G. V. Wigram.
Bible Treasury vol. 1 p. 262.
"MY GROANING." (Ps. 38: 9.) A groan to God, however deep the misery, however prostrate the spirit, however unconscious that we are heard, is always received above as the intercession of the Spirit, and answered according to the perfectness of God's purpose concerning us in Christ. Therefore the charge is, "They have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds." There is no consequence of sin which is beyond the reach of this groaning to God, nothing but the self‑will which will not groan to Him at all. This is a blessed thought! Such is our intercourse with God in joy and in sorrow; and I doubt not that in us poor blessed creatures, the truest the most blessed, (what will shine most when all things shine before God) are these groans to Him; they cannot, indeed, be in their fulness but where the knowledge of the glory of blessing is. I can see them precede the greatest works and words of Jesus. The sense of the wilderness, taken into his heart, made but the streams which could refresh it, flow forth in the sympathy of the Spirit which it called forth; and now the Spirit is IN US.
"In the Wilderness, Alone with God."
G. V. Wigram.
Bible Treasury vol. 11 p. 32.
"I do not know whether my heart apprehends things in England aright as to the work of the Lord; and I would desire to see His thoughts ere I speak or write about a work in which His hand is engaged and which is either His own work and then all‑important, or else a mixed thing which is not indeed and in fact the very preparation for the Bright and Morning Star though it may link on with that which, or be that out of which, what is prepared for the Bright and Morning Star shall emerge. The great want of soul‑trust in individuals is God and Christ. The want of clear understanding of expiation and of the new revelation of the character as brought out to light of God, (as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb upon the throne) has pressed upon me not a little as seen in England; and I have feared a tendency to enlarge and to restore without due reference to souls being really in faith and spirit in His presence. I give you my thoughts as they rise afresh, though they have long been again before me.
In early days there was much of patience and a wall to jump over; this gave more character to both workman and those worked upon. The Lord grant that in the removal of barriers (many of them removed through infidelity and rationalism, etc.) we may not have fallen and may not fall into a superficial kind of work. The work has become so vast that one can only commend it to Him, but at the same time, and in proportion as it augments, one needs to keep oneself more and more apart with Him." G. V. W. to J. B. S. December, 1871.
The Two Adams.
1 Corinthians 15: 45‑50.
G. V. Wigram.
Bible Treasury vol. 11 p. 265.
The thought on my heart is to speak a little as to the two Adams, as here brought before us.
There is a wonderful contrast presented in scripture between the two Adams the Adam of the garden of Eden, and the last Adam, who is a life‑giving Spirit.
The contrast between these two is not merely a matter for the mind of man to be interested in, or to occupy itself with. The fact of the two beings before us is the wonderful way of God in setting forth His own glory. It was just this; He took occasion of the failure, misconduct, and ruin of Adam and Eve in Eden, to bring forth the exceeding riches and the magnificence of His own character of truthfulness and large-hearted grace, both of which Satan had denied in speaking to Eve, when he told her that God did not mean what He said, that He was niggardly and narrow‑minded and that He wished to keep from her something that would be of use to her and Adam the knowledge of good and evil. God's answer to that came out when sin had been brought in, and the whole human family in our first parents had been utterly lost and ruined. God's truth, and the large‑heartedness of His grace and mercy, came out, and He said, in the presence of Adam and Eve, to Satan, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head."
Now, one of the things that strike me in these last days is, how little the minds generally of religious persons are really cleared entirely from the first Adam, and recognize everything in connection with the first Adam to be dead loss, and if they have got anything whatever, that they have it in the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me briefly pass down the account given in the end of Romans 5: 12: "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." The thing that distinguished Adam was that sin entered into the world by him. Well, the heart might say, I grant you that, but that does not prove the complete ruin of the whole race. Does it not? Why death passed upon all men, for that sin have sinned. Death passed upon all upon the ground of their being descendants of the first man who had sinned. When they begat a son, he was begotten with their own likeness and character; and in Genesis that character is strongly marked in the murder of Abel, for Cain withstood God, and would not, even in type, recognize the sacrifice as appointed by God.
Verse 15 speaks also of that one, "through the offence of one many be dead." In verse 16, again, sin and "the judgment was by one to condemnation." In verse 17, "By one man's offence death reigned by one." Verse 18, "By the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." Verse 19, "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners." When God gave the perfect description of what man ought to be to love God with all his heart, and all his soul, and with all his mind the effect was this, it caused the offence to abound. And on which of these verses can anybody build for any comfort? God has said, "Wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;" not merely governmental wrath, but God in heaven judging righteous judgment. That is the picture God gives of the father and mother from whom the whole race descend, and everyone has a likeness to his father and mother. Where is there a single stone then for his foot to rest upon? Ah! but look at the other side, not only the contrast, striking as it is, but it is a contrast brought in, taking occasion by the very ruin, so that there is not one single thing in the Lord Jesus Christ, not one, of which I could say with intelligence, "I hope that will stand me in stead," without owning the entire ruin of all connected with the first Adam.
Everything is in ruin and under judgment, and God well understood what He had pledged Himself to, when He said, "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." He well understood the condition to which our first parents were sunk. There was not a thing that met His mind in either of them, not a power they could work forth in any way for blessing to themselves. They were not only then and there in a predicament, but there was no power in them. Whatever was to be done, it was the seed of the woman alone could do it. The serpent had power, and unless God could find some one who could come in to put his foot on the head of that serpent, all were lost, lost, lost, for eternity; every single individual would have been lost. But God could do it, and God would do it, and speaks of Him who was His champion to put down every mark of evil Satan had brought into the nether heavens and nether earth, and to bring in a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
See what is said of this same Adam in this same series Romans 5: 15: "If through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." We have thus the antagonism of God in His love against the ruined state of the creature, and not a single thing but God and Christ not one. It is all the gift of God through Christ. All that He finds in the sinner is death, and bondage, and corruption nothing else whatever. He goes on again (verse 16), "The free gift is of many offences unto justification." What did He do as an answer to those offences? He brings justification. To whom does He bring it? To man, whose mouth is stopped, and who has not one word to say for himself. "They which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one Jesus Christ." Verse 18, "By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life:" Lastly, verse 21, "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Then, again, beloved friends, if I have got connected with the last Adam, I have in Him that which just tells me how God has taken occasion of my ruin individually to set forth His Almighty power, and the riches of His grace in Christ, and nothing else whatever. My eyes are brought then to Christ, and all I look at in myself is utter ruin; but there is a Saviour. I am never turning to myself, but I am turning to Him whom God has thrust in against the will of man no one can deny it is against the will of man. Christ has set forth the virtues of His salvation, and when Satan found Him in the world to do that work, the hatred of man came out against Him, and man came to be a destroyer. I take these two persons, and one is here, the other there. Now on whom is my back turned, and to which is my face turned? Have I my back turned clean against Adam, and the whole family of which I was a member? There is nothing but ruin there, it is no use turning to it, it is ruin from first to last, and I will set my face Christward and Godward. I cannot look this way and that way at the same time.
It is good to know the contrast as to what I was when found by Christ. Mine was not a living soul when Christ picked it up; it was a living soul when made by God, not when Christ picked it up. As to the one to whom I look for blessing, which is it? Have you been thoroughly cleaned out of everything that grew on the stock of the Adam and Eve family?
Now let me call attention to the use God makes of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think here again, beloved friends, if I may express it in simplicity of heart before you I think there is great shortcoming in the present day in presenting God's thoughts to those whose consciences are in any measure awake, and a want in many who, I do not doubt, are the Lord's, of setting to their seal the work of the Lord towards poor sinners.
I would just like to remark as to the difference on the great day of atonement between the atonement and the Azazel, or scape‑goat. The blood carried in was for God; it was proclaiming that to be the mercy‑seat. Through the rent veil is the way the believer draws nigh, and when inside he finds on the throne the Lamb. The scape‑goat had the sins confessed over him, and took the sins away to a land not inhabited. That is the part I want to look at in detail. First, as to clearing the ground on the question of sin, God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; and, if I am to have confidence in the thought of meeting Him, I must have known that which will enable me to meet Him who knows everything connected with my ruin.
In connection with sin, I think there are three things very important to separate the one from the other. What is sin in principle? What are sins as distinguished from sin? and what is guilt? These are the three things I want to call attention to before passing on. When sin is brought in in Eden, it is very simple indeed. God had given everything freely to Adam, to remain his as long as he marked his dependence upon God by not touching a certain tree. What came out with Eve was, she thought she could better herself, and she took the place of independence. Adam did it in a more solemn and deliberate way after. Self‑willed independence was the secret of sin. God had pledged Himself to give Adam everything. But they preferred catering for themselves to being dependent on God. If I take self‑willed independence as a definition of sin, do I not find in every one self‑willed independence of God? Is it not born with us? Is not self‑will what we see even in a babe? and as a child grows up, we hear, "I like" and "I don't like;" and as men get into the world, there is a seeking after their own. How many a one, terrified at God's word as to judgment to come, will lay to heart how he is to meet God, and toil and labour, entirely setting aside the work of Christ, and never taking any notice of it until he finds he cannot succeed that way! Three years I toiled and laboured after God awoke me, and I saw something of the beauty of Christ too, and never thought of asking God what His way was of dealing with sin. What came out? What did it all come to? That eighteen hundred and upwards of thirty years ago, God, without consulting me, without waiting for me to say whether I liked His way or disliked it, had given His Son from His bosom, and made a way for the sinner to draw near to God. Is there no conflict, no thoughts of our own that we superadded? Ah, to be sure there is. What are all these thoughts to accomplish a way of our own but just self‑willed independence of our own human minds? Sins are will working out into action. When Cain was born, Eve said, I have gotten the man from the Lord, I have the child; but he was a murderer, not a Saviour. When he found that God had respect unto Abel's offering, and not to him, he set his heart to kill his brother.
What is the difference between that and guilt? Guilt is the state of one having set aside the laws of One who has power over him.
When would a creature have come to an end of the experience of the impossibility of God and the sinner meeting together? When their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched. How could I grasp the largeness of God's mind against sin the creature worm, if you please turning His back on God, and saying, No, I will cater for myself, I will be independent? How could I measure what God's penalty would be His hatred of that before the whole universe? Where are these three things met? God shows in Romans 6 that He had His thought's about the humiliation side the experience of the Son of His love down here on earth. Mark these two verses. (3 and 17), "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" "God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." That is, God proposed the doctrine, set it forth, that the only hiding‑place to be found, for any one belonging to the family of the first Adam, was in the last Adam, in the depth of His humiliation. To what extent does He go? These three words, "Crucified together with him, dead together with him, buried together with him," tell the extent of it. There is a refuge, and a safe one, for one who knows that he is ruined in himself, belonging to a ruined race, and having a ruined head to the family in Adam and Eve.
The three things which come in I know who the Nazarene was and is, and I know that He was set forth evidently crucified, put to open shame by man, and in the hour when everything told to the grief and sorrow of His heart, God added an element the creature never could have added, and He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Psalm 22 is wonderful in connection with that cry of the Lord, because, immediately after expressing a sense of forsakenness, He goes on to vindicate God for having done it. No creature has ever been forsaken for sin. He was forsaken when He took the cup from the hand of His Father, and was put to open shame before heaven and earth, hanging on the cross.
Was there any self‑willed independence in Him? Never, never; He was the only one who could carry out the mind of His Father perfectly. Ah, I know the secret; my conscience understands it. If there were not a second man on earth that would say, He was put to open shame for me, I say I have it all to myself, and I bear the whole burden as the one whose self‑willed independence brought it on. He bore the penalty, the judgment came on Him. Seeing this, a power is brought in on the soul which gives a death‑blow to independency.
If you do so and so, I will do so and so. God is thought to be very hard. We cannot satisfy even our own minds it is impossible. When the soul knows God made Him to be sin for us, and that He bore the penalty, what a simple thing to say, Is that the God I have been so self‑willed against? Am I to go on longer in my own independency against the God who gave His Son from His bosom for me? Shall I go on so? Shall this principle not be hated and judged by me? I see the love of God in having put His Son to shame the One in whom the penalty was borne; then I loathe this self‑will, I learn to watch against it, in anywise, and watch against attributing any blessing whatever save to Him that hung upon the cross.
What had I to do with His hanging there? Nothing but my sins: as to its virtues, nothing. Men may find the nails, the Romans may have found the spear, that may be man's part; but what is God's part in the cross? "He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
When God looks at the Son of His love in connection with the sinner the Son crucified to be a hiding-place for poor sinners what are God's thoughts? Ah! I have revealed that; you are blessed in knowing how I could reveal it, to get honour to Myself and to My Son, the only One who could look sin in the face, and take the judgment you a creature of yesterday! then it is the death‑blow comes to self‑will. I want to begin with God, I wish to begin with God. When we get to the blessed Lord in Psalm 40, it is not only that He in that way charged Himself with the sin that rested on the human race, and could do it, but He speaks of sins more in number than the hairs of His head.
How it will shine forth when the Lord, according to Zechariah, comes in, all their sins and iniquities gone, and Israel shall say, "This is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us." The Lord claimed them all, and makes the hearts of Israel willing to abase themselves before God.
If I have no good thing to give Him, I will give Him my bad things; my sins, my self‑will, my guilt, I will give to God and to Christ. I have got a heavy burden of ruin, and I will let the Lord be heartily welcome to it. You never get that till you get grace and mercy as the ground of your standing. I give all my self-will to Christ. I have done nothing but sin; I will give all my sins to Him. Yes, He is the only one who has borne the judgment, He is the one who has borne it, and He is the one who is the joy of God's heart as the Saviour of lost ones.
Do you know Him as your Saviour? not only your Saviour from the wrath to come, and from Satan and the world, but from your own self? Many a one wants to have that driven home. What characterized the Lord when here? All that Satan could do, he could get nothing out of the Lord. When Christ was here, He was always master of Himself. The Lord undertakes to save us from ourselves. When He presents us to the Father, we shall be in glorious bodies, delivered from humiliation, made like unto His own body in glory. Then we shall be perfectly delivered from everything not of Him. Can you say to God, I am a poor, simple, foolish thing, but I see that thou hast said, and written it down, that I am crucified together with Christ? Thou lookest on me, having faith in the love that gave Thy Son; thou lookest on me as crucified together with Him who was put to open shame.
A second thing comes out dead together with Him. He gave His life a ransom for us, and the eternal life with which He quickens us is the eternal life which He had before the world was. There can be no mistake as to what that quickening is. Dead, buried; ah, do all believers know what it is to reckon themselves buried together with Christ? When I think of the grace of Christ, I say there was the end of myself. God put me away on the cross.
Now as to the power of this practically: if you have got any gospel at all, what is your gospel? Is, it the gospel of eternal life? If so, I expect you to be doers, not hearers only. You cannot have life, and not be a doer. God has met everything against me in Christ. What is the grand mark of that given to us here? "Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God." Do you reckon yourselves to be dead? Do you know what it is to be in communion with God? That He is a living person, whose glory we can have no idea about? The Lord Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God; and do you and I know what it is to say of everything connected with the first Adam, Thou sayest of me that I am crucified together with Christ, dead together, buried together with Him? If thou sayest that I can reckon myself to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, I believe. Yes, you say; but do not you see that I do not feel it? He never said that you would feel it? Abraham was given certain promises, and God took special care to let everything in nature get the sentence of God against it. You see how faith versus feeling was tried in Abraham. "A father of many nations have I made thee." I can quite suppose the people around him saying, Where are these nations? You have no child even, only Ishmael, who was not born in the house. Where are all these nations What did Abraham say? Just leave all alone. God has committed Himself by promise, and He is able to perform leave it all alone.
He took the truth of God just as the thing in which he could rest, and would rest, and did rest. I do wish to press that side of the gospel. The heart having found in the humiliation of Christ that which enables it to look ruin in the face, and say, I am not afraid to see the place Adam got into, not afraid of the flesh or of the world. Why? Because there is a Saviour. "Know ye not that as many as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death." We are crucified together with Him; dead together with Him; buried together with Him. There is where the saint gets rest. God said it, God has written it. We have learnt just a little of the blessedness of the humiliation of Christ, if we have faith; but God only knows the fulness of it, and He will give us perfect blessing in His own time. G. V. W.
Three Letters of the late G. V. W.
G. V. Wigram.
Bible Treasury vol. 15 p. 173.
My dear ,
We naturally look for fruit such as we can present, as it were, on our table before the Lord; but He seeks rather that which can be in His presence on high, and a testimony that will abide through eternity (2 Cor. 2: 14‑16). Doubtless, it is sweet to see fruits gathered, and, like grapes of Eshcol, fit, when fresh, for man's refreshment; and good when dried: good in either case to show the goodness of God in the fruits of the culture of a good land. But besides this, He is pleased to use His word as the savour of death unto death, and to vindicate His own grace in the bad use man makes of it. The seed of the sower was used to detect world, flesh, and devil, as well as to bring forth fruit for God and to man's blessing (Matt. 13). The general feeling of Christians who have been in the East Indies is that the new use made of the natives for free labour was part of a providential acting of God's hand, not unlike that of political persecution, in Italy driving bigoted Romanists into Protestant countries. In both cases, those who would not listen by reason of the prejudices at home find themselves outside of the range of the power of these prejudices, and in many cases where, themselves broken, they find loving Christians to sympathise with them and to present the gospel to them. It is this which I think makes the little work among the natives round you have its chief interest: and you and I know that the Cretans being always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies, did not lead Paul to despair but to use means rather to rouse the grace and to repress the flesh in any of them. We do not remember sufficiently the effect upon ourselves of Christian education from infancy. I have oft said this, when I have seen the faults and falls of converted Jews, and converted Roman Catholics. Of course a lie is a lie everywhere. God cannot lie. The Adversary was a liar from the beginning. I cannot say a word for lying. But I conceive that to the Divine mind a lie from a child, from youth brought up to dread and abhor a lie, upon Christian moral grounds, would after its conversion, be quite a different sort of sin from a lie of a converted Jew who had been brought up to believe that father Abraham had taught that "a lie was the statement of an untruth, for private, gain, to a son of Abraham" (consequently no untruth to a Gentile, one of the Goyim, was a lie); or the Romanist who was taught from childhood that the end sanction the means. Morality is destroyed by such an education.
May the Lord Jesus, who turned round and looked upon Peter, ere he went out and wept bitterly, turn and look upon just such a look as He looked upon Peter, and give you joy in seeing his soul restored. Poor things are we and hard is it to believe of ourselves that there is no sin named in scripture the seed of which is not in our own flesh and ready to blossom and bud, if we walk in the flesh. You, or I, might go and commit Lot's sin, or David's, or Jonah's, or Peter's, christians though we be; and we, I, shall do worse unless God keep me and make me crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts, right on to the end. The having been kept 35 years in the way is nought unless keeping goes on to the end. More than this, the more kept the worse the fall if a fall comes. Zeal against sin and tender yearning over the sinner become us; indignation and firm dealing with the sin, but every effort to rescue the fallen one. . . Brethren are making a small collection in London. May the Lord put it into their hearts to give according to their ability not to me, nor to yourselves for others, but to the Lord, so that there may be fruit of the seed sown to His praise. Hoping to write by next post,
I am, most affectionately, G. V. W.
My dear brother in the Lord,
I was speaking, lately, on "Saul (who also is called Paul)" Acts 13: 9. The word Saul, Cruden says, is the same as Sheol "the grave," one of the things which ever asking is never satisfied. I admit that "to ask" is the meaning of the root; but then the participle is passive and not active; and so, if the eo active participle may characterize the grave, because it ever is "asking" and never is satisfied, the au is passive and can only characterize what is catechized. This, if the name be significant, is the meaning of "catechized." I think it admirably fitted to a ruined creature. The Creator's claims exist over, and may be pressed upon, him; but he has no answer to give either as to righteousness, or temperance, or judgment to come: nor, even if catechized by God, as was Job (see the latter chapters) can he give any answer. A creature slipped from its allegiance to its Creator, has no answer to give to Him, or to itself, or to Satan, or the world. The word Paul means "that which is made" created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God prepared before the world was, that we should walk in them, now if "that which is catechized" brings the one catechized into notice, so "that which is made" brings the maker (and not the vessel or person made, so much as the maker) into prominence. Who could take a child of wrath, indwelt by Satan, covered with the spots of the world, and make him fit for God and eternity and heaven? Christ, and Christ alone. Gritty bad clay fit for nothing in itself; claimed by Satan and driven along the course of this world, Christ the last Adam, life‑giving Spirit, could give incorruptible life to such an one as Saul the blasphemer; could set his seal upon the life so given and communicate power to it. He could, having made it to be not of the world as He is not of the world, having washed it from its sins and guilt in His own blood and made kings and priests to God, He could keep the vessel for Himself and use it, as in His own hand, all through its course down here enabling it to say "to me to live is Christ and to die is gain;" "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life of Jesus also may be made manifest in us;" "filling up that which remains behind of the sufferings of Christ," etc., etc. And He will not fail to present the vessel so saved and so preserved unto Himself in glory. The power of God in and by Christ was the freight for which the vessel made was prepared. And, in this view of it, how blessed is it to have been a brand plucked from the burning, if now made a light bearer in an evil and wicked world. How blessed to be weak, if it is that His strength may be made perfect in our weakness. The Lord Jesus Christ wants, as He sits in glory waiting till He take the kingdom, occasions in which to display His grace down here, and He finds occasions in all our weakness and by all our difficulties. Oft have I thought that God knew why He placed the Red Sea and the fields of sandy desert beyond it, and looked upon it from earth's creation until Israel's passage out of Egypt, as the occasion prepared before hand for His displays of His own glory in that coming time. Who planted, or who watered, or what man's thoughts were about the sycamore tree, God and Zaccheus' faith found in it the occasion of his seeing Jesus. Poor little man, faith's ladder had been planted and prepared for his heart probably long before he was born 'twas there but when his heart kindled Jesus-ward, God's sycamore was there ready for him. So, in a different way the Red Sea, no road, no water, no pasturage fields of sand, an ocean of it: Jordan, Philistines, Hivites, etc.; difficulties, impossibilities, had all been prepared before for God's occasions of showing Israel His love. 'Tis always so. 'Twas so with Abram, with Isaac, with Jacob, with David, and with them all. 'Twas so with Paul and John. And is it not so with us? What we call life here below is a system of difficulties, studiously put together, within and around us, calculated to bring us quickly to our wit's end, if we tried to show our competency, truly, but the rather prepared as the occasion for Christ to show His grace and loving care of, in, and toward us, as we pass along, through them all. He wants the occasion in which to show out that "I am with you;" and "It is I;" and shall we repine or be unwilling to have it so, as that the whole journey down here shall be a history of His triumphant love ever leading us about, and causing us to be, in all things, more than conquerors through Him that loved us? We are poor things indeed had nothing of our own, but we are His and He is ours; and the heart that is now set upon us cares for us, and He will lead us on until His own presence shall be our hiding place. The Lord enable us more to lay hold of that handle of every thing which is the Lord's; and not of that which I, or man, or Satan can say, that is mine, not the Lord's. Stones are hot in the sun, but they often keep what is below them cool and moist. Not "our leanness, our leanness" should be our burden, as we pass along here below, but rather "what a Christ is He who has found and picked me up." I set my face to Him-ward and would strengthen my soul in Him. Body, soul, and spirit in me belong to Himself alone, and I would have them wholly His until He comes to take me to Himself. May I not say, and you too, say, "Amen and Amen" for ourselves to this. I do presume to think so and to count upon it before the Lord.
Most affectionately, Yours in Him, G. V. W.
Dear brother in the Lord,
Evil as the days are, and ragged and dirty as the path is through which we are called to pass, a path where false profession has made sloughs and mires, and wherein the high way is broken down, yet there is a bright bit at the end upon the earth, even that terminus wherein shall be heard, ere the Spirit leaves the earth, ere the Bride has gone on high, those blessed precious words, "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come." Professors may not know where the Spirit is now; and many may be saying "and where is the church, that assembly which was set up at Pentecost?" But faith can look on high, faith can see, read and know the living thoughts of the risen and ascended Lord, and faith knows how His heart and mind have the assembly, the Bride in them and carry her there; and faith, too, feels and owns the claims which is upon oneself to live and walk here as part of this same Bride which shall be adorned and meet for her Lord; a glorious church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, in yet a little while. I want the reality of that, His present love to be more tasted, more enjoyed, more practically lived upon by myself and by those He loves who are here below. And surely now is the time for this. Rebecca on her camel's back, as Rebecca leaving her kindred, and Rebecca journeying through the strange journey, needed to stay herself upon her good fortune and to feed herself with her high calling when she came to Sarah's tent hope was in measure changed to sight.
And it is not an unreasonable thing, either, to urge this. He who is on high is as much set now on giving forth to us, hourly and daily, as He was set once, in time past, on getting to the cross, where He made an end of our guilt, having borne there the judgment due to us; or, as He will be in the time to come, when He will bid us rise up hence and come away with Him. His face, now unveiled, He shows to us on high; His faithful love He proves now to us down here; and He lets us know too, that to His heart and mind that coming is no secondary thing of little importance. If once He cried, "I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened till it be accomplished," so now He says, "Surely I come quickly." One great grief to Him when He was down here, was that none of His own shared with Him His thoughts, were prepared for His self-renunciation. Just so now, I judge that His joy is in those who do think of what is now dear to His own mind, what He is about to bring out to light when He comes to be admired in all those that believe.
I used to think that I had lively faith, communion and hope; but as I get older I find myself more like a babe faithfully watched over by a mother's eye, and seem to get more satisfied to see what His thoughts of today are about me and what His plans for the morrow. Less account made of my feelings, more of His. Less notice of my faith, more of the fact that He died in my stead. More consciousness of the worth of His presence in heaven as a fact, than of the feelings which the knowledge of it produces in me more counting on the certainty of His coming back, in order to put the finishing stroke to what He has wrought than of the flutter of expectancy. Not that the work wrought in us by the Holy Ghost has sunk in value in my thoughts, but that I look more at the outgoings of that work in me. To me to live is Christ. The life that I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Individual attachment of the soul to the person of the Lord seems of growing importance. He bare the wrath in our stead; He has confessed in heaven above, His love to us; He means to come and fetch us home. How can I say such things and not want to see Himself, His own very self? True, when He comes, the scene will be surpassingly grand and blessed Himself, the Resurrection and the Life, coming out from God to turn the low estate of those who have trusted in Him, to an occasion in which to show forth the glories of His own divine person as the Resurrection and the Life. He will come and will call up out of the grave all that believed in Him and then, standing on the cloud, will cause the life wherewith He will have quickened those that are alive and remain to His coming, to burst forth; and then, body and spirit shall be as instinct with His life as the souls of His people already are; and He will catch them away to be with Himself for ever in the Father's house. Most blessed as this, the doctrine of 1 Thess. 4 is my soul seems to find its deeper more individual portion in 1 Thess. 1. I appreciate Him; and do so in the very presence of God: He loves me and I love Him, and I wait for Him to come from heaven. The individuality is so blessedly seen on the one hand, and the contrast between this divinely wrought love to Himself and the poor world all around. It is, too, one's portion for today, just where we are now. . . .Grace, mercy, and peace be with you, beloved brother, and with those labouring with you in the Lord; and I shall gladly hear of you when time permits and you have opportunity.
Ever yours in Him, the returning Lord, G. V. W. 26/11/1866.
God's System of a Church.
G. V. Wigram.
Bible Treasury vol. 16 p. 199 etc.
The origin of most of the differences in opinion which exist among the saints is secret infidelity as to the sufficiency of the provision made by God for the instruction and guidance of His people in the Scriptures. To enumerate all the evil fruits springing from this unsanctified root were both difficult and unprofitable. For our present consideration let one suffice; and that one, full of the deepest interest to even nominal Protestants,* because as well the confessed subject of endless divisions among themselves, as the taunt and jeer of the Roman Catholic. Church system, who can define? Who can describe? Who can even count the number of the systems of churches in England alone, differing in every respect, except alas! their inconsistency with the instructions and patterns given us in Scripture. Yes, this is the real source of all the evil self-confidence refusing to acknowledge its ignorance, and search the oracles of God on this topic; and therefore we have been given up to our foolish minds. For what matters the Protestant motto being "the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible," if, in direct opposition to this, it has been refused (practically at least) by all, in the modelling of the churches, to go for wisdom to the very copious instructions given on the subject in the same Bible?
*It is strange how the whole of Romanism, as a church system, is based upon truth; pure error is rarely found in her, but truth mis-stated and perverted. To borrow an illustration, each of her doctrines may be aptly compared to some adulterated compound "consisting of so ingenious a mixture of truth and falsehood, so entangled and intimately blended, that the falsehood is [in chemical phase] held in. solution." The wise man, emerging from her thraldom, is unable to reject the whole of any one of her statements on this subject; but proving all things, and holding fast that which is truth, he uses the Scripture "as the test, making visible the foreign substance and precipitating it to the bottom." See her views of Unity, Infallibility, Absolution, etc.
With the church's unity and importance so strongly portrayed is the Bible, never will the Protestant be able to meet the Romanist in argument without altogether denying these things; nor indeed until able to present a living picture of them in connection with himself. For the only real power in controversy is the simplicity of truth as drawn immediately from that blessd book.
Yet this accusation (of a hardy refusal to bend to Scripture) is perhaps too strong, and it has only been erroneously assumed through ignorance of the written word, that the mind of God has not been expressed concerning church system, i.e. that no order or plan has been laid down by the great Head of the church, for the standing together of His saints, in any given place, whilst (from the day of their conversion) they are looking for, and hastening unto, the coming of the Lord Jesus. To meet this supposed ignorance, the present tract purposes to show chiefly from that part of the Book of truth, which is peculiarly the directory of the present dispensation (the Acts, Epistles and Apocalypse),
I. That the divine wisdom has laid down a certain principle for the communion of the saints, whilst on the earth, viz.
The sovereignty of the Spirit in the mutual dependence of the members; and
II. That this principle is found developed in practice, in a system appointed by God for the churches; the details of which system are most minutely revealed as to the mode,
1st. Of edification,
2ndly. Of government, and
3rdly. Of discipline.
For He who knew what was in man left nothing to be dependent upon the petty accidents of time, but detailed in the word, a plan for the collocation of His saints, and that plan so obviously founded upon one great and important principle, as thus to contain within itself a check to all the minutiae of its several parts; no other changes of details, save that revealed, being possible, without a direct violation of the said principle.
SECT. I If it be asked, on what general principle the communion of saints is enjoined? the answer is obvious, "On a supposed participation of the Spirit." Such, at least, was the argument of the apostle Peter before the church at Jerusalem: having freely yielded himself in communion to some who, as Gentiles, were deemed unworthy of such high privileges, and being called to account by the apostles and elders of the church, he exculpated himself by showing how those, to whom he had gone, had (though Gentiles) received the Spirit, and, therefore, this being the sole prerequisite to communion), had as good right to it as themselves, the Jews.
Acts 9: 17. "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift (i.e. the Spirit), as He did unto us who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I that I could withstand God?"*
*Which may stand thus,
First the universal principle All who have the Spirit have a right to communion.
Secondly, the particular case These have the Spirit.
Thirdly, the result They have right to communion.
Would to God that this, which is nothing else than unity in the Spirit, had been remembered! many a rent, many a schism, would it have saved the body of Jesus; but men have sought out many inventions. Look at the churches of Rome and Greece what is their principle of communion, yea, the very essence of their existence? unity indeed, but unity in error; on the assumption that the church makes the Spirit, and not the spirit the church: in other words, that because their system has been called "The church" from the time of the apostles, therefore it must have the authority and power of the Spirit which was in the primitive church: instead of that, the body which has the authority and power of the Spirit which was in the primitive church alone deserves its name. The Reformed churches, Lutheran, Genevese and others what their bond? Unity again, but unity in knowledge only: blessed indeed when the gift and consequence of the Spirit; but most evil when, as with them, "assent and consent" to any truth (beyond free pardon and salvation by faith in the Lamb) became the watchword of the citadel; for what is this but the appointing of a word which the weaklings of Christ are often, the strong ones of the adversary never, unable to pronounce?
The standing of the third great division, those called dissenters, is unity in difference; for the great strength, perhaps life, of their systems, rests, by confession of their wisest supporters, on the opposition their dissent produces. The church militant, in truth, is nothing but the manifestation, in this world, of the saving effects of the gospel; uncertain perhaps, by reason of the thick and deluding mists around. How wise and reasonable then, that the only term of admission to its privileges should be the apparently real manifestation of that Spirit, Who (present in whatever weakness) gives by His presence the power of fellowship.
Let us now investigate the peculiar development of this principle in its application to the assembled body. We shall find that the Holy Ghost's presence is made manifest in the assemblies of the faithful, not so much by dwelling in any individual, as among them all, so as to form a structure, the chief feature of which is mutual dependence, even as it is written (John 17: 22), "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." And again (Matt. 18: 20), "where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them."
The following proofs of this are offered from the word:
I (Rom. 12: 3-9.) "I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think (of himself) more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we (being) many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, (let us prophesy) according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, (let us wait) on (our) ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth (let him do it) with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness."
II. See what Paul says of this church (Rom. 15: 14).
III. 1 Cor. 12: 4, etc. see (1 Cor. 13) love as the apostle describes it, a church gift; i.e. one which could not be fully developed save in communion with others.
IV. 1 Cor. 14: 1-5, and 23-25.
V. Eph. 4: 1-16.
VI. Eph. 5: 18.
VII Col. 2: 19. (See also 1 Cor. 1: 4, 5; 2 Cor. 8: 7; Col. 3: 16; Heb. 3: 13, Heb. 10: 24, 25; 1 Peter 4: 10, 11).
Thus, when the Lord first put His saints together, we see how the principle of His system was the casting of them one on the other, by the Holy Ghost's presence, and free circulation, without restraint, through the whole body. This truth, and not justification (which touches the individual only), is the true "articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae.''* For a church is not merely a congregation of faithful persons accidentally assembled together (ready like some heap of stones for the labourer to pile one upon the other); but such an orderly arrangement of them, according to the mind of the great Master Builder, as to be in mutual dependence. In masonry but one way has yet been discovered, in which mutual dependence can be distributed to each part, namely, by the arch; so in things spiritual, one order has been developed by God Himself, and who shall find another?
*To call justification by this name is to be guilty of the fallacy of assuming that what is true of each of its component parts, is true of the whole.
Or, to emp1oy a figure used in Eph. 2: 20, it is to form a whole. The lively stones are to be built up "a spiritual house," "Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit."
SECT. II. Our next position is, that this same principle is found as the basis of the most minute details of a system, appointed by God for the church, in its mode
1st of edification;
2ndly of government;
3rdly of discipline.
I. We have indeed but one account in Sacred Scripture of a church meeting under ordinary circumstances, which can be quoted in proof that the Spirit's presence among the members, the spring of mutual dependence, is the basis on which church edification should rest yet it will be sufficient, because 1st., a very full account in itself; and, 2ndly, this, its grand feature of peculiarity, springs not from anything accidentally present, but from that which is most essential in the structure of a church, viz. the Spirit; and it may therefore fairly be considered a property of all the churches.
See 1 Cor. 14: 22-33.
See also Eph. 4: 1-16. So perhaps 1 Thess. 5: 11, "Wherefore comfort yourselves together and edify one another, even as also ye do."
Thus is embodied, in practice, the mind of Jesus concerning the regulation of congregational meetings, and this is the only recognised mode of edification. Glorious privilege, indeed, for the Holy Ghost Himself to be the teacher in the congregation, speaking now by the mouth of one, now by the mouth of another, as seemeth good to Himself, and exercising among them the various powers Himself has bestowed! The works of the elders were the helps and governments (1 Cor. 12: 28); and, as sacred history testifies, were not as such for the edification of the assembly.
II. Again, in government, the same principle is found as the basis of judgment, even the Spirit's presence among the members, the spring of mutual dependence.
Correctly speaking, the government is an absolute monarchy, the Holy Ghost in the churches being sovereign.* The idea, therefore, common among many, that the principle is that of a democracy, is totally wrong; although, of course, as a number of those who (not being prepared by the Spirit, either for helps or governments) exercise no office in the congregation, far exceeds that of those so gifted; and as all are supposed to have the apprehension of the Spirit's mind (see 1 Cor. 5 and 1 Cor. 10: 15, "I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say," 1 John 4: 6, etc). the responsibility rests mainly with the many, even though God inform their judgments through the few. The only officers, found in the churches, are elders and deacons; for the apostles were for the building, and not continued dwelling, in these congregations. In each of these two offices, then, we shall find the same principle of mutual dependence preserved by the appointment of a plurality of the officers.
*The English translation hides much of the mind of God as to the Spirit's work in the present dispensation. During the first personal manifestation of Jesus, He walked at the head of His disciples as the Master, and Lord, on whom the responsibility of the Father's house rested. He was heir, teacher, their advocate their rebuker, their comforter. When leaving them, He said, I will not leave you "orphans," but "I will send you another Paraclete, even the Spirit of truth," Accordingly, we find the same offices of a faithful guardian attributed afterwards to the Spirit as a teacher, John 14: 26; a witness, 15: 20; advocate, Rom. 8: 88; and comforter, John 16: 7.
Government is power manifesting itself in order. In a church all force is of the Holy Ghost, and the elders seem set in a well-ordered church, for the informing of the judgments of the many, through whom the Spirit acts.
To have seen the Lord also was perhaps so essentially necessary to the office of an apostle (Acts 1: 21, 22; Acts 22: 15; Acts 26: 18) as that none, without this, could be an apostle (1 Cor. 9: 1; 1 Cor. 15: 8). It may be well to add a few words on the office of Timothy and Titus. To a careful student of the text, nothing more need be said as to the assumption, "that these were bishops ordaining a lower order of ministers, presbyters;" because as will be shown, scripture makes no difference between the presbyter and the overseer or bishop. For the expressions, "left behind in Crete;" "be diligent to come to me to Nicopolis, for I have determined there to winter," used of Titus; and, "I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went to Macedonia;" "do thy diligence to come before winter" said of Timothy: both these had evidently been accompanying the apostle, and were thus probably in their works little else than his delegate.
1st, elders. This office, in some sort, is of very long standing. Ere the Israelites came out of Egypt, we read of their elders. Ex. 3: 16; Deut. 27: 1; they are mentioned up to the captivity, and again after it, Ezra. 10: 7. 8.
Throughout the Gospels they are mentioned as an ecclesiastical government, though a wicked one; as also occasionally in the Acts; and afterwards, as officers appointed by the Holy Ghost among the saints. (Acts 11: 30; Acts 14: 23; Acts 15: 2*, 4, 6, 22.)
*In the perusal of this chapter, we see how the apostles laid aside their apostolic power and authority, when meeting in the church; seemingly preferring the judgment of the Spirit in the collective body to the exercise of His authority in themselves.
See also Acts 16: 4; and Acts 21: 18; and 1 Tim. 4: 14; 1 Tim. 5:17. Compare 1 Thess. 5: 12, 13; Heb. 13: 7, 17, 18, 24; 1 Tim. 5: 17, 19; Titus 1: 5; James. 5: 14; 1 Peter 5: 1.
The word translated "overseer," Acts 20: 28, occurs moreover in Phil. 1: 1 in the plural number, and 1 Tim. 3: 2, where it evidently corresponds with the bishop, or overseer. (1 Tim. 3: 1.)
2ndly, Deacons. The first nomination of such individuals we find in Acts 6: 1-6. (See also Phil. 1: 1; 1 Tim. 3: 8-10.)
III. Again, in discipline, the basis is the very same; mutual dependence in the Spirit's presence among the members. (See Mat. 18: 17-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2: 6-11.)
A panegyric on this, the Lord's plan, would be needless; yet we may draw near in admiration of the lovely effect, as to the power of service it is able to supply to the redeemed, whilst in their weakness, as set forth in Acts 4: 32, 33, 34.
How lovely also is the mutual subjection pointed out in Acts 15: 2, 22; 1 Cor. 11: 33; 1 Thess. 5: 11; Heb. 10: 24, 25; James 2: 1-9. 1 Peter 4: 8-11.
How strongly also is this equality set forth by the fact that such was the relative position of the members and officer-bearers in the church, as that the epistles are addressed not to the pastors but the whole body. Note this especially in the case of a controversy about carnal things (1 Cor. 6: 1-8). See also the marked pre-eminence of the body to any one or two (Acts 15: 1-4; 1 Cor. 16: 3; 2 Cor. 8: 18, 19, 23; Philemon 2-25).
The wisdom of this arrangement, as bearing upon the glory of God, is manifest; the power and splendour of the Spirit are not concentrated in one, but seen among many, each in himself like one out of many staves, weak, feeble; by himself unfit to contain any thing, associated with others and bound by the golden ring of eternal love, a vessel fit to bear the presence of God; thus it is still true, that no flesh can glory before Him. So also, in reference to the experience of the individual saints, will the same pre-eminence of wisdom be obvious, if we consider the object, concerning them, of a church . . . . . . A church then is the field ordained by the Lord for the Christian initiation into, and exercise in, the science and art of the spiritual warfare:* it is God's first class, for the bruising of self, and development of love. The gospel finds man buried in carnal selfishness and forgetfulness of God, and there meets his cry, "What must I do to be saved?" But as the great object of God is, to lead His saints from this, to the perfect likeness of Jesus, "in loving the Lord God with all the heart, and all the mind, and all the soul, and all the strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves," that is, the total annihilation of self, by the restoration of the creature to its true place of dependence on its Creator self (as unconnected with the glory of God and our fellows) is not recognised in the church. In our separate identity, the rudiments of God's character can be communicated. We may be required to learn and to enunciate the alphabet of the language of God, the religion of Jesus; but He teaches not and hears not His children their lessons beyond the first rudiments separately: the lesson is ordained for a class, and though each may have his own peculiar part in the repetition, the effect produced is of one whole. No man ever understood the Epistles, none ever felt their power, and the force of their contents, without standing in a church. Without it, love and forbearance, the great Christian duties, are not (we may say, cannot be) displayed; for where this is not, men do not, and will not, save with very few exceptions, take up the infirmities and weakness of the feeble. And lastly, as a witness to the world, though preaching is profitable as the publication by word of the love of Jesus, a church is more profitable; because it is the publication in action of the beauty, and glory of that gospel lived out. The beams of the sun of righteousness are not only bright and beautiful in themselves, but they have overcome the accidental fogs and mists, which hide their glory from the earth, and have found, in the still waters of a church, a spot whence their splendour is reflected. True indeed, that every saint has some light and some heat from the love of Jesus, but most true also that the celestial caloric, like the natural, may be so widely disseminated as to give neither light nor warmth. In the kingdom of nature, as in that of the Spirit, every isolated existence contains caloric, the wood, the iron, the flint, etc.; yet, for light, and warmth, unless it be concentrated, what its value? what its use?
*Including, of course, an intimate acquaintance with the plague of our own hearts, and the power and subtlety of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Bitterly have some of us learnt these lessons more bitterly far than God intended, because going to the war single-handed, we have at every point been borne to the ground, and when fallen had to rise unhelped, alone. Had we; instead of being knight-errants, stood in an associated band, as God commanded us, our experience would have been gained at less cost to ourselves, and oft-times less dishonour to our Captain. Two are better than one, for the one will lift up his fellow: for woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for who shall lift him up? Union is strength, for thereby our joys are increased, and our sorrows alleviated, by intercourse and love. We weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice.
The analogy is more perfect than may seem; for what are reading and writing but different applications of the same first principles? So in a church, which is God's school for the education of His children, the after lessons are only modifications of the great blessed and glorious rudiments. It is not intended then to deny experience, or its value, but only to assert, that to attempt to gain it without a church is to charge God foolishly with having enjoined that which we could do without. Doubtless the absence of this ordinance is the true cause of so much morbidness and unsoundness in the experience of the saints.
To say that all this was only binding in the then circumstances is little less than infidelity; for it is magnifying the changing and accidental trifles of time and country above the unchanging realities of the spiritual world. Our circumstances are in truth exactly what theirs were; in ourselves as feeble as were they; foes the very same in person and artifice; the object of the conflict the same; the same Spirit, the same Captain of Salvation, the same prize. If the order founded by divine wisdom included strength and mutual support (as it did), it is nothing but madness to have left it; for our only difference in circumstance from them is, that in the increase of the power of the flesh, the strength of the Spirit has been withdrawn, and the strength of Satan in subtlety and malice fearfully augmented.
Oh! that saints had grace to try God's own plan. The effort, though in feebleness, would be blessed the very position would call out a sympathy of love, a subjection of self, and a harmony, which would be God's testimony of approval, and the church would again become as some conservatory filled with evergreens, and redolent with scent, laden with fruit, even in the midst of the winter of cold selfishness around. Its walls would again become lively stones, knit together by the cement of the Spirit of love; and again would a dwelling-place be found on the earth for the Holy Spirit of the blessed Jesus, in a family at peace and harmony as a witness of the love and holiness of the risen First-Begotten, and men should praise the Lord for the gift of Jesus, saying (Ps. 133: 1, 2), "Behold how good and pleasant (it is) for brethren to dwell together in unity. (It is) like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, (even) life for evermore." G. V. W.