“We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that loves not his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
When the purpose of God has come to full fruition in a reconciled universe; when the eternal results of the purpose of the ages in Christ Jesus our Lord have become the glory of radiant hosts; when the Saviour shines in supreme splendour as the Head and Centre of all; when, among the many brethren, who shall be fully conformed to His image, He is known as the Firstborn; then the love of the brethren for God and for one another will be fervent, full and unhindered, pure, perfect and eternal.
To be devoid of that love is to be devoid of eternal life—of life in the Son of God. “He that loves not his brother abides in death.” There may be a high religious profession, and a zeal for Christianity so-called, but to be destitute of love for the brethren is to be destitute of divine life. Any one, no matter what his pretentions, who is without this love is dead: he has not “passed from death to life.” Amidst the mixed state of that which uses the Name of Christ today, this becomes an essential and healthful test for us. The Holy Spirit foretold these times through Paul, so we need not be surprised by the present condition of things, but rather the reverse.
Divine love is specially given as the vital test in what the Spirit of God has spoken through John’s writings. Having loved His own who were in the world, our Lord Jesus Christ loved them to the end, and “His own” are to love one another as He loved them.
It is cheering and edifying to see the way the apostles expressed their love for the brethren in their epistles. This stands out in vivid contrast to the cold statements of officials in religious documents today. The apostles showed zealous care for the flock; and they also preached the gospel with untiring earnestness; whilst, to them, all those who belonged to the assembly were brethren beloved, for whom, writes one apostle, “we ought to lay down our lives,” because the Son of God laid down His life for us. It is by this that love is known to the children of God.
Some may say, “How can we love those we have never seen?” Paul did so. He wrote to the brethren at Rome before he had been there. “I greatly desire to see you,” he said; “to have mutual comfort among you” (1:11-12). To the Colossians he wrote, “I would have you know what combat I have for you, and those in Laodicea, and as many as have not seen my face in flesh; to the end that their hearts may be encouraged, being united together in love” (2:1-2); and he spoke in the same letter of their “love in the spirit” for himself; of their “love to all the saints”; of “Tychicus the beloved brother”; and of “Luke the beloved physician,” who saluted them. To the Corinthians—though he had to say to them, “I, brethren, have not been able to speak to you as spiritual, but as to fleshly; as to babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1)—yet he affectionately called them “my beloved brethren” (1 Cor. 15:58), for they were so. “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus,” he said, as he encouraged them to show love one to another. The letter to the saints at Ephesus, after the vast and exalted unfoldings which it contains, is concluded with words which fervently breathe strong affection, “Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption.” Do we also find the same Spirit-begotten desires in our hearts for “all” such? “God is my witness,” he wrote to the brethren at Philippi, “how I long after you all in the bowels of Christ Jesus” (1:8). “So that, my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, thus stand fast in the Lord, beloved” (4:1). What true and deep love expressed itself then. James, in his letter, over and over again spoke to the brethren as his “beloved.” Peter also reiterates the same endearing term in both his letters; and exhorts the brethren to be “all of one mind, having compassion one of another—love as brethren.” The same expression of love is found in John. His last letter begins, “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.” All recognized the presence of the divine nature with the saints; and they knew well how to encourage and strengthen the gracious work of God in them; therefore this beautiful affection and trustfulness found free expression in holiness and truth. Why should it not be so now? The nature, the work and the grace are the same—divine and holy in their origin. Failure and difficulty existed then even as they do now; but that which is in Christ abides now as then. It is this which is to be furthered. The “elect of God, holy and beloved” are still so.
In the revival of recent times, which partook of an apostolic character, these expressions of affection and confidence showed themselves with much emphasis at the beginning; but, all at once, save with some of the least known, they suddenly disappeared, like the warmth of summer before the chill of an early winter. One aged servant recently remarked, “Times of quarrelling and violence came upon us then.” He himself said, when speaking of 1 John, and of the love of the brethren which is given prominence to in that letter, “I have to judge myself for having so little of it.” Alas, this is where we all fail; though love itself “never fails.” This is a striking feature stated in 1 Corinthians 13, and we should all do well to ponder it. Those who have a professed zeal for certain teachings—mistaken perhaps in thinking they understand them better than other brethren whom they disparage—might benefit with us all, by heeding one of the last-written exhortations of an honoured teacher, flowing from matured judgment and experience “I do add, let not JOHN’S MINISTRY be forgotten in insisting on Paul’s.” His next, and latest dated letter in print, shows, too, that he looked for no narrowing of the testimony, but rather for a widening out, for he says, “I feel satisfied that if there be a God’s hand upon us, and lovely confidence in the purpose of the Father for THE GLORY OF HIS OWN SON, there will be a great deal of blessing, and the SPREADING FORTH into doors which He opens” (Letters J.N.D. Vol. 3, p. 345. March 19, 1882). This must always be the way of divine love.
Love to God and to one another is inseparable. “Everyone that loves Him that has begotten loves Him also that is begotten of Him.” He that loves not his brother whom he has seen cannot have love to God whom he has not seen, though he may say he has. “But,” says someone, “we must keep His commandments.” Truly! “And this commandment have we from Him, that he that loves God love also his brother” (1 John 4:21). There is nothing grievous in this; for where the divine nature is, the desires correspond exactly to this commandment, which gives liberty to those desires to express themselves in obedience and truth.
Who are the Brethren?
The answer to this question is all-important to those who desire to respond to the Word which exhorts us to love the brethren. It is a vital matter; for if we do love them, we know we have passed out of death into life; and, today, we are surrounded with a worldwide brotherhood movement, which embraces those who are still in death; those who have not received Christ Jesus the Lord; therefore, in connection with our subject, it is necessary for us to know who the brethren really are, according to the Word of God; otherwise we may be led astray, and, though a true believer, be found amongst the dead like those addressed in Ephesians 5:14. The importance of this matter is also intensified, because of the existence of a proud ecclesiasticism on the one hand, and of a false evangelism on the other. The one is distant, cold and official, loveless and “dead,” though often ethical, being also a restraint to certain worldly and national dangers. The other knows little or nothing of this restraint, but, taking the line of good-in-all-men, bases its mistaken appeals and organizations on that ground. Neither is characterized by the scriptural marks which associate themselves with those spoken of in the Word as “brethren in Christ.”
I speak not now of individuals, but of systems. There are also petty parties, schools of opinion, sects and other evils to be avoided. We will turn, however, to the positive and vital side of our subject, for the Bible’s answer to our question will show us that which we are to associate with, and thus we shall be preserved from the dangers referred to.
The first thing to see is: The brethren are “the born of God.” The nation of Israel were the people of God by natural birth, the brethren have their beginning in a new birth; they are born of the Word and the Spirit. “Everyone that believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” There is consequently a new nature; therefore we read, “Everyone that loves has been begotten of God.” He would have a new family of this sort; even as James writes to his “beloved brethren”, “According to His own will begat He us, that we should be a certain firstfruits of His creatures” (1:18). If we are not of this company by our natural birth, neither does baptism, confirmation or church membership introduce us to it; nor joining a sect, school or party, no matter how scriptural the name claimed by such. The “brethren” of scripture are not thus denominated, and while the name may seem to express the truth, it is often used in an intensely sectarian way, the more subtle because it is scriptural. And when the names of special teachers are used as distinguishing and dividing how sinfully is the sectarian leaven manifest. It is a shame to us all, especially when we think of the fact that Christ died to gather us together in one—all the brethren—all the children of God, for they are all “BORN OF GOD.”
2. The brethren are the “forgiven.’’ Eternal and justifying forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ, through faith in Him, is theirs; as it is said, “Your sins are forgiven you for His Name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). Again, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” They were remembered once upon Him, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree; therefore, “where there is remission of these, there is no longer a sacrifice for sin,” because the work is done once for all, and they are eternally FORGIVEN.
3. They are the cleansed. They stand in all the value of the blood of Christ. Judicially, before God, they are discharged from every sin, for the blood has met His holy claims. It is not that they are being met day by day, or moment by moment, as some think; but the value of the one sacrifice perfectly meets all, as we read, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:7, N.Tr.). “By one offering He has perfected in perpetuity the sanctified” (Heb. 10:14, N.Tr.). Once for ever they are judicially CLEANSED.
4. They are the sealed by the Spirit. It is true of all the children of God that they have received the Holy Spirit, as it is said, “Ye have the unction from the Holy One.” When we heard the gospel, and believed on the Christ of whom it speaks, He came to seal and indwell us; as it is written, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom having believed ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13, N.Tr.); and, “Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The brethren are all SEALED BY THE SPIRIT.
5. They are the children of God. Some of them may enter into this wonderful fact with greater intelligence and appreciation than others. They may understand this great honour and act up to it better than others of the family. We see this even in an earthly prince’s house. Some members of his family show a greater sense of the dignity that is theirs than others; nevertheless, all are alike of the family. So great is the honour bestowed upon us, it is said, “Be ye followers of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1); and, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the CHILDREN OF GOD.“
6. They are the possessors of life in the Son of God—they have eternal life. “God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life: he that has not the Son of God has not life”; and we are told that the first letter of John was written that we may “know” that we “have eternal life who believe on the Name of the Son of God” (5:13). The brethren are POSSESSORS OF LIFE.
7. They are the members of Christ’s body, the assembly. Some may inconsistently be members of other bodies; but, surely, if God has brought us to be members of the body of Christ, if we understand the privilege and dignity of this, we shall avoid membership of man-made systems of religion. What can be greater than belonging to “the assembly which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all”? To seek other membership is not only to show a poor appreciation of the honour which is ours, but to slight the love which Christ has shown in giving Himself for the assembly, and also the care which He lavishes upon it. “No-one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ also the assembly: for we are members of His body; we are of His flesh and of His bones.” The brethren are THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S BODY.
Space and time forbid our dwelling at length on other distinguishing features of the brethren, as they are revealed in the Scriptures. In contrast to the world and to being still in sin, they are “in Christ.” As in Him they are saved, redeemed, and justified by God; they are taken into His favour for ever—“accepted in the Beloved”; yea, they are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). They have passed from darkness to light, from death into life, from Satan to God, from the authority of oppression into the Kingdom of the Son of the Father’s love. They are now living stones, who have come to Christ the Living Stone, and are collectively built together for a spiritual house, an habitation of God in the Spirit. They are “the saints” (1 Cor. 1:2), and that by God’s call, and not by man’s decree.
Finally, the risen Son of God, the Lord of Glory, speaks of them as His brethren (John 20:17). What infinite grace! We are also told, that, like Aaron’s priestly family, they are all of one with Himself, “for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). They are not of the world, He said, even as I am not of the world. Universal brotherhood and political-religious organizations are excluded by these words. To His brethren He makes known the ineffable grace of God, saying, “I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren.” They speak of Him as “LORD,” not as “brother,” or even “elder brother,” though their hearts may well rejoice greatly that He should speak of then as brethren.
Their Relationships and Responsibilities
We have partly anticipated our subject in examining what the Word of God tells us as to who are the brethren. It is necessary, however, to understand the relationships which are ours as “brethren in Christ,” otherwise we shall fail to carry out the responsibilities connected with those relationships; or, like many, nowadays, waste our precious time and energies in religious works which “brethren in Christ” are not instructed in Scripture to be engaged in at all. Through this, like Israel of old, who lost their blessing before Jehovah, many lose the enjoyment of that which is theirs in Christ, and consequently cease to respond practically to the grace and love of God.
It is therefore important to be rightly established in the truth which is made known concerning our relationships, then the response in carrying them out will not be found irksome, as abundance of grace and power are divinely supplied for this, and the will of God is found to be “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2), as the Word says.
First, then, they stand in special relation to God as the subjects of His saving grace. That grace has righteously cleared them from the judgment which was their due in their former condition, and justified them freely through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. The love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Spirit, and He gives to them the sense of the new relationship which is theirs as the Sons of God, “a spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” We do not now speak of natural relationships, which, indeed, are to be recognized and beautified in divine grace; nor of our place under government, where we are to be subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1); but those which are ours in redemption—which belong to “brethren in Christ.”
The same grace which has saved, and brought into adoption, has also given to the brethren the nearness and dignity of priests to God. They have access to Him now as priests, and their offerings are of a spiritual character, and acceptable to Him who is righteous and holy by Jesus Christ. They are loved by Him, washed from their sins in His blood, and made priests to His God and Father (1 Peter 2:5, and Rev. 1:5-6).
We have spoken of the adoption which is theirs; but they are also begotten of God, and are consequently His children. It is said, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.” In this precious relationship God is known as Father, and the love of that relationship is theirs to appreciate. Paul speaks mostly of our judicial adoption as “sons”; John, of our being begotten as “children.” It is in John 20:17 where their new and wonderful relationship is declared by the risen Son of God, that they stand in it as He Himself does, for he said, “My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” This was said in a message to those He graciously named, “My brethren.” Elsewhere we read that God has given the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Mark, that involves the Spirit of this relationship, as well as the relationship itself. How blessed this is.
The relationships we have spoken of are to God, and there are those also in which brethren stand as to Christ; the Holy Spirit being the power of them. Moreover, they all involve relationships with one another. Even the individual blessings have what is collective in view. It is so with the subjects of saving grace; with those who approach as priests; and with the family of God’s children; and when we speak of the “ONE BODY IN CHRIST,” the exercise of their different “offices” in that body can only be rightly carried out with reference to others. “For, as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; thus we, being many, are one body in Christ, and each one members one of the other.” The relationship in view here is not quite the same as that of the body of which Christ is Head. This is “in Christ”; and the members have offices and gifts which they receive through divine grace—“the grace given.”
There is then the further relationship of being MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S BODY, the assembly, of which He is the Head. This is more intimate, and involves not simply union, but unity. The members are one with Christ. The members are united to their glorious Head, as well as to one another. When, as Man, He was exalted above all, the Spirit came down from Him, and took up His abode in those who belonged to Christ, baptising them into one body, and livingly uniting them to their exalted Head in heaven. All who have heard and believed the gospel since, have been brought into that vital body. The relationship begun then exists now, however little it may be understood. What joy the heart experiences when it sings in truth—
“Lord Jesus! are we one with Thee?
O height! O depth of love!
And crucified and dead with Thee,
Now one in heaven above.
Ascended high, in glory bright,
Life-giving Head Thou art;
Nor life, nor death, nor depth, nor height,
Thy saints and Thee can part.”
The grace of God having justified them, and a spirit of adoption being given, so that the brethren in Christ are not only freed from judgment but brought into a place of favour with God, the responsibility to respond to such grace—shown to them through our Lord Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection—becomes a matter of true liberty. Having got their freedom from sin, now, by serving God, fruit appears unto holiness, and the end eternal life (Rom. 6:22). The Spirit, too, being given to them; as they walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in them, though they are “not under law, but under grace.”
And what is to be expected from those who are made “priests to God”? from those who are favoured with access to Himself in virtue of the work of Christ? Surely it is that they approach to God, and by Him offer up their spiritual sacrifices. The exercise of this office is not to be neglected. Sad results followed in the nation of Israel when the sacrifices to God failed. The sacrifice of praise should arise to Him in full measure; and this will be the case as we first receive from Him; for it is of His own that is given back to Him in thanksgiving, and praise, and worship. What a magnificent spiritual offering that is in Revelation 1:5-6, “Unto Him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father: to Him be the glory and the might to the ages of ages. Amen.”
When we think of the brethren as the children of God, what responsibility is to flow from such a relationship? What response is there to be to the love shown in giving us that relationship?—to the love which was expressed in the sending of the Son to put away our sins, and to bring us into the life of our new relationship? Let the Word of God answer, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” It seems remarkable to speak of love as an obligation. Yet it is so; indeed, it is commanded; but not as though it was a grievous burden put upon the brethren, for such “love because He first loved” them; and “everyone that loves has been begotten of God, and knows God.” Moreover, it is distinctly stated to such, “His commandments are not grievous.” Brethren in Christ are never told to love God, though they are exhorted to keep themselves in His love to them; but they are told to love one another, and this is intimately connected with love to God, as we read, “Everyone that loves Him that has begotten loves him also that is begotten of Him.” In this case their responsibility is to do that which their nature as God’s children delights to do.
Special service is in view in connection with the one body in Christ. It is moreover individual, for the members have different gifts; “all the members have not the same office,” we are told. One has grace granted to him for teaching, another for exhorting, another for leading. This being recognized the members would be preserved from letting all the service fall into the hands of one brother. One may have grace given to him of God for giving—he is to do it in simplicity; another for showing mercy—he is to do so with cheerfulness. Love is to mark all, and to be unfeigned. Evil is to be abhorred, and good is to be cleaved to. All is to be carried out in relation to Christ, and to one another; for, though the service is individual, yet we are reminded, “we are each one members one of the other.” This would preserve from magnifying the service of one to the detriment of that of another, and keep us all serving with the divine objective in view. Just as the Levites served as a body in relation to the tabernacle, where the presence of the Lord was known, and where He was approached. One Levite might carry a rope, or a peg; but he was as necessary as another who was fitted to carry a larger burden. Each fulfilled the divinely appointed office. That was enough, and it is all God asks. Brotherly love, kindly affection, showing honour, diligent zealousness, and fervency of spirit, are to mark them in thus “serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:1-11). Rejoicing in hope, enduring in tribulation, persevering in prayer, distributing to the necessities of the saints, showing hospitality, blessing, and not cursing are to be manifested by the members.
Then as the members of Christ’s body, the assembly, of which He is the Head, it is expected of them that they respond to the grace and dignity bestowed upon them; first by avoiding all other sources of teaching, and second by, “holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, ministered to and united together by the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.” The gifts were given in view of the edifying of this body; but in speaking of the brethren, the members themselves are before us; and they are to see to it that they hold fast the Head, the Christ, and grow up to Him in all things; also that they fill the place and fulfil the function which are theirs; for according to the working in its measure of each one part, it “works for itself the increase of the body to its self-building up in love” (Eph. 4:16, N.Tr.).
Those who own Him as Lord, and stand thus in relation to Him, are responsible to depart from what is not consistent with this. “Let everyone who names the Name of the LORD withdraw from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19, N.Tr.). Then they are to follow with others, who call on the Lord out of a pure heart, that which is pleasing in His sight. It seems almost inconceivable that anyone can truly know what the love of Christ really means, and what it has done for them, without desiring in every possible way to be agreeable to Him. As those therefore who are so richly blessed through and in Christ Jesus our Lord, may we, as brethren,
“Go forth and serve Him while ’tis day,
Nor leave our tweet retreat.”
The Brethren’s Hope and Home
“In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again. and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).
The hope of the brethren, thank God, is a sure and certain one. Their home too is safe and secure. The death, resurrection and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ has made their hope sure and certain; and the presence of the Son of God in the Father’s house, as the glorified Man, has made their home safe and secure. Their hope is in Him, and their home is where He is. Though all else change, He abides ever—He remaineth; therefore nought can fail that subsists by Him, of whom it is said, “Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”
The brethren’s hope does not centre in anything on earth, like the hope of the nation of Israel, for it is “laid up … in the heavens”: theirs is a heavenly hope. Nor can it be touched by death or corruption; for they are begotten to a living hope—to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven. They are “saved in hope.” Saved already, they yet look on to the full realization of their hope. They look not to the political heads of nations to bring it to pass; and, though thankful for any measure of good government, their hope is not in the best administrations; for, instead of bringing salvation, the most prosperous will probably be the most forgetful of God, and eventually fall under the wrath to come. They are not appointed to wrath, “but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ “when He comes again; therefore they do well meanwhile to have the seat of their thoughts well covered by the helmet, which is “the hope of salvation.”
No national or empire greatness is their hope; but being justified by faith, and taken into divine favour, they rejoice in hope of the glory of God, of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Centre. Neither is any betterment of conditions of living in this world their hope. Along with it will increase not only the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, but also the “pride of life.” Their hope is for “the life which is in Christ Jesus.” Already eternal life is theirs, for “He that has the Son has life”; as it is also said, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36); but they look on to the fullness of it, in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. They look for the Lord Jesus Christ to come as Saviour, to transform their bodies of humiliation, to conform them to His own body of glory. Their life interests are not on earth, but in heaven, where He is; and they await His coming. They look to be like Him, and to see Him as He is. Their hope is in Him. The salvation, the blessing, the redemption, the life, and the grace are all in Christ Jesus, who is their hope. No wonder the Spirit speaks of it in the inspired writings as “the blessed” or “the happy hope.”
“Hope of our hearts, O Lord, art Thou,
The glorious Star of day.”
He said to His own, “I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye maybe also.” This brings us to the home of the brethren. He had told them of the many abodes in the Father’s house; and of His going away to prepare a place for them. That place was to be where He Himself dwells. Not the abode of angels, or of other glorious and holy beings; but, oh, how wonderful how ineffably blessed! their home is where He is! Eternal praise be to His holy Name for such transcending grace.
Before the foundation of the world He was the Object of the Father’s love, the delight of His heart. God’s purpose centred in Him. That purpose of love involved His glory as the Son in the home we speak of. Counsels of love and wisdom kept that same object in view; and even when God called those who were to be Christ’s brethren in that home, He “called” them “according to His purpose.” God loved them into loving Him, without demanding love; and He makes all things work together for their good. He foreknew them, and not only called them, but justified them, and predestinated them to be conformed to the glorious image of His beloved Son. But why? “So that HE should be the First-born among many brethren” in that home of indescribable glory, and blessedness; in that radiant circle of divine pleasure; where, in redemption glory, God has gathered those whom His Son calls brethren; where He Himself as First-born is the adored Object of every heart, even as the Father’s love finds its eternal joy in Him too; and the Holy Spirit pervading all, in plenitude of life and grace and power, gives both perfection of appreciation and response in that home of divine love.
“Oh, what a home! But such His love
That He must bring us there,
To fill that home, to be with him,
And all His glory share.”