Genuine Belief Leads to Action

Extracts from Letters Written by Richard Holden
The Central Bible Truth Depot, 11, Little Britain, London, E.C.1.


Richard Holden came amongst so-called "Brethren" about the beginning of 1872, after spending about 15 years as a clergyman in the Church of England. About a year later he wrote six letters, explaining the reasons which governed him in taking this step.

Though fully 80 years have passed, his remarks have lost nothing of their force. In this small paper we reprint a few of them which seem to us to state with plainness things which may easily be forgotten or even refused today.

There are few truths more solemnizing to the mind and heart than that of the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, when rightly apprehended … .

We have Him here a Resident among us; not an occasional Visitant coming and going between us and the courts above, but One abiding with us 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 temple of old. The "house of God is the church of the living God," explains 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" … .

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 overhead or the earth beneath our feet. Yes, the Holy Ghost is here, as really here as was Jesus 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 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 at all: hence James's 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 of England 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 touchstone of faith is, our readiness to act on the truths professed as though they were realities — 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 its entire action. Every act ought to be done with a distinct reference to that presence — the action itself of suitable character, and performed in a suitable manner. When God is present, God 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), grieved (Eph. 4:30), and quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), which invests our action in the assembly with an intense 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 mind of God in the text.

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 presenting 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 having stood up to preach or set 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. … 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 "Brethren" endeavour to do, and they find the Lord true to Himself and their expectations.

"Brethren" are sometimes accused of pretending to inspirations. It is a baseless charge: none are, I believe, farther from any such claim. Understanding by "inspiration" the so speaking or writing under the power of God, as 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 preface his utterances with, "Thus says the Lord," the apostle could say, "The things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord;" but if any man now-a-days should so profess, or in any other way pretend to speak with divine authority, I for one should not hesitate to say to him "Anathema."

"Brethren" believe firmly that there is but one inspired standard of Divine truth now, to which nothing will be added while the dispensation lasts — the Scriptures — and by this standard they hold themselves bound to "prove," "try," and "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 that "the flesh" has been completely restrained, 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 a 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 usurp the place of ministry in the Spirit; hence the necessity and the obligation laid upon the saints to judge, try, and prove.

What "Brethren" believe is, 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 on its expectations, with a due and solemn sense of, and regard to, its own responsibilities? The way in which "Brethren" seek to give practical expression to their faith in the presence, power, and rule of the Holy Ghost, is simply this: on all occasions of the gathering of the assembly as such, they abstain from all pre-arrangement and waiting on the Lord in silent prayer, each member seeking to place himself in His hands, they expect 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 feels led to read a passage of Scripture, another to offer a word of exhortation, another to lead in worship or prayer, another to break the bread, giving thanks. Now, on such occasions no one disputes there is opportunity for the flesh to come in, if there be not a godly jealousy, watchfulness, and a spirit of self-judgment. Nothing short of a Divine presence and power could, I am well convinced, keep such assemblies from rushing into confusion and disorder. As in Corinth, when they grew unwatchful, the same would it be today.

I fully expect to see at times indications of the presence of the flesh, and "Brethren" of longer experience than myself have told me of such things; but I am happy to be able to bear testimony that during eighteen months 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, but, on the contrary, have found a sobriety, a solemnity, an order, a power, and a reality such as I have never met elsewhere; and although I have not always been sensible of equal power, I have never once been present when I was not constrained to recognize a sense of the Divine presence.

When among "Brethren" any one has received of God any spiritual gift, as that of an evangelist or teacher, he exercises it quite independently of the assembly, and in responsibility to the Giver alone, so long as he does so in soundness of doctrine and in such "decency and order" 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 moves to and fro among the flock, in his visits from house to house, unchallenged and unhindered, no parish boundaries restricting the freedom of either. There is the utmost freedom for ministry within the divinely-marked limits of sound doctrine and decorum.

One more thought. It was a question that met myself, and that now, I believe, holds many souls back 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 up chapter 12 of Deuteronomy and read it. Observe three things in it: unity of worship distinctly prescribed (Deut. 12:5-11), strict prohibition of setting up high places for the worship of the Lord their God (Deut. 12:4), and a warning against doing in these things what was right in their own eyes (Deut. 12:8, 32). Now follow 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. Even Samuel the prophet was mixed up with it like the rest, and Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Uzziah, 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-honoured abuse.

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 the 2 Corinthians 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," or the like, again and again 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, which would have been our duty? To go on worshipping in the high places, because Samuel and the others did; or to walk with God on His own prescribed ground of Deuteronomy 12? Which would have been most honouring to Him, and most loyal in us? God deals in grace: shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?