“the Brethren” Their Origin, Progress, and Testimony

BRETHREN,
Suffer a word of exhortation! The Lord has a controversy with us! At the very moment when we are calling ourselves “The Brethren,” and speaking of our origin, progress, and testimony, the Lord is shaking us to our very center. I am afraid many of us have no higher thought, corporately, than that we belong to the Brethren, who began fifty years ago, and when we compare such a thought with Scripture we cannot find it, except as 1 Cor. 1 shows it to be, a wretched sectarian thought — human wisdom which needs to be judged by the cross. In our conversation together we talk lightly of the sectarian name, Plymouth Brethren, put upon us, and soon, I am afraid, we shall go further and accept it, as a matter of little consequence — it is only a name! Suffice it to say that 1 Cor. 1 utterly condemns it; it strikes at the root of the fundamentals of Christianity, and is a copy of the human wisdom of the Greek philosophers (see chaps. 1 and 2 of 1st Corinthians). It strikes at the root of the true nature of the Church as shown forth in ch. 3. Of God we are in Christ Jesus, who of Him is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor.1:30). We do not belong to a teacher or a company of teachers, however blessed, but we belong to the Temple of God, and the Holy Spirit of God dwells in it. We are not “The Brethren” (called Plymouth Brethren by sectarians and the world in reproach) who had their origin fifty years ago; but we are “Brethren” amongst the many brethren of God’s large family which existed before; who, by God’s grace, have been delivered from the Church’s Babylonish captivity of many years, and have returned to the original ground, seated in heavenly places in Christ, to confess the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the source of unity, the God and Father of the whole family of God scattered or gathered (Eph. 1:1-181Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4According 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. 7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8Wherein 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: 10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. 15Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:1‑18)); to confess Christ as the Head of His body (Eph. 1:19-23; 2:1-1819And 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: 22And 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 1:19‑23)
1And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4But 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: 7That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. 11Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Ephesians 2:1‑18)
); and to confess the Holy Ghost as the Builder and Inhabitant of the house of God (Eph 2:19-2219Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20And 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: 22In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19‑22)). Our origin is not of teachers, however blessed and owned of God, who were used mightily of Him fifty years ago to revive truths long buried amidst the rubbish of the professing Church, but of the God who called Peter, Andrew, and John by His sovereign grace (John 1); who delivered Christ up to death for our offences, and raised Him for our justification (Rom. 4:2525Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:25)); and who afterwards called Saul of Tarsus from the glory, delivered him out of the Jewish and Gentile world which had rejected Christ, and sent him forth from the glory as one united to Christ, to bear witness of His glory and of the union of the saints with Him as His body and bride. Our position is not in a body that had its origin fifty years ago, but in the Christ who, after telling Mary the new relationship formed in the words,
came into the midst of His assembled brethren, and breathed the peace upon them which He had made for them when He died on the cross, and of which He gave a proof to them in His wounded hands and side. We are in the Christ who breathed peace the second time upon them, as the Son sent from the Father, breathing into them His own life of resurrection, thus connecting them with Himself as the risen Head of the new creation. We are in the Christ who, after this, ascended up on High as man, and sent down the Holy Ghost, as the promise of the Father, to dwell in them. So that now the new fully-established family of God could each, individually and mutually, cry, “Abba, Father!” (John 20:19-2219Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (John 20:19‑22); Acts1:4).
At the same time the Holy Ghost baptized them all into one body, and builded them together to be His habitation on earth. Such is our origin, such is our position! To this family, and to this body, and to this house alone do we belong, and to this we are called to bear testimony, as well as to the One who is the God and Father of it. Oh, noble origin! oh, high descent! Brethren, forget it not; let no man take your crown!
The progress of the Church of God I trust you know well, I need not dwell on it. It spread wonderfully, but, alas! as it spread it declined. Zealous about putting away evil, alas! it left its first love, and the candlestick was threatened to be removed. The evil, stayed for awhile by persecution, broke out afresh in the Church getting joined to the world, by the hired leaders of Christendom. An evil system then sprang up in the very midst of the House of God, teaching idolatry — Babylonish captivity spread over the Church. The truth of the real unity of the body of Christ, and the coming of the Lord, was lost, and all was midnight darkness. The cry of the Reformation sounded and there was a partial coming out, but again lapsing into a name to live and moral death reigning over the profession. Then the Holy and True One’s voice was heard, and a remnant of the sheep followed, and returned to Christ alone. But, brethren, remember, it was a remnant coming back, and not the whole. We are “brethren,” a returned remnant come back to Christ, but not “the brethren,” much less “Plymouth Brethren,” as a new body. Such has been the sad history of “the brethren” and of the House of God. And remember that there is a sad future before the house of God. Laodicean lukewarmness is to follow, and to run on parallel with, Philadelphian trueheartedness to Christ, till He comes. What is the great distinguishing mark between the two circles? It is thus with Philadelphians; Christ is all, and His Word; with Laodiceans, “the brethren” are all, as they say,
There is such a thing as an ugly corporate I, which needs judging by 1 Cor. 1, as well as the individual I, the old man of Romans.
Oh, then, let your testimony be simply Christ and His Word, leaving nothing out, not neglecting Peter’s testimony about the rejected Jesus, now exalted, and going to sit on David’s throne, made Lord and Christ, in the meantime, giving salvation and remission of sins (see Acts 2:30-38; 4:10-12; 5:30-3230Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:30‑38)
10Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. 11This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10‑12)
30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. (Acts 5:30‑32)
); and thus establishing the kingdom of heaven in its present shape : holding fast Paul’s testimony, as blessedly many of you do, proclaiming an opened heaven, the second man seated there, righteousness and the Spirit ministered from thence, and the Holy Ghost come down uniting believers to Christ in heaven, and to one another on earth, with the blessed hope of the return of the Son of God from heaven, the Bridegroom of His Church, to introduce her into the Father’s house before the judgments, and then to return with Him to reign over the restored earth. Brethren, let its not talk of, our testimony, but proclaim it as the testimony of God, and we shall continue to have the Holy and the True One’s smile. The love of the brethren, Philadelphia, will reign really in our midst, and towards all the scattered brethren; we shall continue to get the open door which no man can shut, and we shall be the only circle of people that, as a corporate thing, will escape the judgments. Philadelphia will cease to exist on the earth when the Lord Jesus Christ returns (see Rev. 3:1010Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (Revelation 3:10)). Oh! hold fast the name of Christ; don’t let a false, presumptuous name be put upon you. The beautiful name of Christ the Holy One and True is sufficient, who is not ashamed to call us “His brethren”—but, remember! amongst many other scattered ones, as much “brethren” as ourselves, though not manifesting it together. Again I say, suffer the word of exhortation, and may the faithful God lift up the light of His countenance who hath called us unto the fellowship of His Son. Such is our origin, which, if we are a true witness, we shall bear witness to; such has been the progress of the Church to which we belong, and such is its testimony. But we are only “brethren” (amongst many others who are scattered) who have returned to Christ, to bear testimony to the grace that has called us back, and bears with the whole, and that will bring every brother, scattered or gathered, “the brethren,” to glory.