Assembly Life Experiences.
Letters of an Octogenarian.
I.—Conversion and Early Life.
I WAS brought to the Lord in the palmy days of the Revival and ingathering of 1859-60. Glorious times were these. There was a flow and fulness of the Spirit's power, such as I have never felt or seen, since. There was less Gospel preaching than arousing testimony to coming judgment, and the dangers of delay in coming to terms with God; but O, the grip that was with the Word, when it was spoken. And the joy of the saved was simply unbounded. The singing was wonderful—perhaps not the music—but that "melody" of the heart, of which the apostle speaks in Eph. v. 19. There were no choirs then; all sang, and the song of Christ-filled hearts had a marvellous effect on the ungodly. One who shared in these gatherings has well written—
"Do you recall the hymns we sang,
Can we forget them ever;
The scene with such sweet music rang,
Like heaven and earth together;
We oft since then have sung the same,
But never; O, no never,
Can we forget the joyous strain
Which first we raised together."
But these passed, the tide of blessing receded, and the saved were left pretty much to find what they could, to help them along their heavenward way. In these times of sixty years ago, all known Christians in the part of the earth where I lived, were good churchmen. Some in one denomination, some in another, but all "members" of some "congregation"—as they preferred it to be called—for the word assembly—although wholly Scriptural and indeed the only true equivalent to the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the people of God as distinct from and called out of the world—was never heard. A few of the ministers had thrown themselves into the great time of awakening and soul-saving heartily and been blessed; a number opposed it openly and bitterly, but the most treated it indifferently. Those whom God used as soulwinners, were mostly men whom the clergy spoke of as "laymen," as if a College education and an authorization to preach from their fellowmen, were what constituted "a minister of God." I have always been convinced that this act of God, in calling and using lawyers, doctors, colliers, and chimney sweeps, as His great ambassadors at that time, was a chief factor in loosening the hold that clerisy had up till then over Christian people in all the denominations, and giving them to see that the whole clerical system is of man, and more of a hindrance to real work for God, than a means used by God in it. There were gifted and godly men "in the ministry" then, as there are now, but their success as soulwinners among the lost, and feeders of the saved, was due to the grace they had from God, and the gifts they had from Christ, and not from anything they learned at College or received in ordination. As one of the best of them said to the writer, "Had I not been born again, before I went to College, I would not have learned my need of it there. And had the Lord not given me a heart for souls and some ability to win them, the study of dead languages and dry theologies, would have been a poor equipment for such a work."
We went to church, and sometimes got a word to help us in spiritual life, more frequently a cold blanket thrown over us to damp out "Revivalism," and not infrequently, a tirade against "presumption" in being "too sure of our salvation." We came, through experience, not to expect anything better in our churches, for although an occasional brightening up there was, it soon passed away, and the same dry, barren dirge of a read sermon, a theological essay, or a "Galatian" Gospel was resumed. There was no exposition of the Word, no right dividing of the truth, and indeed very little of the Bible in any form, in the ministry. We met together on a week night to pray, and enjoyed it. Then, it was proposed to have a Bible Reading, each taking what part he could. And these evenings over the Word were times of real help to our spiritual life. For the entrance of the Word gives "light," (Psa. cxix. 130). We saw truths that never were heard in pulpit ministry. In fact, it was to these "irregular" meetings that we looked for spiritual sustenance, and not to what we got on Sundays, in our churches. But we went there because there was nothing better known to us, for we had not yet learned, as in the Lord's mercy, we were soon to learn, that God had something better than these conditions for his redeemed and beloved people, even here on this earth and now. Praise to His Holy Name. I have a very clear remembrance, that it was as we followed the little light we had, that we got more, and how those that shrank back, lost what they had, and drifted away into the World.
II.—Separation From Denominationalism.
We used every means at our disposal, for a full year, to bring about a more spiritual condition in the churches to which we were attached, but with no success. We found that the "constitution" of our churches did not allow the reforms we proposed, such as refusing membership to the unconverted, cleansing the eldership of publicans, gamblers, and avowedly unregenerate men. And when we asked for Scripture authority for the sprinkling of babes, the choosing of ministers by vote, the limitation of ministry to one man—and he often the least spiritual of those able to speak, and in some cases unregenerate—we were told "these were the standards of our church," and they could not be altered. We were all this time prayerfully searching the Word individually, for light and guidance on our path, and I believe there was a readiness to advance along whatever way God, through His Word, might guide us,
I may here say, there were no assemblies of Christians meeting simply in the Lord's Name, outside of all denominations, in our part of the country, taking the Word of God alone as their Guide-Book. Some of us had heard there were such gatherings in other districts, but none of us had come in contact with them or seen how they were ordered. And after all these years, I can only say, I am thankful it was so, for we were wholly cast upon God and His Word, and did not copy or follow others who had gone before us. There is always real power in being taught God's truth direct from the Word, and what we learn thus, we are not so likely to hold loosely or let drop easily. But when we only follow in the way our fathers walked, and hold the truths that they held and practiced, there is sure to be feebleness, and likely soon to be a readiness to let them go for something more pleasing, and having less of the world's opprobrium. And so, I have seen in painful experience, throughout the fifty years of my church life. When the truth of God does not grip the conscience and control the life, its claims soon cease to be owned in worship, work, and walk. And a clamour is raised by those who are in this condition for a "wider path," and a "greater liberty" to do as they like. But where the truth is held as God's and its authority felt in the soul, there will be no desire to tone down its claims or to weaken its force. The result of these months of waiting on God, and inquiring at His Word was, that some twelve of us left the churches of which we were members, in one day, and went forth at the call of the Lord in 2 Cor. vi. 17, from association with the world in its religion, and from fellowship with the unconverted in their churches. And personally, I have neither gone back nor have I had the desire to go back, either on a visit, or on some special occasion, nor do I consider the Word gives me any liberty to do so. For if I am right in believing that it was in obedience to the call of the living Lord that I separated, I am clear that I cannot be led back by His Word, to those systems from which it separated me, nor to any combination of them.
III.—-Gathering in the Name of the Lord Jesus.
It was in no spirit of uncertainty as to it being the Lord's way, yet in much "fear and trembling" lest we might fail in walking in the path He had shown us, that ten of us met in an upper room with plain whitewashed walls, in the centre of which was a small table covered with a white cloth, and upon it the simple emblems of bread and wine, as appointed by the Lord on earth and repeated from His place in Heaven (1 Cor. xi. 23). We felt that Lord's Day morning, in the early Springtime, in a measure we had never experienced before, what it was to be gathered simply and only in "the Name of the Lord," outside the camp of the world's religion, with no distinctive or sectarian name or position, but as a few of the widely scattered flock purchased by His blood, who had found their way back to where the churches of the earliest days stood, when "all that believed were together" (Acts ii. 44), and all around the living Lord who was "in the midst," according to His Word (Matt, xviii. 20). We knew very little of the Word, as to what God's assembly ought to be, and we had no gifted brother to teach, or experienced elders to lead us. But on that first day of our assembling, we had such a very real and blessed sense that the Lord Himself was there to meet us, and that the Holy Spirit was there to lead us, and that all would be well. And so indeed it was, for in that earliest hour of our experience as assembled worshippers, the upflow from our full hearts was unbroken, and the downflow of blessing from God to us through the Word fittingly read, with the brief words spoken, was as the refreshing dew of Hermon on our spirits. It was not to get a blessing that we went there, but to GIVE unto the Lord (Psa. xcvi. 7-9) that which is His due, yet we did get that "blessing of His which maketh rich," and in fuller measure than any of us had ever so experienced before. It was "just like" the Lord, to so encourage us in these first steps of the way, and to lead us into "the green pastures and by the still waters" of the goodly land He was setting before us. And this cheer was all needed, for the opposition aroused by our simple assembling in that upper room, broke out like a storm that very day. Some of our former fellow-worshippers in the Kirks, met us on the way home, and the scowl on their averted faces indicated too plainly what was working within. I could not have believed it possible that Christian men and women could allow prejudice and bigotry to drive them to “the scorner's chair," and cause them to incite the ungodly to violence toward us, simply and only because we had dared to leave as they said the "religion of our fathers," evidently forgetting that a little further back, in 1843, "our fathers" had severed their connection with the Established Kirk of Scotland, simply because their consciences could no longer recognize State control. And further back still, our fathers' forbears were hunted on the hills, because they could not and would not worship God, under the rule of Prelacy.
IV.—Partial, or Complete Separation.
When opposition became manifest against us in our separated position, some thought it might be disarmed, if we occasionally went to the Gospel Services—where such existed—in the systems we had left, and more especially, that those of our number who had been in the habit of taking part in a Sunday evening United Service of all denominations, should continue to do so, if they were willing to have our help. And for a short time, this was tried, but it became painfully evident that we were out of our element there. The bondage to man's arrangements, which shut out the guidance of the Holy Spirit we enjoyed in our little assemblings, was more than ever felt. And the clerical domination of some, who had never manifested any sympathy with real evangelistic work, and who gave no evidence of being born again, became intolerable to our spirits, after tasting the liberty and joy of Divine guidance, on the simple lines of the Word, even in the small measure we had learned them. Then the ever-increasing hostility to our new position as a little company of assembled worshippers, without a presiding minister, or a paid pastor, seemed to bring out new forms of persecution we had never known before. Sermons were preached against those "who cause division," omitting, of course, to add "contrary to the doctrine" (Rom. xvi. 17), for there is "division" (Luke xii. 51) that is of the Lord. His work is a severing of the living from the dead, of "the precious from the vile" (Jer. xv. 19). We were "preached at" as "sheep-stealers" and "breakers up of churches." All we had done was, to restore some of Christ's sheep to their rightful Owner and to their proper pastures and company, who had strayed into forbidden paths, and got mixed up with the "goats." A godly severing of ourselves from the unconverted, breaks up nothing that has the approval of God, for a "mixed multitude” of saved and unsaved is not a “church,” as Scripture uses the word, and therefore it is neither "schism" or "division," but obedience to the clear call of the Lord (2 Cor. vi. 17), to come out of it. If God's call were obeyed, things would appear in their real condition, for it is the presence of true Christians in false systems that keeps them together and perpetuates their existence. When this became clear to us, our separation from the world's religion was no longer partial but complete and final. I am as sure as I can be of anything, that no company of God's people can be where the Word would lead them, without being quite separate from all the world's religious systems, and bitterly opposed by them. Any lowering of the standard may secure their toleration, and if the truth that severs the Christian from the world's religion is toned down, or kept in silence, they may patronize and desire to fraternize, or even come and go. But where the One Name alone is owned and the one Book honoured in all its claims, there never will or can be affinity or amalgamation, between an assembly gathered in the Lord's Name and the world's religion.
V.—Learning the Truth of God, Together.
During the first six months of our existence as an assembly, we had very few of the townsfolk coming to our meetings. Religious prejudice was strong, and misrepresentations of our position, the doctrines we held, and the Gospel we preached, kept many who had known us and wrought with us in evangelistic work, away. One of the village ministers told his congregation we were "Mormons," and warned them not to allow their young people to go near us. Another, procured a pamphlet written by a Presbyterian, in which we were charged with denying the "moral law" as a rule of life, and saying that "we lived sinlessly," while a third—the most evangelic of the village preachers—avowed that "we held it to be necessary to be dipped in a river, in order to be saved,"—a saying that was accepted without enquiry or question, by many of the Christians who had previously companied much with us. All this was very keenly felt, and tested our fidelity to the truths we had learned, causing us the more to search the Word. I often thank God for this experience, for it sent us to the Lord Himself and to the Scriptures, for the help we needed, in these early months of our assembly life. And there was not one of us but had cause to be thankful that it was so, for we had to learn direct from the Book of God all that we know of truth. There were none among us gifted to teach, nor did we then know of any other company of believers meeting as we did, from whom we could seek help in matters which were beyond our knowledge. So we were kept in dependence on the living Lord, as we went along. And a truly blessed experience it was to us all.
Our assembling on the Lord's Day mornings for worship and "the breaking of bread" (Acts xx. 7) was very simple and sweet. Our prayer meetings, held twice a week, were full of the spirit of prayer, and all the brethren took part. Our Bible Reading on Wednesday evenings, in which we took up the First Epistle to the Corinthians—the charter of the church, in which the chief "commandments of the Lord" (chap. xiv. 37) are given for the ordering of the assembly gathered in His Name, in its worship, ministry, order, and discipline—were seasons of true edification, all contributing what they gathered in private study and meditation on the Word, for the help of the whole. And it was as so gathered, that new light came from the Word on many things we had not known before, proving the faithfulness of the Lord's promise concerning the promised Spirit's ministry, "He shall teach you all things" (John xiv. 26); "He will guide you into all the truth" (John xvi. 13, R.V.). I am sure of this, that if there were more of this united reading of the Word among us, in simple dependence on the Spirit to give light on what we do not know, using one and another "as He will" (1 Cor. xii. 11) to impart it, there would be few "diversities of judgment," as they are called, on fixings of vital and practical importance concerning the assembly responsibilities of the saints. For most of these "diversities,"—which are apt to develop into "divisions,"—arose, through one public teacher bringing in his view, followed by another bringing another quite different, and each dogmatically claiming for his line to be "the mind of God." And these conflicting views, lead on to opposing practices, which soon mar any company of believers. But "one mind" and "one mouth" (Rom. xv. 6), all thinking and speaking the same thing (1 Cor. i. 10), is attained by all humbly and patiently learning from one Book, under the teaching of one Spirit. And this, in the Lord's mercy, we had in large measure in these early months of our assembly life. And the results were truly blessed. This time of learning and giving effect to the precious Word of God, was followed by a season of help in the things of God through the ministry of a God-sent teacher, who came to us on a visit, intending to remain over the week-end. But God so used his teaching to draw together many of the Lord's people of the place, who had hitherto stood aloof, that he continued with us, preaching and teaching Christ for two full weeks, with the fine result that much prejudice was broken down, and about half-a-dozen of the most spiritual of the Christians, who were helped through his ministry, were brought clean out from their denominations, and added to the assembly, to become true fellow-helpers in the Lord. We learned this happy experience, that it is not by withholding God's truth that we gain confidence among fellow-helpers, but through speaking it in grace, and in the measure they are able to hear and receive.
VI.—How We Erred From the Lord’s Way.
Brought together as we had been, with little knowledge of the Word of God, and no help at all from those who knew and were gifted to teach truths regarding Divine order in the assembly of God, it was no great wonder that we made mistakes in some of our earlier experiences in assembly life. Most of us had been in churches where all was done in stereotyped order, without consideration of whether it was according to the Word of God or otherwise, and could be worked out without spiritual life, and apart from spiritual power. Now, we found ourselves in entirely different conditions, and my fifty years' experience has only confirmed the first impressions I had in gathering simply in the Lord's Name, under the guidance of the Spirit, to give effect to the pattern left in the Word, which were—(1) that a right spiritual condition individually is required in those who so assemble, if the Word of God is to be given heed to in assembly life, and (2) wherever this fails, weakness and disorder will manifest themselves, because nothing less than the Divine power of an ungrieved Holy Spirit, operating in the souls of the people of God, and the ministry of an unquenched Holy Spirit guiding and ministering through whomsoever He will, can keep an assembly of Christians in true fellowship with God, and in godly order at unity within itself. For a Scriptural position can only be maintained in a spiritual condition. And when carnality of soul, worldliness in life, and conformity to the spirit and ways of the age are allowed, God makes us to feel that we cannot give effect to His will and way in our own wisdom or strength. It is just here where we so often go wrong, and instead of owning our low estate, and confessing it to God, seek some human means of carrying on, as one put it long ago, "determined not to be beat."
Our first experience of this, will ever remain an object lesson to me. We had, during the first few months of our existence as an assembly, been happy and united, and the persecution we were subjected to, kept all, save those whom God was leading by His Word, from seeking fellowship with us. But when this first phase of the enemy's opposition ceased, and our numbers had increased, some, who had not left their denominations, and were unexercised as to their association with them, desired to "break bread" with us—more in the way of curiosity to see how we carried on our meetings, than from spiritual desire to be where they would be able to worship God according "as it is written." And not being instructed as to Scriptural order and rule in the assembly, we accorded them the thing they sought, although not without some misgiving. That day, for the first time, our morning meeting was dull, disjointed, and, as we all felt, out of the current of the Spirit's guidance. And this failure sent us to our knees and to our Bibles. We had "erred from the way," and God caused us to know and feel it that day. But it was a salutary lesson, and it caused us to consult the Lord and His Word in all our future difficulties.
VII.—Godly Order and Rule in the Assembly.
In our renunciation of clerical rule in the worship of God, we found ourselves very much like a people without a Government. Some who saw the danger of disorder, proposed that we should "elect elders," as had been done by the churches in early times, as they supposed. But when we went to the Scriptures for guidance, we found that it was not the assembly that elected, but the apostles who chose and "ordained" these elders (Acts xiv. 23), and none of us would claim to have that power. So we were cast upon God for help in our need. Prayerful and reverent searching of the Word taught us, that there is to be godly order and rule in the house of God (1 Tim. iii. 14, 15, 17; 1 Cor. xvi. 14); not as in the world's religious systems, to restrain spiritual liberty, but to conserve it; not to hinder any who were being led on in the way of obedience to God, or to restrain the exercise of any spiritual ministry, but to repress what is not according to God or for the edification of the church. Then, in regard to the ministry of the Gospel to the world, and teaching of the Word to the saints, we found that all such gifts come from the living Lord in Heaven (Eph. iv. 1), and that God "sets" in any particular assembly (1 Cor. xii. 28) as He sees need, those who are to minister to and care for His people there. That being clear, our responsibility was to receive and recognize whatever of spiritual gift the Lord might raise up or send into our midst, whether permanently as in Acts xiii. 1, or for a passing occasion as Acts xv 32, 35. In regard to over-sight and rule, we learned from 1 Tim. iii. 1, that whoever desires that work—God having put that desire into the heart (2 Cor. viii. 16)—and have the spiritual and moral qualifications for it (1 Tim. iii. 1-7; Titus i. 6-9), are to be "known" and "esteemed" (1 Thess. v. 12, 13) as overseers, whom the Holy Ghost has qualified for their service (Acts xx. 28). This is not clerisy, nor is it every man ministry, but Divine order and godly rule for the edification and blessing of assemblies of saints, wherever found. When the gift is withdrawn or labourers pass away, it is to God we are to look for others, not to the ballot box, as in the denominations. In all assemblies, however small, there are some who manifest shepherd care and take a heart interest in the saints and the service of God. These are the fit men to be recognized and owned as "guides" (Heb. xiii. 17, 24), not officially, but spiritually. Neither social position nor property count at all, in giving place and honour to those serving and ruling in the Christian assembly. Often, a godly employee may be a leader in the assembly, while his employer is a follower, gladly yielding to the man who is his servant in the workshop, the higher place in the church, while the employee is ever ready to own the rule of and the obligation to submit in all things temporal, to his "master according to the flesh" (Eph. vi. 5). When these principles are seen in the Word, and accepted as the way of God, there is always blessing in practicing them.
VIII.—Ministry, According to the Word of God.
The recoil from a one man ministry, elected by or for the people, and made permanent by human ordination, had the effect on some, of causing them to suppose that every man was free to publicly preach and teach, apart from gift and grace to use it. This was very shortly proved to be erroneous, both in theory and in practice. When we came together as worshippers, to exercise the common functions of our priesthood (1 Pet. ii. 5), guided by the Spirit (Phil. iii. 3, R.V.), any were at liberty to lead the praises, thanksgivings and worship, as they had ability. But this principle does not apply to a meeting for the preaching of the Gospel. Some thought it did, and it was tried, but found wanting. For all are not evangelists or fitted to speak in public. Only those who are, should occupy the platform. When this was seen to be the Lord's way, the next thing to be considered was, how were those so fitted to be known, and how were arrangements to be made so as to give all who were thus gifted, an opportunity to exercise their ministry? Of course, the wide world is open, and there is need for the Gospel everywhere. But our first responsibility was toward the assembly's own Gospel testimony, as carried on in our hall on the evenings of the Lord's Day. This had been continued for a time by helpers from other places, who, hearing of our need, had willingly offered their help. And God had blessed their ministry to conversions. But we found that continuous help from other places gave little opportunity for exercising and developing any gifts of preaching, among ourselves, which several young men had proved themselves to possess, and had used in acceptable preaching of the Gospel, in cottages and in the open air. So it was arranged by those who took the oversight, and had special care of the Gospel work of the assembly, that while ALL whom the Lord sent into our midst would be gladly welcomed when they came, none should be specially asked or arranged for, to take a month or any specified period, as had been recommended by some who wrought on that system. We had found that if a preacher had no fresh message to give, no Holy Ghost power in his preaching, and no results in conversions, a month was too long for his unfruitful ministry. If in power, the people coming increasingly to hear, and the Lord working with him, to cut his ministry short to make room for another, who might be out of condition, to continue what the man sent from God had begun, would be a serious mistake, and as we had already proved to our cost, might damp out the work of the Spirit of God in our midst. So we ceased from the "open meeting" system, in which any man might speak—or, as sometimes happened, all sat dumb, the audience wondering what they had come for—and also from the "monthly minister" way, to be guided by the Lord, as we ought always to be, to welcome and make room for whom the Lord sends from afar, or calls and for the occasion fits, from among ourselves, to preach the Word. And He has not failed us.
IX.—Bypaths, and Their Attractions.
For several years, our numbers increased. Gospel work, carried on in the assembly's hall on Lord's Days, and at times nightly when an evangelist came among us on a visit, yielded precious fruit, the converts being taught the ways of the Lord and added to the assembly. For while we never hurried, or even invited any to "join themselves" to us, we did—as the Word of God very fully shows us, those who preached the Gospel did in early times—teach those who believed, the truths of believer's baptism, separation from the world's religion, and gathering unto the Name of the Lord Jesus in the assembly, not as our Creed or Confession of faith, but as part of "THE faith of God's elect" (Titus i. 1), "once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3, R.V.), not as a relic of the past, to be admired, but as the abiding Word of God, to guide and control all our ways, individual and collective, for all the days. These were happy years, full of activity and rich in spiritual experiences. It is just under such conditions that the ever-watchful enemy seeks especially to bring into an assembly of believers, elements, which, if long permitted to work unchallenged and unchecked, make mischief. Ours began in a most insidious manner. Among those whom we had received to the assembly's fellowship was a brother, who had for a number of years been in what is commonly known as an “Exclusive" meeting, which for some cause had ceased. For a while he sat alone, then came to our Gospel meetings, and forming acquaintance with some of the believers, who spoke of him as a "well instructed brother," he eventually applied for fellowship, and was received into the assembly, little being known of his antecedents. He was given a class of young men to teach, and it was not long before we had evidence that he was busy indoctrinating them in some peculiar "views" he held, and taking them through the whole history of "Bethesda," the Darby division and its results, which badly upset a number and led—as it was intended to lead—several into the "bypath" of Darbyism. When he had accomplished his purpose, he left the assembly, taking a few of those who had been influenced by his teachings with him. We felt very sad over this, our first rupture. Some were influenced by it in an opposite direction, for shortly after these left us, others who had come from other places cried out for a "wider fellowship," with a certain going and coming with denominations and their missions, from which the Word of God had brought us out, and back to which it could not lead us again. As in the case of those who had gone to "Exclusivism," the saintly lives, edifying ministry, and service in the Gospel of some, were all held up as attractions to the positions that these dear brethren occupied, and as reasons for us recognizing them there, and betimes associating with them in their denominational work. But while we are called to love all who are Christ's, because they are Christ's, we are not under obligation to go into the wrong positions or to share in what we believe to be the unscriptural practices of our brethren, to manifest our love to them. On the contrary, we prove our love to the Lord (John xiv. 23) by keeping His words, and love to our brethren is always to be "in the truth" (2 John 1). So we have sought "through grace" given, to maintain what we believe to be the Scriptural position and path all these years—which is neither laxity nor narrowness, but a walk "in love" (Eph. v. 2), and "in the truth" (3 John iii.).
X.—Gospel Preaching and Ministry of the Word.
In our early years of assembly life, we had frequent visits of God-honoured evangelists, of whom there were quite a few in these years, men who had given themselves to the work of evangelizing the unconverted, and who gave all their days and every day, to this work, mostly in places where there were no assemblies, preaching in schools, halls, barns, and cottages, as the Lord opened doors for His Gospel. Sometimes it was laid on their hearts to visit the assemblies they had been used in planting, or increasing, for a special effort in the Gospel, nightly, either in the hall where the saints were wont to meet, or in a public hall to which the towns-people would more readily go. We were always ready to welcome God-sent men, to co-operate heartily with them, and see that as the servants of the Lord, they lacked nothing, not only while they laboured among us, but at other times as well. But we never invited, certainly never "engaged" any to come for a special time, as if we could determine how long God intended to work in our midst or keep His servants among us. In this simple and, I believe, Scriptural course, we have continued, and regret to see so many departing from it, to what approximates to the "hiring" system, so ruinous to all spiritual ministry, but practiced in all the "denominations" and "missions" from whose principles and practices God's Word has separated us. But while we have been greatly helped in our Gospel testimony by such visits, we do not rely wholly on them, for an effective, continuous Gospel work, but seek to exercise what gift we have among us, in preaching the Gospel all the year through. And God has very graciously given His help in this and His blessing on it. We have the largest stated Sunday evening congregation in the town, and it is composed very largely of church-going people, who often bring their neighbours. We have no choir, use and need no organ, but sing the Gospel and praise God for salvation as a people who love it, and are in possession of the blessings it brings. And a man of the world, told publicly quite lately, that we are the only church in B, where there is good singing, "because all sing." In ministry of God's Word to the saved, we have much the same habit. When a brother gifted to minister the truth offers his help, for a Lord's Day or week nights, we gladly accept it, and seek to give a wide invitation to all God's people in the place to come and hear. And by this means, quite a number have been helped in spiritual life, most of whom have ultimately desired to be in the assembly, though we never pressed them, but left God to lead them on by His Word. But we have all the year round an afternoon meeting on the Lord's Day for ministry and exhortation, with the object of mutually helping ourselves and feeding the lambs of the flock on simple truths they need. And during the week, we have a prayer meeting and Bible reading, in which all are encouraged to take part, and most do. Without such stated ministry of God's Word, no assembly can grow.
[Conclusion]:—A Right Spiritual Condition.
It has often been remarked, and is constantly kept in prominence in mutual ministry and exhortation among us, that having returned to the simple Scriptural Position of God's assembly, as it is described in the Word, our chief business should be to maintain a right spiritual Condition, in which the fellowship, functions, and activities of the assembly may be kept in lively exercise. Nothing can make up for the lack of such a condition. If it is not found among us, everything will go wrong. And then human devices without number will be resorted to, to keep things straight, without success. For while human systems of religion, and churches formed according to man's own predilections, can be made a "success," apart from spiritual life in their members or Divine power in their worship and ministry, an assembly of believers constituted according to the pattern left for our guidance in the Word, cannot, but will either go into confusion, or become a ruin, if those that compose it depart in heart from God, and become worldly in life and ways. And it is a mercy surely, that thus it is. For a church, from which Christ is shut out (see Rev. iii. 20), with carnality ruling within (see 1 Cor. iii. 3), has little in it to give God His due in worship, or what the world needs in true testimony for Christ. Hence the need of all who guide and all who minister in the assembly of the saints, having ever before them as the object of all their service, the maintenance of the saints individually in a right spiritual state, and the fellowship of that assembly in a healthy working condition. Should differences arise—as they will, so long as the flesh is in us; should dissensions threaten—as they must wherever man's will is in activity; should parties form—as we know they did in the churches of apostolic times, those who "watch for souls" should seek unto God, and act for Him as His Word directs, before these work havoc and break forth into open rupture and God-dishonouring divisions. Some are lethargic and unwilling to interfere. It is not work that they like to do. But if it is for God, and to hinder the devil, it should be done faithfully and fearlessly. Phinehas, the priest, would find it unsavoury and unpleasant work to cast his javelin (Num. vii. 11) at the guilty pair in the camp, but that act saved the congregation from righteous judgment, received the commendation of Jehovah, and gained for him a covenant of everlasting priesthood.
Faithful dealing in the beginnings of wrong—always in wisdom and in love, covers, or hinders a multitude of sins. It has been our experience throughout fifty years of assembly life, that where godly and humble-minded men, who have the honour of God and the glory of Christ as their only motives in service, who seek and claim no place among their brethren, save to serve and guide them as the flock of God, keeping the lowly place in a lowly mind—are, that they are esteemed and owned by all the godly. And if at times they are challenged by the carnal, as Moses was in ancient days, blamed for "taking too much" upon them (Num. xvi. 3) by place-seekers and their following, God vindicates their character and work in due time, and overthrows all evil counsels that rise against them. It is the most delightful sight on earth, to see a company of God's people "dwelling together in unity," walking in the truth and in love, and while serving the Lord in the spread of His Gospel in the world, and His truth among His people, are waiting expectantly for His coming to take them unto Himself to their heavenly home.
We live in a day when everything belonging to God and Christ in this world, is being assailed, not so much by open persecution, as by secret seduction, for the devil hates every true testimony raised to the honour of the Lord Jesus, and on the lines of the Word of God. And if he cannot destroy it by force, he seeks to corrupt it by introducing that into it which will work as leaven, and in due time so deteriorate its value, that God ceases to own it as a vessel for the display of His power. This is our chief danger at the present time. Principles and practices borrowed from the world have been the ruin of every spiritual testimony raised up by God in these last days, and ours—feeble as it may be—is no exception. Younger men, who have not had the experience of watching this degeneracy, are apt to discount its danger, and to think themselves wise beyond their fathers, and able to come and go with the world's religion without becoming ensnared in its meshes and blinded to its deceits. But I am absolutely sure that this cannot be, and God has warned us well of it, in His Holy Word.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1919.