“the Brethren” Their Origin, Progress, and Testimony

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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. 1:1-18); to confess Christ as the Head of His body (Eph. 1:19-23; 2:1-18); and to confess the Holy Ghost as the Builder and Inhabitant of the house of God (Eph 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. 4:25); 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,
I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God (John 20:17-20),
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 20:19-22; 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,
I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing {Rev. 3:17}.
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; 5:30-32); 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. 3:10). 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.