A Few Thoughts on the Church: As Seen in the Word of God With Reasons for Standing Apart from Sects

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As Seen in the Word of God, With Reasons for Standing Apart From Sects “Cease to do evil; learn to do well” (Isa. 1:16-1716Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16‑17)) were the words of the Lord to Israel when the rulers had become as the “rulers of Sodom,” and the people as the “people of Gomorrah.” And surely this principle is not less applicable now. God is holy, and cannot sanction evil, and to go on with Him we must purge ourselves from evil. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:55This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)), and we are called to “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” This calls for a holy separateness from sin in those who bear the name of Christ; as it is written, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.... For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-1814Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14‑18)). This is separation from the world and sin, to walk in holiness before Him who dwells in the midst of His people.
But the Word goes farther, and enjoins separation even from those who bear the name of Christ, if they are bringing dishonor upon that name. “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:19-2119Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:19‑21)). This is not separation from the world outside, but from those inside the house who are vessels to dishonor, when such are allowed there.
The question I desire now to lay before my reader is this: Does the principle of separation from evil as presented in the Word of God warrant separation from existing ecclesiastical systems of man’s organizing? Rather does not obedience to the Word of God demand it of every one whose eyes have been opened to the terrible confusion that has been introduced within the house of God?
Before, however, entering upon an examination of Scripture as to what the Church is, and what is our responsibility in regard to it, I desire to call attention to the real meaning of the word “church.” It means assembly. There may be different kinds of assemblies, but that is the meaning of the word ecclesia. In Acts 7, we read of “the church [assembly] in the wilderness.” This was the congregation of Israel gathered there. In Acts 19, we read of an assembly which was simply a mob seeking to destroy Paul. The word occurs twice in the passage. The town clerk quiets the mob, and says to them (vs. 39) “But if ye inquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.” Then we are told (verse 41) “When he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.” In both these cases it is the word which so often in Scripture is translated church. Thus we see that this word ecclesia is used here both to denote a lawful assembly, and a lawless mob; and had it constantly been translated assembly instead of church, the simplicity of the word would have been preserved. In Ephesians 1, we read of “the church [assembly] which is His body.” This is the assembly that interests us now, and surely it is very different from either of the others mentioned above. The Church we are now considering is an assembly of people who constitute the body of Christ. But if we follow Scripture through we will find the Church presented under different aspects. Let us now look at some of these.
The Body of Christ
The truth as to the Body of Christ we find developed in the Epistle to the Ephesians. In the first chapter we learn that God has “chosen us in Him [Christ Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:4-64According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:4‑6)), and we can ascribe praise to Him as to the one who has “Blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” But it was impossible to enter into all this without redemption, and so it is added, “in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
All this is evidently a new order of things unknown to Old Testament saints. We have been chosen in Christ, have sonship, are accepted in the Beloved, having been redeemed from the guilt attaching to our old condition as children of Adam. And the blessing into which Christ has entered is the blessing that is ours. It is all in Him. We get a proper estimate of it only as we look at Him, the glorified Man, the last Adam, as He sits amid the glories of that heavenly scene. The place that God has given Him, He has given us in Him. In Him we are the objects of His eternal purposes of love; and having set us in His own presence in Christ, and as children (a position and relationship of most blessed nearness and intimacy), He has “abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence [intelligence], having made known unto us the mystery of His will” (Eph. 1:8-98Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: (Ephesians 1:8‑9)). It is a position of intimacy in which He will hide from us nothing of the glory and blessing He has purposed for us in Christ Jesus.
Adam was given lordship over the lower creation. It is the good pleasure of God the Father to put everything in heaven and earth under Christ. The whole universe united under His headship will be His inheritance — the inheritance of the second Adam, the Son of God. But that is not all. We have obtained an inheritance in Him, and have received the Holy Spirit, not only as God’s seal put upon us, marking us as His own, but also as “the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:1414Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:14)). But in order that that inheritance might be purchased and redeemed, and we brought into it, it was necessary that Christ should die. And in this chapter we see Him having gone down into death for God’s glory and our redemption. It is there the mighty power of God is displayed in His resurrection from the dead. It is a power also that is “to us-ward who believe,” but it is “His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world [age] but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:19-2119And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: (Ephesians 1:19‑21)).
The operation of this power in believers is seen in the next chapter. “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-64But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:4‑6)). Here Christ is not viewed alone. Believing Jews and Gentiles are together quickened and raised up with Him, and seated in Him. By going down into death, He put away their sins; and the same power that brought Him forth from among the dead operates in them to bring them with Him into the place He has entered on high. It is an altogether new thing. Life-giving there surely ever was by the power of God to the believer; but this is more; it is giving man a place in the glory of God as the fruit of redemption, and according to God’s eternal purpose, “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” When, in the dispensation of the fullness of times, Christ holds universal dominion, this company of saved Jews and Gentiles, according to the surpassing riches of divine grace, will be displayed as Christ’s companions in glory.
Let us now look again at the close of the first chapter. There the mighty power of God has raised Christ from the dead, and exalted Him to the highest place in heaven. This was in virtue of His death by which He glorified God, having offered Himself for the putting away of sin. It was as become man that He died, and as man God raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory, and a name above every name whether in this or the coming age. But this is not all. He “hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23)).
The first man was placed over the lower creation as its head and lord. The second Man is placed over everything in heaven and earth. God has put all things under His feet. The first man, however, was not complete until God made him a helpmeet. Neither is the second Man complete without the Church. The Church is His “fullness” — that which completes the head. Christ is head over all things, and Head to the body. The Church, His body, completes Him in His place of Headship. Christ fills all things — fills the universe with His glory, but not alone. Christ, the Head, and the Church, His body, together make up the complete mystical man, predestined to occupy the Eden of the new creation, and to hold universal dominion. This is “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men” — “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations” — “hid in God.”
This mystery which was hid in God could not be made known until the testing of man was over, and the utter ruin of the old creation made manifest, and Christ, the second Man, seated in His predestined place as Head and beginning of the new creation. The cross was at once the manifestation of man’s utter ruin, and God’s judgment of man in the flesh. By the cross Jew and Gentile were both alike proved to be dead in trespasses and sins, and by it all distinctions were swept away. Distinctive ordinances were abolished, and the middle wall of partition broken down. This was by the death of Christ. Then comes the mighty power of God raising Him from the dead, and exalting Him to be Head over all things to the Church which is His body.
God has not only exalted Christ, but He has sent down the Holy Spirit and formed a body of redeemed Jews and Gentiles, and united this body to its Head in the heavenly places by the Holy Spirit. And now that the mystery was accomplished as the fruit of redemption, and through the operation of the mighty power of God, God could reveal it, as He did to His chosen servant, the Apostle Paul, as Paul says: “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward; how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery... 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” (Eph. 3:2-62If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5Which 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; 6That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: (Ephesians 3:2‑6)).
Mark it well. This is not the bringing of Gentiles into Jewish blessing. It is the doing away of Judaism altogether, and the formation of a new thing unknown before. It was in God’s thoughts from all eternity, but not revealed, until Christ, having glorified God, was glorified of God, and given to be Head of the Church. The mystery was not revealed at once even when the Holy Spirit came down and had begun the formation of the Church. It was not on the day of Pentecost it was revealed, although the Holy Spirit was there present, and believers baptized of Him. God waited until the Messiah was offered afresh to Israel after His resurrection. The Holy Spirit came down and witnessed to the exaltation of the Messiah whom they had rejected and crucified. He was exalted to be a Prince and a Savior to give repentance and remission of sins to Israel. But this testimony the council rejected, and stoned the messenger of Jesus. The martyrdom of Stephen was their answer to the testimony of the Holy Spirit — the declaration that they would “not have this man to reign over them” (Luke 19:1414But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. (Luke 19:14)).
Now that all was refused by Israel, God brings out the mystery which hitherto had been hid from man. The Apostle Paul was the chosen instrument of God to whom the mystery was revealed, and to whom it was appointed to preach to the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Israel being now given up for the time because of their rejection of Christ, both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in one body by the cross, and both have access through Christ by the Spirit unto the Father. Thus man’s wickedness became but the occasion for the display of God’s most wonderful grace to man, whether Jew or Gentile. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:3333O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33))
Let us now look a little further at the formation of this body which occupies a central place in the mystery we have been considering. It is important to see that in this body a real unity exists. “As we have many members in one body,... so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-54For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:4‑5)). “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:1212For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)). So complete is this unity that the whole mystical man, Head and members, is called “Christ.” It is a unity as real as the unity in the human body. The saints are “members of Christ,” and “members one of another.” The unity is formed by the Holy Spirit. “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:1313For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)).
This baptism, we know, took place after Jesus was glorified. On the day that He ascended, He said to the disciples: “John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:55For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. (Acts 1:5)). In the next chapter we get the fulfillment of this promise. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-41And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1‑4)). This was the gift of the Holy Spirit consequent upon accomplished redemption, and the glorification of Christ at the right hand of the Father. The hundred and twenty were baptized. On the same day three thousand were added, and the Lord continued daily to add to the Church such as should be saved.
For a time this went on in Israel only — in the “remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom 11:55Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:5)). God added this remnant together. But the middle wall was broken down by the cross, and the work soon went beyond. Persecution came upon the church at Jerusalem and the saints (except the twelve) were scattered abroad. Philip went down to Samaria, and preached there. A great multitude believed and were baptized, and also received the Holy Spirit through the prayer and laying on of hands of Peter and John, and thus were added to the body. Then Peter was sent to Cornelius to preach the gospel, who also received the Holy Spirit with all who heard the Word. Thus the Gentiles also were added.
About this time Saul of Tarsus was converted, and soon afterward he and Barnabas were sent on a distinct mission to the Gentiles. Thus the work of God went on, and the mystery was made known. How wonderful are God’s ways! His patience and grace toward Israel had been very great, and He had so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son; but Israel rejected their Messiah, and the world hated the Son of God. Unable to bear His presence, they cast Him out and slew Him. The world has never seen Him since. But God has raised Him from the dead, and set Him above all the hierarchies of heaven. If the world gave Him only a grave, the heavens have received Him, and there He has been crowned with glory and honor. The One who first descended into the lower parts of the earth — death and the grave — has “ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:1010He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:10)). He has put away sin, defeated Satan, glorified God, accomplished redemption, and gone on high; and in Him man has got a standing in the presence of God that never can be challenged.
Thus the heavens have been opened to man — the man Christ Jesus; and the Holy Spirit has come down and baptized saints into one body, uniting them to Him as His members there. What a calling! The members seated in the Head in the heavenly places, united to Him by the bond of the Holy Spirit, and soon to be displayed with Him in glory brighter than angel or seraph ever entered, or can enter! “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:2424Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)).
But all this brings with it its corresponding responsibility. And so we are exhorted to walk worthy of our vocation, “with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-32With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2‑3)). Then we get the incentives to practical unity — keeping the unity of Spirit. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” All this speaks of unity. There is one body; and one bond, the Holy Spirit, unites all the members. There is one Lord; and the Christian faith is professed, and Christian baptism received by all His subjects. There is one God and Father of all, in whom everything centers, and who is in all the saints. There never can be more than one body of Christ, nor can the saints have more than one Lord, or more than one God and Father. Thus, then, we have a threefold character of unity revealed in this epistle, enjoining upon believers the keeping of the unity of the Spirit.
Since there is, then, but one body, why should not this truth be manifested among believers? We know there has been utter failure to keep the unity of the Spirit. If we look at Christendom today, what do we see? The saints manifested as one body, all of one heart and one soul? This is how it was in the first bright days of the Church’s history. Alas! it is not so now. Instead of one body, we see many bodies, each with its own name, and system of doctrine, and government. Surely this is a great dishonor to Christ, the Head of the Church which is His body. Though the Church be the one body of Christ, never to be sundered from its Head, nor the members from one another, the world sees it as a large number of bodies, all independent of each other, and all calling themselves churches. This is a practical denial of the one body. It is telling the world there are many bodies, while the Word of God says, “There is one body” —many churches while the Word speaks of “the church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:22-2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23)). Is it not plain that these so-called churches put things in a wrong light before the world? Do they not give a false testimony as to what the Church is? It cannot be denied.
True, the Word speaks of churches, but never in the sense of sects as seen in Christendom. There were the churches of Galatia, and the churches of Asia, but these were simply the local gatherings in those countries. The local assembly was a representation of the whole Church in that it set forth the unity of the body in the locality where it was gathered. It was the assembly of the saints in any given place, gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus. Hence we do not read of more than one assembly in any city, or in any locality not too large for all the saints to meet together. In every city and in every locality the saints were seen as one body.
At the Lord’s supper, too, this unity was manifested. “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-1716The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16‑17)). But is this the order of things in Christendom now? Do the saints meet together on common ground? Do they meet on the principle of the “one body and one Spirit”? Do they partake together of the “one loaf”? Is it not common to see several different assemblies gathered in buildings within a stone’s throw of each other? Is this a manifestation of the oneness of the body of Christ? They claim to meet in the name of the Lord. But how comes it, then, that they are thus divided? Will they dare to claim the sanction of that name for their divisions? Where is the authority in God’s Word to meet as Methodists, Presbyterians, or Baptists? No authority can be found for organizing such bodies, nor for membership in them. They have their foundation in man’s will, not in the Word of God. Will the members of these bodies claim that they meet together as “members of Christ,” or “of His body”? If so, why are they not one body? “Is Christ divided?” Or has He many bodies? Surely all this is a complete reversal of His authority, and a practical denial of the truth.
Are we to be satisfied with this? Are we simply to go on with the current, heedless of what the truth is? God forbid. We want a “Thus saith the Lord.” We want something to which we can honestly attach the name of the Lord. We want the sanction of His name for what we do, and how we do it. But where is the authority for joining this sect or that? It is said, “We must join some church.” I ask, by what authority? And I ask, which will you join? The church of your individual choice? But who gave the right to choose among churches?
The simple fact is, all this is condemned in the Word of God. In the Word, we find that believers are “members of Christ,” “members of His body,” “members one of another.” And this is the only membership found there. Why should we seek any other? Is not this enough? The Church is not a voluntary association that men can join or leave at will, as is the case in the sects. “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:4747Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:47)). “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:1313For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)). Thus the Lord sets the members in the body by the Holy Spirit. They are set there by divine power, and this is the divine organization of the Church of God. We need no other. The Church exists by the mighty operation of God through the Spirit, and as the fruit of redemption; and believers simply confess their membership by meeting together according to the Word of God.
Let us remember, then, that the Church exists as a divine organization, and our minds will be relieved from all thought of joining this or that. But is there no responsibility? Assuredly there is. As members of Christ whom God has set in the Church, our responsibility is to follow the directions given to such in the Word of God. We read, for instance, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:2525Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)). Now if the saints meet together — not as members of this or that sect, but simply as believers, or members of Christ — and exhort one another, that is simply obedience to the Word of God. It is not organizing a church, nor is there any need for anything of the kind. All that is needed is obedience. Christ says: “Where two or three are gathered together in [unto] My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)). Gathering together thus, then, is the responsibility of the saints, and when gathered thus, He is in the midst, to be owned as Head and Lord, and to give His sanction to what is done in His name.
We find also (Acts 20:77And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7)) that on the first day of the week “the disciples came together to break bread” (1 Cor. 11) also shows that this was their regular custom. It was obedience to the word, “This do in remembrance of Me.” Again, in 1 Corinthians 14, we find prayer, praise, blessing, thanksgiving, prophesying, and so forth, among the saints when gathered together in assembly. All this is simple enough. They were gathered unto the name of the Lord. They broke bread on the first day of the week. And in their assemblies there was prayer and worship, and ministering of the Word for edification of the saints. We see, too, that all this was under the direction of the Word and Spirit of God.
There was the free action of the Spirit in the different members of the body, not only for worship, but for edifying one another. “Ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted” (1 Cor. 14:3131For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (1 Corinthians 14:31)). “Let all things be done unto edifying,” was the great principle that was to guide them in the use of their gifts, but there was perfect liberty for all to use them under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Worship and ministry are both by the Spirit. And He directs all in the assembly, as the Leader and power for worship. Nowhere in the Word does man ever appear as leader in the assembly of the saints. The Spirit of God uses man there, but He is sovereign and can use whom He will. To introduce a man there as leader is to displace the Holy Spirit. It was seeing this solemn fact, that led the writer of this paper to give up his position as a clergyman in one of the sects. Dear reader, do you hold such a position among God’s people? If so, pause and consider. Where is your commission? Do you hold it from the Head? Can you put your finger upon it in the Word of God? Perhaps you say the Holy Spirit can use one man as well as ten. Surely we cannot limit His power. He may use one, or He may use ten. But who will dare to dictate to Him, and say it must be one? He must have liberty to use whom He will, and if any man takes the place of leader, a slight is put upon the Holy Spirit, and His liberty is taken away. I know that God may still work in sovereign grace, and especially where the slight is through ignorance. He can work sovereignly amid all the confusion that has come in, but that only shows His long-suffering patience and grace; it does not sanction the confusion. What God wants is obedience, and that, too, is the way of blessing for His people. Men may plead expediency, and think they can accomplish greater things in service to the Lord, but this the Lord does not ask at our hand. He wants only obedience. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:2222And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)). May the Lord lead all the saints to seek only obedience to His Word and will, leaving the consequences to Him.
A Holy Temple in the Lord
As there is a body being now formed by the Holy Spirit, to be displayed ere long in heavenly glory as “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” — the bride of Christ — the Eve of the second Adam: so there is a building — a temple of God — in process of formation now, a temple into which nothing but living stones can enter, and which, in spite of every opposition, will be completed at God’s appointed time, and displayed as the sanctuary of His glory. In the midst of this living temple, built according to the perfection of that chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, the living God, will everlastingly dwell to behold the monuments of His love and grace.
In Matthew 16 the Person of Christ, the Son of the living God, is presented as the foundation Rock on which this building was to rest. Peter confessed Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus then said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of [Hades] shall not prevail against it.” Jesus was the Son of the living God, in whom “the life was manifested” — “that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” This is life eternal — from eternity — life which nothing can destroy. Jesus said, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” He could grapple with death, and with him who had the power of death, and overcome. He vanquished Satan in his stronghold, and took the keys of death and Hades. His resurrection was the proof of Satan’s defeat, and that in Himself there was a life that Satan could not destroy. This life He gives to all who believe, and builds them as living stones upon Himself, the indestructible foundation Rock.
Against the living temple reared upon this living foundation the kingdom of death can have no power. “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)). Christ was the foundation Rock, and Peter was one of the living stones to be built upon that Rock; and so in his epistle he speaks of the living stones coming, and being built upon the living stone. “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:44To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, (1 Peter 2:4)). And as in Peter the living stones come, and are built, so in Ephesians the building grows. It is Christ’s work. He is the builder, as well as the foundation. Not only is there a sure foundation, but there is a competent builder, and hence there can be no failure. The completion of the whole building in the perfection of what He is in Himself is just as certain as that the sure foundation is laid.
In Ephesians 2, it is not a question of salvation of the soul, else apostles and prophets could not be spoken of as the foundation. It is the construction of a building out of living stones — souls already saved. Believing Jews and Gentiles “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.” It was after peace was made by the blood of the cross, and preached to Jews and Gentiles, that the building began to rise. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament were the foundation, as those who established the doctrine of Christ on which the whole structure rests. Christ Himself is the security of the building — “the chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-2120And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:20‑21)). There is nothing of man’s unholy work here. It grows to a holy temple in the Lord. The work is still going on, but there is nothing of the noise and confusion of man’s work. It is the noiseless work of Christ Himself by His Spirit building the living stones into that heavenly structure whose beauty and glory shall never be marred by the unholy touch of man’s hand.
The persons who are built as living stones into this temple are the same as those who are united to Christ as members of His body. The body is spoken of when it is a question of union with Christ the Head. The temple is spoken of where it is a question of a dwelling place for God. And if the body is going to be displayed as the completeness of Christ — the glorious Eve of the second Adam — so this temple will be displayed as the sanctuary of God’s glory, in which He will dwell forever, as His choicest handiwork, amid the unceasing praises of His redeemed and glorified saints.
A Habitation of God in the Spirit
That which we have been looking at is in process of building. It is growing into an Holy Temple in the Lord. But God has also built Himself a present habitation. “In whom ye also are builded together, for a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)). The assembly at Ephesus was God’s habitation there. The Church was God’s habitation on earth. In Ephesians 2:1616And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: (Ephesians 2:16) both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in one body by the cross. In verse 18 both have access through Christ by one Spirit to the Father. In verse 19 they are the household of God. In verse 22 we have the habitation in which God dwells with this household, as a present thing without waiting for future glory. Paul also, writing to Timothy, speaks of “the house of God, which is the church of the living God”; and he speaks of it as a place of responsibility — “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God.”
It is surely a wonderful truth that God should build the saints together for a habitation, but it is a blessed fact. He dwells in the midst of a redeemed people. Individually they have access to Him as Father. They are His household too, and He has built them together for His habitation in the Spirit. What infinite grace that God should do this! Immense privilege too, to be brought into such a wonderful relationship! But this is what God has wrought as the fruit of His own love, through that wonderful redemption accomplished by His blessed Son. May our hearts appreciate the grace that has wrought, and the blessedness of having access to Him, able, in the cloudless light and glory of His presence, to look up in His face and say, “Abba, Father.”
But if there is privilege, there is also responsibility. In this chapter we have “the household” and the “habitation,” with access of believers to the Father. In the next chapter, in a parenthetical way, the revelation of the mystery is given, of which the central thing is the body of Christ. In the following chapter exhortation is given, based upon the truth presented in these two. The house is the place of responsibility, where, as the household of God, we are to walk worthy of our vocation, according to the principles of the mystery revealed in the third chapter. We are “the household of God,” and “there is one body, and one Spirit” (Eph. 4:44There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; (Ephesians 4:4)). This truth we are to maintain practically in God’s house.
This is a solemn responsibility from which there can be no appeal, simply because the household is one, and “we being many are... one body.” “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-31I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1‑3)). “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:1010Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)). Thus there can be no appeal to God’s Word to uphold division among God’s people. Divisions are mentioned there, but only to be rebuked and condemned. Oh! that God’s people realized this amid the babel of tongues that fills the house of God today.
Paul desired that Timothy should know how to behave himself in the house of God. Is not this what we need to know now? How have we behaved ourselves in that house? Let the confusion of tongues in Christendom answer. A heartbreaking answer, alas! it gives. May we learn from it the “confusion of face” that belongs to us all, and like Daniel confess that “we have sinned.” Surely the ruined condition of Christendom might well lead us to this. I need not speak of teachings and doctrines and traditions of men which have made the Word of God of none effect. Nor is there need to speak of the gross wickedness that has been unblushingly practiced under the name of Christianity, to which the history of the Church bears such unimpeachable testimony.
It is enough to look around and see the divisions that have been introduced into the house of God. Men have organized churches inside the house of God, and have framed creeds and confessions of faith, which have proved only to be partition walls separating those who are “of the household of God.” Who gave authority to do this? Nowhere is it to be found in God’s Word. It is really but the fruit of human wisdom, and the working of man’s unholy will. No doubt it may have originated largely in the effort to maintain the truth in purity when its overthrow was threatened. But where does God’s Word prescribe any such remedy? And has it proved a remedy? Alas! no. It has resulted in multiplied divisions of God’s household while the evil still remains in the house. There is such a thing as separation from evil, I know, but that is simply by obedience to the Word, not by making creeds however truthful they may be. God foresaw the evil that would come in, and has foretold it in His Word; and He has given explicit directions how to act in regard to it. But there is no sanction for the making of a creed, or the building up of a sect on the basis of a creed. To do so is utterly contrary to the Word, and a practical denial of its sufficiency. Evil days surely are foretold, but the man of God is only thrown back upon that Word that foretold those days, as being “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-1716All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16‑17)).
What claim, then, upon the people of God have these creeds and ecclesiastical systems? Must we own them? Is it a sin to refuse them? Or, if we have been in them, is it a sin to have given them up, and to have fallen back upon God’s Word alone for guidance? It is not a sin, but a duty. And the one who does so intelligently will have the Lord’s approval, and will find the Word of God all-sufficient. To leave, or to refuse these systems, is not to “leave the Church,” as is often charged. It is only refusing what man has introduced into the Church. Nor is it refusing the people of God. These I own wherever I find them approved as such; but I refuse the systems and walls men have brought into God’s house, by which they have divided the household; and in so doing I take the only ground where all the saints could meet and own one another as “of the household of God”; and in falling back upon God’s Word alone, I get that which alone is perfect, and able to guide me through the labyrinth of evil that characterizes the “perilous times” of these “last days.”
The apostle Paul was not blind to the evil that would come in among the saints. To the Ephesian elders he said: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-3029For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29‑30)). And what does he tell them to do? Does he tell them to draw up a creed by which to preserve the truth, and judge the “wolves” who would seek the ruin of the flock? Far from it. He knew too well the all-sufficiency of God’s Word. Watchfulness, and the remembrance of what he had been among them for three years, ceasing not to warn every one night and day with tears, is what he exhorts them to; and then he commends them to God and His Word. “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” God and the Word of His grace! If these are not sufficient, surely nothing can be. Oh! to know more and more what a resource we have, and the blessedness of trusting God, and finding in His Word light for the darkest days. His Word is simple enough. It gives us our place, and shows us our place. By it we learn that the saints are God’s habitation, and that they are His household. Surely that is enough, without belonging to any church of man’s organizing, or any order of things that falsifies the truth as to God’s house.
God’s Building
It is not my object to speak of the difference between the different expressions used in connection with the church in its different phases. I have no doubt there is a different thought attaching to each one, and that there is real profit in seeing the special force of each. “The Church which is His body,” I believe, is used to express the exalted position of the saints corporately in their oneness with Christ — “Members of Christ” and “one of Another” by the Holy Spirit, who has baptized them into “one body.” The “temple” gives the thought of a place sanctified by the glory of the divine being who dwells in it. Hence, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” The “habitation of God” is the simple fact that God now dwells in the saints as His house. “The house of God” is used more to enforce the responsibility of those who are His household. The special point made prominent in the “building of God” is the responsibility of those who labor.
It is this last that is before us now. We find it developed in 1 Corinthians 3:4-154For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. 10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:4‑15): “Ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now, if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Here the responsibility is plain enough. The Church is looked at as a building where there are many workmen. The workmen receive for their building according to the character of their work. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest” (1 Cor. 3:1313Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:13)). The day that is to be revealed in fire will declare the results. The fire of God’s judgment will try every man’s work, of what sort it is. He who builds what will stand the test of the fire, shall receive a reward. If a man builds what God cannot approve, he suffers loss. As a believer he is saved himself, but his work is burned up. Happy will that servant be who not only builds upon the foundation, Christ Jesus, in the fear of God, but also builds “gold, silver, precious stones,” thus adorning the building of God, and causing the beauties and perfections of Christ to shine out brilliantly in His people. Great will be his reward in that day. His work may be little in men’s eyes, but, like gold, it will stand the test of the fire, and abide forever. Infinitely better this than to build for man’s eye, only to see all consumed in that day when no flesh shall glory in His presence.
How unspeakably solemn the responsibility connected with ministry when viewed in the light of that testing day! Were we building in the light of that day, we would not be moved either by the fear or the favor of man, and our building would be for eternity and not for time. But, alas! in this, as in all else, man has failed. Even in apostolic days, men were building “wood, hay, stubble”; and destroyers also were at work in Corinth when Paul wrote this letter — corrupters of the temple of God, characterized in the second epistle as “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:1313For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:13)). Already ruin and confusion were being brought into that which had been entrusted to the responsibility of men as builders. And what a spectacle this building presents now! How much that will not stand the test of that coming day! How much that actually corrupts! Can we approve confusion and corruption? Can we lend a helping hand to the working of man’s self-will, and thus build wood, hay and stubble for the fire of that day? May God deliver His own servants from self-will, and man’s will, so that they may seek only the will of Him whose servants they are.
It is “God’s building,” and, as builders, we are responsible alone to Him whose building it is. It is of the greatest importance to see this. Otherwise there can only be confusion in ministry, flowing out of a false relationship established by man’s will between servants and those who are the objects of their ministry. It is claimed that ministers are responsible to the church, and that they must receive their authority to minister through the church. Now, if it is a question of a sect, and ministering to a sect, this may be so. Surely it could not be otherwise. If a certain number of Christians have organized themselves into what they call a church, with its own creed and rules of government, surely no one could be free to minister in that sect without its authority. But a sect is not the Church of God, and cannot be. If, then, I must have authority from the Church to minister, I cannot get it from a sect. The authority of a sect would not be the authority of the Church. How, then, shall I get the authority of the Church? Where shall I find the Church? Rome says she is the true Church, but the Word of God tells me she is “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots.” Shall I take orders from the “mother of harlots”? And if it be said Protestantism is the true Church, I reply, it has been divided into a multitude of sects all differing from one another, and having no government in common.
To which one of these sects shall I go? Which one is the Church whose authority I am to own? Where shall I find guidance for such a case? If I put myself under the authority of one sect, I am bound to that, and necessarily refuse the authority of all the rest. Is that getting authority from the Church? It is, at best, only that of a sect; and the authority of the Church I can nowhere find. Blessed be God, it is not necessary. It is enough to have authority from the Church’s Head. I am responsible to Him alone, as His servant, and being responsible directly to Him, I am not responsible to the Church, much less to a sect. True, as the Lord’s servant, I minister to the Church, which is dear to Him, but it is under Him who is Head of the Church which He loves.
The Word of God shows clearly that there were gifts for ministry of different kinds, but it never intimates that the Church either bestowed the gifts, or gave authority to use them. The gifts are divinely given, and authority flows directly from the Word of God. Indeed, the possession of a gift is a warrant to use it. “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation” (Rom. 12:6-86Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6‑8)). There is no question of church appointment here whatever. He who has the gift, whatever gift it may be, is commanded to use it. He draws his authority for using it directly from the Word of God. Again, we read: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord” (1 Cor. 12:4-54Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:4‑5)). Here the Spirit distributes the gifts, and the Lord directs the services. Man’s appointment and man’s will are both excluded. Man is not even made a subordinate authority. The only place that either man or the Church gets is the place of subjection to the will of God. “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,...” (1 Cor. 12:2828And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28)). God has set them in the Church, not under it. The responsibility of the servant is to use the gift he has received in subjection to Christ, and the responsibility of the Church is to receive whatever ministry the Lord sends.
Great stress has been laid on Acts 13, as proving “ordination.” The simple fact, however, is that it proves nothing of the kind. In the assembly at Antioch there were five men who are designated as “prophets and teachers.” Among these were Barnabas, Saul and Mark. These were already “prophets and teachers.” They were already using the gifts which they possessed; and it was while they were so doing that “the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” This was not an appointment to ministry in a general way, but an appointment to a special mission by the Holy Spirit. The Church had no authority in the matter. Having learned the mind of the Spirit, they could witness to His call, and give expression to their fellowship with those whom He called to go at His bidding; and this they did. “When they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they [not sent them away, but] let them go.” A formal separation to this mission there was, but no ordination. It was not appointing them to be ministers. They were that already — “teachers,” or “prophets,” or both. To be a minister is to be possessed of a spiritual gift for ministry, and ministry is the exercise of this gift. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth” (1 Peter 4:10-1110As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10‑11)).
All this Paul and Barnabas were doing before the Holy Spirit called them to go from Antioch on a special mission; so that the fasting and praying and laying on of hands was not ordaining them to be ministers, but separating them to a special work. It was the witness of the brethren at Antioch to the call of the Holy Spirit, and the recommendation of Barnabas and Saul by these brethren to the grace of God as sent forth by the Holy Spirit to go among the Gentiles. “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed” (Acts 13:44So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)). He was the One who sent them forth, not the church of Antioch. In the next chapter we learn that they fulfilled the work for which they had been recommended to the grace of God. And in chapter 15, as they go forth a second time, we are told that “Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God” (Acts 16:4040And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed. (Acts 16:40)). These passages show that there was such a thing as formal separation to certain work; but it was under the immediate direction of the Holy Spirit, and it was not the exercise of authority on the part of the saints, but the blessed expression of their fellowship in the Spirit. The place the Holy Spirit takes in it throughout shows that it is altogether foreign to the idea of modern ordination.
The Epistle to the Galatians is also in accord with this. There we learn that Paul utterly repudiated the thought of having received any appointment from man to preach the gospel. There he speaks of himself as “an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father.” The gospel which he preached, he received by revelation. And when God revealed His Son in him that he might preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he conferred not with flesh and blood. He did not even go up to Jerusalem to advise with the apostles there. At least three years passed before he went there, and when he did go he saw only Peter and James. He afterward went up by revelation, and communicated the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, and at that time Peter, James and John gave him the right hand of fellowship, but that had nothing to do with appointment.
Nor are the epistles to Timothy any better support for modern ordination. It is said that Timothy was ordained by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. But there is nothing whatever to prove this. That Timothy was a minister is plain enough, for Paul exhorted him much as to ministry. He also had a gift, and Paul laid his hands on him and so did the presbytery; but how does this prove that he was ordained, or appointed to the ministry by man? It proves nothing of the kind, as I trust we shall see.
The presbytery mentioned here, I believe, was simply the body of elders in the assembly. If there were half a dozen elders at Ephesus, these were the presbytery. The elders were elderly men who were set apart to take oversight of the flock. Certain qualifications were necessary, as we learn from Timothy and Titus, but there was not necessarily any gift for ministry, though they were to be apt to teach. There were those who ruled, and those who labored in word and doctrine as well. But being a minister did not make anyone an elder, nor did being an elder make anyone a minister. It is important not to confound these things which are kept distinct in Scripture.
Now, as to Timothy, we learn that it was announced by prophecy that he should receive a gift, and the laying on of the presbytery’s hands was associated with this. “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:1414Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14)). Timothy was marked off “by prophecy” as one who was to receive a gift, and the presbytery witnessed to this in the laying on of their hands, perhaps at the time he received the gift. But the gift itself was communicated through the laying on of Paul’s hands. “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:66Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)), Paul writes him in the second epistle. All this is simple enough. Timothy was marked off by prophecy as one who should receive a gift. This gift was bestowed by the laying on of Paul’s hands. And the presbytery, or body of elders at Ephesus, joined their testimony to the prophecy, and expressed their fellowship in the laying on of their hands. But what has this to do with ordination? It is not a question of ordination at all, but of a “gift” that was in him. But how would it sound to say “stir up the ordination that is in thee?” Thus we see there is no foundation whatever in Scripture for ordination as practiced at the present day.
We also see in Scripture the most perfect liberty to minister wherever there was ability for it. When the saints were scattered from Jerusalem by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the Word. Philip went to Samaria, and preached there, and many believed and were baptized. He also preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, and baptized him. But there is not a word to indicate that any of these received any appointment from man.
Human appointment to ministry has been the fruitful source of much evil throughout the professing church. It has been the means of pushing many into the work who have no fitness for it; and it has hindered the ministry of many who have gift for it, but who were unable to reach the requirements of human systems in order to appointment. How solemn for men to put themselves between God and one whom He has gifted for ministry, or to appoint to work of ministry those whom God has never gifted! No wonder the house of God on earth presents such a spectacle, when we consider the workmen that have been introduced, and how they have set aside God’s arrangements for ministry, and set up their own instead! Men may boast of it as progress, but that is a delusion of Satan. It is but the oft-repeated story of man’s failure through disobedience to God’s Word. Man has indeed built a great house, but, alas! has it not become “the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird”? (Rev. 18:22And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. (Revelation 18:2)). When the saints are taken out of this world, the building which man has been raising up will be here still, no longer merely a house, but a city — “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:55And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation 17:5)). Has she not already said in her heart, “I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow”? If (she has) not (said it), she soon will. “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.” Such, alas! will be the dreadful end of what man builds without God.
May we realize how solemn it is, and seek to build with God, and in His fear, even though it should separate us from the mass who are building under the authority of man. The Lord’s servant is bound to be faithful at all cost, even though he should serve alone. Better this with the Lord’s approval, than all the praise of men without it. The world may call it folly, and his brethren may call him mad! but what of that? Was not Paul rejected, and hated, and persecuted? Did not even those who were the seal of his ministry become ashamed of his chain? All in Asia forsook him, but the Lord stood with him, and strengthened him. Has not the servant of the Lord the same resource now? Can he not count upon the Lord? The Lord is faithful, and this is enough for the servant who really knows his Master. The reward is not now. It will come by-and-by. Oh! the blessedness of hearing from His own lips that “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:2121His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)), and of being crowned by His own hand with that “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give... at that day” (2 Tim. 4:88Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)).
One other passage in connection with ministry I would call attention to. “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-1311And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11‑13)). Here we have the source and the object of ministry. Christ is the source; the Church is the object. Christ is the giver; the Church is the receiver. Christ has loved the Church, and given Himself for it; and the gifts flow as the result of His love to the Church. He has gone down into death, the stronghold of Satan’s power, vanquished the enemy, and ascended up on high, leading captivity captive — ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things. From thence He supplies the Church’s need, a need which He knows perfectly, and has the ability to meet. What, therefore, remains for the Church, but to receive what He provides? Alas! if she has taken all into her own hand, and is saying, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:1717Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (Revelation 3:17)), while in truth she is “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” If this is her condition, it is not because He has failed. It is because she has ceased to relish what He gives, and undertaken to supply her own need.
Is it not a fact that the mass of professing Christians have ceased to endure sound doctrine; and, because they have itching ears, after their own lusts are heaping up to themselves teachers? Is not almost every sect making its own arrangements for raising up to itself a ministry? Where is the authority for any such procedure? And is it not plain that ministers thus raised up are the property, not of the Church, but of the sect which has made them ministers? But is this according to the passage of Scripture before us? Far from it. The gifts of Christ are “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:1212For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:12)). Nothing less than all the saints are before Christ. Not a sect, but the Church, which is His body, He nourishes and cherishes; and it is upon this that He bestows His gifts, that the whole, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, may increase with the increase of God.
If, then, a servant of the Lord has the Lord’s thoughts about the Church, he cannot consistently be a minister to a sect. He may minister to those who are in sects, because they are members of Christ, but he cannot become a minister of a sect. The ground is too narrow. The Lord has the whole Church before Him, and if the servant is responsible to Him, how can he submit himself to a sect, and be faithful both to it and the Lord? It is impossible. If a man is a Presbyterian minister, it is plain he is not a Baptist minister. If he is a minister to any sect, it excludes him from all the rest, and his ministry is necessarily confined to the sect he is in, or to its interests. If he habitually goes beyond that, he will be a marked man, and will find himself trammeled on every hand, and not free to come and go at the Lord’s bidding, having taken a position below his calling, and inconsistent with it.
No doubt the true servant will find plenty of difficulties. It has ever been so, and not less so now. Confusion has come in, and his path lies through its midst. The members of Christ have been scattered through many sects, and the servant must hold himself ready, at his Lord’s bidding, to go to any of these members, and minister to their need. If it interferes with the plans and arrangements of men, he cannot help it. It is before God that he is to justify himself, not before men. The path is difficult because of existing confusion, and men will seek to make it more difficult; but He who has the key of David, who opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens, is able to set an open door before him, which no man can shut. Blessed will that servant be who holds his commission directly from the Head, and who acts as under His eye alone, seeking His glory, and the blessing of all His members. However his work may appear in the eyes of men, it will be found in that coming day of testing, that his work will abide on the foundation, and that he has built gold, silver and precious stones that will endure forever.
Dear reader, in this day of confusion and ruin, may we take both warning and encouragement from Paul’s last charge to Timothy, his son in the faith: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:1-81I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. 6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:1‑8)).
A Great House
In 1 Timothy, although danger was threatening, the house of God was still in order; in 2 Timothy, it is in disorder. In the first epistle Timothy is instructed how to behave himself in that house; in the second epistle he is instructed how to proceed in view of the disorder that had come in. To see the difference between the two is very important, and full of instruction to every one whose eye is single, and who desires only to do the will of God.
In the first epistle, where order is still seen in the house, he is instructed as to what should he the bearing of those within toward those without; the duties of the men and the women, and the relative position of each; the qualifications of bishops and deacons, and their wives; and then Paul says to him: “These things I write unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:14-1514These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14‑15)).
Then he is instructed as to his own ministry and deportment as a “man of God”; his treatment of the elder men and women, the younger men and women, the widows, elders who ruled well, and those who, besides, labored in word and doctrine, the relative duties of master and servant, and so forth. The things becoming the depot lucent of those in the house of God, he was to exhort and teach. Thus he was fully instructed as to what was proper in God’s house while order was yet maintained. It was the house of God — God’s dwelling — place on earth; and it was fitting that all there should conduct themselves according to the nature and character of Him whose house they were in.
How all is changed in the next epistle, which was the Apostle’s last before laying down his life as a martyr, and which was written in full view of the disorder and ruin which had made such headway in God’s house! Paul was the wise master-builder, who had laid the foundation among the Gentiles. But now he was a prisoner for the truth, bound with a Roman chain, and ready to be offered up for the truth of the gospel, of which he was a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher among the Gentiles; and yet ere he passed away, he was destined to see that which he had so untiringly labored to build up fall away from its original beauty and glory. Spiritual declension had already set in, and there was disorder in the house of God, and it required courage to stand firm. Timothy might have been in danger of being moved by the mighty current, yet the Apostle had confidence in him, and addressed him as his “dearly beloved son,” laying open his heart to him, and disclosing the heavy burden that pressed upon his soul. He did not close his eyes to the evil which was coming in like a flood, but laid all before his beloved Timothy, and instructed him how to proceed in regard to it.
Who can tell the deep sorrow that filled the heart of the Apostle as he appealed to Timothy’s knowledge of how those who were the seal of his ministry had abandoned him? “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim. 1:1515This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)). What proof of the ruin that was setting in! But one solitary case is given of one true to the Apostle amid this sweeping rejection. Onesiphorus oft refreshed him, and was not ashamed of his chain, and when in Rome, sought him out diligently, and found him.
Nor was there only declension. There was positive evil at work in the house of God, and unjudged. There was what the Apostle terms “profane and vain babblings”; and there were teachers who would proceed to greater ungodliness, whose word would eat as a canker. Hymenæus and Philetus were examples. They taught that the resurrection was past already, and had overthrown the faith of some. This was the effect of evil teaching, and brought in a state of things that might well perplex one who desired to own all the people of God, and yet had a conscience tender as to evil, and whatever was dishonoring to the Lord. Such a one might see those who had promised fair swept away in the flood of iniquity, and he might fear they were lost, but Paul tells Timothy that “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim 2:19). There are two parts to the seal. The first is, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” The second is, “Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” The first shows that where an evil state makes uncertainty as to the condition of persons bearing the Lord’s name, the matter is to be left to Him. He knows who are His. The second shows our responsibility as to evil. No matter what a man’s pretensions may be; if he is a vessel bearing iniquity, he is to be shunned. The Lord’s name can never sanction iniquity, and if we bear that name we are to depart from iniquity. It is imperative; nothing can ever release us from this responsibility.
The Apostle now speaks of the house of God as A GREAT HOUSE, where there were not only “vessels to honor,” but also “vessels to dishonor.” The state of those within was such that evil could not be judged in the whole house; and the only alternative for the man of God was to purge himself from the vessels to dishonor. Such was the sad state of the house, and of those within. And the picture of the last days given in the third chapter shows that things would not grow better, but worse. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:1-51This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1‑5)). The Apostle also tells us in the same chapter, that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
In the fourth chapter also, besides other details, we learn that when he was called to answer as a prisoner, no man stood with him. All forsook him. The Lord alone stood with him and strengthened him in his lone testimony to the truth of the gospel. What a change from the first bright days of Christianity — and in so short a time! It was no more “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:4141And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:41)), but leaving the devoted and aged Apostle to stand alone before the lion’s mouth. How that devoted servant of the Lord must have felt it all! And how his soul must have been grieved and chastened by the sad picture that his discerning eye was not slow to take in! And all the more intense his sorrow must have been to see all this in the very scene where he himself had labored night and day, in season and out of season, to build as a wise master builder to the glory of God, and for a pattern to all who would follow in his steps.
All this the Apostle lays before Timothy, and opens up the path for the man of God, and his resource in the midst of the evil. In view of the evil, Timothy was to “stir up the gift of God,” which was in him, and not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of Paul, His prisoner. He was also to hold fast the form of sound words he had received from the Apostle, and to commit to faithful men who should be able to teach the things he had heard from the Apostle among many witnesses. He was also exhorted to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, and not to entangle himself with the affairs of this life, that he might please Him who had chosen him to be a soldier. Thus Timothy was to maintain, and defend, and teach, and spread the truth in every lawful way, in the face of the evil which was becoming bold and asserting itself in the house of God.
But there were those who were holding and spreading the evil, their word eating as a canker, and overthrowing the faith of some — vessels of iniquity, and to dishonor. How was he, and how is every true hearted saint, to treat these? The answer is plain. “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth  ... . If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:19-2119Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:19‑21)). But why purge himself from the vessels? Simply because the house was in such a state morally that it was the only way he could clear himself. Discipline could no longer be carried out in the whole house, and, to be clear from the evil, a man must purge himself from the vessels that hold it. I do not mean to say that discipline could not be exercised among those who hold fast the truth. Surely it could then, as now also among those who keep His Word and deny not His name. But man’s will was at work to such an extent that this could not be through the whole house.
At the first God exercised discipline when the assembly failed to do so. This we see at Corinth, where God’s hand was upon them because of unjudged evil there. “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor. 11:3030For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:30)). The assembly was in a low state, and not awake to the deep dishonor done to the Lord by the allowance of sin among them; and the Lord laid His hand upon them. When, however, they were awakened to a sense of the evil among them, through the Apostle’s letter, they were filled with deep sorrow, and put away from among them the wicked person. Thus as long as there was a willingness to bow to the Word of God in these matters, a remedy was at hand. The evil could be purged out.
At the time that Paul wrote this second epistle to Timothy this could no longer be done. The evil had gone too far. They had turned away from the Apostle, and were not in a state to recognize the hand of the Lord should He deal with them. Thus the only course open to the man of God was to purge himself from the evil by turning away from those who held it. It is individual responsibility when corporate failure has come in — a responsibility that remains to this day. It is the only alternative when evil cannot be dealt with corporately. A man must purge himself, and it is then that he becomes “a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use.” Thus it is a positive thing. It is not only separation from evil, but separation to God. It is the result of the power of God’s Word in the soul.
Through that Word, the holiness of God is learned in the soul, the incompatibility of His nature with evil, and the impossibility of His going on with it, or in any way giving sanction to it. It is when we learn the holiness of His nature, according to the holiness of that sacrifice by which He has put away sin, that we realize our responsibility to walk apart from evil. His grace has brought us into fellowship with Himself through the sacrifice by which His righteousness and holiness have been declared. We have been brought into a position of wondrous nearness and intimacy. We dwell in God, and God in us. And according to His nature and His rights over the soul, and the place we have been brought into, we are responsible to walk. His grace working in us alone gives us the power. It brings us into communion with Himself, and consequently separates us from that which is unsuitable to His presence. If there are those in the great house whose walk dishonors Him, that which separates us to Him, separates us from them. Our walk is apart. Our path is separated from theirs. The sanctifying power of God’s Word over the soul separates us from evil: so that he who is thus separated becomes a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, through the activity of divine grace operating in him by the Word of God.
The same power also that produces holy separation to God will lead us to deny the right of the flesh to act. “Flee, also, youthful lusts.” But that is not all. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:77But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)). This is characteristic of believers; and if grace is active in us, we will seek to carry it out in a practical way. Hence, “Flee, also, youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:2222Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)). In many cases it may be impossible to decide who are the Lord’s. Such we leave to the Lord. “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” But “them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” we are to know, and with them we are to pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace.
Such are some of the principles laid down in God’s Word for the guidance of the faithful in an evil day. May we prize the light that God has given us — light sufficient for the darkest hour of the last days. The state of things was sad enough when Paul wrote his last letter to Timothy, but things have grown much worse since. If the house was a great house then, it is vastly greater now, embracing as it does, the Roman Catholic, Greek and Coptic divisions, as well as the numerous Protestant sects. And what evil and iniquity is there which is not allowed and even defended in this great house? Reader, can you purge the iniquity out of this great house? You know you cannot. Then you are responsible to purge yourself from it, if you have not already done so. “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” God’s rights over you admit of no lower standard. The fearful extent of the evil in this day in no way diminishes this responsibility, but the rather makes it more imperative to stand with God, even though it be alone. A sackcloth testimony it may be, but God will own it, and approve the faithful too.
But it is objected that to carry out these principles only creates schism, and makes a new sect. This I deny. Obedience to God’s Word never can be schism, as God views it, and never can make a new sect. If, in obedience to God’s Word, I separate from a sect, it may be schism as viewed by that sect, but it is purging myself from schism, as God views it. And if the saints meet together in obedience to God’s Word, according to the truth of the one body and one Spirit, they never can be a sect, even though there be only two or three on that ground. In the great house of Christendom a multitude of divisions have been formed. Partition walls have been run through the house in every direction. That which separates may differ in different instances. It may be a name, doctrine, creed, system of government — no matter what; the saints are divided into different sects. Those in any particular sect may be united enough among themselves, but that is not the unity of the Spirit. They are not on divine ground as to unity; and, therefore, each one of these sects, though it may be a unity in itself is in schism as viewed from the ground of the unity of the Spirit. The principle of unity that God owns is the practical owning of all believers as one body of which Christ is the Head. Identification with a sect would be a practical denial of this unity. Hence every one thus identified is in schism before God.
It necessarily follows, therefore, that to keep the unity of the Spirit one must abandon all sectarian ground. To do so is obedience to the Word of God. It is also obedience to God’s Word to meet together, in subjection to God’s Word and Spirit, for breaking of bread, and worship, and prayer, and mutual edification and exhortation, not as members of this sect or that, but as “members of Christ,” and “members one of another” — ground which admits all believers to the Lord’s table, except such as, according to God’s Word, have disqualified themselves by bad doctrine or bad walk. Is not this the way the saints met together in apostolic days? I think everyone who reads the Word of God with unbiased mind must admit it. There was one body, and that truth was practically owned. They met together as such. On the first day of the week they broke bread. They also praised and worshiped God. And they edified and exhorted one another. All this was under the simple leading of the Holy Spirit according to the Word. There is not one word throughout the whole New Testament to intimate that a minister was chosen to conduct the worship of the assembled saints. The clerical office was an innovation of a later day, and has no place in the Word of God. I am not denying ministry. I admit its place fully, and in a much larger way than the clerical system does. According to the clerical system, the mouth of every saint is closed, except that of “the minister.” This is especially the case in the worshiping assembly.
Now, if anyone will carefully read 1 Corinthians 14, he will see that there is a total absence of the man that in the present day is called “the minister.” Not only that, but he will see that there was the most blessed liberty in the Spirit for the different members of the body to use their gifts for the edification and comfort of the saints. No doubt the saints at Corinth were abusing the gifts which they possessed. At least some of them were. They were speaking with unknown tongues where there was none to interpret. Thus they made a show of their gifts, while nobody was edified. Now Paul does not forbid speaking with tongues. They might do so if there was one to interpret, so that the saints might be edified; but it was more profitable if they prophesied. We see, too, that when they came together, everyone had a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation. And the Apostle does not forbid this, but only insists that “all things be done unto edifying.” Two or three might speak in an unknown tongue, provided there was an interpreter. The prophets also were to speak two or three, and the others were to judge. It was not for edification that too many speak, but there was no limiting it to one man. The principle was, “Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted” (1 Cor. 14:3131For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (1 Corinthians 14:31)).
How simple, then, was the meeting of the saints at the beginning! Their gathering together was unto the name of the Lord Jesus. They owned Him as the Head of the Church which was His body. His presence in the midst was owned. What an object to have before the soul, giving character to the thoughts and feelings! The presence of the Holy Spirit too, was owned as the One who was the power of worship and ministry, and all was under His guidance according to the Word. If the assembly worshiped, it was worship “in the Spirit,” and “by the Spirit,” the saints as a priestly family entering the holiest, by faith, and giving expression to their worship through anyone whose mouth might be opened by the Spirit of God, and presenting all to God through Jesus Christ. And if there was ministering to the saints, that too was under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and by any one, or by several, whom the Spirit of God might use to this end.
But it is objected that this order of things cannot be without confusion and disorder. This is only a gratuitous assumption. It is a denial, moreover, of the wisdom of God’s established order in His assembly, and a denial of the competency of the Holy Spirit to lead the saints in their assemblies. It is said, “We must have organization.” Now it is granted that there must be order; but the question is, what kind of order? God’s order, or man’s order? Now God’s order is perfect, but if man trenches upon that and establishes his own instead, his order becomes confusion before God. If the saints are gathered to the Lord’s name, and own His presence in the midst, and the power of His name, with the presence also of the Holy Spirit to guide them by the Word of God, whether it be in worship, ministry, exercise of discipline, or whatever they may meet together for according to the Word, what more, I ask, is needed?
Is there need besides of a human leader? But I ask, is a human leader more competent to lead than the Holy Spirit? God forbid! God has established His order, and we are to follow that. Is not His order plain in His Word? Is there given to us in that Word, a plain picture of the saints assembled, and of the divine order in their midst, the Holy Spirit leading them in their prayers, and praise, and worship, in connection with the breaking of bread, and also in the use of their gifts in ministering for the edification and comfort of one another? Surely there is. Such a thing was possible then. And why not now? Reader, are you subject to God’s order? Beware lest you add to it, only to corrupt or set it aside, to establish man’s instead, which is only confusion before God, as well as a bold infringement on His rights. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:22-2322And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 23For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:22‑23)).
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