one. The fact of baptism being the means of public admission makes the idea of joining a church impossible. The church had put its public sanction on them, and received them; and they had a place, and were bound to take it, wherever they went, in God's assembly.

We may now turn to the church's dealings with them when they were within. The first Epistle to the Corinthians will here afford us divine light.

In the first of Corinthians it is of moment to remark because it is the epistle in which a local assembly is spoken of as practically in certain respects representing the whole assembly of God, that the epistle is addressed to all believers everywhere - all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. We get a church-character, but the apostle in his address is careful to associate all Christians with those at Corinth. Hence, if one was put out as a wicked person by the assembly at Corinth, he was "without," that is, outside the whole church of God (not of the body of Christ vitally, but the assembly on earth). Nor can you indeed read the entire epistle without seeing that what was said by the apostle, and consequently done by the assembly at Corinth, was an act valid for the whole body of saints on earth; that they are viewed as involved in it, as indeed they are expressly mentioned. To say he was only outside the particular assembly, when he was put out of it, is a monstrous and mischievous perversion. When the apostle says "them within" and "them that are without," to say that he only means within or without a particular body ("do ye not judge them that are within? them that are without God judgeth"); it is clearly "within," or "without," on earth; and it is clearly not within or without a particular assembly; the difference is between Christians and men of the world. Within and without, that is, applies to the whole assembly of Christ on earth; they were the fornicators of this world, or one called a brother. In Corinth, to be of the assembly they must be of the local assembly, unless in schism; but if called "a brother," they were of the assembly, not because they had joined that particular body, but because they were Christians not excluded by just discipline.

262 I now turn to chapter 12, which will make the matter as clear as possible; and, while it shews that a local assembly, viewed in association with all Christians everywhere on earth, practically represents and acts for all saints with the Lord's authority if gathered in His name, yet it shews that the apostle has in mind THE assembly, not an assembly. "But all these worketh one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will; for as the body is one, and there are many members, and all the members of that body being many are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."

The tract tells us, "Every member of Christ's 'one body' forms a constituent part of a great church or assembly, of which the Head is in heaven (p. 21) . . . . The universal church of Christ may therefore be correctly viewed as one in reference to Him, its supreme Head in heaven, but it is not one community on earth" (p. 21). Again, "Its true spiritual unity has reference to its future existence and appearance in glory" (p. 21). In another place we are told "it applies to the mystical body of Christ - the church universal; but that it applies also to a particular assembly of believers" (p. 17). Now, I affirm that the passage can apply to neither (save so far as the church universal itself is seen on the earth), and solely to this last. The subject of the chapter is spiritual gifts, and the figure of the body is not used in view of mere personal union with Christ (important, yea, yet more important, as that doctrine surely is), but of the Holy Ghost come down from heaven. The church universal is not viewed as in heaven in its Head, but as on earth in its members; they have all been baptized with that one Spirit to make one body: the members are the gifts.

263 All are members and the Holy Ghost distributes as He will. Where are these gifts exercised, and to what do they belong? They are exercised on earth, that is a clear case; there is no evangelizing nor healing of the sick in heaven. But they do not belong to a particular assembly, but to the assembly; and God hath set some in the assembly: first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healing, etc. Now nothing can be plainer or more positive than this. These gifts are exercised on earth; they are set in the assembly; they were not even all exercised in an assembly as apostles might be preaching to the world. Miracles might be wrought in the world, or healing take place; but they were members of the body who wrought; they were set in the assembly.

This chapter shews in the distinctest manner possible that, while scripture clearly owns local assemblies whose responsibilities and acts we have already considered, the action of the Holy Ghost is viewed as forming and acting in one assembly on the earth, and is viewed only as on earth - to the exclusion of what it will be in heaven, as is evident from the exercise of the gifts, and their nature. The whole scriptural view of the Holy Ghost's operation is denied by the teaching of the tract, as indeed the true nature of a local assembly is also. If Apollos taught at Ephesus, he taught when he went to Corinth. He was a Christian, and thereby necessarily belonged to the assembly of Christians at Corinth, because it was the assembly of the Christians who were there. This does not hinder discipline, but makes the discipline valid as to the whole assembly of God.

If I turn to the Ephesians, more especially consecrated to the instruction of Christians on the highest privileges of individual saints, or of the church, I find the same truth. "Ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit"; that is, Jews and Gentiles were reconciled in one body to God by the cross. It was growing to its full result, but there was on earth a habitation of God through the Holy Ghost. Here unity is a great point - one body, one Spirit, one hope. But where is this? On earth. Gifts are given to every one according to the measure of the gift of Christ. When ascended Christ gave gifts to men - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, till we all come, etc.

264 Thus, again, the future heavenly state is excluded. Yet we are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, for there is one Spirit and one body. The Head being ascended, He has given gifts - not in a church; apostles and evangelists exercised their ministry, the first partly, the latter exclusively, in the world, and the apostles as such clearly belonged to no particular assembly. The idea of the members of an assembly is wholly unknown to scripture. It is used as a figure, and in reference to the human body. We are likened to a body, but that body is the body of Christ; an assembly is not His body, though it may locally represent it. I read, "The assembly, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."*

{*Compare too 1 Timothy 3:15. It is monstrous to say, that a particularly voluntary assembly, which "Christian disciples have thought it advantageous" to form, is the pillar and ground of the truth, though a local assembly of Christians ought to represent the church in this also, a truth which comes strikingly out in this passage; while, along with 1 Corinthians 12, it shews that the apostle, in speaking of a particular assembly, never loses sight of the one assembly, and always views it as representing that. See another remarkable instance of that in Acts 20:22.}

Now that predicted confusion has come in I certainly am the last to deny; a confusion which makes one feel doubly the comfort of the promise, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." But this becomes a mere self-regulated voluntary association whenever the unity of the body on earth is not owned. They cannot take the scriptures for their guide, they have begun by denying them in the point which established their own position. We are God's husbandry, God's building. Alas! wood and hay and stubble have been built upon the foundation, and perverse men have crept in, and wolves have come, ordinances and legalism have perverted Christendom; but that does not alter God's truth. God has foreseen all, and provided the path of obedience in the word, and grace for it. And when we deny a scriptural truth, we may be sincere Christians, and do so from prejudice and ignorance; but we deprive ourselves of the blessing and character of sanctification attached to that truth. So where the unity of the assembly on earth is denied, the blessings attached to it are lost, as far as our personal profit goes, and these benefits are nothing less than the action of the Holy Ghost on earth, uniting us as members to Christ and acting as He sees right in the members down here. To deny the defilement of the assembly by the allowance of sin, and the unity of the body on earth by the presence of the Holy Ghost, is to destroy all the responsibility of the one, and all the blessing of the other, and in these points to make void the word of God.