Confession and Humiliation.
AT present not a few "brethren" (and I use the word as Scripture uses it, as including every child of God not disqualified by scriptural discipline of the house of God), thank God, are "sighing and crying" before Him. God has many hidden ones thus exercised. With all such, I sadly take my place. I would humbly "confess my sin and the sin of my people." But all true confession implies purpose of heart to "forsake" what is confessed, for ''God is not mocked." He looks at the heart. Oh! to remember what a child of God said long ago: "What every man is in the sight of God, that he is, and nothing more." Deeply sensible of this, I would take my place as having sinned, and being painfully conscious of it, I would not throw a stone of which I do not myself feel the weight. Yes, alas! "we have sinned." We form part of the Church, both as to its privileges and its responsibilities. We could only escape this solemn "WE" by an utter apostasy from Christ.
May we not learn from analogous times in Israel's history what becomes us now? Let us recall the "little reviving" He graciously gave us. It will humble us. Early in the last century, when things had come to a very low ebb in the Church, did He not stir His prepared vessels with zeal unknown till then, to make the savour of the name of Christ known in dark and heathen lands? Did He not also, by constraining others of His servants to consider His Word with regard to the Lordship of Christ and to the calling and privileges of the Church, raise a very precious witness to the glories and the claims of Him who loved the Church and gave Himself for it? Were not some of His children called into a deeper knowledge of Him and a closer communion with Him in His thoughts of the Church of God? Did not "the knowledge of salvation" become the experience and the daily joy of many of His little ones, hitherto almost strangers to it? Was not the blessed hope of Christ's speedy return made the living light of many a heart that had never known its bliss before?
Yes truly, it was a "reviving" and a most gracious one! A knowledge as never before of the privileges of the individual believer and of the Church of God. A revelation more intimate and soul-stirring of the Son of God. A hope bright with the anticipation of being with Christ, and like Him at His coming again. A "revival" which to some of us made the Bible a new book, and the ways of God an entrancing study!
Yet, how have we answered to the "heavenly vision?" How have we kept the sacred "deposit" (2 Tim. i. 14)? Have not the shameful divisions been increased by the failure and carnality of those who began with a sense of responsibility to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"? Has our walk been in "newness of life"? Has there been a true endeavour to maintain the holiness that becomes God's house? When called for discipline has been exercised, has it not been often marked by the harshness and haste of wounded vanity rather than Divine discipline, which has always the honour of God and the restoration of the offender for its object? Has the sin-offering been eaten in the holy place? Have we "mourned" according to God in the sadness of having to deal thus with such as had been to us heretofore "a brother beloved" and a member of Christ? Let us, my brethren, recall such cases. Could the words of 2 Corinthians vi. 11 be applied to us: "Ye sorrowed after a godly sort; what carefulness it wrought in you . . . In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter"? Discipline such as this would be very likely to result in the restoration of the offender; it would certainly be blessed to those who exercised it.
The oneness of the body of Christ is much more than a pleasant theory. It is a great reality, an unspeakable privilege, carrying with it solemn responsibilities toward all believers. I am one with the Head in heaven, and one with every member upon earth. If I harbour sin, I cannot keep it to myself, "for we are members one of another." So serious a matter is it to introduce evil into what is, in profession, and according to responsibility, the body of Christ!
The confession of Daniel was of "my sin and the sin of my people," and we occupy a place analogous to that in which he stood. He and his fellows of that day (see Ezek. ix.; Ezra. ix.; Neh. Ix.) knew that the sin of Israel was theirs, and confessed it as such. Let us take this lowly place, and cry in true humiliation and faith, "Defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God; for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name." Oh, how faith sets a soul with God, even though it be in deep humiliation! Let each of us, like Daniel, confess "my sin and the sin of my people"! There surely should be no hesitation. "We have sinned." Our God puts the words upon our lips. May we honestly and earnestly take them up, with deep contrition! True, our God has given us "a little reviving." But this should enable us to say, in the very dust, "my sin and the sin of my people." May God help us! He loves and dwells in a humble and contrite spirit. O God, we would now take this place before Thee. It is ours. And thus we would confess the sin of the whole Church of God. It becomes us, myself and those whom I specially address, to ponder well our attitude of mind and our action in the Church (always remembering that the Church consists of every soul on earth united to Christ by the Holy Spirit). It is easy to write burning articles against some new development of the old hatred to Christ and His atonement, and such articles may be very much in season. But there is so much pride in our hearts, often unsuspected, that it is anything but easy to get into the dust before God and confess "my sin and the sin of my people." Yet this is what our God would lead us to. Blessed place that Daniel took with regard to Israel, and which we are now called to take with regard to the Church! "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness" for those who are truly humbled at His feet. And we would be there as He was, without excuse, without relief. He was with God in His thoughts of Israel. May we be with Him in His thoughts of the Church! How sad its history in its outward and responsible aspect, from apostolical days, through the dark ages till to-day! When we are conscious of the sin of the Church, the first duty is true humbleness about it, and confession of it to God. We may have to "earnestly contend" (Jude 3), and we must "purge" ourselves in obedience to 2 Timothy ii. 21. Oh! to think of the Church as its glories pass before us in Ephesians, and then to consider it in its present state as committed to our care; or to compare Acts iv. 31-37 with Acts xx. 28-31. What frightful developments are depicted in the latter passage! Oh! what occasions for sighing and crying, for mourning and fasting, for humiliation and confession; and that not only for the Church as a whole, but especially for those who have learned in these last days something of what the Church is in the sight and estimate of God, of its preciousness to Him, Who "nourisheth and cherisheth" it, that He may "present to Himself a glorious Church."
We have, alas! done much to frustrate His blessed purposes. That, thank God, we cannot do, nor do we wish to do it. May God give us to see what the moral result of our guilty unfaithfulness is! We have been called to witness to the unity of the Church, and to the just pre-eminence of Him Who is its Head and Lord; to witness that "holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever," and we are entrusted with the "Hope" that we may purify ourselves, and with a greater measure of truth that we may be sanctified by it.
How have we answered to our responsibility? How are we answering to it? Are we walking in unity amongst ourselves and with all saints as far as possible? Are we walking in holiness? Are we purifying ourselves, even as He is pure? Are we sanctified through the truth?
The following twelve brethren have gladly added their names to Dr. Neatby's letter in token of their full approval of its contents, and their earnest desire that it may lead to much searching of heart amongst believers generally. Many others would have done likewise had there been opportunity, but it was thought that these would suffice:
W. H. BENNET.
E. B. SPARKS.
H. G. LLOYD.
G. W. HEATH.
J. W. JORDAN.
FRED S. ARNOT.
G. P. BERGIN.
A. O. MOLESWORTH.
J. R. CALDWELL.