The Assembly of God, Its Present State and the Duties that Result: 5-10. If Restoration Cannot Be, What Is to Be Done?

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5. If Restoration Cannot Be, What Is To Be Done? (through 10)
It will be said that the word and the Spirit abide with the assembly. This is true, God be praised; it is this which gives all my confidence. To lean thereon is just what the assembly needs to learn. Therefore do I ask what the word and the Spirit say of the state of the assembly when fallen, in place of pretending to claim competency to make good what the Spirit has said of the primitive state of the assembly. I complain that people have followed the thoughts of men imitating what the Spirit describes as having existed in the primitive assembly, instead of seeking what the word and Spirit have said of our actual state.
The same word and the same Spirit which by Isaiah bade the inhabitants of Jerusalem remain quiet, and God would deliver them from the Assyrian, said by Jeremiah that he who would go out to the Chaldeans would save his life. What was faith and obedience in one of these cases was presumption and disobedience in the other. Will it be objected that this embroils the simple? I answer that those who would re-organize the assembly ought to be well taught in the word and to abstain from pleading such simplicity. The humbleness which feels the true state of the assembly, it may be added, would have been preserved from a pretension which reaches forward in an ill-founded activity.
The truth is that even those scriptures, which have been cited already, prove that the state of the economy at its close will be entirely opposed to that of its beginning. And the passage quoted from the Epistle to the Romans (11:22) is positive that God will cut off the economy, instead of restoring it, if it has not continued in His goodness. The passage “My Spirit remaineth among you; fear ye not” (Hag. 2:55According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. (Haggai 2:5)) is a very sure and precious principle. The presence of the Spirit is the keystone of all our hope. But this prophetic encouragement of Haggai never led Nehemiah, faithful to God when Israel returned from captivity, to pretend to do the work of Moses, who had been faithful in all His house (Heb. 3) at the beginning of that economy. No; he owns in the clearest and most touching terms the fallen state of Israel, and that they were “in great affliction.” He does all that the word authorized him to do in the circumstances wherein he found himself; but he never pretended to make an ark of the covenant as Moses had done and because Moses did so, nor to establish the Shechinah which God alone could do, nor Urim and Thummim, nor to arrange the genealogies as long as they had not Urim and Thummim. But we are told in the word that the enjoyed blessing which had not been since Joshua's time, because he was faithful to God in their actual circumstances, without pretending to do again what, Moses had done and what Israel had spoiled. If he had done so, it would have been human confidence and not obedience.
Obedience, not imitation of the apostles, is as to this our place. It is much more humbling; but at any rate it is more humble and sure; and this is all that I seek and ask—that the assembly be more humble. To be content with evil as if we could do nothing is not obedience; but no more is it to imitate the apostles. The conviction of the presence of the Holy Spirit delivers us at the same time from the bad thought of being obliged to abide in evil, and from the pretension to go beyond what the Holy Spirit is working at this moment; or from considering one or other of these positions a state of order.
Am I asked, Do you wish our arms to hang down and ourselves reduced to do nothing till we have apostles? By no means. I only doubt that it is God's will for you to do what the apostles have done; and I say that God has left to faithful Christians directions sufficient for the state of things in which the assembly is found. To follow His directions is to obey far more truly than if one try to imitate the apostles.
6. Direction Of The Spirit For The Present State Of Things
Besides, I say that the Spirit of God is always present to strengthen us in this way of true obedience. God's Spirit who foresaw all that was to befall the assembly has given in the word the warnings and at the same time the helps that are needful. If He warns us that difficult times would come in the last days, and if He describes the men of those times, He adds, From these turn away. If He says to me, Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14), and this warning is for all times; if He tells us that we, the many, are one body, for we are all partakers of the one bread; and if nevertheless I do not find a like union of the saints, He tells me at the same time that, where two or three are gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus, He is in the midst of them.
Those who would form assemblies appear, though with a good desire, to have entirely forgotten the need of power as well as of directions. When they tell us that all the directions for the assemblies are for all times and all places, I ask if they are for times and places when assemblies do not exist. And we always come back to this question: If the economy is in a state of ruin, who is to make assemblies? Once more, Is the direction, given by the apostle for the exercise of the gift of tongues, for our times? Undoubtedly if the gift exists; but this condition is purely a very important modification of your rule, and the very turning point of the question.
7. Does The Word Of God Authorize The Naming Of Presidents Or Pastors?
Those who are so strong for making and organizing assemblies quote with the most perfect confidence the Epistles to Timothy and Titus as serving for direction to the assemblies in all ages, whilst they were not addressed to any assembly whatever. Observe, that the quotations from God's word on matters of most moment for those who organize assemblies, such as the sanction of elders, deacons, &c. can be drawn from these Epistles only. And it is remarkable enough that the confidential companions of the apostle were left in the assemblies, or sent to them, when they already existed, to make these selections for them: a clear proof that the apostle could not confer that power on the assemblies, even when assemblies existed which he had formed himself. And yet this is presented as guidance for the assemblies in all ages!
8. The Children Of God Have Only To Meet, Relying On The Promise Of The Lord
To what end have I then pleaded? That nothing should be done? No; but in the desire that there should be less presumption; that there should be more modesty in what we pretend to do; and more sorrow at the state of ruin to which we have reduced the assembly.
If you tell me, “I have abandoned the evil which my conscience disapproves and which is contrary to the word,” well and good. If you insist on what the word of God wishes, that the saints should be one and united, on what it says that, where two or three are gathered together to the name of the Lord Jesus, He is in the midst of them, I repeat, well and good. But if you tell me that you have organized an assembly, or that you have united with others in order to do so, that you have chosen a president or a pastor, and that thus you are the assembly of God in the place, I would ask you: Dear friends, who has authorized your doing all that? Even according to your principle of imitation (though to imitate power is a very ridiculous idea, and “the kingdom of God is in power”), where do you find all that in the word? There I see no trace of the assembly having elected presidents or pastors. You say, For the sake of order it must be so. I answer that I cannot abandon the word or swerve from it. “He that gathereth not with me scattereth.” To say that it must be is only human reasoning. Your order, constituted by the will of man, will soon be found to be disorder before God. If two or three only are gathered together to the name of the Lord Jesus, there will He be found. If God raises up in your midst pastors, or if He sends them to you, it is well; for it is a great blessing. But, since the day when the Holy Ghost formed the assembly, nothing is found in the word as to the assembly choosing them.
What is to be done then? you will say to me. What faith is always to do; that is, to recognize its own weakness, and to put itself under dependence on God. God is enough at all times for His assembly. If you are only two or three, gather together; you will find Christ in your midst. Appeal to Him. He can raise up all that is necessary for the blessing of the saints, and most surely He will do it. It is not pride and pretension to be something when we are nothing which will assure us blessing. In how many places has not the blessing of the saints been injured by choosing presidents and pastors! In how many has not this been the occasion of the ruin of the presidents themselves! In how many places would not the saints have assembled with joy in virtue of the promise made by Christ to two or three, if they had not been frightened by this pretended necessity of organization, by the accusations of disorder.(as if man were wiser than God), and if this fear had not made them continue in a state of things which they recognized to be bad! And in these bodies which man had thus organized, one often ruled alone or several disputed. That which the church particularly needs is the sense of its ruin and of that which it lacks—a sense which makes it take refuge in God with confession which separates itself from all known evil, recognizing the Spirit of Christ as the only government of the assembly, and each of these He sends according to the gift he has received, and that with thanksgiving to Him who, by this gift, makes such and such a brother the servant of all.
To recognize the world as being the assembly or to, aim at re-establishing the assembly are two things equally condemned by the word and destitute of its authority.
If you say to me, What is to be done then? I answer, Why are you always thinking of doing something? To recognize the sin which has brought us where we are, to humble ourselves completely before the Lord, and, separating ourselves from all we know to be evil, to lean upon Him, who is able to do all that is necessary for our blessing, without aiming ourselves at doing anything above that which His word authorizes us to attempt—this is indeed a position truly humble, but, in proportion, blessed of God.
A point of the greatest importance, and one which those who wish to organize assemblies seem to have entirely forgotten, is that there is such a thing as power, and that the Holy Spirit alone can gather and edify the assembly. They seem to believe that; the moment they have a few passages of scripture, all they have to do is to follow them. But, under the appearance of faithfulness, there is this most fatal error: they put aside the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. We cannot follow the word but by the power of God. The constitution of the assembly was a direct effect of the power of the Holy Spirit. To lay aside this power while pretending, to copy the primitive assembly, is strange self-deception.
I know that those who consider these small organized bodies as the church of God, view every other meeting of God's children simply as an assembly of men. As to this there is a very simple answer. These brothers have no promise which authorizes them to re-form the assemblies of God when they are divided; whilst there is the positive promise that where two or three are gathered to the name of Jesus, He is in their midst. Thus there is no promise in favor of the system which organizes assemblies, whilst there is one for the despised gathering together of God's children.
And what is the effect of the pretensions of these bodies? It is to nourish pride in their presidents and in their members, and to disgust and repel those who compare these pretensions with the reality. And this hinders the desired result, which is the union of the children of God. In such or such a locality the gifts of the pastor may produce great effect; or it may happen that all the Christians are united, and there will be much joy. But the same thing would take place where there was no pretension to be the assembly of God.
9. Summary
I conclude by a few propositions—
1. The object to be desired is the gathering of all God's children.
2. The power of the Holy Spirit alone can effect this.
3. Any number of believers need not wait till that power produces the union of all, because they have the promise that, where two or three are gathered together to the name of the Lord, He will be in their midst; and two or three may act in reliance on this promise.
5. A commission from man to preach the gospel is unknown to the New Testament.
6. The choosing of presidents and pastors by the assembly is altogether unwarranted by the New Testament. The election of a president is merely human and quite unauthorized. It is a mere intervention of our willfulness in the concerns of God's assembly, an action pregnant with evil consequences. The choice of pastors is a daring encroachment on the Holy Spirit's rights who distributes according to His own will. Alas! for him who does not profit by the gift which God grants to another. When elders were appointed, it was either by the apostles, or by those whom they directed for the purpose to the assemblies. If the assembly is in ruin, even for such a state God is sufficient; who will lead on and guide His children if they walk in humility and obedience, without setting about a work to which God has not called them.
7. It is clearly the duty of a believer to separate from every act that he sees to be not according to the word, though bearing with him who unintelligently does so. And his duty requires this of him, even though his faithfulness should cause him to stand alone, and though, like Abram, he should be obliged to go out, not knowing whither he goes.
10. Conclusion
My design in these few pages has not been to show, either the ruined condition of the assembly, or yet that the present dispensation cannot be again set up, but rather to propose a question which usually is altogether misapprehended by those who undertake to organize churches. The ruin of the assembly has been briefly considered in another tract. But as a brother, to whom these pages were read, felt that this question of present ruin was awakened in his mind, and desired to have some proof to satisfy such as were in like manner exercised, I add a few sentences.
a. The parable of the wheat-and-tare field gives us the Lord's judgment on this point—that the evil wrought in the field where the good seed had been sown was not to be remedied but to continue until the harvest. Let it be borne in mind that the parable has nothing to do with discipline among God's children, but relates to the question of a remedy for evil brought in by Satan whilst men slept, and to the restoring the economy to its primitive footing. The question is decided with summary authority by the Lord in the negative; for He tells us that throughout its course no remedy shall be applied to the evil—that the time of the harvest, or the judgment at the end of the age, will extirpate it, and that till then the evil is to go on. Let us here call to mind that our separation from evil, and the enjoyment of Christ's presence with the “two or three,” are altogether distinct from the pretension to set up again this economy now that the evil is come in. The former is both a duty and a privilege; the latter is fruit of pride and neglect of the word.
b. Rom. 11, already quoted, expressly tells us that the present dispensation shall be dealt with like that which went before it, and that, if it continued not in God's goodness, it would be cut off, not restored.
c. 2 Thess. 2 teaches us that “the mystery of iniquity” was already working, and that, when an obstacle which then existed was to be taken out of the way, the “wicked one” would be revealed, whom the Lord is to consume with the breath of His mouth and to destroy with the manifestation of His coming. Thus the evil that began in apostolic days was to continue, ripen and manifest itself, when it would be consumed by the Lord's appearing.
d. 2 Tim. 3 shows the same thing, that is, the ruin (not the restoration) of the dispensation; for in the last days perilous times are to comb and men be lovers of their own selves (from whom the Spirit calls us to “turn away"), evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
e. Jude also shows that the evil which had already crept into the assembly would be the object of judgment when the Lord came (compare verses 4 and 14); and this awful truth is confirmed by the analogy of all the ways of God with man. For man has perverted and corrupted what God had given him for his blessing; and God has never repaired the evil, but brought forth something better after judging the iniquity. And this better thing has been in its turn corrupted, until at length everlasting blessing is brought in. When the economy was a revelation to sinners, God gathered a feeble remnant of believers from among the unbelieving, and transferred them into that new blessing which He established instead of what had been corrupted; as for example the residue of Jews into the assembly at Pentecost, and so on. So in Rom. 11 we are taught that the Lord will similarly deal with the present dispensation.
f. The same thing is seen in the Revelation. As soon as “the things that are,” or the seven churches, are brought to a close, the prophet is taken to heaven: and all that follows has to do, not with anything acknowledged as an assembly, but with divine providence in the world.
I have done no more than refer to a few express passages; but the more God's word is studied, the more do we find this solemn truth confirmed. I say then, Do all that you can, but pretend not to do what exceeds that which the Lord has given you, which would but betray the pretensions and the weaknesses of the flesh. Humility of heart and spirit is the sure way not to be found fighting against the truth; for God giveth grace to the humble. May His name of grace and mercy be forever blessed! J. N. D.