Fellowship, Not Independency: Part 2

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Continued from page 250
Nor can the ruin of the church, looked at in its place of responsibility on earth, its almost endless divisions, and increasing confusion, be rightly pleaded as a reason for acting on the principle of isolation, and individual loneliness, much less for the formation of human confederacies and associations not according to the Lord's mind. For God has given us the Holy Ghost, and revealed in His word, that He has formed a unity of all believers in Christ. “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” This unity we are enjoined to keep. This unity is as true as ever for all the members of the body of Christ, before the eye of God; though, as to its manifestation before men, where is it to be seen? Alas! how very opposite it is to this divine character. Still, the principles of God for our guidance during the interval of our Lord's absence have not been changed because of man's failure. The injunction that we should, with all lowliness, be “endeavoring to keep the Spirit's unity in the bond of peace” has never been abrogated. The faithful are to act on it as much as ever. It is simply a question of carrying out the will of God. If one true Christian can only find another to act with him on the ground of “one body and one Spirit,” these two persons would be so far carrying out the will of God, even if there were no other persons in the world so doing. It is not setting up the church again, nor reconstructing what has been practically broken in pieces; but, while owning humbly its departure and ruin, such take the place of acknowledged weakness, and cast themselves on the mercy and faithfulness of the Lord. They are obedient to His word who is holy and true, and, however few they may be, they stand for the true character of the church of God— “one body and one Spirit.” Such know that God is faithful, His word as true as ever, His Spirit abiding, and that the Lord Jesus is still in the midst of two or three, when gathered together to His name. They know Him as Head of the body, the Sender of the Holy Ghost, the Son over His own house, and soon coming to take us unto Himself. Of course if others are found acting on these truths in other places, all such companies of saints become practically one; they rightly own that the only ecclesiastical association which God has set up on earth is “one body” united to Christ the Head in heaven, formed and energized by “one Spirit.” This is true all over the earth. God looks down from heaven and beholds this “one body,” formed by “one Spirit,” however man may have defaced its manifestation by endless divisions, and untrue associations. This only is the divinely-ordered character of fellowship, consequent on an accomplished redemption, and the gift and indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
Gifts indeed have been bestowed by Christ the Head in glory, and for what purpose? We are told they are for the edification of the body, and that the body is edified by that which every joint supplies. Sign-gifts were necessary at first, such as miracles and tongues, as witness of the power of God to them that believe not. But these soon passed away. Apostles and prophets, the spiritual founders of the assembly, also passed away. They were the foundation stones of the building, and we may still be edified by their writings. But are there not evangelists, teachers and pastors? Can anything be more distinctly seen on earth now than servants of the Lord Jesus, having spiritual ability for evangelizing, teaching the children of God, and shepherding the flock? (See 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).)
It must not, however, be supposed that fellowship is limited to the privileges and blessings we enjoy when assembled together, for it extends itself into the various details of the state and circumstances of every member of the body. Thus, “if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Cor. 12:2626And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26).) We are all exhorted to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, as also “to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and to weep with them that weep,” to “bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ;” and that those “taught in the word should communicate to the teacher in all good things.” (see 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); Rom. 12:1515Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. (Romans 12:15); Gal. 6:2, 62Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
6Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. (Galatians 6:6)
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Moreover, we are instructed that “To one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:88For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; (1 Corinthians 12:8)). Hence it becomes more helpful to seek under certain circumstances the counsel and fellowship of such. Some members of the body being specially gifted with wisdom and knowledge, we not only honor the Lord in seeking their counsel when necessary, but in this small degree we carry out, in a practical sense, the precious truths of “one body,” and “one Spirit,” because such gifts are given for the profit of the whole body. Perhaps no one point is more apparent among saints than that their failures are often traceable to their independent action, when they might, in the fellowship of the Spirit, have happily availed themselves of the counsel of discreet and honored members of the body. We know how habitually Paul seems to have cultivated the fellowship of his brethren, and invited the help of saints by their prayers. It may be that many in our day, who see clearly the practical ground of assembly action, have never thought seriously of their obligations to Christ in these details. Some may need awakening on this point, and to have their consciences exercised as to whether we do not often fall into the selfishness of independency, instead of practically owning the use which the Lord would have us make of the different members of the body?
It is impossible that any member of the body can walk healthfully alone. When any choose to do so, it is because there is something wrong in the state of their souls; for we are members one of another, and can no more do without each other's service, than one member of the human body can dispense with the assistance of the others. Those who have cultivated this fellowship have proved its blessedness. Nothing, surely, can more completely deny the ground of the church of God, than the habit of going on in the various details of life, outside the public gathering together of the saints, independently of the other members of the body. Such a state of things is to be deplored, not only as dishonoring to the Lord, but as damaging to souls. It is, however, to be feared, that many, who have sat at the Lord's table for a course of years, have known but little, or nothing, of this practical fellowship in the Spirit. Such things ought not to be. When saints of old were in primitive freshness and fervor, when “great grace was upon them all,” we know how lovingly the fellowship extended itself, oven to the things of this life. We read, “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.... neither was there any among them that lacked.... and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4:31-3731And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. 32And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:31‑37).)
In making this quotation, and applying its instruction to ourselves, we have no thought of reconstructing the church on earth, or of imagining that Pentecostal days will ever be acted over again, but rather that we might learn from the divine record what we are to understand by fellowship, and what characterized it as practiced in the apostle's days, before the assembly lost its manifested oneness; when faith and love were in freshness and activity, and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven was not grieved and quenched as He is now. Our place certainly is to confess the ruin of the church as a corporate witness on earth by our sin, to cleave to the Lord, to call upon His name, thankfully owning all that we can discern to be of Himself, and refusing all human imitations. We rejoice that we still have the Lord in the midst of two or three gathered together to His name. Besides, through abundant mercy, we have the presence of the Holy Ghost, the unalterable word of the Lord, and have to do with the only wise God, who is faithful and cannot deny Himself. As a people we have only “a little strength,” and taking the place of confessed weakness, we are bound as much as ever, in faithfulness to our loving Lord, to “depart from iniquity,” to be obedient to His word, and with all lowliness “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (2 Tim. 2:19-2219Nevertheless 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. 22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:19‑22).) And have not many proved it to be the place of God's presence and blessing?
When souls have really to do with the Lord, everything goes on well; without it, nothing is right. The question at this time is not so much one of usefulness as of faithfulness, not as to the extent of activity, but of reality; not quantity of service, but quality. May we seek only to please God! Where there is the knowledge of divine truth, a single eye, and a subject will, there will be acting for His glory. H. H. S.
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