Reply to an Article in the Zionsbote on "Darbyism"

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IT is, although not a pleasant, at any rate an exceedingly easy task to answer a hostile attack when the opponent himself gives the answer. Such is the case with the article contained in the Zionsbote upon " Darbyism." The arguments of the writer are chiefly summed up in the statement of two antitheses, expressed in the words " We say, Everything must be restored, as it was in the apostle's time; the Darbyites say, Never can a return be made to what existed at the time of the apostles." In his opinion everything must be revived in the church according to apostolic model; and his censure affects the so-called Darbyites, because they, instead of assenting to his conception, the rather maintain that, since the church has abandoned her first state and is in apostasy, according to the clearest and most unambiguous testimonies of the scriptures, she is not capable of restoration.
Then, after the writer has been somewhat zealous over the bad principles of the brethren he indicts, he finds occasion for the remark, which defeats his contention " Moreover 'nothing remains until the Lord comes, but that every Christian take pains according to the best of his knowledge and conscience to ascertain and carry out the mind of Christ; but so that a relationship in the highest degree fraternal may obtain between the different church parties." In fact, every Christian who is unprejudiced and free from bias will be unable to close his eye to such contradictions. Is the meaning, then, of wishing to restore everything in the church as it was in the apostles' time-if the profession must be made-that at the end nothing remains but christian parties in whom every member has to ascertain and carry out the will of Christ according to the best of his knowledge and conscience? Where, then, were such parties at the time •of the apostles? Do they so much as bear the seal of apostolic recognition? Certainly not. As we know, Jewish prejudices threatened to split up the assembly at Antioch into two parties; but the wisdom of God prevented the deadly evil; and peace even and prosperity grew out of this very evil for the assembly at Jerusalem. (Acts 15) In Corinth also church parties displayed their first germs; but apostolic power was present, and apostolic energy was exercised to restore divine order in the church. But where is now that energy of the apostles? Where is an assembly that sends its ministers into all communities, so that all can enjoy the blessed message? Neither is such an energy, nor such an assembly within the range of possibility in our days.
The restoration of the church according to apostolic mode, consequently, makes a previous restoration of apostles an obligatory necessity. As Christians will not recognize their inability to restore everything, they sink into the state of laissez faire in respect of the evil which they cannot remedy. But instead of a recognition of their own incapacity, to be willing to continue in a bad unscriptural condition, is in fact one of the saddest phenomena amongst Christians of our day. They refuse to bow in the dust and humbly to acknowledge, " We are to blame, we have abandoned the first state of the church and are unable to restore everything; God is faithful; we are to blame."
The writer must allow me to alter a word in his thesis; for without this alteration, the sentence is devoid of force and meaning. He says, "We must restore everything, as it was in the apostles' time." He ought to have said, not "we must," but "we can," restore everything. For if we cannot do it, our labor is useless. We know well -and the Lord be praised for it-that His grace is fully sufficient, just as much for our low state as for that of the apostles. But to what a degree the pretension of such Christians has reached who ascribe to themselves the ability to bring back into its old state whatever the power of the apostles wrought and set up, I leave to the judgment of the writer. Christians need apostolic power in order to be able to do apostolic works. They are able, by grace, to be faithful amidst the circumstances in which they are found, as the result of the continuous power of evil. They can abandon the evil, but as we have said, to be able to do apostolic works, they need apostolic power. Why do they not restore apostles? why not gifts? Why not prophets and miracles? In fact, to restore everything is a wide field! Where do we hear in our days words like those of Paul, of Timothy, and of Barnabas? Where is the power of the Spirit, which, in the days of the apostles, was so very active? Paul says, " For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts 20:2929For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:29).) Why such intimations for the days of his departure, if others could do everything which he had done?
The principles which the writer supposes to be scriptural only contribute to confound ideas still more; and they only betray too much how little people in general seek to inquire what holy scripture says upon God's assembly. It is clear that scripture knows only of a general assembly of God. Christians are regarded as members of the body of Christ. To be a member of an assembly is a thought of which one finds no trace in the word of God. And yet this thought forms the basis of the whole system to which the writer addresses himself. As shown to us in 1 Cor. 12, as well as in Ephesians 4 and in Rom. 12, all gifts were introduced of God, not in one fixed and local, but in the whole assembly. Apollos ministered with his gift as teacher as well in Ephesus as also in Corinth, because this gift had been bestowed upon him, not for an, but for the assembly; consequently, for the whole body of Christ. But where do we find in our days anything like the condition portrayed in 1 Cor. 12? " Now, that was for apostolic times," our brethren will answer. But how can they then say, " We must restore everything as it was at the time of the apostles "? Will they then imitate only outward forms? That the power 'cannot be imitated, no one will dare to combat; for to be able to exercise the power, one needs the power. But they have not even the form, for to be teacher of an assembly is not scriptural.
But how does it stand with the question of elders? Scripture teaches us that they were not elected by the assemblies. As we find in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas performed this election; and of Titus we know that he was sent back to Crete to institute elders. (Titus 1:55For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5).) Who now might claim the right to do that for which the persons named were divinely authorized? Where is there now in our days a Paul and Barnabas, a Timothy and Titus? Moreover, now still comes the question, decisive of everything, whether it is in general the will of God to restore everything as it was at the time of the apostles. As we have said, a "we must" is without force and meaning, if it cannot be supported by a positive "we can." Therefore scripture must decide whether restoration is a thing allowed or required by God. We deny it. That "we must " is not scripture, and the writer has in general brought forward no passage for his assertion. He speaks of a command, but he assigns no command. Let us examine, then, the word of God, to see if it does not speak of the result of man's unfaithfulness in respect of the kingdom of God and His assembly upon the earth.
First of all, I would cast a hasty glance at the "parable of the tares." I find on the part of the writer-inasmuch as he brings forward some thoughts from a tract dealing with this parable-many words severe and injurious and accompanied by the remark, "How much may be said upon this fundamental principle!" But he rather gives another interpretation of that parable, nor does he combat the "singular principle" by the citation of any one passage. But all such shibboleths are powerless, if not founded upon the word of God. Let us take in hand therefore this alone unfailing word. The tares are sown by the devil where good seed has been sown by the Lord.
The subject is of course not the church itself, but the kingdom. The field is the world. But this parable is of great importance, if it be a question of the restoration of the good state of Christianity. The question of the servants, if they should root up the tares, the Lord negatives with the words: "Let both grow together until the harvest." A restoration of the earlier state is not prescribed, and consequently is also impossible. The judgment alone will deal with it.
But one might object-"Why do you not remain in the state church?" I answer: Because scripture knows of no state church, but only of "the church," and because it expressly says that in the last perilous days everything will demonstrate the ruin, and men have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. "From such turn away," says the apostle, and consequently by my following divine exhortation and turning away, I practice obedience, even if I remain alone. But why, since indeed everything is not to be restored, do you not remain alone? might be further said; and I produce in answer 2 Tim. 2, where I am taught that, since the Lord knows His own in spite of the confusion in the last days, I must not only keep from unrighteousness, but must also walk with " those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart " (vers. 19-22), whilst at the same time I possess the precious and comforting promise, "Where two or three are gathered in 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).) So saith the scripture. And if, now, I direct my course according to these divine directions, the pretension to wish to restore everything is no wise hidden therein; but, from personal obedience and with thankful heart, I make use of the instructions which God has given for the last days in His precious word.
Altogether, the passage quoted enlightens us clearly as to whether a restoration will find place in the last days. But this know," says the apostle, "that in the last days perilous times shall come." (2 Tim. 3:1.) Then follows (vers. 2-5) a picture of the sad state of Christianity, become like heathenism. (Compare Rom. 1 with 2 Tim. 3) Will the church, then, not be roused again out of this state? No; it becomes worse and worse. (Ver. 13.) No trace is there of restoration. In 2 Thess. 2, we see that the apostasy comes, and the man of sin, the son of perdition, shall be revealed. (Ver. 3.) Will the apostasy have an end, or the man of sin be removed, by the renewed power of the gospel? By no means, Already in the time of the apostle the mystery of evil was at work. And this fire, glimmering in ashes, has developed " worse and worse," as the apostle foresaw, and will not be stayed until as soon as every hindrance is put out of the way, the " wicked one "shall be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming. (Vers. 7, 8.) Nowhere a thought of restoration.
Jude also teaches the same truth. In his letter we see that false brethren had crept in, of whom Enoch had prophesied: " Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints...." (Ver. 14.) They go the way of Cain, give themselves for reward to the errors of Balaam, and perish in the gainsaying of Korah. (Ver. 11.) That is the character of the evil in the last days, which already had begun in the days of the apostles. For in 1 John 2:1818Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18), we read, " Little children, it is the last time, and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." Already, then, as Peter teaches, had come the time of the judgment of God's house. (1 Peter 4:1717For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).) In short, everywhere we find witness to the apostasy, and nowhere a word of restoration, although already in the days of the apostles the principles of evil and of apostasy had penetrated into the church.
" Shall, then," one will perhaps ask, " the world not be filled by the knowledge of the Lord by the gospel of grace?" No. The gospel of the kingdom will indeed be preached amongst all nations, but then will the end come. (Matt. 24:1414And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14).) " The everlasting gospel" will be sent to every nation and every kindred and every tongue, with the announcement: "Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come." (Rev. 14:6, 76And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6‑7)) Then follows the destruction of Babylon, and finally the appearing of the Son of man on the cloud. But will not then the world generally be filled with the knowledge of the Lord? By all means. But how? By the gospel of grace? Not at all. There are in holy scripture three passages in which mention is made of this subject: Num. 14:2121But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. (Numbers 14:21); Isa. 11:99They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9); Hab. 2:1414For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14). But none of these passages speaks of grace: all speak of judgment; and in Isa. 26:9, 109With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. 10Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. (Isaiah 26:9‑10), it is said most precisely that the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness, when the judgments of God are in the earth, but that, though favor be shown to the wicked, "they will not learn righteousness." The reader will also see in Isa. 25:7-97And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. 8He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. 9And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:7‑9), that at the time when the vail that is spread over all nations is removed, the resurrection has taken place, and the Jewish people is restored in blessing.
It is therefore a lack of spiritual understanding, and of nothing short of obedience, to desire to restore everything, since for such a work not only there is no command, but holy scripture teaches exactly the reverse. It is not obedience to content oneself with christian parties, because scripture condemns them; it is not obedience to form a so-called assembly, and to be a member of it, because scripture knows only of members of the assembly as the body of Christ, but not member of an assembly, calling itself so-and-so; it is not obedience to elect or appoint elders, because this was in the New Testament never the act of the assemblies; it is not obedience to institute an office of preachers, because scripture knows not of such an office, but speaks only of gifts, which God bestowed, in order to serve the whole church therewith. But it is obedience, to keep aloof from a Christianity which has the form of godliness but denies the power, because scripture in 2 Tim. 3 expressly exhorts us to that; and it is obedience to assemble ourselves with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2), and not to neglect our coming together, because scripture enjoins it, and promises the precious and blessed presence of the Lord to all those who gather in His name.
Certainly a calm consideration of the word of God teaches us that the different communities which call themselves Independents, Baptists, &c., do not answer to the assemblies at the time of the apostles. For could the apostle indeed send to one of these assemblies an epistle addressed "To the assembly of God at N.," which of them would obtain the letter at the Post Office? If, on the other hand, I go no further than holy scripture allows me, I profess a principle which makes it a sacred duty for me to acknowledge as members of Christ all Christians—whether in the Baptist or Independent communities, or in the state church. And that I do with all my heart. I am fully convinced in respect of church questions they do not walk in paths marked out by the word of God, but that they are, notwithstanding, dear to the heart of the Lord; and I hope that in these lines I have said nothing whereby the heart of an upright brother could be wounded. If, nevertheless, it should be so, I beg beforehand for forgiveness.
The small space of these pages allowed of my briefly adducing, and by passages of scripture establishing, some elementary principles. It were to be wished that the writer of the article which occasioned this reply had, in like manner, fortified by the word of God the points he has brought in question. It does but remain for me to appeal to this word, alone infallible; and I hope that the brethren who heap so many charges upon us, will have recognized why we do not designate their path as the path of obedience. In my judgment, only a small measure of intelligence attaches to the pretension of desiring to restore everything as it was at the time of the apostles, to the recognition of something else than obedience. God has never laid down such a path. He does not improve the old man who has fallen, but introduces the "second man," and gives us a portion in His glory. He does not renew the Jews according to the old covenant, but we find, according to great patience, grace, and help, at the end judgment, in order afterward to establish with them the new covenant upon the ground of grace. And in respect of the church we can say: What Christ has built forever will endure forever, what is divine and heavenly will be indestructible; but wood, hay, and stubble, wherewith man has built, must perish in the fire.
J. N. D.