The Step I Have Taken - Letters to a Friend...

... on Taking His Place With So-Called "Brethren"

Edward Dennett

Explanatory

The following letters, by the permission of the friend to whom they are addressed, were not sent until they had been printed. When his loving remonstrance first arrived, the writer intended to reply immediately; but as many other letters of a like nature, as well as personal inquiries, came from many quarters, it became convenient to adopt the printed form. They are now published for several reasons: first, to explain the step the writer has taken; secondly, to remove misconception; and, thirdly, to announce authoritatively the withdrawal of his pamphlet against “Brethren," referred to in the letters. The grounds of this withdrawal may be briefly stated. The writer made the discovery, that some of the sources of his information, on which he had relied when the pamphlet was written, were untrustworthy; further and more authentic information concerning some of the circumstances with which he had dealt, constrained him to interpret them in a wholly different manner; an examination of the citations, which he had adduced in support of his statements, in their context convinced him that he had imposed a meaning upon them foreign to their writers' intention; and, lastly, a prolonged reconsideration of some of the views which he had condemned led him to the conclusion that they were scriptural. Under these circumstances, the writer did but obey the directions of the word of God, and the dictates of conscience in confessing his error; and he cannot but hope that the publication of these letters will, to some extent at least, nullify the effects of the pamphlet.

He has been somewhat surprised to find that in several cases his pamphlet has been circulated, no doubt unwittingly, since its withdrawal has been announced. For he feels sure that no one, whatever his position or views, would use or circulate knowingly that which its author, in the interests of truth, has been compelled to retract.

He need scarcely add that if the Lord should condescend to use these letters in guiding any believers (however few) into a right path and position, he could not be sufficiently grateful. May they indeed be used for His own glory in the welfare of His saints.

Blackheath, 1875.

 

Preface to this edition

The author, in sending out the third edition, begs to call attention to the first sentence in the preface. For while he has nothing to alter in the interests of accuracy, he desires that it should be understood that the friend to whom the letters are addressed is not in any way responsible for the statements made, or for the conclusions drawn.

Thankful for the wide acceptance which has been vouchsafed to his feeble effort to call attention to forgotten truths, the author desires to commend it anew to the blessing of God.

 

 

Letter 1

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

Your letter was so full of gentle and loving remonstrances, and our friendship has been so intimate, that it is due to you that I should explain somewhat more in detail the grounds of the change I have made in my position. And since there are many others who are asking how it is that I, who some years ago wrote a pamphlet against "the Brethren," have so changed my "views" as to become identified with them, you will not, I am sure, object to my addressing them through you. It is, indeed, due no less to the "Brethren" than to my friends to give some account of the way by which I have been led.

First of all, however, permit me to recall our past association. Some six years have now elapsed since our friendship was formed-a friendship that has continued without even a passing shadow, and which grew ever deeper and more intimate with the lapse of time-no small evidence, I think, that the blessing of the Lord was resting upon it. Its very commencement was a prediction of its nature and character; for it sprang out of fellowship in what we, at that time, held to be the truth, and until the other day our position, both as regards truth and denominationalism, was almost identical. What then, let me ask, was that position? Nominally we were Baptist ministers, but in spirit, and also in practice, we were outside of the Baptist denomination altogether, so much so that we not only disliked, but we very often refused, the appellation of Baptist ministers. And wherefore? Because we had been emancipated from the trammels of theology, and had been led to prize the Scriptures as the veritable word of God; and hence, having been taught something of the truth as to the dispensations, the distinctive position of the Church of God, and teaching, as we did, the true doctrine of the believer's standing before God through death and resurrection with Christ, the heavenly nature of our calling; the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the return of the Lord for His saints before the millennium, and the Messiah's glorious millennial reign, etc., we found ourselves entirely out of harmony with our fellow-ministers (so much so that we were afraid to ask them to preach in our pulpits, lest they should contradict our own teaching), and in conscientious dissent from all denominationalism whatsoever; for, with the truths we held, we could not heartily support " our societies;" we were constrained to stand entirely aloof from the political proceedings of so many of the denominational gatherings, and we had no sympathy with the plans for denominational extension which were so often discussed. The consequence was that you and myself, when present, were alone in these meetings, and we were very strongly suspected (as many would phrase it) of a tendency toward "Brethrenism." Our position was well known, and our isolation was nearly complete.

The effect of this was that we gave ourselves more heartily to the work of the Lord, striving to fence off our people as much as possible-though the task was very difficult—from denominational influences, to train them to study the Scriptures for themselves, and to build them up in the truth of God. The Lord graciously blessed our labours, encouraging us by many tokens of His favour. Indeed, up to the end of 1872 we both had abundant cause for gratitude; for scarcely a month ever passed without our having to rejoice over souls brought to Christ under the preaching of the gospel. How often did we at that time pour out our hearts together before the Lord, in gratitude for His great condescension in using us for His glory! And you will bear me witness that in all our prayers our one desire was to become "vessels sanctified and meet for the Master's use." And while we were speaking our prayers were heard; for I cannot but see in the experiences of the last two years the answer to our cries. Our hope was to continue with our people, and to have increasing blessing resting upon us and our labours in their midst. But we had prayed for greater consecration, and we were shutting our eyes to the fact that there were things connected with our position which were not according to the mind of God (and there were some things, in my teaching at least, which were not according to the Scriptures). Hence, if our prayers were to be answered, it could only be by separating us from all, whether in position or in teaching, which was evil before the Lord; and so it came to pass that He answered us according to His own thoughts of love, and not according to our desires.

Believe me, dear brother,

Yours affectionately in Christ,

E. D.

 

Letter 2

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

How merciful it is of the Lord to conceal from us the future; for I am afraid that, if we had seen the character of the path by which we were about to be led, our prayers would have died away upon our lips. How, then, did the Lord deal with us in answer to our prayers? In both cases it was by sickness. I was the first to be smitten down. This was in October, 1872; but having somewhat recovered, I struggled on with my work until March, 1873; and I may perhaps add, that this period of weakness was more fruitful of blessing, in the conversion of souls, than any former period of my ministry. It was, therefore, my earnest desire to remain at my post; but the Lord's design was to send me away into the desert for a long season of heart-searching in His presence.

For now, breaking utterly down, I was sent away for a six months' sojourn on the Continent; and this period was extended to thirteen months before I returned. And though the Lord has now separated me from my people[1],  it is my joy to recall all the tender affection with which they throughout this period ministered to my need. May the Lord abundantly recompense them, inasmuch as they did it as unto Himself in the person of His servant, and "supply all their need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."  (Phil. 4:19.)

Before, however, I enter upon my exercises of soul during my sojourn in Switzerland, let me anticipate some few months. Not long after I had departed, your health also began to fail, and finally you had to succumb; and yielding to medical advice you likewise were sent away to the Continent. I need not recall to your mind how unexpectedly we met at Lausanne, or the pleasure we had the day we spent together at Veytaux. But you will not forget, how deeply I was impressed with the coincidences in the Lord's dealing with us, and how consequently I suggested for our consideration, whether there might not have been something in our position and teaching which had brought upon us loving chastisement from the hand of the Lord, and whether therefore it might not be the Lord's design to correct us on these points, and to lead us into a fuller apprehension of His truth, and a position more in accordance with His mind and will.

But this very question had sprung out of much previous self-examination and self- judgment It is only natural to the child of God that the time of affliction should be a time of searching of heart; and, accordingly, no sooner had I reached the Continent than, in my daily walks and during my sleepless nights, the question which continually presented itself to my soul was this, What is the Lord's purpose in this affliction? or, What does He thereby design to teach me? And, by His grace, I was resolved not to rest until He had been pleased to reveal to me the meaning of His chastening hand; and hence I examined and re-examined my past modes of work, the truths I had taught, whether from the pulpit or by the pen, and the position which I had occupied. Let me, then, detail as briefly as possible the results of my investigation.

At the very outset, my tractate against "the Brethren" engaged my anxious consideration. Very soon after it was issued, I regretted its publication. The reason of my regret then was, that while I at the time believed all that I had written, I could not but entertain the most sincere esteem for such of the "Brethren" as I knew. I could not fail to admire their separateness of walk, their simplicity of life, and their love for the word of God and the person of our blessed Lord; and oftentimes I felt most acute sorrow that I had wounded such, and that by my book I had shut myself out from all fellowship with them. Besides this, I sometimes suspected whether I had dealt quite fairly with them in criticizing detached quotations; whether, in fact, I had conscientiously sought to ascertain their real meaning, and to test it by the Scriptures. The consequence was, that I had long since, before leaving England, ceased to have it advertised (I had never allowed it to be advertised in a local publication with the rest of my books), and had more recently determined that it should be discontinued. But now, after having an opportunity of more authentic information upon many of the points on which I had dwelt, and having been compelled to renounce, after again searching the Scriptures, some of the doctrines which I had therein advocated, I was compelled not only to resolve that the book should be withdrawn, but also to confess that I could no longer adhere to all the statements therein contained. And I further resolved, that on the first opportunity I would state this much publicly, and express my sorrow for its publication, on my resumption of work.

Next in order I examined my practice in the light of my teaching. Had I in this respect been consistent? Very sorrowfully, I was soon compelled to admit some important discrepancies. Thus I had held for many years that believers should be gathered as such on the Lord's-day to "break bread," and had often stated this from the pulpit; so also I thoroughly held the evil of pew-rents, etc.; for, apart from their unscriptural character, I had often noticed that poor believers were compelled to sit anywhere and everywhere, however uncomfortable it might be, because that unbelievers who could pay had the option of choosing pews. I had frequently stated my convictions on these points, and had satisfied myself with my testimony. Here was the failure. I was responsible for the truth which the Lord revealed to me, and hence I was bound in faithfulness to Him to seek to carry it out in action. This I had neglected; but now He gave me grace to confess my error, and to seek strength for faithfulness on my return.

After this I tested the doctrines I had preached by the light of the Scriptures; and here also I discovered grounds for regret. I had, as already stated, in the pamphlet to which I have referred, as well as from the pulpit, advocated the mortality of the Lord's human body-in the sense of being under the necessity of death-though, I can truthfully say, that I was not aware at that time of the nature of the errors with which this doctrine had been associated, or I should have shrunk from them with horror. Further study of the word of God now showed me that I had been hasty in my conclusions; that indeed the Lord's human body was mortal, but only in the sense of being capable of dying, AND NOT IN ANYWISE AS BEING UNDER THE NECESSITY OF DEATH; for to maintain the latter would be, as I was now convinced, to assail the very foundations of the atoning sacrifice.

The coming of the Lord Jesus for His saints also occupied my attention. Together with yourself, I had maintained that, while His coming would be premillennial, there were necessarily intervening events before the rapture of the saints, and hence that the Church would have to pass through the final tribulation, and be therefore on the earth during the power and sway of Antichrist. I devoted the whole winter, more or less, to the reconsideration of this subject; and as the Lord so ordered it, I was brought into contact at Veytaux with other Christians, and we searched the Scriptures together upon this question. You will not expect that I should set forth the steps by which I finally arrived at the conclusion that the Church will not be in the tribulation; but I may just say that the perception that Matt. 24 does not apply to the Church, and a closer study of the Apocalypse, largely contributed to this issue. It was, however, with no small delight that I saw it to be the believer's blessed privilege to live daily in the expectation of his Lord's return; for, indeed, I had long had a secret conviction that, unless it were so, many of the exhortations of Scripture as to waiting and watching had lost their force, and that such a hope and expectation must exert, in the power of the Holy Spirit, a most blessed and sanctifying influence upon the believer's soul. (See 1 John 3:2, 3.)

The effect of my change of view on this subject was to modify several other points. It brought into clearer light the nature and calling of the Church, the contrast between the earthly hope of the Jew, and the heavenly hope of the believer, the kingdom and the Church, and led to the readjustment of related truths. But further than this I did not at that time go; and I can truly say that the above represents the extent of my change of view during my residence on the Continent. For though during the winter, at Bible-readings and in conversations with Christian friends, I had many discussions, and sometimes found it difficult to defend the " church" practices with which I was associated, I yet clung most tenaciously to my position. With the exceptions named, therefore, the close of the winter found me very much where I was before; for I had not altered any fundamental principle-anything at least which affected my continuance at the post which I had held for so many years. And if I had entertained any doubts of this kind, the prospect, now dawning upon me, of returning to my beloved people would have scattered them, and re-established my confidence. When finally, therefore, we started on our homeward way, the only fear I had was, whether, though I was much better, my health was sufficiently restored to enable me to resume my long-interrupted work. But I will leave the account of my return until my next letter. In the meantime believe me, beloved brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

 

Letter 3

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

On the 6th of May we landed once more upon the shores of England; and on the 24th it was arranged for me to recommence my ministry. As, however, I was still far from strong, my beloved people kindly consented for me to preach but once on the Lord's- day; and through the tender mercy of our God and Father, I was enabled to do this much with comparative ease, and with no little joy. Perhaps, never in my past experience did I realize so much of the presence of God, and the power of the Spirit in preaching the word, as after my return. The reason, no doubt, was, that never were so many prayers offered as now that the Lord's strength might be made perfect in my weakness, and truly those prayers were abundantly answered.

But notwithstanding all these happy experiences, new evidences of the Lord's faithfulness and tender love, the Lord was about to appear on the scene and constrain me to retire from my work. Scarcely, indeed, had I settled down before indications began to appear that it was not His will that I should continue at my post. You, beloved brother, are acquainted with the peculiar path by which I was led, and therefore know that I scarcely took a step of my own will, but that when I acted it was because there were influences from without which compelled me to do so. It thus came to pass, owing to circumstances over which I had no control, that I summoned a meeting of believers, and read to them a paper in which I embodied the leading truths which I at that time held. I read the paper to you before I carried it to the meeting, but I will insert a part of it here, as it will serve to explain very accurately the gradual nature of the change which finally I was led to make. After some personal references, I proceeded as follows:

"I am said to have taught Plymouth' doctrines last Lord's-day week. Now it so happens that on two occasions before I have expressed exactly the same views; and then, as far as I know, not a single complaint was made. Be this as it may, the question resolves itself simply into this, Did I proclaim truth or error? For because the Catholics hold the divinity of the Lord Jesus, am I to reject this most true and blessed doctrine? But I am free to confess that I do largely agree with the doctrines usually associated with ' Brethren.' When I commenced my ministry here, now thirteen years and a half ago, I was a great student, and read many books. But gradually the Lord opened my eyes to see that, with the Holy Spirit as guide and teacher, the Bible is all-sufficient for the instruction of the man of God  (John 14:16, 17; 16:13); and thus my books became fewer and fewer, until now, for some years past, the Scriptures have been my chief companion, and certainly my only text- book for the pulpit. The result was that I had to reject most of, if not all, the views which had previously been instilled into my mind; and I was soon compelled to confess that many of the doctrines of Brethren ' were according to the mind of God. For instance, I could not but see that it is right to meet as Christians to break bread on the Lord's-day. Again, in regard to dispensational truth, though hitherto I have differed from them on some material points, I could not but agree with `Brethren' in their general outline, as for example in the premillennial advent of Christ (speaking now of the general doctrine and not of its details); in the first resurrection of believers, and the rapture of the saints; in their association with Christ in the glories of His millennial reign; in the restoration and conversion of the Jews, and in the conversion of the world, not by the preaching of the gospel before the second advent, but after the Lord's return, when 'He will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent.'  (Zeph. 3:9.) I agree also with them, speaking generally, in their teaching on the standing and walk of believers, separation from the world, the indwelling Spirit, etc. At the same time, I have differed from them on other points; for had I not, I hope I should have had grace to unite with them; for I hesitate not to declare to you that if I had been fully convinced of the ground they take as to worship and ministry, it would have been my pleasure, I trust, to seek to glorify God by obedience to His will.

"I will go farther. I have often said in conversation with friends that under some circumstances I would rather be with Brethren ' than with other Christians; for even now were I in a place where no definite truth was taught, I should at once seek the privilege of fellowship with them in the breaking of bread.'

"Once more, I have often expressed regret that I ever wrote my tractate against Brethren,' a regret which some in fellowship with us felt at the time of its publication. The reason was that I soon found that Unitarians, clergymen, and other ministers, with whom I had not the least sympathy, were using my book as an auxiliary to their cause; and I felt therefore that I was in the wrong camp, that I must have fallen into error. It was also cited in newspapers and reviews in support of views from which I entirely dissented; and hence I cannot but express my deep sorrow (though at the time it embodied my sincere convictions) that I ever published it. For in these days of worldliness and error I would far rather see Christians with Brethren' than in the Establishment, or with many Independents and Baptists; and I take this opportunity of saying that I could not now adhere to the statements and views which my book contains."

Such, dear brother, was the substance of the paper which I read on that occasion; but I added to it the announcement that, as my teaching had been called in question, I should "resign my pastorate" at the end of September. I returned home that evening with more joy of soul than I had experienced for some time past; for I felt that the Lord had opened a door for me to declare plainly all the truth that I held. And I was sure that, whatever might be the trials of faith connected with my separation from my people, He who had spoken so plainly to me would give me grace to be faithful, that He would strengthen His feeble servant for the testimony to which he might be called, and enable him still to follow on, though the character of the path on which he was entering was at that time entirely concealed.

Believe me, beloved brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

Letter 4

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

The effect of the meeting which I described in my last letter was as unexpected as it was wonderful. I felt like a bird which has just escaped from the snare of the fowler-so great was the liberty and freedom of soul on which I was entered. More than this-there was another consequence. Truths which my mind, if I may so speak, had previously held in solution were, by the influence of this meeting, precipitated in solid forms, and they glistened in my eyes like newly-discovered treasures. And hence, when I was still urgently entreated by many friends to remain with my people, as I was continually, both by letter and in personal conversation, with the assurance that I might preach any and all things which the Lord had revealed to me, I could not for one moment entertain the thought. My heart yearned over the souls which had been given me in the gospel; the ties which Christian fellowship had formed drew me very close to many believers amongst the people; temporal maintenance seemed, humanly speaking, bound up with my continuance at my post; but all these things together could not draw me back, or compel me to recall the word I had spoken. The fact was, having uttered the truths as expressed in my paper, I felt that I could never more consent to hold them in subordination; and I began to long after a position which could bear the test and application of the word of God. One thing more followed. Having expressed in public my regret for the publication of my book, I felt that I was bound to say as much to those against whom it was written. Accordingly I wrote a brief letter to Mr. Kelly-as one well known amongst “Brethren"-stating what I had done, and expressing my sorrow that I had written and published the pamphlet.

This done, I was entirely free from all entanglements, and I now determined, by the help of God, to bring the light of Scripture to bear upon everything connected with my position, that I might obtain guidance for my future path; for as yet all was uncertainty beyond the truths I have named (i.e. as to the exact position I should take on my separation from my people). Several distinct paths opened up before me, with many promises of support, which I gratefully record, but my only desire now was to know the will of the Lord.

The first thing that demanded my attention and examination was The Ministry as exercised amongst Dissenters[2]. This sentence recalls a strange incident. Some eight or nine years ago I wrote a pamphlet under this title, and actually took it to my publishers, but afterward decided that it should not be issued; for I shunned the controversy which might be awakened, as many of the statements there made would bear a very distinct resemblance to some that will follow in this letter.

You, dear brother, and myself have been for years past in the public estimation (though I admit, as I have said already, that we were both unwilling to accept the appellation) Dissenting ministers. How did we come to occupy this position? That no mistakes may be made, I will answer only for myself. After I had confessed Christ I became possessed of an ardent desire to "enter the ministry." I was young and uninstructed, and, according to the practice of the denomination, naturally turned my eyes to one of the colleges for the needful preparation. Recommended by two ministers (though I had never preached but once, and then not in their hearing), I obtained admission, and, after the customary probation, was received for the usual curriculum of four years. I studied most diligently, but not the Scriptures, though these had their place, if subordinate to that of other studies. In fact I began to study under tutorial advice with a view to the B.A. degree in the London University. I matriculated at the end of the first session; was prepared for the B.A. at the end of the third; but, while waiting for the examinations in October, was seized with typhus fever, and was consequently unable to proceed to my degree. After some months of weakness, I recovered, through the blessing of God; and, then, some six months were all that remained of my term for study. At the end of three out of these six months I was invited to preach on probation, at the end of which "the church" was convened to discuss my merits as a preacher, etc., and then by vote I was unanimously elected to be their pastor. In the same way I was elected to the pastoral office at L. R.

Now I will not here enter upon an examination of the mode of preparing young men for the ministry, though I am sure you would agree with me that it is fraught with evils of the worst possible kind, and utterly unwarranted by Scripture, as well as singularly unadapted to secure the end proposed; but I shall confine myself to one question, Is there any Scripture authority for the election of a pastor or minister (either term is in use among Dissenters) by the vote of the church? This, indeed, was the question which, with Bible in hand, I sought to answer.

The first passage to which I turned was Acts 6; and there we do find something like an election of “church” officers by the believers in fellowship. (v. 5.) But may I ask you to note several things? First, that though they were chosen by the multitude, it was by direction of the apostles; and that the appointment was confirmed, if indeed not made, by the apostles. (v. 6.) Secondly, that though they were chosen by the multitude, the word used to indicate the act of their choice is not the peculiar word on which the vote-by-suffrage theory is founded. It isἐξελέξαντο, which indicates simple selection. Thirdly, that the officers chosen were not elders or bishops; they were appointed solely for the purpose of attending to the daily ministration of relief to widows-of serving tables. (vv. 1-3.) It is true that we find Stephen afterward preaching the word in the power of the Holy Ghost; but no one contends that this was in consequence of his appointment "to serve tables." There is, therefore, nothing whatever in this chapter that bears upon the election of "pastors" or "ministers."

The next passage to which I turned was Acts 14:23, which is certainly more to the point. We read there that Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church." I say that this passage is more to the point, because it is well known that "elders" and "bishops" are synonymous in the Scriptures, or rather, that these two terms indicate the same office; and that the office of the Dissenting minister is supposed, indeed held, to correspond with that so designated, The proof that the two terms indicate the same office is found in Acts 20 In verse 17 it is said that Paul "sent for the elders (πρεσβυτέρους) of the church." In addressing them, he says in verse 28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers" (ἐπισκόπους); i.e. bishops. If these, then, were appointed by the suffrages of the church, then there may be a show of justification for the practice of Dissenters. Turning, then, back to Acts 14:23, let us see what is the exact word employed. It is χειροτονήσαντες δὲ αὐτοῖς πρεσβυτέρους-that is, literally, "having appointed them elders." Now it is contended, and until now I had received it on the authority of others, that the word translated "appointed" - "ordained" in the authorized version-means appointed by the vote of the church;' in other words, that the radical idea of the word is " to hold up the hand," and hence, that the church first selected these elders by vote, and that then the apostles appointed them, or confirmed or ratified the choice which the church had made. Conceding for one minute that this might be the meaning of the word employed, I yet ask you, dear brother, if this is the usual method of interpreting language? For you will see from the context that the participle translated above, "having appointed," refers solely to the action of the apostles, and that the pronoun rendered "them" refers to the disciples "in every church." It is very evident, therefore, that, whatever the word may exactly mean, we are here told of something which the apostles did on behalf of the churches. Or, if you insist that the word does convey the meaning of the exercise of suffrage on the part of the church, I should at once reply, on the authority of this passage, that if the church voted, there could be no valid appointment apart from the presence and action of the apostles.

But is this the meaning of the word? As far as I know, the same word only occurs in two other places in the New Testament-once in the same form, and once compounded with a preposition of time (προ)-which leaves the meaning of the word untouched. The first of these passages is 2 Cor. 8:19, where we read, "And not that only" (the apostle is speaking of the brother whose praise in the gospel was throughout all the churches), "but who was also chosen" (the word translated "ordained" in the former passage) "of the churches to travel with us with this grace," etc. In this place it is the action of the churches in appointing; but we have nothing but the word itself to indicate the mode of appointment, and then you will perceive that it is not the appointment of an elder, but simply of one who was sent by the churches to act with the apostle in the administration of their benefactions-a wholly different thing. Let us, then, turn to the other passage: it is Acts 10:40, 41. There we have these words: " Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen" (the same word) "before of God," etc. Is not the use of the word in this place decisive as to its meaning? For used as it is here in connection with God, it is impossible to attach any idea to it beyond that of selection or appointment; and hence this passage, concerning which there can be no possible doubt as to the sense in which the word is employed, should govern our interpretation of that which from the very nature of the case is so doubtful. For I repeat that the word is used only in one place in connection with the appointment of elders, or bishops-the office which is claimed to be held by Dissenting ministers-and even in that place the action in the word is ascribed, not to the churches, but to the apostles. Can any unprejudiced mind, therefore, refuse to concede that the Scriptures have actually no proof whatever of the election of "ministers" (elders) by the suffrages of the church? that there is nothing, no idea contained in the use of the word, beyond that of simple appointment? and hence that the elders in the passage referred to were appointed by the apostles? Speaking for myself, this was the conclusion which the word of God compelled me most reluctantly to admit. Nor could I gain any comfort from the apostle Paul's direction to Titus-" Ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee "  (Titus 1:5); for, first, the word " ordain " is not the same as that already discussed; it isκαταστήσης, which signifies "to constitute," or "establish;" and secondly, what Titus did, he did only under the direction and authority of the apostle.

You have then, dear brother, the results of my investigation, and my conclusion that the mode of our appointment is wholly without the sanction or authority of the Scriptures. If you would like to pursue this subject more minutely, let me recommend to you a pamphlet, entitled Ministry of the Word, Eldership and the Lord's Supper, by Richard Holden (Broom); and Lectures on the Church of God, by W. Kelly (Broom). And after you have read these, I could not recommend you to a better book (though on the other side) for confirmation of their exposition than Davidson's Ecclesiastical Polity. But you will find, I doubt not, the Scriptures amply sufficient to show the correctness of the conclusions I have deduced.

There remain other aspects of the subject which I hope to deal with in my next letter. In the meantime believe me, beloved brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

Letter 5

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

For the sake of perspicuity, it may be well to sum up in a distinct form the conclusions of my last letter-changing only the order, for the clearer display of the teaching of Scripture-before I proceed with the remaining part of the subject. We saw then-

1. That the Scripture contains only one instance of an absolute appointment by the church; and that, in this case, it was not an elder, but simply a brother who was delegated by several churches to accompany the apostle, with a view to the administration of their benefactions.  (2 Cor. 8:18, 19.)

2. That there is only one instance of the selection of “church-officers” by the church, and that the duty of these officers was to "serve tables;" and that though they were selected by the church, they were actually set apart to their office by the apostles. (Acts 6)

3. That there is no instance whatever of the selection or election of elders, whether by vote or otherwise, by the church; but that, in every recorded case, they were appointed either by the apostles or under the apostles' direction and authority.  (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5, etc.)

4. The inference then from these facts is, that unless we have apostles, or apostolic authority, we have no Scripture warrant for the appointment of elders or bishops.

Such was the inference forced upon me by a careful examination of the Scriptures, and, as you know, the Episcopalians affirm this principle, and consequently accept the fiction of apostolic succession; but I need not point out to you the utterly unscriptural character of this dogma.

It is possible, however, that you may tell me that in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 we have precisely those apostolic directions and authority which are desiderated. But it is to be remembered, that these directions were not sent to the churches but to individuals, and to those very individuals, Timothy and Titus, who were acting under the direction of the apostle, and who needed therefore just such instructions as are there given. It is most significant, indeed, that in Titus the qualifications for the bishop (or elder) follow upon the direction given to “ ordain elders in every city." Thus the very place of these instructions shows that, instead of being our warrant to appoint elders or bishops, the church, by so doing, is arrogating to itself a function which was strictly bound up with the apostolic office. Anything, therefore, more conclusive as to the unscriptural character of the mode of appointment of "dissenting ministers" it would be impossible to imagine.

And I am convinced that there are hundreds of godly men in dissent who would be only too thankful to be taught this conclusion. For, while they have accepted the traditions of dissent on the subject, they have found it hard to reconcile them with their belief in the divine wisdom. Suppose, now, "a church" without a minister-what is its resource? First of all, inquiries will be made of notable men as to any who will be likely to suit; applications will also flow in from "moveable" ministers. In due course, a selection will be made of one or more eligible candidates to come and preach, for three or four Lord's-days, on probation. At the termination of this critical period, a “church” meeting will be summoned, and the merits of the candidate or candidates will be discussed and then, finally-all alike being judges, the aged believer and the veriest babe in Christ, the most instructed as well as the most untaught, being on the same level-all alike supposed to be able to pass judgment upon the spiritual qualifications of the candidate for the post to which he aspires-after many speeches, it may be for and against, a vote will be taken, and if there be a majority in favour of the candidate, the invitation to the pastorate (although the candidate has only been tested as a minister in preaching) will in due course be forwarded, and then the candidate accepts the invitation or not, according to his own exigencies, or inclinations, or judgment.

All this, I freely confess, was present in my mind when I was re-examining the whole subject, and perhaps aided me to come to the unbiased conclusion-I say unbiased, because my own position was bound up with the investigation-that the ministry, as appointed amongst Nonconformists, is wholly without the warrant of Scripture.

Thus far, I have gone on the assumption that there is correspondence between the office of a Dissenting minister and that of the elder or bishop of Scripture; for I desired to examine the subject on this ground. But I soon saw-if indeed I had ever seriously thought otherwise-that there is scarcely, if any, correspondence between these two things; that in Scripture there is always the most absolute distinction between office and gift; and that while there was appointment in the way indicated to the former by the apostles, the possessor of the gift exercised it in sole responsibility to the Lord, and never was appointed to exercise it either by the apostles or the assembly. (See Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10, 11, etc.) Consequently, it is never said that the Lord gave "elders" in the enumeration of the gifts (see Eph. 4:11, 12), though apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, are all named. The fact is, elders were appointed for rule, and hence they held an office; but the possessors of gifts-such as prophets, pastors, teachers, etc.-received their gifts for the edification of the saints, and were bound, therefore, in obedience to Him from whom their gifts had emanated, to exercise them to this end. But this, as you know, dear brother, cannot be the case amongst Dissenters, because, in opposition to this plain distinction of Scripture, the exercise of gift is bound up with election to office. Hence a Dissenting minister is said to be an elder or bishop. He is also called a pastor; likewise, he is a teacher; and he is also supposed to be an evangelist-to be, in fact, a compendium of all the Scriptural gifts and offices excepting that of deacon. Is it not strange that we have been so long content with such a system?

Pursuing my subject, however, in all its branches, I found there was yet another difficulty-that connected with the one- man ministry; so that if all the rest had been clear, this would have been insuperable. For I found that there is not a single passage which speaks of an elder or a bishop of the church; nor, as far as I can discover, is the word (in either case) ever found in the singular, except in the pastoral epistles, where, as we have seen, the qualifications of the office are detailed. Take Acts 20:17 (already cited): "He sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church;" Acts 14:23, "Elders in every church;" Phil. 1:1, "With the bishops;" Titus 1:5, "Ordain elders in every city;" 1 Peter 5:1, " The elders which are among you," etc. If, therefore, every other difficulty were removed, it would be impossible to obtain from the Scriptures any justification for the Nonconformist method of appointing one elder or bishop to "preside over a church." Not that I think that the practice is ever seriously defended; for I remember some years ago dining with some Congregational ministers, when one of them took opportunity to condemn the practices of “Brethren." Interposing, I said, "Are you sure of your own position? Show me now from Scripture the justification of the one-man ministry." He replied, "That can easily be done." But on being pressed, the only passage he could adduce was, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches!" The others were equally helpless; and it will suffice to show, not only how entirely indefensible the practice is, but also how easily we are led to assume solemn and responsible positions, without asking ourselves whether we have the guidance and justification of the word of God. But surely, if we have a single eye to the glory of God, if we desire to walk in the light, we shall seek to be separated from all evil, whether of heart or position, to make God's word the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path, both for daily walk and life, and for all our church practices and associations. Nay, to set up anything in the house of God which has not the direction and sanction of the Scriptures is practical disobedience to the Lord as Head of the Church.

But I am sure that you will hardly refuse assent to the conclusions I have demonstrated from the Scripture; for I remember how in times past we have longed for some change, and that we cherished at one period a dream of association together in the work of the ministry, so that in union we might be the stronger to (wry out our own plans, unfettered by any other authority than the Scriptures; and how we have often said one to the other, that if anything should occur to separate us from our people respectively, we could not conscientiously offer ourselves for the pastorate of any of the ordinary denominational " churches." The fact was, we had learned from the Scriptures very much more than we were willing to confess, and hence we were dissatisfied and uncomfortable amid the usual "church" and denominational modes and activities. In truth, we were outside already in spirit, and we needed only to apprehend our responsibility before God for what He had taught us to be outside altogether.

Believe me, beloved brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

 

Letter 6

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

The examination, I have just detailed, was carried on during the period which was included between the announcement of my resignation and my actual retirement from the ministry at L. R. Apart, therefore, altogether from the truth I taught, which had been called in question, my conclusions, which soon began to dawn upon me, as to the office I held constrained me to adhere to my decision. If indeed I would be faithful to the Lord in the matter, I had no option but to turn a deaf ear to the many affectionate entreaties addressed to me (by many) to continue with my people. All my temporal interests, humanly speaking, were bound up with my continuing, if not at L. R., yet elsewhere, "in the ministry;" but I dared not place considerations like these in the balance against the plain indications of the word of God, and hence it came to pass that I preached to my beloved people for the last time on September 27th. At the close of the morning sermon I told them that "I could not now with a conscience void of offense toward God remain; for since the evening on which I had announced my retirement, I had gone afresh to the word of God, and I felt compelled to say that I could no longer uphold our practices as to ministry and worship," etc.

Four days after the trials and sorrows connected with my separation from my people, I was enabled to set off for Scotland, that I might be in quiet for the settlement of further questions which were rising up in my mind. I shall not easily forget our conversations upon further striking coincidences in the Lord's dealings with us, and I still cannot but believe that our affliction was sent in reference to our position, to awaken heart-searchings before the Lord. Not only had we occupied the same position in relation to denominationalism, but we had both become associated with a particular doctrine (which I am only too thankful to have been enabled to renounce), and, as before said, we were both afflicted, both sent away to the Continent; we both returned last spring, desiring to remain with our people, and by different causes we were both compelled to resign our posts, and, without any mutual arrangement in the case, we both preached our " farewell sermons" on the same day, and within a week we both found ourselves together in a strange city. May the Lord graciously incline us to hear the rod, and who and why He has appointed it, and give us grace and strength to be obedient to all His will.

But to return. Seeing then that I could not again accept a "pastorate" amongst Dissenters, the question with which I had now to deal was, With what Christians ought I to be identified? You will remember that I already held that believers should be gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread; and hence my attention was once more directed to “Brethren;" for I knew that, notwithstanding the generally-admitted scriptural character of this practice, they were the only Christians, saving some individual congregations, who gathered weekly around the table of the Lord.

The very first thing, therefore, that I determined to examine more thoroughly, and to test by the Scriptures, was their theory, or ground of worship. You are sufficiently acquainted with it to know that it presents an entire contrast with that of Dissenters. With us at L. R. the worship, so called, was all under my direction; and the plan into which we fell was much the same as that which obtains at chapels in general. We commenced with prayer and singing; then had two readings from the Scriptures, divided by singing and prayer; then came, after singing, the sermon; and we concluded with singing and prayer. Now I can truly say that I never believed that this was worship. Individual believers indeed often apprehended and enjoyed the presence of the Lord; for faith can always count upon His aid; but few of us ever thought that we were worshipping as an assembly; for, in fact, we knew that the assembly was not composed of God's people. Another thing I may safely say, and that is that the majority (not to say all) of the believers who meet on that principle never look for any operation of the Holy Spirit while so met, excepting through the channel or instrumentality of the minister. Hence if the minister be full of the Holy Ghost, he is very often the means of ministering "rivers of living water" to God's children; but if he is not, there is an almost utter lack of blessing; and, indeed, it is often noticed that the spiritual state of any such congregation is determined largely by the spiritual state of the minister. The reason I am convinced is that the system makes everything depend upon the one man.

Let us then turn, on the other hand, to what I found to be the principle or ground of worship as understood by "Brethren." In the first place, they are gathered together unto the name of Christ, around His table, to break bread, according to His command, every Lord's-day.  (Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7, etc.) That is, they gather around the Lord Himself in dependence upon and subjection to Him as Lord, knowing that He is faithful to His promise, and is present in their midst, when they are assembled to "show the Lord's death till He come." In the second place, and this is of primary importance, they hold from the Scriptures that the Holy Ghost, having been sent down from heaven after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, dwells now in the Church of God, and that consequently He is the power both for worship and ministry. Many Christians profess to believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in the individual believer (though this is often contradicted in the hymns they sing); and this is a most blessed truth. But the truth contended for is not only that He dwells in us individually, but that He also dwells in the Church, and the following passages may be cited in support of the statement: " In whom," says the apostle, writing to the Church at Ephesus, "ye are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."  (Eph. 2:22.) Here it is plain that the apostle is not speaking of the Spirit as the Spirit of adoption in believers; for he says, "ye are built together as an habitation of God through the Spirit;" i.e. together they formed the dwelling-place of God. Again, the same apostle uses these words: "The house of God, which is the Church of the living God"  (1 Tim. 3:15); and writing to the Corinthians, "Ye (the word is in the plural) are the temple of the living God."  (2 Cor. 6:16.) In the first epistle we find the other truth that our bodies-the bodies of believers-are the temple of the Holy Ghost.

We have thus the solemn truth taught, that the Holy Ghost is now on earth dwelling in the Church of God; that, according to our Lord's promise, the other Comforter is come to abide with us forever.  (John 14:16, 17.) Whenever, therefore, believers are gathered together unto the name of Christ, seeing that God regards every such assembly as an expression of the Church, they know, on the testimony of Scripture, that the Holy Ghost is in their midst, guiding and controlling all for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.

Lastly, there is another thing they teach (in common, one might hope, with all Christians, except, indeed, as to its application), and that is, that since the veil is now rent we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus;" and therefore that our place of worship is above-within the veil  (Heb. 9:11-14;10:1-22), whither Christ, as our High Priest, has already entered, to appear in the presence of God for us  (Heb. 9:24), the "minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man."  (Heb. 8:2.)

Several consequences flow from these fundamental principles. First, that believers are gathered together, not as agreeing upon a certain doctrine or doctrines, or as belonging to the same denomination, but as members of the body of Christ. Anything short of this would, indeed, fail to express the Church of God; for there surely ought to be a place at the Lord's table for every believer who is not under Scriptural discipline. In making this statement to you, dear brother, I quite admit that we aimed to secure this; but, speaking for myself, I could never succeed in the object; for some with whom I was associated had a strong objection to any breaking bread with us who were not members of other churches. They did not acknowledge that to be a member of Christ was in itself the title to the Lord's table. Secondly, gathered as the members of the body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers is recognized, because the Lord Himself is the centre of the gathering. I had often read that passage in Peter which says, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ"  (1 Peter 2:5); and as I read it, I could not but think that the apostle had some reference to the common exercise of our priesthood when assembled. I knew that every believer could act as a priest in private; but I saw also, that if one man was appointed to pray for those assembled, there was practically a denial of our common priesthood; that, in fact, though not in profession, it was a subtle form of clerisy. And I am sure that many a Dissenting minister would confess that often-when in coldness of heart, or distress, or bitterness of soul-he has felt the necessity of being the mouthpiece of the prayers of the congregation an intolerable burden. One, indeed, I knew who so shrunk from the task that, knowing no better way, he rushed into the Establishment to find relief from his felt inability and unfitness in the printed prayers of a book. On the other hand, gathered together as described around the Lord in the power of the Spirit, bowing together in common adoration, the Holy Spirit opens as He wills the lips of one and another to pour out before the throne of grace the feelings which He Himself has begotten in our hearts; and in this way, having an high priest (not one of ourselves) over the house of God, and knowing the Holy Spirit within us, and in our midst, as the power for worship, we " draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith," etc.  (Heb. 10:19-22.) Thirdly, gathered on this ground, and (not to hear sermons or to be led through a humanly arranged "service," but) for worship, the only recognized Minister is the Lord Jesus Himself within the veil. For it is through Him, and through Him alone, that our worship and praise ascend to God the Father; and the consequence is that our eyes are directed to Him, and every one is made to feel that as the Lord alone is the centre of the gathering, so is He the only medium of the worship which is rendered in spirit and in truth, as His redeemed ones rejoice together before God in the perfect salvation which He has wrought out for them through the gift and work of His well-beloved Son.

To sum up, then, in a few words, the difference between the two principles (if I may so express it) is this, that "Brethren" are gathered together as members of the body of Christ unto His name in the recognition of the presence and power of the Spirit of God; whereas Dissenters meet as agreeing upon certain views of truth, or of ecclesiastical polity, and in unconscious denial of the presence and power of the Spirit. For their human arrangements must of necessity shut out the action of the Holy Ghost according to His sovereign will, excepting in so far as He, in tender patience and long-suffering, may be pleased to work by such arrangements for the good of souls. In other words, the Scriptures teach that believers should be gathered together as members of Christ, in dependence upon the power of the Holy Ghost, who is present in their midst; but Dissenters meet as Dissenters, looking for blessing through the channel of the minister they have appointed. Reduced to their simplest elements, the two principles resolve themselves into a belief;-in the one case, in the presence and action of the Spirit; and in the other, into a practical and unconscious denial of this blessed truth.

I hardly expect that you, dear brother, will be prepared to accept these statements; but I assure you that I find them fully sustained by the Scriptures. If, however, I have overlooked any passage which is material to the argument, I shall only be too thankful if you will point it out; for the one thing I desire is to ascertain what is the revealed mind of God on this subject, and hence my prayer, as I am sure yours also, is, " Give me understanding according to thy word."  (Psa. 119:169.)

Believe me, dear brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

Letter 7

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

The question of ministry, as held by “Brethren," next occupied my attention; and here again I found that the truth on this subject is bound up with the presence of the Spirit of God down here in the assembly; and that indeed, when this fact is clearly apprehended, a host of difficulties is cleared out of the inquirer's path, and he is soon guided into a Scriptural knowledge of all the questions connected with the position of the Church of God.

What, then, "Brethren" maintain as the truth in this branch of my investigation is, that the Spirit should have liberty to minister by whom He wills in the assembly; and, secondly, that whoever possesses a gift, whether in greater or less measure, is bound to exercise it in responsibility to the Lord. Accordingly I began to search the Scriptures to discover if these two principles expressed the mind of the Lord.

To begin, then, with the first branch of our inquiry (though the two are intimately related), I turned to 1 Cor. 12 and 14. No sooner had I done so, than I remembered that never, in the course of my own ministry, had I either read or expounded these chapters to my people; and the reason was, that I had a secret feeling that they did not at all accord with existing practices, and I tried to believe that they applied to a state of things which had forever passed away. And perhaps this is the general belief amongst Dissenters; for I have often myself reasoned, and I have heard many others reason, thus: "The New Testament was not yet in existence, and hence these ' diversities of gifts' were bestowed for the temporary edification of the church, until they should receive the mind of the Spirit in the New Testament Scriptures." But is this so? On the answer to this question I felt that everything depended, and consequently I sought most carefully (and, I need not say, prayerfully) for light and guidance. Now, you know, that in the exposition and application of truth we always attach very great importance to the question, For whom was it originally intended? For it would not be always correct to infer that a direction given, for example, to a Jew was applicable to a Christian. Remembering this, I looked at the beginning of the epistle that I might note carefully its address, and I found that it ran as follows: " Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."  (1 Cor. 1:2.) Now, it is very evident from this address, as I could not fail to see, that whatever inferences or deductions might be otherwise drawn, the instructions of this epistle were not meant to be confined to the local assembly at Corinth; but that, on the other hand, they were intended for all believers, and when I thought of the permanent character of Scripture, I could not help inferring also that they were intended for believers in every place for all time.

This conclusion was strengthened, in my own mind, beyond a doubt, by a passage in Ephesians, where we have an enumeration of gifts-and "prophets," who figure so largely in 1 Cor. 14, are included in the number-and we are there distinctly told that they are given " for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till 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 fullness of Christ."  (Eph. 4:11-13.) What can be plainer than that we are not yet come in the unity of the faith? And hence, what can be more certain than the intended perpetuity of gifts, and the consequent perpetual application of the instructions contained in 1 Cor. 12 and 14?

But if so, it needs scarcely a single word to prove that "the liberty of the Holy Ghost to minister by whom He will" is a scriptural truth; for it were otherwise impossible to understand such a statement as this: "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted."  (1 Cor. 14:29-31.) I need not remind you, though it may be needful to remind others, of the true meaning of the word prophet. Many hastily conclude that a prophet is one whose office it is to foretell or predict things yet future and unknown, and hence ask, What place can there be for prophets in the Church of God, seeing that the revelation of God's will and purposes is complete in the Scriptures? But the true definition of a prophet is, one who communicates the mind and will of God to those to whom he is sent. Samuel and Elijah were both prophets; and every one knows that they had very little to do with predicting future events; that their main work was to bring God's will, already revealed in the law, to bear upon the hearts and consciences of their nation. So is it with New Testament prophets. Their office is to apply known truth to the hearts of the saints; and hence there is ever need for the exercise of their ministry. With this explanation, the passage just cited is conclusive as to the truth affirmed.

The same thing is seen in another epistle: "Having then gifts," says the apostle, "differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy (let us prophesy) according to the proportion of faith; or ministry (let us wait on our) ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching," etc.  (Rom. 12:6-8.) For these exhortations were addressed to a local assembly; but if the Church at Rome had been under the pastoral care of one man, there could have been no opportunity for obedience to these exhortations in the exercise of the various gifts named. Is it not, therefore, clearly evident that the apostle contemplated the fullest liberty for the Spirit to minister by whom He would? Indeed this is only a necessary consequence of his words in another epistle. He says, "To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; ... to another prophecy," etc.; "but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will."  (1 Cor. 12:8-11.)

Few, I suppose, would dispute that such was the order in the primitive Church; but it is a common argument-I have used it myself to get out of the difficulty; and if you recollect, you used it when we last met and talked over the subject-that all gifts ceased with the apostolic age, and hence that these directions as to gifts have no force at the present time. I have already in part anticipated this objection by showing the perpetual application of the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians; but I would complete my answer to it by two considerations. The first is, that if this objection were demonstrably true (which it is not), it would by no means affect the principle of the gathering; for it would still be our duty to be gathered on scriptural ground, and to leave room for the exercise of gifts when the Spirit's power in their manifestation might be restored to us; or, if they should never be restored, still to meet around our Lord in adoration and praise, submissive to His will in our deprivation. The second consideration is, that surely it does not follow because all gifts have been withdrawn, as is contended, that we are at liberty to cloak, to cover up, our real condition of weakness by the substitution of a human arrangement; that because the Lord has so chastened us, we are at liberty to do what is right in our own eyes, and set up ministers and church-officers according to the desire of our own hearts. If we are, the parallel between the Church and the state of Israel at the close of the Judges is too striking not to suggest that this very contention proves the same decay and corruption. No, dear brother, we cannot suppose for one moment that this liberty is ours; and: the very fact that it is asserted, only shows that the very belief in the presence and power of the Holy Ghost in the assembly on earth is fast dying out of the minds of believers, if indeed in very many cases it is not already dead.

The remaining part of the subject may be dealt with in fewer words; for if I have proved from the Scriptures (as I venture to think I have) that there should be liberty to the Holy Ghost to minister by whom He wills, then it is but a simple consequence that gift is the measure of responsibility. I say gift, and not office; for the possessor of the gift is responsible to the Lord for its exercise on behalf of the saints. That is, if you have the gift of exhortation, you are bound to exercise it, without waiting for the sanction of the Church by electing you to an office in which, with their permission, you might exercise it.

The passage already cited from the Romans demonstrates this most conclusively. Thus, as we saw, the apostle writes: "Having then gifts" (not office), let them be exercised.  (Rom. 12:6-8.) The two chapters in 1 Cor. 12 and 14, teach the same thing; so does Eph. 4:8-13, for we are here expressly told that the Lord gave gift unto men, and to them therefore (as we have it in principle in the parable of the talents- Matt. 25:14-30, and elsewhere) He will look for the increase. Turning also to 1 Peter, we have the same principle definitely stated. "As every man," he says, "hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (4:10, 11.) Not a word is needed to explain the force of this citation; for the most casual glance at it, reveals the fact that the Lord holds all His servants responsible for the exercise of their gifts for the edification of His people, and I cannot but repeat that this is totally impossible under the “church” government of Dissenters; nay more, that their ecclesiastical polity systematically despises prophesyings, and consequently in so far quenches the Spirit.  (1 Thess. 5:19, 20.)

Thus, dear brother, having examined the whole subject, I could not refuse my assent to the scriptural character of ministry as held by "Brethren." But I have been met by the objection that, "however scriptural it may be, it does not work; that teachers are sadly lacking amongst Brethren,' and hence that other plans must be adopted." On the first part of this objection I am not as yet prepared to pass judgment, and, indeed, I have no desire to do so; for I shall be quite satisfied with the Lord's will as revealed in the Scriptures, fully assured that His way in this, as in all things else, is better than man's way. Nor am I in a position to say whether the latter part of the objection is founded in fact; but this I have known for years past, that those believers who are with “Brethren " are far better instructed than those who are in Dissent. I am confident, dear brother, that you will agree with me in this also; for one of the greatest difficulties that we have had in time past to contend with, in our endeavour to instruct the Christians under our "pastoral care," has been their want of acquaintance with the word of God, owing largely, I doubt not, to the habit of Dissenters of taking their "views" from their favourite preachers.

Be this as it may, I am content to rest the conclusions at which I have arrived upon the Scriptures alone; for we have no other guide. And if we once allow ourselves the exercise or addition of human wisdom, we open the door immediately to all the corruptions which have in all ages afflicted and enervated the Church of God. Beeping to the word of God, I have a sure and infallible guide; and at the same time a means of testing every " church system?' that claims my allegiance, as well as a sword, yea, the sword of the Spirit, with which to fight the Lord's battles in this day of darkness and departure from the truth.

Believe me, beloved brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

 

 

Letter 8

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

Avoiding all subsidiary questions, when I had settled those of ministry and worship, as held by “Brethren," I felt that there was only one other matter for present decision, in order to some practical step. That was the question of discipline. There are many Christians, and we ourselves were amongst the number, who contend that the Lord's table is open to all believers. This is of course fundamentally true, or it were not the Lord's table. There arises, however, another thing to be decided. Are there any limitations imposed by the Lord Himself in His word? Diverse answers are returned to this question. In the Establishment there is no attempt whatever made to exercise discipline: any parishioner, except in one or two specified instances of gross sin, having the right, by its own laws, whether converted or not, to be "a communicant." Practically, therefore, as the one or two exceptions seldom present themselves at the "altar rail," there is no restriction in the Anglican Establishment. With Dissenters the practice varies. The Congregationalists, or Independents, are often as unrestricted as the Episcopalians; all who consider themselves believers being generally invited to the “Communion Service." This is also the ease with a few Baptists, though not the common rule. In fact, they are divided into several classes, as you know. Some make “baptism" the condition of "communion;" some "membership of a church;" but almost all profess to exclude those who are walking disorderly. But it is not too much to say that doctrine is never (as far as I know) a matter for consideration. Thus take the association to which we belonged, an association composed of Baptist "churches" in London. One member, very prominent, has denied, in an article printed in a magazine of large circulation, the total depravity of human nature; another has declared for the " non-eternity " of punishment, etc., but this in no way affects their standing as members; and you will remember that we both deplored this, and, on one occasion, absented ourselves from a meeting because we feared we might in God's sight be endorsing, by having fellowship with him, the " views " of the brother at whose chapel the association had been convened.

Turning to "Brethren," I found that there had been division on this very ground; and hence I had very carefully to examine this subject also by the light of the Scriptures. My question, therefore, was this, Does the word of God teach that false doctrines-doctrines touching the person and work of the Lord, should disqualify for the Lord's table? or, to put it in another form, ought we to have fellowship with the teachers, or the holders of false doctrine?

I will not, in answering this question, cite from the Old Testament Scriptures, lest their application to the matter in hand should be denied (though I cannot but remark that the principle of separation from evil teaching is there everywhere affirmed); but I pass at once to the epistles, as more especially treating of the Church of God. Take then, first, the epistle to the Galatians, and study chap. 1:8, 9 in this connection. True, that evangelists are in contemplation, and such evangelists as would preach "another" gospel; but what, I ask, was this other gospel of theirs? It was simply the addition of ritualistic observances to faith in Christ as the means of salvation-a kind of gospel which is very prevalent at the present time: and if there is to be no discipline for doctrine, such "Galatian" preachers ought to receive, as they do almost everywhere now receive, the right hand of fellowship. But what says the apostle? "I would they were even cut off" (mutilated, no doubt, so as to destroy their energy) "which trouble you"  (Gal. 5:12); and at the end of the epistle the apostle states the principle which is perpetually binding upon the church. "As many," says he, "as walk according to this rule" (the true doctrine of "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," verses 14, 15), "peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God."  (Gal. 6:16.) The inference, then, is undoubted, that we are not to have fellowship with those who walk not according to this rule.

In another epistle we find him saying, "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; ... from such withdraw thyself."  (1 Tim. 6:3-5.) Read also the still stronger statements in 2 Tim. 2:15-21; also 2 John 9-11. The epistles to the seven churches are also full of similar teaching. Take the portion addressed to "the angel of the Church at Ephesus." Our Lord; in commendation, says, "Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars." (Rev. 2:2.) On the other hand, He condemns Pergamos for the tolerance of false doctrine in the Church. (Rev. 2:14; see also 2:20.)

These passages were of themselves sufficient to convince me that it was according to the Lord's mind that there should be discipline for doctrine; and the reason is apparent. For if one who "walks disorderly" has to be put away from the fellowship of the saints, much more the teachers of false doctrine. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."  (1 Cor. 5:6.) This is said of the permission of sin; but if disorderly walk "leavens," much more false doctrine. Thus, if a believer falls into drunkenness, or any kind of open sin, he brings dishonour upon his Lord; but the believers with whom he is associated are not likely to be tempted to follow his example. On the other hand, if a saint is led aside into false doctrine, he will at once commence to propagate it, and numbers will, almost immediately, be contaminated. I will cite one instance of this which came under my own knowledge. A certain minister adopted "views" which depreciated the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and numbers of the believers connected with him followed him in these evil doctrines, and the godly remnant were, for the time, powerless. But the minister, too confident in his own influence, not content with the support he was receiving, proposed that the doctrines he now held should become the avowed basis of their association. This opened the eyes of some who had hitherto been quiescent; but still, when the question was put to the vote (for the trust-deed declared that the majority should settle such questions), the proposition of the minister was only defeated by a majority of one. The "leaven" was thereby arrested, for the minister was compelled to resign; but had he remembered the true character of leaven-that it works noiselessly-there is little doubt that in time the whole lump would have been leavened, as, indeed, it had already become, in the sight of God, before action was taken. Oh, it is a fatal doctrine, that evil teaching may be tolerated! The condition of the Church to- day is but the consequence of this pernicious laxity; and saints, instead of being established, are everywhere asking, What is truth? for they have no other standard left them, in many cases, than human opinion.

Having thus satisfied my own mind as to the principle, I was not very anxious to enter into the vexed question of the Bethesda controversy. Some years ago I examined it, but only from one side of the case. Now, however, I investigated also the other, and had conversations with some who were conversant with it from the commencement, and I came to the conclusion that the whole difficulty had arisen upon the question-Is there to be discipline for false doctrine? And if there is, ought the action of one assembly, in pursuance of this end, to be respected and maintained by the other assemblies? That is, supposing that a teacher of false doctrine is put out of communion in one locality, should it be right to receive him in another? The case as so put presents no difficulty, because, with the smallest amount of spiritual intelligence, any believer would at once see that if the assembly at Liverpool were to reverse the action of the assembly at Manchester, in a matter of discipline, it would thereby deny the truth of the unity of the body, and declare that what was rightly done by the saints in one locality might be undone in another.

But the case was complicated practically by another consideration, the actual question having arisen, Ought those in fellowship with such a teacher (and thereby, according to the apostle John, "partakers of his evil deeds," 2 John 10,11) to be received into the fellowship of the saints? In my own judgment, the whole matter is fairly, temperately, and scripturally put forth in a pamphlet entitled, A Letter on Bethesda Fellowship; with an Appendix on the True Basis of Communion (Morrish); (and I would especially commend the appendix to the notice of any who desire to know what the Scriptures teach on the subject of communion). I say this after reading many pamphlets on the other side; indeed, by reading these my conviction was strengthened, that the positions maintained in the former were really unassailable. But while I say this much, I would by no means contend that no mistakes have ever been made in the application of the true principle of discipline; for this does not fall within my province to decide. My sole duty was to ascertain whether the principle was based upon the word of God. And I could only wish that all who are " exercised" on this subject would just divest themselves of all extraneous considerations, and confine themselves to the examination of the principle of discipline in dispute, asking but one question, Is it scriptural or not? For until they are settled as to this, they cannot be in a position to decide upon the merits of the Bethesda controversy.

If you will permit, I would like in a few words to remove one difficulty out of the path of inquirers. One is often met at the outset by such words as these: "Can it be right to exclude such and such men? Look at their holy lives, their devotedness; and do you pretend to sit in judgment upon their qualifications for the Lord's table?" Such questions are common, and to some minds very terrible. May I then say that they have nothing to do with the matter? The only question we have to decide is this-Ought such discipline to be maintained according to the word of God? If so, it becomes a matter on our parts of simple obedience to the Lord, and not of passing judgment upon other believers; and one of His servants tells us, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments." (1 John 5:2.) So that love to the saints is evinced, not by admitting them to the Lord's table against His express will, but by keeping His commandments. Let me counsel all such through you, dear brother, to keep their eyes off from men and fixed upon the Lord, and then they will find that the path of discipline for doctrine, though sometimes very narrow, is yet the path of single-eyed obedience.

That the assertion of this principle should excite the most determined opposition is only what we should expect; for whatever tends to keep the Church of God as " the pillar and ground of the truth," according to the divine purpose, is sure to excite the malice of Satan; and in no way can he compass his ends more successfully than by destroying the boundaries between truth and error. You, dear brother, are acquainted with Church history, and I appeal to you whether it is not the fact, from the second century downwards, that the source both of the weakness and the corruption of the Church has ever been in this fatal indifference to the maintenance of definite truth, in the evil tolerance of leaven in teaching as well as in life? The fact is, if you once cease to exercise discipline in the way named, all certitude as to the truth is soon lost in the conflict of confused and confusing opinions of men, and simple souls become a prey on every hand to doubts, if not to the artifices of Satan.

But whatever the opposition that this principle may excite (and surely it is a poor kind of Christianity that excites no opposition in the world), no one has a right to charge sectarianism on those who maintain it. A sect is composed of those who meet together, or associate themselves together, on the ground of agreement in a certain truth or doctrine, or as holding to a particular form of ecclesiastical polity. Thus Congregationalists, Baptists, Wesleyan, State-Churchmen, Presbyterians are all sects; indeed, they speak of themselves as the different "sections" of the Church. But wherever believers are gathered together as members of Christ in obedience to Him as Lord, and seek in dependence upon the Spirit to order all things in subjection to the word of God, maintaining the discipline which it directs, etc., they are in no sense whatever a sect; for there is a place at the table of the Lord, around which they are gathered, for every believer who is not disqualified by the Lord Himself on the ground of walk or doctrine. This, I think, will be clear to every unprejudiced mind.

Believe me, dear brother,

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

E. D.

 

Letter 9

Blackheath, January, 1875.

My Beloved Brother,

You will scarcely be surprised to hear that when I had reached the conclusions indicated in my previous letters, I began to feel that if I would be consistent, honest before the Lord, I must take my place with “Brethren." But I did not find it so easy to act out my convictions. I shrunk, I confess it, from surrendering my position; I shrunk still more from sundering the ties which had bound me up for many years in loving association with many dear Christian friends. I could not bear the thought of grieving the hearts of some, like yourself, with whom I had enjoyed most intimate fellowship. I sometimes was appalled at the prospect of the storm which I knew the step would evoke in certain quarters; and, moreover, when I remembered the strong antagonism which I had cherished towards “Brethren " in past days, it was no easy thing to avow to all the world the mistake into which I had fallen. Add to this, that I received letter after letter full of kind but most urgent entreaties, some too which contained the most solemn warnings against the delusion which it was supposed had possessed my mind; and others, telling me plainly that if I once united with “Brethren," I should soon lose all independence both of thought and action, as well as become a partaker of the evil deeds of those, whose teachings were subverting the very foundations of the gospel-and you will understand somewhat of the difficulties which beset the final step. But by the grace of our God, I was enabled to look away from surrounding difficulties; and under His constraining love, I at length went and asked to be permitted to break bread with the saints at Blackheath. That permission was at once accorded, and as a believer, a member of the body of Christ, on this ground alone, and not on the ground of any doctrine or doctrines whatsoever, I took my place at the Lord's table with the believers who are gathered on that ground in obedience to their Lord.

I have no desire to dwell upon, or to complain of, the misrepresentations (not to use a stronger word) which have followed upon the step I have taken; for, to tell the truth, I expected all this. Indeed they have helped me to understand many passages of Scripture-those which speak of bearing our cross after Christ, meeting with tribulation, etc.-as I could not have done before, when my position and profession of faith in Christ met with favour rather than opposition. Besides, I remember the ground I took myself in former days, and thus I am quieted, in the hope that my adversaries may perhaps ere long have their eyes opened, and be found sitting with me around the table of our Lord.

I may, however, be permitted, before I close, to say a word or two upon results. On the very first Lord's- day I found to my joy that there is a reality in the distinction for which “Brethren " have ever contended-between worship and the meetings which are so common to hear sermons, It was a blessed experience to apprehend that the Lord was in our midst, according to His promise, revealed to faith by the power of the Holy Ghost. It was a new-found joy to enter into this truth, as we communed together in the broken body (as shown forth in the broken bread) and in the precious blood (as displayed in the wine) of our blessed Lord; for our hearts were of necessity occupied with Him, with what He was down here, with what He was on the cross, with what He is now at the right hand of God, with all that He was and is to God the Father, and thus, as we bowed in adoration within the veil, truly our fellowship was with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

In saying this much, as I do avowedly in contrast with past experiences, I by no means deny that individuals may apprehend the Lord's presence, even in a marked way, in mixed assemblies; for the Lord is ever present to faith. But what I contend for is, that unless we are gathered unto His name, we have no title to expect the Lord's presence in the midst of the assembly; for His own words are: " For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."  (Matt. 18:20.) So that the condition of His presence in the midst of the gathering is, that they should be gathered together in or unto His name, a thing possible only for believers. Oh, my brother, I could wish that not only you, but also all the saints, could see this blessed privilege of gathering thus together, and know the happy liberty of soul which the assurance of the Lord's presence in our midst inspires, as well as the joy of heart which is wrought in us by the Holy Ghost as we joy together in God through Christ Jesus; for I am convinced that if you were once to enter upon this experience, your only wonder would be that you had been satisfied so long with mixed assemblies.

Another thing that soon attracted my attention was the fact, that the proper place was conceded to the word of God, that its authority was gladly maintained as supreme. One of our great difficulties in Dissent had ever been to obtain any real and practical recognition of this principle; and the reason was, that lax views were so prevalent upon the question of inspiration. Indeed, besides yourself, I never met with a Dissenting minister who held the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures; and the consequence is, that every one feels himself, more or less, at liberty to sit in judgment upon the revelation which God has made to man. He, in fact, judges the Word, instead of allowing it to judge him and his ways. There can be no fixity, no certainty of mind, therefore, concerning any special truth or truths; and hence congregations will receive, without hesitation or doubt, ministers with diverse and opposed "views" in succession. Thus I could point to one chapel in which, during the last twelve years, there have been three ministers. The first taught that the death of Christ was nothing but an exhibition of self- sacrifice (in a word, the doctrine of sacrifice according to F. Denison Maurice); the second taught the orthodox view of the atonement, but denied the total depravity of man; the third taught, to some extent, dispensational truth. And yet, with all these diversities, the people have never thought of saying that any one of these three was in error. They would tell you which they, liked best, and that is all. A sadder state of things can scarcely be imagined, and it all springs from a defective knowledge of the true character of the word of God. It was, therefore, with no little pleasure that I found the authority of the word of God continually enforced, and that the duty of complete subjection to it was commonly recognized.

"But what of the doctrines?" is a question that I know you will ask. Without, however, seeking to answer fully now (I may do this, if the Lord permit, on another occasion, and in another form), I may say that I have already learned one lesson; and that is, not to take the statements of enemies, or detached sentences (as I, to my sorrow, was betrayed into doing) as correctly representing the teachings of "Brethren." The common view of the doctrines of "Brethren" entirely fails (through misconception, no doubt) in the truth. The fact is, the mind of the writer ought to govern the interpretation of a passage, even though a faulty style or laxity of expression might seem to admit of another meaning. But theological controversy proceeds upon an exactly converse principle; viz., that the mind of the writer is just what his words may be made to express; and hence the general misconception and misrepresentation of "Brethren's" teaching. Do not mistake me. I am far from contending that "Brethren" have taught no error; for they are as liable to mistakes as others. But I do maintain that even if error is taught, I am in no way responsible for it, excepting it is of such a nature as to call for discipline. For, as I have said before, we are not gathered on the ground of doctrines at all, but as members of the body of Christ-unto His name, and in obedience to Him as Lord-as those who have been perfected forever by the one offering which He made on the cross [3].  (Heb. 10:14.)

Need I say more? And yet there is one question I would like to ask. Are there, or are there not, any definite directions in the Scriptures as to the assembly of God? Are we, or are we not, taught His mind and will concerning the ground on which the members of the body of Christ ought to be gathered for worship, the maintenance of the unity of the Spirit, ministry, etc.? If we are not, then surely it is left to all to do what is right in their own eyes. But if we are, then it is incumbent upon every believer to be obedient to God's word. " If ye love me, keep my commandments "  (John 14:15) is a word still applicable to all, and no amount of confusion and ruin in things about us excuses the feeblest believer from seeking to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. I readily grant that the path is narrow and difficult; but if every one who is anxious for the glory of God, and to bear a faithful testimony in these days of darkness, would but commence to lay aside or to separate himself from everything which either is not sanctioned or is condemned by the Word, he would soon find that " unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness"  (Psa. 112:4), and that, seeking to do His will, he would know of the doctrine whether it is of God, and be guided in the power of the Spirit into all truth. And, dear brother, who knows better than yourself the need of taking our stand entirely and wholly upon the word of God? Why is it then, when evil increases on every side, and assaults upon the very citadel of our faith are ever waxing bolder and bolder-when infidelity and scepticism are permeating all classes of society, and poisoning the literature of the day, that even godly men hesitate to be wholly separate from evil, and to commit themselves entirely, in their church associations, as well as for individual walk, to the guidance of the infallible word of God? Believe me that that is merely a spurious holiness which deals only with the experiences of the heart, and abandons the Church of God to the will and ways of men. The Church is the Body of Christ, and as such our Lord " loved it, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."  (Eph. 5:25-27.) Shall we not, then, seek to have fellowship with the mind and heart of our blessed Lord in regard to His own body, the Church, of which we through grace are members? My prayer is, that He may so open the eyes of His people that, coming out and being separate from all that is contrary to His will, they may be found with the few who are, in the face of much difficulty and opposition, upholding His honour by bearing testimony to the authority of His word in this evil day.

Believe me, beloved brother,

Yours affectionately in Christ,

E. D.

 


[1] This phrase, "my people," is used in the letters simply as expressive of old associations, not as justifying it now.

[2] Dissenter-(in England and Scotland) a Protestant who belongs to some other church than the established (national) church. (World Book dictionary.)

[3] Of course, this ground supposes, yea involves, the maintenance of judging all things – whether taught or done – by the word of God. Otherwise, believers could not be gathered as the assembly of God. [Better to omit the article: ‘as assembly…’ Eds.].