Six Letters to a Mother on Church Questions

Richard Holden
Bath, 12th December, 1872.

Beloved Mother,

It is over eight years since I laid aside the gown and surplice, for conscience' sake, without seeing anything better to which I could with hearty conviction attach myself. Two-and-twenty years ago the Lord converted me in my own chamber. One of the first movements of the new life within me was the outgoing of my heart towards all who loved the Lord. I had a vivid sense of the brotherhood in Christ, which from the first over-leaped "denominational" boundaries. I felt myself "one" with all who were in Christ, and had an instinctive and painful perception of the sad divisions among the Lord's people. I sorrowed over the separations, but soon learned to acquiesce in the hopelessness of the position, but got used to it. Feeling, however, that a sectarian spirit was not the mind of Christ, I carefully avoided nourishing it in my own heart, and rejoiced in all movements of a union character, as the nearest feasible approach towards the long-lost oneness. I was convinced that the unity advocated by Papists and High Churchmen was a sham — a unity of death and not of life — so I never felt the slightest sympathy with their thoughts or efforts.

Still I saw in the Scriptures that it was the mind of God that His Church should be one. I saw that the chief obstacle to the oneness was the differing views as to "Church government." I could not find in God's word a solid foundation for any one of the various "systems" I saw around me — nothing in any that commanded my faith, as being of God. I was long perplexed that God should have left the subject (as I thought) so much in the dark, and I finally settled down on the following conclusion.

I reasoned thus: In both Testaments there is the same Divine mind revealing itself — a mind superior to all caprice. In the Old Testament I see that Divine mind regulating human worship and service with the utmost minuteness of detail. In the New Testament I see the same mind acting under a changed dispensation, and I find apparently as studied an absence of exact prescription as there had been in the former. So, I argued, liberty must be the intention here, and unity in diversity seems to be the Divine ideal of the Church. The radical error of sectarianism I thus deemed to be the straining after a forced uniformity; and its remedy should be the recognition of mutual liberty in Christ — a communion unhindered by differences where vital truth was held, and each Church left to adapt itself to whatever it judged most suitable.

Standing on such ground, you can readily understand that I viewed all questions of "Church government" as simple matter of expediency, and, excepting that one might commend itself more than another on that score, I should have had no conscientious difficulty about fellowship with any orthodox communion. I did not quit the "Church," so-called, from any scruple as to its constitution, but on account of the doctrinal error tolerated in it.

But such view of the subject is opposite to the revealed mind of God, as I now see it in the Word, and dishonoring to Him who "is not the author of confusion." Yet I feel it still to be the only logical position if it be assumed that there must be some "system of Church organization," including an "ordained ministry."

The views which I have expressed, were the hindrance to my understanding of the Divine thought about the Church as unfolded in the New Testament; and they have been the hindrance to Protestants generally from the Reformation downward. The Reformers were godly and faithful men. They did God's work nobly up to the measure of the light they had. They did perfectly right to separate from Rome and her corruptions. Their work was of God; it was owned of God, and has been the source of incalculable blessing. But it was not perfect. A radical defect dwarfed it in its very cradle. They failed to take a true estimate of the Church's position before God, as it then stood. Never having seen it in its integrity, they failed to perceive and confess the ruin in which it lay.

I do not mean that they failed to perceive many of the errors that corrupted the Church — their perception of these was what drove them out of Popery — but that they failed to discern the true bearing of those errors on the Church's position, and, consequently, to take up the true attitude before God. They looked on them too much as the "errors of Popery." They did not perceive that the whole Church (so far as committed to man's responsibility) was involved in a common ruin; that no human power could restore it, and that we have no God-given authority to arrange or order His house as we please.

Suppose, dear mother, that when we were yet children, you had set two of us a task, and told us to have it ready against your return in an hour, and we disobeyed you and failed to do it; then you had put us in corners of the room, and told us to stand there for half-an-hour.

Suppose that both of us were sorry for our conduct, and after you had left, one said to the other, "I think we had better take up the task again and finish it against mother comes; she will be sure to be better pleased with us, and it will be more sensible than standing here doing nothing;" while the other replied, "No; we have no right to do that now; the right thing is to stay where she has put us, and where we have brought ourselves by our naughtiness, till mother tells us what to do."

Which of the two would you have commended when, on your return, you found one at work on the unfinished task, and the other in his corner? Would you not have told the former that to take up the task again was only a fresh exhibition of self-will, a renewed act of disobedience?

Well, in principle that is the mistake the Reformers made, and in which we have all been going on — the mistake has resulted in the existing confusion — doing what was right in our own eyes, instead of seeking God's mind, expressed in His Word.

Reform movements have, from the first, proceeded on the principle that there existed authority competent to this, though their promoters have differed widely as to where such authority was vested. Some have thought they found it in civil rulers, some in bishops, some in synods or presbyteries, others in the congregation or in their individual selves. But whatever shape the ideas have taken, the underlying principle has been that whatever of Church order existed under the apostles might be restored by us; hence each has built according to his own plan rather than confessing the ruin, and turning to God and His Word.

A false start brings a bootless journey. An unsound foundation makes a rickety building. Once off the track there is no getting on it again, till you know you are off it, and where and how. Failure and ruin have overtaken the present dispensation, just as in those that preceded it; and God's children will hardly discern the pathway of duty through the ruin, till they understand something of its nature and extent.

We must see what the Word of God and the facts of the case teach us about it.

I will touch on just one or two of the more prominent features of the ruin.

As one casts the eye over Christendom — what professes the name of Christ — one is at once struck by the number of "Churches" into which it is divided, not in the sense of local assemblies of one great body, but independent bodies fenced off from each other by carefully-guarded boundaries, and oftentimes pitted against each other. There is indeed occasional over-leaping of the boundaries. Now and then a minister of one denomination will invite one of another sect to fill his pulpit or minister to his flock on an occasion, or will place himself alongside others on the platform of a Bible Society meeting or in the congress of an Evangelical Alliance; but such fitful efforts at union only serve to indicate that there is an inner consciousness in Christian souls that the divisions are wrong, and that things are out of joint.

The contrast between the Christendom of the nineteenth century and the Church of apostolic days is as marked as it is humiliating. The sacred writers picture to us a single united body in the midst of the world — one Church, one only. There were, indeed, local assemblies or churches, as demanded by the necessity of the case — perhaps more than one in a city, where numbers compelled — but all were in full communion, every part with every other part. There was mutual dependence, mutual co-operation, and one common name including all — "the Church of God." They knew no other, they sought no other, they needed no other. Having no separate interests, no separate organizations, no separate corporate entity, they needed no distinctive "denominational" names. Ministering brethren were seen moving to and fro among the local churches in perfect freedom, and, where they came, they ministered, not by courtesy or on sufference, but as a matter of course. The germs of evil were there, it is true; the tendency to names and sects cropped up in Corinth; but apostolic authority was still in acknowledged vigour, and the plague stayed for a time. Whatever inward contentions there may have been, the Church of God remained a unity till the close of the Scripture canon.

Look again at ministry as it now exists. How painful it is to see many who, professing to be ministers of Christ, are unconverted men yea, alas, teachers of deadly error, down to open infidelity! A man-made ministry has superseded a ministry in the power of the Holy Ghost; and fearful indeed have been the consequences. How dreadful the picture of congregations consigned to the care of men who either poison them with false doctrine or starve them through ignorance of the truth! True it is that some Protestant denominations have sought to correct this horrible abuse, and with a measure of success; but, alas, one sees even these tending again towards the same old evil, as the inevitable consequence of seeking to reform abuses on merely human authority and grounds, instead of recurring at once and alone to those of God.

I will instance but one fact in evidence of the doctrinal confusion and its long and universal prevalence. The so-called Apostles' Creed is the oldest and most generally accepted ecclesiastical document that exists. Yet its very first article ascribes creation to God the Father, and to Him alone, whilst Scripture invariably ascribes it to the Son, and in part at least to the Spirit, unless it be in general to God as such. Viewed with the fact that there is not in that creed a single ascription of Godhead to either the Son or Holy Spirit, it is susceptible of serious misconstruction.

We need not wonder, therefore, at the early introduction of Arianism into the Church, and that the Nicene and Athanasian creeds were needed to undo the mischief the other had laid the foundation for. I do not mean that such was the intention of it; but it is a speaking fact that the very first known attempt made by man to improve on the divinely-appointed standard of doctrine, should have resulted in a creed whose very first article is a contradiction of the written Word, and to which even a Unitarian might subscribe.

And who shall say that the confusion that we see is according to the mind of God — the thing intended by Him? And if not according to His mind, what else is it but failure — ruin — sin? Is it not time for us to be asking if there be not a divine path — a path which God would have His children take in the midst of it all? Thank God there is; I have found it at last by His grace, a path so simple and easy, so sure and so blessed; such a rest in the midst of the turmoil — a rest in God — that I long for you and all I love to share it with me. I pray that He may help me to set it clearly and simply before you; and for you to discover it in His word, and receive it to His glory. Meanwhile I commend you to His love and grace.

Second Letter
Bath, 6th January, 1873.

Beloved Mother,

In my last I sought to direct your attention to a few of the most evident features of the ruin into which the present dispensation has fallen. I want, to-day, with God's help, to direct it to some of the thoughts on this subject supplied to us by the Word of God.

In the first place, it is important to notice that the Church's failure was no unforeseen thing. On the contrary, it is the very thing foreshadowed in the Word — just as much so as the failure of the Jewish or legal dispensation was fore-announced in the Jewish Scriptures — the Old Testament.

First of all, look at the thirteenth of Matthew. There you find, first, a parable showing how the kingdom of heaven was to be planted, through the sowing of the seed of the Word. Then one showing how the devil would sow tares (false professors) among the wheat. Then another, setting forth how the thing would grow into a tree in whose branches the "birds of the air" would come and lodge; this is followed by another announcing how "leaven," being introduced into it, would finally leaven or corrupt the whole; and still another showing how the Lord, at the end, will dispose of the respective elements — the good and the evil, the true and the false.

To understand these parables you must note that the "birds of the air" and the "leaven" are, in Scripture, symbols of evil — here evil persons and evil principles.*
{* For the former see Deut. 28:26; 1 Sam. 17:44, 46; Isa. 18:6; Rev. 18:2; 19:17, 21; Ps. 79:2; Jer. 7:33; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; 15:3, etc., — everywhere birds of prey — carnivora.
For the latter, Ex. 12:13; 34:25; Lev. 2:11; 1 Cor. 5:6, 8; Gal. 5:9, &c.}

Next, remark the Lord's question in Luke 18:8, "When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?" and then what Paul told the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:29-30, where the elders themselves are pointed out as one of the direct sources of the ruin.

Pass on to Rom. 11:17-24, and note the apostle's prophetic warning to the Gentile of a fate identical with that which had overtaken the Jew. Compare the admonition, "Lest He also spare not thee," with that of Moses to Israel in Deut. 29:18, etc. and 30:17-18. In both cases it is a "Lest" and an "If" — not the language of express prophetic announcement, but of admonitory warning. In the case of Israel how dreadfully prophetic in fact! not less so, alas, for ourselves!

Language could not speak more plainly than Paul speaks in 1 Tim. 4:1-3, and 2 Tim. 4:3-4. (See also 2 Peter.) To get the full force of it, one needs to set fully before the mind that it is not of the world, but of the professing Church, that such things are foretold; and if one only looks around one finds every single thing there named, somewhere or other, under what professes the name of Christ, and calls itself the Church; while some of the things are fearfully characteristic of the religion of the day in its entirety, as 2 Tim. 3:5; 4:3.

There then is the prophecy, and here all around us are the facts. The ruin was foretold, and the ruin has come. The solemn inquiry arises, And what is to be the end of it all?

We have already seen the answer in the words of Paul, "Thou also shalt be cut off" (Rom. 11:22). Judgment, God's judgment, awaits it all. See it foreshadowed in the fate of the five foolish virgins (Matt. 25), representatives of the unfaithful portion of the professing Church. (See also Matt. 24:48-51.) Judgment will begin at the house of God, the professing Church; and fearful will it be for those who are then found in it; the wise virgins will have entered in to the marriage before that day, thank God! (1 Thess. 4:16-17.)

One other interesting question meets us in connection with it, whose answer is important to our right understanding of it, and our discernment of the pathway through it: When did the ruin come in? We find it in the New Testament.

Its first intimation is in 2 Thess. 2:7; the mystery of iniquity was already at work, so early as the date of that epistle. The place of the epistle in the Church's history is between Acts 17:10 and 18:11, when the gospel through the apostle had but just reached Corinth; and in the Corinthian church it began to show itself early, as one sees from the apostle's language about divisions in 1 Cor. 1:10; but happily the apostle's authority was still sufficient for its repression.

The next intimation of its imminent nearness is in the passage in Acts 20. I have already touched on this, where the apostle shows that it might be expected to appear even among the generation to whom he spoke.

In 1 Tim. 5:15 there is another hint how rapidly the evil was developing, but it is in his second epistle to Timothy — the last of Paul's writings — that the failure stands fully confessed. The epistle is written throughout in a minor key. Its instructions to his "dearly beloved son" are no longer concerning the ordering of "the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth," but how to keep himself in the midst of fast consummating decay. It is no more a question of "ordaining" bishops and deacons, but of committing truth to "faithful men." It is not now, as we might say, the advancing soldier exhorted to "fight the good fight of faith," shunning the ordinary temptations that might hinder his progress (1 Tim. 6:10-12), but the soldier on the defensive, as it were, called on to "endure hardness," in the effort to maintain his ground, under the pressure of surrounding evil.

How changed already were the times since the apostle, in the joyful confidence of a willingly acknowledged apostleship, could write to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:19), "The churches of Asia salute you!"

Years had rolled by since then. During two of them the apostle had been a prisoner in Caesarea; during two more a prisoner in Rome. What victory had not the adversary gained in the absence of that faithful heart and vigilant eye! How soon was the prophecy of Acts 20:29 fulfilling itself. He writes now, "All they of Asia be turned away from me." From whom? From the Lord's apostle! How declension was coming on apace.

Then look onward to 2 Tim. 2:18: the resurrection being denied by some, the sorrowing servant of God is driven back on the same consolation that God gave to Elias of old — a remnant still kept for the Lord and known to Himself — the foundation still standing, however crumbling the superstructure! The parable of Matt. 13 was already being fulfilled — the tree was growing great, and the birds of prey were already possessing themselves of its branches — the house of God, which holiness becomes, was fast developing into "a great house," in which were no longer only pure and valuable vessels (as in the temple of old) meet for the Master's use, but a confusion of the worthless and the vile (as in ordinary human habitations) profaning His presence.

Into what a sad condition must the life of the Church have fallen already when the apostle had to write such things as are found towards the close of his letter! How must the Holy Ghost have been grieved when not a man was found in the Roman assembly to stand by God's witnessing servant!

From Paul let us now turn to John. What shall one think of the spiritual state of a Church in which a Diotrephes could acquire such authority as to secure the rejection of an apostle's epistle, and the casting out of those in fellowship with him? (3 John 9, 10.)

What a commentary are the epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia on Paul's words: "All they of Asia be turned away from me!" How rapidly was the whole thing heading up into open ruin when its representative character was that of those Seven Churches? And the same state of things shows out in 2nd Peter, and in Jude.

The testimony is full and decisive. Morally, the Church was in ruin even before the apostles had all quitted the scene. I say "morally," for though the declension was deep and broad, it still retained "a name to live." The break-up, whose premonitions were there, was not yet reached; the Church remained still a unit, and stood yet on "the foundation of God," though, alas! the wood, hay, and stubble were fast overlaying the gold, the silver, and the precious stones. The case had not yet attained to that utter hopelessness which renders separation imperative; but it was fast hurrying towards it, and the Spirit of God graciously availed Himself of the occasion to trace out beforehand, for the faithful, the pathway of obedience and faith against the coming day.

Before entering on the examination of this — which I shall leave for another letter — there are two thoughts that presented themselves to me in connection with the ruin, which I think it well to look at. The first was: How does this state of ruin comport with the Lord's assurance to Peter, in Matt. 16:18, that the gates of hell should not prevail against His Church?

The Spirit has been careful to anticipate, and Himself supply the answer to this, in one of the passages already before us, "The foundation of God stands sure," and "The Lord knows them that are His" (2 Tim. 2:19). Amid all the ruin the purpose of God runs on, and the Holy Ghost still gathers out the members of the body of Christ. All that has been entrusted to man's responsibility has indeed failed, but that which is of God's own sovereignty endures, and will triumph.

The second question is: Does it not seem hard to admit the thought that ruin should so very early have overtaken a divinely-ordered work?

This difficulty is specious, but it is unreal. I can quite understand its being most serious to minds imbued with the unscriptural notion that the present is the final dispensation, and therefore the perfection of God's work, and that a millennium is to be looked for as its natural development and result; but the difficulty disappears when examined in the light of the Word.

First, it is to be borne in mind that the failure is in man, not in God. It is the thing committed to man's trust that has broken down, and no one who has formed a scriptural estimate of what man is will wonder greatly at any mischief he does.

Next it is to be noted that the failure is distinctly predicted by God Himself, and consequently provided for in His plans and purposes.

And further, it is to be kept in view that it is simply in analogy with what has gone before in all the past history of God's dealings with man; and, as Solomon says, "The thing which has been, it is that which shall be," so long as man is left to his own responsibility in anything. Creation was but just completed when man spoiled everything by his fall. Forty days had not elapsed from the day when Israel entered into covenant with Jehovah, promising, "All the words which the Lord has said will we do" (Ex. 24:3; 32:19), before the whole thing was ruined by their setting up the golden calf, and Moses broke the now useless tables of the violated covenant.

And as of the past so of the future. Even after the reign of righteousness, under the Lord in person, during which Satan is bound, and the Spirit of God unhindered in His work of grace, no sooner shall the tempter be loosed again than the old results will re-appear (Rev. 20:7-9). One need not therefore wonder nor stumble over the facts of our own dispensation.

But if such be of a truth the character of the human heart — its proneness to err, and to love darkness rather than light — what a lesson of dependent watchfulness does it not read us! What need for a subject mind, for a careful adhesion to the Word, for a constant abiding in Him who is the light of the world, and following whom alone we can be assured that we "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

May God keep our feet in the midst of it, and guide them "into the way of peace."

Third Letter
Bath, 10th January, 1873.

Beloved Mother,

How often have I longed, in bygone days, to find for my church position as clear warrant of faith as I had for my soul's salvation. It did seem so strange that God should have left it all indeterminate in His Word, and that nothing better remained for one than a weighing and balancing of human opinions, built on a few inferences from isolated Scripture texts, and only an opinion as the result, after all. I cannot express to you the sense of deliverance and repose with which I now rest on God's own Word about it all. It is all so plain to me now in Scripture, and it seems so marvelous I should have had an open Bible in my hands so many years, and yet have failed to perceive the truth now so simple to me. I can only compare it to what I experienced when first I was converted; when salvation by the blood of Jesus became so evident and precious that I marvelled I could have missed it so long. Well, praise be to God, He has led me into His plain path at last, however late, and it has opened the Scriptures to my understanding in a way that nothing else has ever done since my conversion.

Once the ruin is recognized and felt in the soul, the eye turns naturally to God, and the heart asks, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" If corporate responsibility has broken down, it becomes one to act in the sense of personal responsibility, and to clear one's self as before God.

The first question to be dealt with in such an hour is, What is the standard of truth? What is the divinely-appointed test? Where is the mind of God to be learnt with certainty?

A most noteworthy care has been taken by the Spirit of grace to give unmistakable clearness to this subject, in the very places of Scripture where the ruin is foretold. It is so gracious, so loving

Examine first Acts 20. Remark how the apostle closes his solemn admonition. He has set before them the danger: grievous wolves were coming to ravage the flock; perverse men from among themselves were about to arise and draw away disciples from the truth. What then? What safeguard can he point them to? Is it to an infallible pope or to an infallible council he bids them look for security? Is it to a bishop, or college of bishops, to a synod, or a presbytery? Alas! out of the presbytery itself evil men were to arise and pervert the disciples. How could any of these prove a safeguard against evil? No! not one such thought or suggestion has the apostle to proffer. But "I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace," says the apostle, to God and His Word — not one thing more! God present by His Spirit, in terms of the precious promises in John 14-16 — the Word present in their hands as His instrument for their guidance (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17).

But not only is this all he distinctly affirms it is enough. "Able to build you up." Yes, able, potent, adequate, in the face of the foreseen need; not merely sufficient for ordinary times, but for those "perilous times" that were coming. Could anything be plainer, simpler, or more to the point?

Look next at 2nd Timothy, the epistle whose special burden is the ruin. How carefully has the gracious Lord again brought in His clear testimony there to the all-sufficiency of the Word — mark, not its supremacy merely, but its all-sufficiency. "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" — a perilous time, truly. How shall "the man of God" keep himself from the contagion? "The Holy Scriptures" are able to make him wise unto salvation, that he may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. What needs he more?

Peter is another prophet of the ruin, and in the very opening of his notes of warning he is careful to point to the "sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place."

So Jude points out as the antidote "the words which were spoken before of the apostles." Observe, not traditions, but words spoken in their own hearing. "How that they told you" — the apostles' own words, the equivalent, to those who heard them, of their writings to us.

One must grasp, then, this truth firmly and resolutely: Scripture is God's own word, and that word is, in the Spirit's hand, our all-sufficient guide. It is God's own voice — the Shepherd's voice (John 10) for the guidance of His sheep; and He has promised that whoso follows Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. "I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace." One must have such faith in God, and such grounded conviction of the sufficiency of the Word, that one shall be ready to walk by it alone. So sure that in it one hears the Master's call, that one can be ready to go forth to meet Him without the camp — outside of all that which, while calling itself by His name, dishonors Him — bearing His reproach (Heb. 13:13).

Once the mind is settled in this conviction, all grows clear. The pathway of faith and obedience is indicated with great precision in 2 Tim. 2:17-22. Confusion was at hand. The overgrown building, weakened by the wood, the hay, and the stubble that had been built in among the living stones, was ready to crumble and break down. What then? The foundation of God would still stand sure immovable, unchangeable as Himself; and the Lord, amid all the confusion, would still know His own.

But how should these discern each other, and stand together so as to glorify Him, in such a day? A very simple course of action should bring it all to pass. Has the time for separation arrived? Is iniquity recognized by the man of God as pervading the Church and ruling the house? Is every man doing what seems right in his own eyes? Is man's will prevailing, and God's will set aside? "Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity!" And not from evil deeds alone, but from the men who do them he must separate. The courts of the house are polluted by the presence of impure vessels — men who by their self-will dishonor God. Would the man of God be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use? He must "purge himself from these." "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you," is now the Master's call.

But what if the mass of the Lord's people fail to see with him, and remain behind? Must the man of God detach himself from these as well? God's word answers, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." The Master must be followed rather than all others. The disobedience of others must not be made an excuse for disobedience on my part. Is it clear to me that things are wrong, and hopelessly so? I must not waver, but depart from iniquity, if even I have to do so alone — if I shall seem as solitary in the path as Elijah deemed himself of old. And this, moreover, is true love. If one would help another out of a miry ditch, one must not place one's feet beside him in the mire; one must look first of all to one's own foothold — must plant oneself firmly on the solid ground, and then one can reach the hand to lift one's neighbor out.

Yes; the Lord's direction is plain, and he who would be found faithful in these times must follow it at any cost, and quite irrespective of consequences or results; the issue of these rests with God.

Mark, now, how God's wisdom brings about, when man is obedient, those very results which obedience seems to renounce and abandon.

Man's wisdom. says, Stay where you are, and try to bring all your influence to bear on others to effect the reform of abuses; or, worse, Stay where you are and make the best of things. God's wisdom says, Come out, as I bid you, and leave the consequences to Me.

Suppose, now, that my mind has been brought to bow at last to the Word, and I obediently resolve to "depart from iniquity," to have nothing more to do with man's expediencies, cost what it may. I look again to Scripture that has guided me into this position, and I find another injunction following close upon it. I am to "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Does this mean persons quite free from sin? Assuredly not, for John has warned us, that "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart are not sinless beings, such as are only to be found in glory, but persons who also have submitted themselves to the Word in obedience, and departed from iniquity, purifying their hearts from all known offence against God.

If, then, I can meet with any whom the grace of God has already led into the path of obedience, my place is with them. If I stand aloof from these I shall be as truly disobedient as in my old position. It becomes me, therefore, to inquire whether there be any such, and, if found, to take my place among them. If I can hear of none, then I must stand alone with God, till He shall show them to me. Some one must be the first, but God will add.

It is thus that the faithful obedience of individuals results, under God's hand, in a witnessing body (only a remnant indeed), as has been His wont towards the close in each of His dispensations (Rom. 9:27; 11:5; Gen. 6; 1 Kings 19:18; Ezek. 9:4; Mal. 3:16, etc.).

What now will be the character of this witnessing remnant? And how far will it represent the "one body" of Christ, whose unity has been so long lost sight of?

We must be careful to understand the case we are dealing with. It is not a question of salvation — not of what saves souls, but of the way in which souls already saved by grace shall glorify God on the earth, and so fulfil the end of their vocation, "that they should show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvellous light." It is a question for souls who desire, like Enoch, to "have this testimony, that they please God."

When a group of believing persons, each of whom has been led in obedience to the Word to depart from iniquity, find themselves, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, gathered into association, what is there left to them?

First: They have "the foundation of God," standing sure as ever, Jesus Christ, on whom they, as living stones, are builded together.

Secondly: They come without the camp to the Lord, not to each other; and as it was loyalty to His name that led them to depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19), so they have that sacred name as the one centre to whom the Spirit gathers them.

Thirdly: Being now "gathered to His name," though in number, it may be, not exceeding "two or three," they have Himself in their midst, in terms of His own special promise (Matt. 18:20).

Fourthly: They have the presence of the Holy Spirit — a divine Person, not a mere influence — in their midst, as our Lord has promised (John 14:16-17).

Fifthly: They have His gifts for ministry, in terms of Eph. 4:8-13; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28.

Sixthly: They have the Word of God.

By that Word everything is now to be weighed and tested, whether for corporate action or the individual conduct. Whatever finds not authorization there is left behind, and the result of this sifting reduces assembly or Church-order within wonderfully small and simple limits.

1st: There is the obligation to assemble themselves together plainly laid before us in Heb. 10:25, without any special prescription of times or seasons.

2nd: As the assembly is, in the very nature of its constitution, a gathering of believers, by profession at least (Acts 2:44, 47; 1 Cor. 1:2, etc.), and as all believers are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:41, etc.), so the assembly is under obligation to receive into its communion only believers who have been baptized. Since, however, baptism is nowhere in the Word made a thing to be done in or by the assembly, or of its authority, but is always a matter between the evangelist and his converts (Matt. 28:19; Acts 8:27-39; 9:10-18; 10:34-48, etc.), and since no divine precept marks out the mode or time for baptism, so the when, the where, and the how, belong not to the assembly's responsibilities, but to those of the individuals before God. Rom. 14:5 comes in in such cases.

3rd: There are two divinely-prescribed objects proper to the assembly: the breaking of bread (Acts 20:7) with accompanying ministry in the Holy Spirit (as seen in 1 Cor. 12-14); and discipline, as pointed out in Matt. 18:17-20, and 1 Cor. 5.

In regard of the first of these, not one hint being given in the Word of any such thing as a humanly-appointed person to whom the breaking of the bread, or any kind of presidency in the assembly, shall be committed, they must not take upon themselves to make any such appointments.

In regard of the second, it is a painful and humiliating thought that among believers in the Lord Jesus Christ — called saints, or saints by calling — there should ever arise any such manifestations of evil as should call for discipline or excision. However, while the flesh is still present in God's children, and the devil ever ready to tempt and draw into sin or error, we must ever watch against it, and deal with it when it appears. "It must needs be that offences come," said the blessed Lord, "but woe to that man by whom the offence comes." Unfaithfulness in the discharge of this painful duty has been, alas, the occasion of much of the evil that has defaced the Church of God, and hindered its usefulness. What solemn admonitions were sent by the Lord to the churches of Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira, for their negligence in this respect! (See Rev. 2.)

The Church is the dwelling-place of the Holy God, hence the needs be that it be kept pure — nothing unworthy of His sacred presence to be condoned within it.

A few plain and simple directions mark off the assembly's duties on this point.

A teacher of doctrine destructive of foundation truths, or those who share in it, must be put away as leaven; for one who associates with him who brings not the doctrine of Christ, makes himself partaker of his evil deeds (2 John 11). An immoral person must also be put away (1 Cor. 5:13).

Such, in brief, is the substance of Scripture teaching with regard to the order of God's assembly or Church; whatever is of man's invention, the outgrowth of his self-will, is to be refused. How simple are God's ways as compared with man's, and how blessedly superior in practical results! But this I leave for the present.

I want now to draw your attention to the way in which the divine principle of the "unity of the body" recovers its practical manifestation through this simple obedience to the Word.

If you will weigh carefully and compare with the Word the few items I have just set down, you will at once perceive that there is not one but has direct divine authorization. Now, no Christian can possibly object to anything divinely appointed, so that no Christian can hesitate about the propriety of doing any or all what Scripture directs upon this question. On the other hand, no Christian has a right to insist on other Christians doing anything that is not clearly and distinctly set down by divine prescription. He may draw inferences from what he finds in the Word, and these inferences will properly bind his own conscience and control his own conduct; but he has no right whatever to insist that his inferences be accepted by the assembly of God, or anything set up there on the ground of them; if he does, and either leaves the assembly because they will not adopt his views, or drives others out by setting up what their consciences cannot sanction, he is guilty of the sin of schism; and that is most seriously stigmatized by the Word (1 Cor. 1 and 12, etc.).

Whatever is set up in the assembly all the members have communion (i.e. joint participation) in; hence, the need for, and the divine wisdom manifested in, the fewness and simplicity of the regulations. If any single item be added, which the very weakest conscience in the assembly cannot have fellowship with, sectarian ground is taken up. Alas! man has deemed himself wiser than God, and, thinking to improve on His arrangements, has brought in all kinds of confusion.

Take, for instance, baptism. Suppose any local assembly undertakes to make rules for the administration of that ordinance, and adopts either infant or adult baptism as its rule; it becomes a sect forthwith; it has taken upon itself to do what the Lord has nowhere authorized it to do; it has added a term of communion that is not of His making, and so excluded from its fellowship saints who cannot see with it in its view of the case.

There is one other point to be considered: it is, whether any divinely-prescribed thing is omitted. If any divine command for the assembly be left out, the charge of schism will lie against it as truly as if an unauthorized addition were made; for every obedient Christian has a right to demand that all God's will be obeyed where it has fellowship. I believe Scripture will be searched in vain for anything prescribed of God for His assembly, beyond what I have indicated, and that the ground on which the path of scriptural obedience conducts is one on which all Christians can and ought, nay, must meet, if they would prove faithful to the Lord. Not to do so is sin.

The name of Christ becomes the one centre of gathering for the faithful, and this is laying the axe to the very root of sectarianism.

What is a sect? It is, as the term implies, a portion cut off. The sects are each cut off or separated from others owning the Christian name, by those peculiarities either of organization, doctrine, or discipline, whose mutual reception forms the bond of union among its members, and, consequently, their centre of union or rallying-point.

Take the Presbyterian church. Here is a body of people, all of whom may be Christians, but who are bound together, apart from other Christians, on the ground that they are all agreed that the Presbyterian mode of church-government is the right or the best thing, and therefore they unite in the setting up of that form, in doing which they separate or cut themselves off from all Christians who do not see it.

Here is a Baptist church. It is a body of people, all of whom may be Christians, as the others before-named, but who are agreed in the opinion that the baptism of adult believers, by immersion, is the only right mode of baptism, and on the ground of this common belief they have associated themselves into an organization or body, in separation from all other Christians who think differently from them on that particular subject.

This, then, is the principle of sectarianism; the setting up of terms of communion or centres of organization which God has not appointed, which stand on no higher ground than man's institutions, or at best man's inferences from Scripture, as distinguished from God's express prescriptions. It is the principle rebuked in its first stage by the apostle in 1 Cor. 1.

I have instanced only two prominent denominations; you will easily apply the test to all others, as Episcopalians, Methodists, and the like.

Now, let us suppose a Presbyterian, a Baptist, an Episcopalian, an Independent, and a Methodist to get together and take into consideration on what terms they could all be united in one body; what must be their course? Clearly each would have to lay aside all that was peculiar to his denomination — the separating barrier — which would bring them on to the common ground I have indicated. Having laid aside the things they took their names from, the names themselves would no longer be needed, it would leave only the name of Christ. They would no longer be Presbyterian Christians, Baptist Christians, Episcopalian Christians, Wesleyan Christians, but simply CHRISTIANS — brethren in the Lord — as of old.

Exactly such must be the case could one suppose the Lord Jesus Christ to come down once more amongst us, to set things to rights according to the Word, and restore the unity of the Church. Can you suppose He would take position with any one of the denominations to the exclusion of the rest? No. He would go outside of all, as Moses (who pitched his tent outside the camp when Israel had failed), and to that place all who loved Him must go to gather around Himself, leaving all their sectarian crotchets behind; and there they would be gathered in His name, with Himself and His Spirit in their midst; with "gifts differing according to the grace given," and His word in their hands marking out for them the few simple, practical, corporate obligations we have already seen. If the Lord were then pleased, of His own direct authority, to restore ordained elders, or any other kind of officers, He could of course do so, but it must be of His own direct personal authority, for He has provided for nothing of the kind in the Scriptures for His Church.

Now, although the Lord is not bodily present on earth, the principle is divinely set forth in the Word for us to act upon; and it is quite manifest that its practical adoption by all true Christians would result in the manifestation once more of the Church of God in the midst of the world as one united body, having no name but that of Christ; no centre of union, no head but Himself; no creed, articles, or standards save His word; no ministry save that of His own direct gifts; no rules and regulations for the assembly, save the few simple ones by Himself laid down.

But then the difficulty is to get all to agree to this. Exactly! But the point to be seen is, that the measure of our personal duty is not the hopefulness of success, but of simple obedience to God. We are to do our part in obedience and leave the rest to Him. An old proverb says, "The city is soon clean when every man sweeps before his own door."

Such are the principles which led me out of all "denominations," and brought me into association with "Brethren," whom I found acting on the same principle, in the fear of God. In another letter I will tell you something of what I have found among them in the shape of practical results.

Fourth Letter
Bath, 25th January, 1873.

Beloved Mother,

In order to your better appreciation of the position into which "Brethren" are brought through the obedience of faith, I resume my pen to bring before you something of the Scripture-teaching about the Church.

"The Church of God" is a thing quite unknown to the Old Testament; there is not a word about it from beginning to end of that part of the Sacred Volume. This statement will probably surprise you, especially if you have in your hand a Bible with the chapter-headings of the Authorized Version: for there you will find it brought in at every turn in the headings of chapters and pages — put there by the translators; and as that has all the prestige of a venerable antiquity, it looks rather a daring thing to contradict it so flatly. But who should be supposed to know best — King James' translators or the apostle Paul? You will not find it difficult to answer that. Let us see, then, what Paul says about it.

Turn first to Rom. 16:25-26: "Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest through prophetic Scriptures."*
{* This is the correct translation. It is New Testament scriptures, not Old Testament prophecies.}

See next Ephesians 3:3-6: "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery, (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of [the] Christ); which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel;" also ver. 9, "To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God." Col. 1:26: "The mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints."

You perceive that in each of these passages there is a mystery spoken of, which in other ages (Old Testament times) was not made known, but kept secret — hid in God then, but now revealed.

This mystery was concerning the Christ — a body with many members (1 Cor. 12:12); and its substance is, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs and of one body (Col. 3:11; Gal. 2:28); in other words, it is the Church.

Now if you hunt the Old Testament through and through, you will not encounter a hint of this. You will find, indeed, lots of intimations of Gentile blessing, in subordination to the Jew, and of a national character, under the kingdom of the Messiah — the millennium of the New Testament — but not one word, as the apostle emphatically testifies, of that work which the Holy Ghost is now accomplishing, in the calling out from among Jew and Gentile a people to Jesus Christ, to constitute one body, on an entirely different ground, where all national distinctions are completely ignored.

The Church or assembly of God dates from Pentecost, when, for the first time, the baptism of the Holy Ghost of believers into one body took place (Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:13).

There are two aspects or characters under which the Church of God is presented to us in the New Testament: as the body of Christ, Eph. 1:22-23; and as the house of God, 1 Tim. 3:15.

Each of these aspects is distinct in its significance and bearing, and each requires to be examined and understood in order to our right comprehension of Church truth — indeed, of the entire dispensation.

The body of Christ is formed entirely independent of man's agency, and outside of his responsibility, so far as its intrinsic integrity is concerned. It is the work of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Peter 1:5); and man can neither make nor mar it; he can neither add nor subtract a single member. Every truly converted soul that has partaken of the baptism of the Holy Ghost is a member of that body, no matter in what part of the world he be found, no matter in what ecclesiastical connection — Protestant or Romanist, for there are converted persons found among Papists. All these scattered individuals, however little known to each other, however divided by schisms, constitute, in reality, but one body in union with Christ, the Head, and are seen and recognized of God as such (2 Tim. 2:19). No human power can cut off a single member of Christ.*
{* Discipline does not separate from "the body," but from fellowship. The divinely revealed facts that the body is a unity, and the house the dwelling-place of the holy God, must, however, govern the assembly's action in its exercise. When God reveals facts, it is that we may shape our conduct in conformity with them. Divinely constituted relationships are a ground of moral obligation, and when known must mould our action, even in the absence of preceptive teaching.}

But while human agency can neither make nor mar the unity of the body, it can manifest or hinder the manifestation of it. Sectarianism has hindered it; the return to God's principles of unity, already pointed out, if universally acted on, would manifest it again, and, when acted on by only a witnessing few, revives its manifestation in principle, though complete restoration is certainly beyond hope.

The house of God, with which His Name is connected, in a measure is committed to man's responsibility. It is built on Jesus Christ as its foundation (2 Tim. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:11), and is His building (1 Cor. 3:9). Men are, however, admitted to the place of fellow-laborers or co-operators in the work — to build on His foundation according to His plan and directions (1 Cor. 3:9); and proportioned to the measure of their faithfulness in so doing is the degree of conformity to the mind of God in the result (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

The materials for the structure, contemplated in God's plan, are gold, silver, precious stones — lively or living stones (1 Cor. 3:12; 1 Peter 2:5); in other words, saved souls, made alive and sanctified in the new birth by the quickening power of the Holy Ghost, like the ready-prepared stones of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:7); for the temple, built of living men, is intended for "a holy temple," for the habitation of a holy God (1 Cor. 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22), and holiness becomes His house for ever (Ps. 93:5).

The term house, according to Scripture usage, includes the edifice, the vessels it contains (2 Tim. 2:20), and the household or family (Heb. 3:1-6).

The house, according to God's ideal, is co-extensive with the body (on earth); and, had nothing but the divinely-appointed materials been built into it, the two would have remained co-extensive; the respective names expressing the same thing under different aspects — the body presenting it in its relation of vital union with Christ; the house presenting it in its relation to God as His dwelling-place on earth.

As a matter of fact, however, the body and the house have become widely sundered in character. As the former is entirely the workmanship of God, who "looks on the heart," it is raised above any liability to confusion; but the latter, being entrusted to man, who "looks on the outward appearance," is subject to such mixture of its materials as may arise from deception, carelessness, or self-will. God has nowhere, by any of His appointments, sanctioned such mixtures; but He has foreseen, and in some respects provided for and made regulations in anticipation of it

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended to form the body and inhabit the house, the two were exactly coincident — the same souls formed the one and the other. Had no false profession ever been made, had none but living stones been built into the structure, it would have continued co-extensive with the body. So far as we know, the house lost its identification with the body, when Simon Magus was baptized (Acts 8:13). When he, though still "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (ver. 23), made profession of believing, and was consequently baptized, a stone was added to the building, which was not a living stone; but as he was not a member of the body, there was now that in the house of which the body knew nothing; they were no longer one and the same.

As false profession increased, and unwise builders, through their blunders or self-will, brought in more and more unsuited materials, the distinction between the body and the house kept widening, till the one has become quite overshadowed by the other, if not almost lost sight of. Instead of "a holy temple" built of holy materials, and containing only hallowed vessels of precious metals, such as alone were deemed suitable for the interior tabernacle or temple of old, the Church has now become comparable to a large human dwelling-place (2 Tim. 2:20), suitable for the habitation of men, and including vessels of baser materials; vessels to honour — the only ones fit for the Master's use — being indeed there, but vessels to dishonour mingled with them, and, alas, in overwhelming proportion

God's plan, though not His purpose, has thus been marred in the execution by the unskilfulness and unfaithfulness of those He has admitted to the dignity of "fellow-workers" in it; and instead of a beautiful, harmonious, and united structure, there has resulted a mass of deformed, unstable building, fitted only for the judgment that will soon overtake it, as threatened (1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Peter 4:17, etc.). God will not restore the ruin. What He is doing now by His Spirit is, gathering out here and there some of the living stones from the midst of the rubbish, and upon the still unmoved foundation building them together in a form which, though not the perfect model of the original, does at least exhibit its leading features — its principles. Nothing more is to be looked for now. God never sets up again a failed dispensation. He only calls out a witnessing remnant. Who that loves His name would not aspire to the honour of a place among those witness-bearers, though, in taking that place, the reproach of Christ must be their lot?

Fifth Letter
Bath, 30th January, 1873.

Beloved Mother,

There are few things about "Brethren" more generally distasteful to those from whom they withdrew (especially the clerical portion of them) than the repudiation of an "ordained" ministry. If "Brethren" be guilty in this of despising a divine appointment, it were indeed a most serious crime; but, if, as they (and I) most fully believe, an "ordained" ministry is in the present day "the baseless fabric of a vision," without an atom of divine support, then the guilt is on the part of those who set up and sustain such inventions in the name of the Lord.

The systems may be divided under two heads — successional, which claim that in the ministry itself is invested the power of ordaining its successors*; and congregational, which hold that in the church or congregation resides the power of appointing, ordaining, or formally recognizing ministers.
{* This fallacy is based on what is called "Apostolic Succession," i.e., the right of ordination being transmitted down as from father to son, as was the priesthood in Israel in the by-gone dispensation. Hence their claim to a continuous succession from the Apostles down to them. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is founded on this pretension, and the Anglican Church has sought to follow it. From this, the title "Reverend" has been assumed by the clergy. — [Ed.}

These systems are mutually destructive, and the advocates of either side are admirably successful in demonstrating the groundlessness of the opposing theory, and equally unsuccessful in the attempt to establish their own.

The only two passages I know of in all the New Testament that so much as seem to speak of succession are Acts 20:29-30 and 2 Tim. 2:2, the former of which intimates that "grievous wolves" would come in to draw away disciples after them; while in the latter, the thing to be transmitted is not authority or office, but truth — a widely different matter. The pretension on which Episcopalians so much rely (that Timothy and Titus are examples of ordaining bishops) is utterly worthless, as Presbyterians show very clearly in their controversies.

Three passages, which might be supposed to lend colour to congregational appointments (Acts 1:15-26; 6:1-4; 13:1-3), are just as wide of the mark on the other side. The first is an entirely exceptional case. It occurred before the Holy Ghost descended, by whom the Church was formed; it was, moreover, a direct appointment of the Lord, to whom the choice was directly referred. In the second case, the appointment made was neither for rule nor for any ministry of the Word, but "to serve tables;" and, although the selection of the individuals was left to those whose alms were to be distributed, the appointment was expressly retained in the hands of the apostles, and as there are no apostles now, the example is useless to us. In the third case, it was the Holy Ghost Himself who directly commanded the action, and selected the persons. These were, moreover, persons already recognized as prophets or teachers (compare Acts 13:1 with Eph. 4:11), which shows that ordination to ministry was not the thing in question and distinctly denies that the apostleship was given him through any human agency (Gal. 1:1).

Now it is not denied that in the apostolic Church there were "elders" (called also "presbyters," "bishops," or "overseers") and "deacons." The fact stands patent on the pages of Scripture; yet it cannot be shown from Scripture that "ordained" officers of either character were found in every church, or deemed indispensable to all: the reverse can, I think, be made evident. What has been too readily taken for granted is, that because such "ordained" officers were then, they must also be now. The fact is, the must be is no must be at all, but the reverse. There is not a word in the New Testament that so much as hints at the perpetuation of an order of "ordained" ministers. It is simply taken for granted. There is not a shadow of Scripture for it.

When men's minds are possessed of the notion, that because there was an "ordained" eldership at the first, it must of course be God's purpose to perpetuate it, they set about piecing together what scraps of Scripture seem to them to indicate the form it should have, and as such meagre and misapplied materials afford scope for different theories, discord and confusion is the natural result.

It does not seem ever to occur to them to ask whether God did really intend to do just what He did, and that His silence is as much an expression of His mind as if He had spoken. Can we doubt that He who so carefully provided for the perpetuation of the line of priests and Levites of old, and has as carefully omitted any perpetuation of office in the new dispensation, had not as definite a purpose in the omission in the one case as in prescribing in the other? Is it not wiser and more reverent to accept His way as it stands, conform to it, and endeavour to discern His reason and object? May it not be that what His wisdom deemed advisable in the nascent condition of the Church, the same wisdom may have deemed undesirable for its subsequent stages? I think we can discern His wisdom in this.

If it be indeed true that before the Scripture canon was complete, before the apostles were removed from the scene, the Church had already failed in the testimony committed to her, and had morally broken down in God's sight, one can readily understand why He should not have provided for official succession. To have perpetuated official authority under such circumstances would have been to impress His own sanction on the ruin. We know from experience the power which priestcraft has exercised, and the bondage in which it has been able to hold the souls of men, even with the bubble pretensions it has set up. What would it have been if the would-be priest of modern days could have pointed to such a title as that of the house of Aaron? The Reformation would have been an impossibility, or a crime. My soul bows to-day in adoration of the wisdom which has left things as they are, and learns afresh the all-important lesson that, whenever anything in the ways or works of God seems defective, the fault is in the eye that scans; and careful search will reveal God's wisdom and order in this, as in all His acts.

Though the apostles did appoint elders and deacons in the early Church, there is nothing in Scripture to connect — much less to limit — the ministry of the Word to official appointment. Elders were appointed to rule, oversee, or shepherd the flock of God (1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 20:28), deacons to "serve tables" in the distribution of alms (Acts 6:1-11). Of the men selected for these purposes, some possessed gifts of the Spirit for the ministry of the Word, and, having these, exercised them, as a matter of course, in conjunction with, but not in virtue of, their office.*
{* Gifts, as mentioned in Eph. 4:10-13, are from the Lord Himself to the Church as a whole. It is not in the province or power of man to bestow gifts with which the Lord endows some of His members for the blessing of all; and those who have been endowed with any of His gifts are responsible to the Lord for their exercise.
But elders and deacons (who might or might not be thus gifted) were appointed for the guidance and order in the early churches which were being raised up out of Gentile heathenism and its evil practices. They were officially appointed by the apostle Paul, or those sent by him (Titus 1:5-9); the Churches, or assemblies, having neither the spiritual wisdom nor authority for this. The character required for such offices was given in detail to Timothy (1 Tim., ch. 3), so that we at this time can recognize and honour such where they exist. — [Ed.}

The qualifications for rule were also divinely given, as we see from 1 Cor. 12:28 and Rom. 12 6-8. Where these qualifications were found, they were of themselves not only to fit for, but to confer the rule, even in the absence of apostolic ordination, as we see quite evidently from 1 Thess. 5:12: "Know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you."

Paul had spent but a few weeks in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-10), and an assembly barely formed when his life was in danger, and the brethren hastened him away by night, so that he evidently had not time to select and ordain from among the new converts; hence he urges them, on their own responsibility, to "know" them that had the rule; mark, not to respect or obey, still less to choose or ordain, but to know or discern them: an exhortation that would have been meaningless had they been already pointed out to them by ordination, but perfectly intelligible when they were cast upon their own spiritual discernment to recognize the persons among them on whom the Holy Ghost, by imparting His gifts, had conferred the rule.

And observe that the absence of such "ordained" office-bearers did not prevent the apostle from addressing them as an assembly or church of God (1 Thess. 1:1).

It is true that aptness to teach was among the qualifications for eldership (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9); but that does not by any means imply the possession of the gift of a teacher, as in Eph. 4:11. I have in mind a case that illustrates the difference. In a Church which I know there are (besides the "minister") three elders. I have not a doubt that they are the very men an apostle would have chosen from among the flock for appointing to the office. Of these three, two have a measure of gift for ministry in the Word and doctrine; the other has no gift for ministry in public, yet has admirable aptness for teaching individuals, and for exhorting with sound doctrine, and convincing gainsayers. It is an instance to which Paul's language clearly applies: "Let the elders that rule well" (which might be said of all three) "be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine."

Office for rule or distribution of alms is one thing; gift for ministry of the Word quite another: the one pertains to service in the house; the other is for the edification of the body. The apostle himself (or Titus or Timothy as delegates) appointed to office for rule, but ministry of the Word is never once referred in Scripture to any other authority than that of God, of Christ, or the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:3, 6-8; Eph. 4:7-13, 16; 1 Cor. 12:4-11). Apostles, whose ministry pertained to the edification of the body, were also elders in the house (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1).

Timothy, indeed, received some sort of gift (its nature unspecified) in connection with the laying on of the hands of presbytery and an apostle; but it was done "by prophecy," and, therefore, can be no example for us who have no prophecy to direct us.

An ordained ministry, set up in the face of such facts, is not merely pernicious, but sin, and a hindrance to God's own way; with this those who are instructed in the Word can have no fellowship. Nor do we suffer any loss by rejecting "ordination" to the ministry; for as ministry is by gifts from the Lord it is in no wise dependent upon ordination. In the matter of rule, if the qualified men are there, we can thank God for them, and profit by them without any formal ordination. It is more profitable to go on gratefully, humbly, and dependently with what God has graciously given, than to pretend to the possession of what He has withheld.

I cannot leave this point of my subject without pointing to the history of Israel as most instructive for us now. God had put them in Canaan without what men would call a regularly organized government. They were on their good behaviour, as we might term it. When they walked aright, God was with them, and all went well. When they strayed, He let enemies in upon them: they were cast on Himself; they humbled themselves and cried unto Him, and He raised up deliverers. This direct dependence on God grew irksome to them. They would have a king, like the nations (1 Sam. 8:5); God gave it them in His anger (Hosea 13:11); and the final result was the Babylonish captivity.

Just so with the Church. Ministry in the Spirit casts her entirely on God and keeps her ever on her good behaviour. Walking in the ways of the world, the adversary gets the advantage, and the Church gets into confusion — which is the best thing that can happen to her. Better it is that any assembly should come to a deadlock, when departing from God and grieving His Spirit, than that a decent exterior should veil a corrupt inner life, and a name to live remain where death is reigning.

That of which a human system vaunts itself as its glory is really its condemnation: it can run on smoothly without God; while that which it points to as the supposed demonstration of the unwisdom of open ministry, in dependence on the Holy Ghost, is really its excellence: it cannot go on without God; if it were of man alone it would break down in a trice. How truly in this, as in all else, "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men!" (1 Cor. 1:25).

One more thought. It was a question that I had to meet (and which, I believe, holds back many from what they would otherwise recognize as the right path): Are there not many earnest, godly souls to be found in the "systems"? And does not God meet and bless them there? Would He do so if they were all walking in error? That question is met, for me, fully and conclusively in another passage of Jewish history. Turn to chap. 12 of Deuteronomy and read it. Observe three things in it: unity of worship distinctly prescribed (vers. 5-11); strict prohibition as to setting up high places for the worship of the Lord their God (ver. 4), and a warning against doing in these things "what was right in their own eyes" (vers. 8, 32). But see what was their subsequent history, from the Judges to the Captivity, and remark how completely they seem — even the best men among them — to have forgotten the very existence of such a chapter in the Word. The evil begins early and runs along the whole line. Mixed up with it like the rest, were Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Jotham, Jehoiada, repentant Manasseh; the reformers of their time reformed not that abuse; it seemed right in their eyes to approve or let it alone. Expediency, no doubt, pleaded hard for the time-honored practice, though in disobedience to God's word.

Just such arguments might have been advanced in its favour as are urged in favour of human systems now; for, bear in mind, it is not idol worship, but the worship of God in "high places," I speak of. God met these good men, honoured and blessed them, as He does thousands in the systems now, and the argument is just as good in the one case as in the other, and the explanation is the same in both. These pious men had so grown up and been educated in the evil, that the question of its propriety had never been raised in their consciences; and so God blessed and owned their faithfulness up to the light they had, in exact accordance with the principle of 2 Cor. 8:12. Did He therefore approve, sanction or even wink at the direct violation of His own word? He has answered this Himself with unmistakable clearness: "Nevertheless the high places were not taken away." Again and again this qualifies the approval expressed of the otherwise faithful acts of His servants, and shows that He never lost sight of the sin, however they might have grown up in unconsciousness of it (1 Kings 3:2; 2 Chron. 20:33, etc.).

Had you and I lived in those days, what would have been our duty? Go on worshiping in the high places, because good and pious men did? Or walk with God on His own prescribed ground of Deut. 12? Which would have been most honouring to Him, and most loyal in us? Because God deals with us in grace, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid."

Sixth Letter
Bath, 12th February, 1873.

Beloved Mother,

There are few truths more solemnizing than that of the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, when rightly apprehended.

Every simple-minded Christian accepts it as a reality that God was once manifest in the flesh, and dwelt with men upon earth, moving among them, and conversing with them as a man. Nothing could have been more real, to those whom He admitted to association with Himself, than His presence with and His acting among them. How vividly does John set this forth in the opening of his first epistle: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life." Hearing, touch, and sight gave testimony to the reality of the Presence with which they had communion. As to this, they walked not by faith but by sight. Not the fact of His presence, but the character of Him who was there, was then the subject of faith. To be able, in the carpenter's son, who ate and drank and slept in their presence, to recognize the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Lord of glory, the true God and the eternal life, this was the test of a faith that could only be exercised in the power of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 16:16-17; 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 John 5:20).

That blessed and heavenly Stranger is no longer here; He has "ascended up on high," and the heavens must retain Him "until the times of restitution of all things."

Before He quitted the earth He gave a promise that He would send another Comforter that He might abide with us for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom "the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him" (John 14). Our Lord having died, and risen, and ascended on high, Pentecost came, and with it the promised One. Sensible signs accompanied His advent, but no bodily presence appealed to ear or eye. The actings were there; the Agent was invisible. Faith was called to a different exercise now in respect of the present One. The demand on it was no longer belief in the Divine personality of One present in human guise, but belief in the presence of One to whom sight bore no direct testimony. Of course you understand that I am not speaking now of the question of salvation, which is, and always was, by faith in Christ.

The Holy Spirit is here, a resident among us: not an occasional visitant coming and going between us and the courts above, but One abiding with and in us, whose permanent dwelling-place (while the dispensation lasts) is here on earth. He has an habitation in reality here now, as He had in figure and shadow in the tabernacle or the temple of old. The "house of God is the Church of the living God," writes Paul to Timothy; and to that Church, again and again he says, "Ye are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them! and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." "For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." "Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, grows unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 2:20-22).

Does God indeed dwell with men on the earth? He does. Stupendous and amazing as is the thought, it is God's simple truth; a fact as real as the presence of the sun over our heads or the earth beneath our feet. Yes, the Holy Ghost is here, as really here as Jesus was of old; and His dwelling-place is the assembly. Do you and I believe it?

We cannot be said to believe a thing any further than as it affects our action. The man who professes belief in anything, but whose acting is uninfluenced by what he professes to believe, does not really believe it: hence James' principle: "Faith without works is dead, being alone." Show me thy faith without thy works (if thou canst), and I will show thee my faith by my works. A man shows me a bank-note and asks me if I believe it genuine. I say, "Yes." He then offers it to me in payment of a debt, and I decline it. Did I believe the note to be genuine? No. I have proved by my action I did not. So long as I felt no personal interest I was carelessly willing to admit its genuineness; but when a practical test was proposed, that required me to stake my interest on my belief, my faith was lacking. The sincerity of our belief of any truth of God is tested in the self-same way. It is an easy matter to give assent to doctrines, but the touch-stone of faith is, our readiness to act on the truths professed as being realities to us — as though that which is true to faith were just as real as if it were manifest to the senses.

If we believe in the actual presence of the Holy Ghost, a Divine person, in the assembly what is the course of action to which that belief ought to conduct?

It is quite evident that if a Divine person is present in the assembly of the saints, that fact ought to mould all its actions. Every act ought to be done with a distinct reference to that presence — the action itself is to be of suitable character, and performed in a suitable manner. When God is present, He must rule. The ordering of everything must be according to His mind. If He has announced Himself present for the express purpose of directing, regulating, and acting in His own way, then anything that interferes with His so doing is an offence and a sin.

Scripture tells us that the Holy Ghost may be resisted (Acts 7:51), may be grieved (Eph. 4:30), and may be quenched (1 Thess. 5:19); thus our actions in the assembly have great solemnity. The injunction, "Quench not the Spirit," is very commonly urged upon the unconverted as a warning not to trifle with the convictions wrought by the Spirit in their souls. I have preached from it many times in that sense. But, however true the warning thus founded on it, such is not really the meaning of the passage.

The words are not addressed to unbelievers, but to the Church; and they are coupled with another injunction — "Despise not prophesyings," which shows that it is the actings of the Spirit in ministry that are in contemplation. It is a warning to a Christian assembly, in which the Spirit of God was present, to beware of stifling, by any counter-action of theirs, His action in ministry through the members.

Every godly evangelical clergyman or minister believes that he may and ought to expect the help of the Holy Spirit in preaching and in preparing for the pulpit, even if it be in the matter of writing a sermon. He asks in prayer for, and according to the measure and simplicity of his faith expects to obtain, divine guidance and help. I can speak for myself that, during fifteen years' experience in preaching the gospel, I cannot recall an instance of my standing up to preach, or setting myself to prepare for it without seeking for, and in some measure counting on, such aid; apart from such belief I should never have entered a pulpit at all, and I feel quite certain that in this I was no exception. It used to be pressed upon the students at the seminary where I studied theology, and is, I feel sure, the practice and belief of thousands, as I know it to be of many. It is this that originally lay at the bottom of the familiar Scottish horror of "the paper" in the pulpit; the thought that such preparation was a hindrance to the spontaneous action of the Spirit. I am satisfied that such expectations of divine help are right and well-founded, and are always met by the Lord according to the measure of faith; and if that faith went further, and basing itself on God's divinely-given warrant, expected His aid up to the promised measure, it would be met.

This is what we endeavour to do, and find the Lord true to Himself and our expectations.

"Brethren" are sometimes accused of pretending to inspiration. It is a baseless charge. None are, I believe, farther from any such claim. Understanding that "inspiration" is speaking or writing under the power of God, so that the utterances by mouth or pen bear the divine authority, and are consequently the word of God, "Brethren" repudiate in toto such pretensions. The prophet of old could write, "Thus says the Lord;" and the apostle could say, "The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord;" but if any man nowadays should so profess, or in any other way pretend to speak with divine authority, we should not hesitate to say to him, "Anathema."

We believe firmly that there is but one inspired standard of divine truth now — the Bible — to which nothing is to be added, nor taken from, according to Rev. 22:18-19, and by this standard we are bound to "prove," to "try," and to "judge" (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1; 1 Cor. 14:29) all teaching, when, where, or by whomsoever put forth.

When God has been pleased, at any time, to avail Himself of the instrumentality of imperfect and frail man, in order to reveal His own truth, He has come in with such power as to completely restrain the natural man, and the Spirit has acted in such entire command of the instrument, that the perfect mind of God, and that alone, has found expression; as a Balaam was made to prophesy his own ruin. But when it is a question of responsible ministry, though the same Spirit be there, not for the revealing of new truths, but for the unfolding or application of truths already revealed, then the measure of His action will be in proportion to the faith and faithfulness of him through whom He is pleased to minister. The flesh in self-will, or careless walk, may hinder, or in a measure mar, the Spirit's testimony, or may even "grieve" Him into silence, and ministry in the flesh may usurp the place of ministry in the Spirit; hence the necessity and the obligation laid upon the saints to judge, to try, and to prove what is presented by the one who speaks.

We believe that if the flesh be kept under, and the Holy Ghost allowed free and unhindered action, He will use the members of the body according to the gifts He has bestowed for that end, and will thus guide and direct the assembly in its worship and action to His own glory. Is this an extravagant or fanatical pretension? Or is it the simple soberness of a genuine faith, that takes God at His word, counts on Him, and acts with a due sense of its own responsibilities? In the practical expression of our faith in the presence, power, and rule of the Holy Ghost in the gatherings of the assembly, pre-arrangements as to ministry are abstained from; while waiting on the Lord in silent prayer, each member should seek to place himself in His hands, expecting Him to divide to every man severally as He will (1 Cor. 12:11); to one a psalm (or hymn), to another a doctrine, to another an interpretation (1 Cor. 14:26). One may feel led to read a passage of Scripture, another to offer a word of exhortation, and another to lead in worship or prayer, another to break the bread, giving thanks. Now, on such occasions there is opportunity for the flesh to come in, if there be not a godly watchfulness, and a spirit of self-judgment. Nothing short of a Divine presence and power could, I am well convinced, keep such assemblies from falling into confusion and disorder. As in Corinth when they grew unwatchful, the same would it be to-day.

We may expect to see at times indications of the presence of the flesh, and some of longer experience than myself have told me of such things; but I am happy to bear testimony that during eighteen months that I have now been frequenting gatherings of "Brethren" in Germany, France, Scotland, and England, I have not met with a single instance of even a tendency to disorder; on the contrary, I have found a sobriety, a solemnity, and a reality such as I have not met elsewhere; and although I have not always been sensible of equal power, I have ever felt a sense of the Divne presence.

When any one has received of God any spiritual gift, as that of an evangelist or teacher, he exercises it freely both in and out of the assembly, and in responsibility to the Giver alone, so long as he does so in soundness of doctrine and as comports with the Lord's honour. The evangelist preaches the gospel when, and where he will, and as he alone is responsible to the Lord for the conduct of his meetings, he orders them in any way he deems most suitable to his object. The same is the case with the teacher: he convenes the saints for lectures or Bible readings on his own responsibility; while the pastor is concerned as to the state of the flock; his visits from house to house are unchallenged and unhindered. No parish boundaries restrict the freedom of the gifts the Lord has imparted. There is the utmost freedom for ministry within the divinely-marked limits of sound doctrine and practice.

I have laid before you, beloved mother, an outline, though a very imperfect one, of the principles I have embraced in the matter of Church order. Connected with them, I have found a much wider and precious unfolding of Divine truth, as contained in the Scriptures; but I forbear to speak of that now. I also abstain from speaking of the people. Principles are to be judged of by their conformity to God's word, quite apart from the consistency or inconsistencies of those who hold them. After the truth of the principles is recognized, and it becomes a question of having fellowship with those professing them, then the question of their procedure has its legitimate place; and I have not neglected it, nor found occasion to hesitate on that score.

The principles I have embraced with my whole heart, satisfied that they are God's own truth; and I commend them to you in the hope that the Lord may use my simple exposition, to the leading of yourself and other dear ones into the same blessed pathway. The Lord is at hand, and it becomes those who "love His appearing" to stand with loins girt and lamps burning, uncontaminated by any known disobedience, hopeful, and trusting in the grace of God. One look from Him, one approving word of His lips, what will it not be worth! Let us so act, so walk, that we may hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."