A Letter By The Late W. H. Westcott
May 3rd, 1922
Beloved Mr. _______________________
Yours of the 1st is before me, with its record of exercise before God. Would that I could help you more fully than I really am able.
Our fellowship as Christians is not what educated men can draw up, nor what a few saints agree upon, nor, certainly, is it a heterogeneous mixture of everything that may like to present itself for incorporation. It is expressed for us in the language of Holy Scripture.
"Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
1 John 1, 3.
"God is faithful by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son."
1 Cor. 1, 9.
Fellowship with God must, as to its definition, be a fellowship at God's own level. The fellowship of saints is often lowered to what saints, certain saints, are agreed upon, or what they see, in their feebleness, of the meaning of Scripture. But in that case, and whilst we can usually give every credit for sincerity, the fellowship of saints is short, very short, of fellowship with God.
God has recovered much for us in the last three or four generations of what Christianity is, set forth in all its richness and fulness in the Risen Man Christ Jesus, the Son of the Father in truth and love.
Men have been permitted to see how great the privilege is of the Christian family and of the Christian Assembly, the liberty of the Father's presence, of the presence of God, the power which the Holy Spirit exercises when the restrictions of man's mind and hand are withdrawn, the unfoldings of the resources which are in Christ, and of His love and care for His Assembly with all the great designs which are to be effectuated in and by means of that Assembly.
Fellowship, to be in the truth, must allow for the full expression of the truth. You cannot say that every saint must be at the full height of the Christian calling before he enters upon fellowship, because that would be exclusivism with a vengeance: and neither you nor I nor any saint living could be in it. But no saint, nor company of saints, can devise, construct or propose a fellowship which is SYSTEMATICALLY and AVOWEDLY committed to doctrines and practices short of the truth without becoming in principle a sect. And while this is done by every so-called sect, or denomination, it becomes more subtle and subversive of truth in proportion as it is nearer in its outward form to those forms which truth produces.
We have been shown by God's mercy, a path outside of what we call "system," a path where we can be in consonance with the Headship and Lordship of Christ, and where we can set before our hearts and minds the twin objectives of Holiness and Truth, answering to Him who is THE HOLY and THE TRUE. Rev. 3,7. You will remark that when you progress in the prophetic outline of the churches from Philadelphia to Laodicea, the One who is certainly Holy and True speaks of Himself as the Faithful and True. This does not mean that He ceases to be holy, or that our practical holiness in correspondence with Him can be waived. But it implies that in closing days just preceding the rapture of the whole Church there will be need for emphatic faithfulness to answer to Christ, who never surrenders His witness for God. Rev. 3, 14.
If we were in denominations that had sunk below their own recognised standard, we should, I suppose, be exercised to get back to those primitive methods with which our denominations started.
But God has called us into the full light of Christ, and the only fellowship we can now take account of is that divine fellowship to which I referred in the beginning of this letter. As to its nature, and character and intimacies, it is fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. As to its expression whether in one locality or in every place alike (1 Cor. 1, 2), it is by God's calling, the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. There is to be, (in the way of material, function, ways, administration, and spiritual aim), a counterpart in local assemblies - and that the same everywhere - of all that His Son Jesus Christ our Lord is in His exalted but hidden position.
It is a uniformity of exercise produced, not because we belong to a "circle of meetings," but, by our being uniformly consistent with the truth of Christ. The same Christ presents Himself everywhere, and while giving room for variety in the different members of His body, and in the differing gifts, He will never become the author of inconsistencies with Himself.
If, then, you find an individual saint who habitually acts in disregard of the Lord's will; if you find a company of saints adopting and avowing a principle of action which you see, according to Scripture, and which you know, in communion with Christ by the Holy Spirit, is neither holiness nor truth; if you find a collection or circle of meetings where the acknowledged and defended ways are not those which you learn to be Christ's ways in the Assembly, you cannot recognise either the individual or the circle as answering to Him. You do not unchristianise them, you do not abuse them, but in faithfulness and in truth you find your course to be clear of them; while, no doubt, the Lord who loves them will rebuke and chasten them as seems good to Him. Your path is, however, to hear His voice, and to open the door to Him, and He will sup with you, and you with Him.
The principles of "Open Brethren" are very fairly dealt with by W. in his recent booklet. Their fellowship, as such, is not Christian fellowship according to faithfulness and truth, though the outward form of it approximates to the truth. They have baptism and the Lord's Supper, prayer meetings, Bible readings, Gospel preaching, and missionary work. Many who seek piety and earnestness are attracted by these features, and well they may be, so far as they go, but for all that (and all the more alluring and seductive because of it), they offer a substitute for the truth in that they leave out faithfulness to the truth.
But our present difficulty goes further than that. There is in your neighbourhood a meeting which has a peculiar history, and which, while it professes to disavow Open Brethren as such, yet adopts a hyphenated method of come and go with them. One or two able brothers among them put their defence in an exceedingly plausible form, as I know from correspondence with them: but while their arguments are specious, and very likely difficult to meet by simple souls, the upshot of the whole matter is that brethren in that meeting do come and go at will amongst Open Brethren, and are in principle and in fact in spite of specious argument - on open ground.
Further, so weak have we become, so little versed in the true character of Christian fellowship at its full height, that many amongst us have candidly demanded that we lower the standard of fellowship so as to allow of these hyphenated associations, to admit of them as a recognised principle of action; so that though we know of men who do go to Open Meetings (and who esteem it a right and proper thing, defending their actions in various degrees), yet we have little or no power to discipline them in the Lord's Name. My grief is that the whole standard of truth has been so lowered amongst us, as the Laodicean spirit asserts itself ' that there is disappearing the priestly power to discriminate between clean and unclean in relation to the testimony of the Lord.
This is not confined to one company of brethren alone. You might find one kind very particular about exclusion, who are exclusive as the Papacy, where the fear of men, and of one another, is a very large if not dominant feature. This, while it may be like in outward form to what truth produces, lacks the sweetness of grace. The system as such stands self-condemned, for the One to whose fellowship we are called was full of grace and truth. There is separation of a kind, but it is produced by decrees, so that as I have known personally among them, souls are held in bondage because they know their fellowship is maintained by the dread of man, and shuts out many without cause.
But our own danger is largely the other way. Laodicea is that state of the assembly in which position is claimed, accompanied by a laxity and self-sufficiency wholly foreign to the position; an entire rejection of exercise before the Lord as to what suits Him as the Faithful and the True Witness, the Amen, the beginning of the creation of God. There is failure to recognise finality in Christ, and there is the tolerance of that unsubdued will which was the ruin of the old creation. Along with the spirit of amalgamation which is abroad in the world there is a kindred movement in the professing churches, the effort to discover some formula which will result in all being able to meet on a common platform. In the world it is heading up in the idea of unity, or association, or federation, of which, alas! Christ is not the Head. In the churches it is not proposed on the ground of the Headship of Christ so much as upon common agreement among professed believers. It amounts to this that as long as we are all Christians nothing matters. The call of God back from the captivity, the revival of the House, the re-discovery of the Divine Centre, these things are nothing to those who would have us break down all barriers. If you come back to Jerusalem to the House, you must respect the laws of the House, and what is due to the name and glory of Jehovah. If one had hitherto - though an Israelite - been dwelling in Babylon, and had acquired the ways of Babylon, he may desire to go up to Jerusalem and worship in the Lord's House, but to do so according to God he must abandon his Babylonish ways, and associations, and purify himself according to the purification of the Sanctuary. The conflict in Ezra's and Nehemiah's days was incessant. Oh how the enemy sought by every sort of artifice to break down the spirituality of the movement. What letter - writing there was. What alliances were formed. What influences had to be countered, in order to preserve that which God restored. You will not fail to notice that Ezra is followed by Nehemiah, and that once you have the House in order the City follows. A decree was issued for the one by Cyrus, but a second decree was issued for the other by Darius, equally important in its place. The House is the first thing, of course; the wall is the second. Many seem to want the House and its forms, but without the wall.
This is a large subject, but I conceive it to be at the bottom of the local trouble I have referred to. There is no wall of separation between the ground that God has recovered for us and that which is more decidedly and distinctly under the enemy's hand. In the rebuilt city there are gates, but gates are to admit those who are to be admitted IN THE ORDERED WAY. All is to be according to Divine order. There is no laxity, no playing fast and loose. Every one who comes into the circle where Jehovah is owned must submit to the responsibilities of that position. There was no compulsion to come into Jerusalem, but the idea that those who did so were to have no regard to that administration which was recognised there and appointed of God would be treachery and infidelity to Jehovah.
I feel that no one but the Lord Himself can guide us in our exercises just now, but my whole soul revolts from the thought of those hyphenated associations. They will work evil; of that I am certain. Those who practise them will discover any plausible excuse possible, but of the effect on meetings and on the testimony of the Lord generally I have not the slightest doubt. The good Lord deliver us.
Always affectionately your brother,
(Signed) Wm. Hy. Westcott.