The Testimony and Its Witnesses.

It is somewhat embarrassing to saints when subjects of enquiry assume a controversial rather than an edifying character. Now attention has of late been a good deal directed to the Seven churches, and notably Philadelphia, to the unity of the Spirit and to the testimony.

A deep interest has been evinced, and no doubt an earnest desire experienced, to have the Lord's mind upon these things. But a danger exists that in formulating a judgment thereon prejudices and preferences manifest themselves, and schools of thought become formed, the tendency to which is a thing to be deprecated, and its consequences may well give rise to apprehension in the minds of sober and thoughtful observers. Apprehension may fittingly be aroused for another reason also; viz., that the discussion of such topics occupies us with ourselves, and that carries with it the further danger of our making something of ourselves, which is a very real one, and one of no little gravity. Nor is this all; for the emphasising what is sought to be enforced leads to a distorted presentation of it, and thoughts and expressions not unextravagant in their character come to the surface, and disfigure it beyond recognition.

Admitting all this, however, we may surely be thankful for any light that our teachers can throw upon what God has spoken of in His word. Whatever be revealed is legitimately ours; and however confused our ideas may be, the confusion is in us, and not in it. Could we discover the true cause of so great diversity of judgment as exists on the subjects referred to, we should probably find it mainly in a want of lucidity in their exposition, and in the platform occupied being higher or lower than our own. The interest, however, that has been awakened of late years, while giving rise to no little anxiety for the reasons cited, may be taken to indicate a genuine desire to know what are the Lord's present interests upon earth, and our own relation to them. Nor can anything surely be more blessed, unless it be that entire absorption in those interests which carries the soul along outside itself in the current of the Holy Ghost for the glory of Christ, and this so heartily and so happily that His rights, His desires, and His glories engage us without any question as to them being raised, or our relation to them being reviewed. In this case nothing that is conflicting will be allowed, nor anything allowed that is not subordinated. Loyalty, devotedness, affection, communion, all unforced and fresh and full, have then their happy outflow, and are richly tributary to Him who draws them forth. If I speak of this, it is because none will gainsay how much happier a thing it is to be occupied with His interests, and engaged in them with diligence and delight, than to be either canvassing them or contending for them.

As to Philadelphia, if when it is discussed more care were taken to distinguish its local, its historical, and its spiritual aspects, less divergence of thought would prevail. Again, if in this and kindred things the positional were distinguished from the conditional, but both recognized, there would probably be more concurrence of judgment. So as to the unity of the Spirit, it may be asked whether it and the endeavouring to keep it, are not two widely different things, as different as the inclusive and the exclusive. While as to the testimony, has it been sufficiently seen that it and its witnesses are not the same thing, nor are its object and its scope? As to this distinction between the testimony and its witnesses, the Lord Himself was on earth "the faithful and true witness," and He said, "The Father Himself which hath sent me hath borne witness of me." Thus He was not only a Witness, but the Testimony too in that day; and this witnessing to Him by the Father was, on His departure, to be taken up by the Holy Ghost: "He shall testify of me; and ye also shall bear witness." Next, this testimony which Christ was upon earth widens out under the revelation given to Paul to the whole mystery of Christ and the Church, and all the counsels of God headed up in Him, even the mystery of His will. Thus he says, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, NOR of me His prisoner." Here again we have the testimony and the witness to the testimony. The former is the thing testified as "the ark of the testimony" which was for all Israel, all of whom should have been its witnesses. Thus it is evident that we are not the testimony, but, as its witnesses, are each of us responsible not to be ashamed of it or of them. As to the former, we should fail in respect to Paul's "doctrine;" and as to the latter, in respect to his "manner of life," for these answer to those. Peter was in like manner a witness, and the character of his testimony was the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which shall be revealed. And again, John, in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was a witness, "in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."

Philadelphia, the unity of the Spirit, and the testimony, have each a divine character in which default is unknown; they have also their responsible character, being presented, not only for the joy, but for the exercise of our souls. Philadelphia is the divine ideal in the Church's ruin for every saint, and nothing short of it will satisfy God about us, or should satisfy us before Him who is the holy and the true. In that sense it is thoroughly inclusive; but practically so searching is it that none who look at the corporate thing would say we are Philadelphia; or, seeing himself in the divine presence, would not hesitate to say he was a Philadelphian. Yet there is nothing else which He that is holy, He that is true, and He that has the key, can approve and commend. Then as to the unity of the Spirit, it has primarily its divine character, formed and maintained in power by the Holy Ghost, comprising all saints from Pentecost, indeed all whom God has sealed with the Holy Ghost, and as such is essentially inclusive. But its responsible character is exclusive of all who are not endeavouring to keep it in the uniting bond of peace. Thus its first or divine aspect leads us to exclaim, How great, how comprehensive, and how blessed! But its other or responsible aspect breaks one's heart in sorrow, that so few and so feeble are its witnesses, answering only to those who are gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus with Him in the midst. So with the testimony, its centre and its diameter must not be identified nor confounded. Its centre (as need scarcely be remarked) is Christ, the "Me" of John 15:26, and of Acts 9:4, the central and eternally-blessed Object of the divine counsels, in whom all the fulness was pleased to dwell. Thus it is "the testimony of our Lord," and "the testimony of Christ;" but it is also the "testimony of God," embracing in its diameter the full revelation of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Christ and the Church; and that heading up of all things in the heavens and upon the earth in the Christ which constitutes the mystery of His will. And our inheritance in Him, sealed by God with that Holy Spirit of promise which is its earnest, and by which our hearts know the blessedness of relationship to the Father as children beloved, and union with Christ as members of His body - these things and in this connection are no less the present than the eternal joy of our hearts.

May we rejoice in this testimony and covet to be better witnesses to it; and may our hearts be expanded to embrace all those who are Christ's, while our path is so contracted as to exclude any character of walk or ways that is not the practical answer to His desires of heart toward us! W. R.