EIGHT LETTERS FROM THE PASTOR TO THE BRETHREN OF
[* I believe it was divine providence which placed these eight letters in my care; they were all written by Pastor D. M. Panton to the members of Surrey Chapel between 1905 and 1914. I consider it a great honour to be allowed to make use of their edificatory contents on "the website"; and I trust they will become a channel of divine blessing to all who have a genuine desire to put into daily practice their moral teaching.]
day a twelve-month ago I wrote to you from the far waters of the
2. AGAIN, IN THE PRESENT DISTRESS OF THIS AGE ALSO, OUR EYES BEHOLD JESUS ONLY.
He saved (Tit. 3: 5.): He saves (Phil. 2: 12.): and He will save (1 Peter 1: 5.) He saves us from sin by His blood; from ignorance by His Word; from our flesh by His Spirit; from temptation by His grace; from sorrow by hope; and from the fear of death by the promise of His presence. Ours is a Saviour who can save all along the line. Will you let me repeat, with redoubled assurance, the words I used when last year’s cloud had gathered, but not yet broken? Christ is all and in all. There is no sorrow, nor disappointment, nor spasm of pain across the burdened heart, in which there is not - Christ. Col. 3: 11. He is the Physician by my bed; the Rock beneath my feet; the Staff in my hands; the Altogether-lovely to my eyes; the Manna for my mouth; the Burden-bearer for my shoulders:- He is my Comforter in life, my Paradise in the grave, and my God in Heaven at last.
3. FINALLY, THE GLORY THAT IS TO BE REVEALED IS FILLED WITH JESUS ONLY.
With what intense joy we lift our eyes to the coming years! We are the daylight people walking on the morning lands: our load of sin rolled from our shoulders when we saw the Crucified, - our burden of mortality will fall away when we behold the Glorified. "Ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness; so then ... let us watch and be sober" (1 Thes. 5: 5). We watch for Christ: we watch ourselves. It is still Jesus only: for of the wrath which ushers in the Reign of Peace, He says:-"I have trodden the winepress alone" (Isa. 63: 3). So all the Glory centres in our one blessed, holy, and adorable Lord. "And the City hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev. 21: 23). In the words once written in the margin of Mr. Moody’s Bible by an anonymous hand, long since fallen into dust :- The light of Heaven is the face of Jesus; the joy of Heaven is the presence of Jesus; the melody of Heaven is the name of Jesus; the harmony of Heaven is the praise of Jesus; the theme of Heaven is the work of Jesus; the employment of Heaven is the service of Jesus; the duration of Heaven is the eternity of Jesus; and the fulness of Heaven is JESUS HIMSELF.
Yours to love and serve,
D. M. PANTON.
The eye excels the ear as an avenue into the soul, if a printed page is examined and pondered; so I would send you lovingly another summer letter; and as I am most anxious that in both you and me the work of self-humbling should go much deeper than it has yet gone, I commend to you - as a symptom, though a symptom only, of lowly heart-contrition - God’s truth about FASTING. My own unutterable longing is for a humility that I have never known: I have to pray for my prayers, and weep for my tears: oh, that our sorrow might be lifted into God’s, that where He has to grieve over us, we might grieve too! "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5: 6).
1. FASTING IS A PRACTICE OF THE GOSPEL RATHER THAN OF THE LAW.
By the afflicted soul the Jews have always understood the fasting soul (Lev. 23: 27); nevertheless the works of law, by which man was to win life, commanded abstinence, not from food, but from sin. "Is not this the fast," Jehovah said, "that I have chosen? to loose the bonds of wickedness." Isa. 58: 6. Fasting for salvation is not only unmeritorious, since it was not commanded; it is also wicked, for to go back to law is to fall from grace. Gal. 5: 4. Fasting does not produce life in a soul: it nourishes humility in a soul already alive.
2. NO AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE SPEAKS OF FASTING SO OFTEN AS OUR LORD.
(i) Christ practised it. Matt. 4: 2. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; ... when I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach" (Psa. 69: 10). (2) Christ prophesied it. "The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then will they fast in that day" (Mark 2: 20). So also apostles fulfilled Christ’s word. "In everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, ... in fastings" (2 Cor. 6: 5). If we do not fast, have we ever yet mourned as we ought for the Bridegroom of our souls? (3) Christ enjoins it as an act of righteousness. "Do not your righteousness before men ... When thou fastest anoint thy head" (Matt. 6: 1, 17). (4) Christ promises its due reward. "Thou fastest; ... and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall recompense thee" (Matt. 6: 18). The three most prolonged fasters in all history, Elijah, Moses, and our Lord, were the three transfigured upon the Mount: it is the bruised body that carries the crowned brow. 1 Cor. 9: 27; Rom. 8: 13. "My knees," the Psalmist says, "are weak through fasting" (Psa. 109: 24).
3. CHRIST TELLS US HOW TO FAST.
(1) Its times are optional:- "when ye fast." Set seasons - feast days, new moons, Sabbaths - are of the Law (Col. 2: 16): the degree and occasion of the fast must be determined by the disciple’s own conscience and judgment. (2) Its manner is to be secret. "Anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou be not seen of men to fast." The bread of tears is not to be consumed in public: it is a silent sacrifice to God offered upon the hidden altar of the heart. "When ye fasted and mourned, ... even these seventy years, did ye at all fast unto Me, even to Me?" (Zech. 7: 5). It is a secret act between God and the soul.
4. GOD'S PEOPLE HAVE EVER PROFITED BY TRUE FASTING.
temptation (Matt. 4: 2): in conflict with
Evil Powers (Mark 9: 29): in appointment of
Church officers (Acts 14: 23): in
despatching missionaries (Acts 13: 3): in
peril (2 Cor. 11: 27). God's servants expect answers
to a prayerful fast (Isa. 58: 3): if He is silent, it is for sin (Jer. 14: 10-12).
Ahab, fasting, was reprieved (1 Kings, 21:
29); Jehoshaphat, fasting, was victorious (2 Chron. 20: 3, 15, 22);
Ezra, fasting, was delivered (Ezra 8: 21, 31) Esther, fasting,
averted massacre (Est. 4: 16); to Daniel,
fasting, Heaven opened (Dan. 9: 3, 21);
which is not practised, like the manna, corrupts: most earnestly, therefore, do
I commend to you this doctrine of God. "When ye
fast," as Augustine says, is equivalent to "that ye fast"; then, "why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say? Not that Christians are to cultivate
asceticism: we are strangers and pilgrims, not hermits the abstinencies of asceticism are foreign to the Gospel.
Luke 7: 34;
Yours with love greetings in Christ,
D. M. PANTON.
Keswick, July 25, 1906.
My last letter dealt with Doctrine *: I now ask your attention to Life. Both are essentially and inseparably Scriptural: life is the flower of doctrine, and doctrine is the seed of life. It is a profound mystery to me how a Christian can be anything but passionately Scriptural. John 12: 48, Acts 17: 2. But let us never forget that ‘Scriptural’ does not apply to doctrine exclusively. The body of Scripture is made up of marrow and fatness, as well as of hard bone and rigid skeleton: it is as impossible to be Scriptural without love and tenderness as without sound doctrine and right ritual. Nay, more, - if one is to be balanced against the other - God wishes the one to be balanced with the other - love is superior to light. Of all things the most Scriptural is the BEAUTIFUL LIFE.
[* ‘LETTER TWO’ is not the ‘last letter’. The pastor may have written several other letters each year to his ‘beloved brethren’. This applies also to his remarks in letters which were written at a later date. For example, see the date of letter 4. - written 4 years later.]
I. A SWEET TEMPER.
"Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go
down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil" (Eph. 4: 26).
A rare but real peril of the gentle sway of Grace over our lives is lest
we lose our capacity for righteous indignation.
More than three hundred times God’s anger is stated in the Bible. But observe:- "he only is angry without sin who is only angry with sin":
and if a moment is sufficient for God’s anger (Psa. 30: 5),
a day is enough for mine: "let not the sun go
down upon your wrath." Prolonged paroxysms of bad
temper are a grave peril to any soul: missionaries in
2. BUSY HANDS.
"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need." It is God’s rule - there are blessed exceptions (1 Cor. 9: 14) - that each disciple, as he is called, should "abide in that calling wherein he was called" (1 Cor. 7: 20); always assuming it is a Scriptural calling, - "the thing that is good." It perplexed John Wesley that a disciple’s honesty, industry, frugality, tend to wealth, - that wealth, amassed, tends almost invariably to deterioration of character - and that there seemed no escape from this vicious circle. Here is the solution. The Christian is commanded to create a surplus: not, however, that the surplus should be treasured, but "that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need." His gold is ever to be melting into the needs of others: "so labouring, ye ought to help the weak, and to remember how He himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts xx. 35). Can you imagine a more lovely element in the Beautiful Life?
3. A CLEAN MOUTH.
"Putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbour: for ye are members one of another." "Lying lips," saith the Scripture, "are an abomination unto the Lord" (Prov. 12: 22): do we realize the loathsomeness of a lie? If corruption rises to the lips, check it there: "let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth." But affirmatively also :- "but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear." Of a beloved brother it was recently said:- "He became deeply sensitive to the words he used in ordinary conversation with others, particularly in the way of jest. It came very forcibly to him that every word spoken by a Christian man should be as reliable as the words of God, as far as it is possible to fallible men. Seldom will a remark about another draw from him a word - he only silently prays: no ‘waste’ conversation will he ever enter into; and if he sees that the highest things cannot be referred to, he will quietly leave the room." It is immediately after sins of speech that we read of the grief of God. "I would not sing a wicked or a frivolous word," says Madame Antoinette Sterling, "for anything on earth." The man who can master the tongue has got a grip of every passion (Jas. 3: 2): it is a final stage of the Beautiful Life that "in their mouth was found no guile: they are without blemish" (Rev. 14: 5).
4. A RIGHT SPIRIT.
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing,
be put away from you, with all malice." Not only a catalogue, but a genealogy, of
sin; each of these breeds another and a worse: bitterness - concealed
ill-temper; wrath - ill-temper stirred into passion; anger - passion directed
against a particular person: clamour - anger finding vent in scolding; railing
- scolding passing into harsh and groundless accusations; and the malignant
root of it all - malice - the fixed and settled hatred of Satan himself. These must be deliberately ‘put away’: if harboured, the Beautiful Life, is forever impossible. But let us not lose heart. A political adventurer, who had escaped from
many of the prisons of
5. A TENDER HEART.
"Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other." Do we realize the immense stress God lays on Love? Knowledge - the whole range of the Bible; faith - the whole range of the possible; miracle - the whole range of power; almsgiving - the whole range of the practical; martyrdom - the whole range of devotion: it is astounding to learn that each of these, without love, "profiteth me nothing." Henry Drummond has said that no Christian can read 1 Cor. 13., daily and prayerfully, without growing into the likeness of his Lord. Kindness - love in action; tenderheartedness - readiness to listen to an appeal; forgiveness - for, until Christ comes, there will always be, among us disciples, the frictions which require the forgiveness:- these are strands woven into the very texture of the Beautiful Life. And how are we to forgive? "Even as God also for Christ’s sake forgave you." God forgave me, not because I deserved it - no more must I: God never rakes up what He once forgives; when He forgives, He forgets - so must I: God forgave me for Some One else’s sake - so must I. Our heavenly Father has no friends in all the world to-day except those He has made so by forgiving. How godlike! The pure and tender heart is the perpetual fountain of the Beautiful Life: and our earthly lives, humble and obscure now, will be among the wealthiest things of eternity, if so lived.
Your brother in Christ,
D. M. PANTON.
Keswick, July 17th, 1909.
Our last meditation was on Work*: it is appropriate therefore that we now turn to REWARD. Scripture regards each disciple as a runner racing, an athlete wrestling, a warrior fighting, a farmer sowing, a mason building, a fugitive flying, a besieger storming; and all this strenuous intensity rests on a fundamental of revelation - that God is, and that "He is a Rewarder" (Heb. 11: 6). "With many disciples," in the words of Dr. Pierson, "the eyes are yet blinded to this mystery of rewards, which is an open mystery of the Word. It must be an imputed righteousness whereby we enter: but, having thus entered by faith, our works determine our relative rank, place, reward."
1. A CHURCH TRUTH.
Perhaps no words are more frequently on our Lord’s lips than these:- "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each [disciple] according as his work is" (Rev. 22: 12). To whom is this said? "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the Churches." So Paul says:- "He that planteth and he that watereth are one" - in standing and redemption - "but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Cor. 3: 8). Our Lord singles out a grave act of discipline, and presents it as symptomatic of His habitual action. "I do cast her into great tribulation: ... and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works" (Rev. 2: 22). So Paul balances the double-edged recompense. "Servants, obey: ... knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ. For - on the other hand - he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done: and there is no respect of persons" (Col. 3: 22-25). It is a truth that concerns us.
All honest difficulty on this truth vanishes, I think, when we examine what God rewards and, first of all, God’s recompense rests supremely on godlikeness, and godlike conduct. "Love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for He is kind toward the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6: 35). Here reward turns upon likeness in character and conduct to our Father in heaven. Secret devotion, also, will be rewarded. "Pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee" (Matt. 6: 6): not only will the prayer be answered, but the praying will be recompensed. Moreover our attitude of heart will help to sway the Lord’s adjudication on our service: "Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6: 37). Our life [behaviour] is putting, word by word, the sentence upon ourselves into Christ’s lips: we are manufacturing, as servants, our own adjudication. For goodness and glory are but two halves of one whole: goodness is the suffering side of glory, and glory is the shining side of goodness.
labour, also, will be exactly recompensed.
"Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of
these little ones a cup of cold water only" - the minimum of gift -
"in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you,
he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matt. 10: 42).
For what is reward? "To him that worketh,
the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt
But, most searching truth of all, God rewards supremely the why that underlies the service. "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness" - conduct really good in itself - "before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 6: 1). Motive is thus revealed as decisively crucial. "The Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each have his praise from God" (1 Cor. 4: 5). For exaltation in the Kingdom is in inverse ratio to lowliness of service in the Church. "For whosoever would [wishes to] become great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever would be first among you, shall be slave of all" (Mark 10: 43).
is also reserved for all suffering undergone for Christ. "Blessed are ye,
when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company,
and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s
sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for
joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven" (Luke 6: 23).
Suffering generally ensures purity of motive; and the Lord
counterbalances the fear of man, not only by the more tremendous fear of God (Rev. 2: 16), but also by the magnitude of His
reward suggested," in
the words of Mr. J. H. Lowe, "is a prize of a value inconceivable by us at present, and
can only be appreciated at the Judgment Seat." So Moses accounted "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of
Thus Reward not only supplies a motive in itself legitimate: it is a motive to which our Lord and His Apostles make constant and direct appeal; - e.g., Christ (Matt. 6: 1), Paul (1 Cor. 9: 24), Peter (1 Pet. 1: 17), James (Jas. 1: 12), and John (2 John 8). "I believe for my part," says Dr. Alexander Maclaren, "that we suffer terribly by the comparative neglect into which this side of Christian truth has fallen. Do you not think that it would make a difference to you if you really believed, and carried away with you in your thoughts, the thrilling consciousness that every act of the present was registered, and would tell, on the far side beyond?"
Remember, beloved, three things:- that Sadoc, the founder of the Sadducees, started his career of unbelief by denying the doctrine of reward: also, that this principle took full effect even upon our Lord - "who for the joy that was set before Him endured" (Heb. 12: 2): moreover, that no wise disciple can afford to neglect so great a mass of Scripture, or to throw away so mighty an incentive to holiness. Our discovery of this truth at the Judgment Seat will be too late. Every seed we drop into the soil - every thought and word and act - banked in God, and will one day spring up in lovely, or alarming, harvest, - as we sowed, what we sowed, as much as we sowed, and why we sowed. Therefore "LOOK TO YOURSELVES THAT YE LOSE NOT THE THINGS THAT YE HAVE WROUGHT, BUT THAT YE RECEIVE A FULL REWARD" (2 John 8).
Yours in Christ Jesus,
D. M. PANTON.
Another year dawns: in its first hours let us provoke one another to love and to good works: and in our Lord’s wonderful INASMUCH I think we shall find one of the most exquisite incentives to Christ-like toil which the Scriptures contain. For observe, first, a physiological fact. The nerves of sensation all centre in the brain: every pleasure, every pain, is instantly telegraphed to the head: so, if the head be drugged or struck unconscious, no wound in the body, however deep, can be felt. Now "ye are the body of Christ, and severally"- individually - "members thereof" (1 Cor. 12: 27): "and He is the head of the body, the church" (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1: 22). For all purposes of joy and sorrow, for all conscious life and daily sensation, Christ and His Church are one Man: one, not so that the Body suffers all that the Head suffers, but that the Head suffers all that the Body suffers. "For both He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2: 11).
Thus in the judgment,* - looking backward, Jesus says,- "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was naked, and ye clothed me" (Matt. 25: 35). We know how stringent is God’s command to succour. "If a brother or sister be naked, and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body, what doth it profit?" (Jas. 2: 15). Many love - it has been said - at their tongue’s end; we are to love at our finger’s end: or, as a very ancient writer puts it, - "The bread, which you hold back, belongs to the hungry; the shoe which is mouldering in your wardrobe belongs to the shoeless." But the amazing revelation here is that the succour is not done for Christ, but to Christ: Christ is more amongst us than we dream. "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." Christ hungers when His people lack bread, and when they are clothed in sheepskins and goatskins, He shivers: "in all their affliction He was afflicted" (Is. 63: 9). Col. 1: 24; Acts 9: 4.
[* "Doubtless our Lord's least brethren are the Jews (Deut. 17: 20), and the Parable is prophetic: but it is obvious that its principle must be more true, not less, of His greater brethren (Matt. 12: 50) of the Church."]
"I was a stranger, and ye took me in." The word may imply a covert allusion to church fellowship: you ‘took me along with you’ into the family circle; you forgot not "to show love unto strangers" (Heb. 13: 2), to "them that are brethren and strangers withal" (3 John 5). Philip Henry, the commentator’s brother, remonstrated with his daughter for her engagement to a Christian man who was a stranger. "Father," she answered, "I do not know where he comes from, but I know where he is going to, and I want to go with him." Could a lovelier pilgrim-answer be conceived? We come from the four quarters of the globe, but we shall be gathered within four city walls at last. "Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name" - on the ground that he is a fellow pilgrim - "receiveth Me" (Matt. 18: 5): how this hallows and ennobles all church fellowship, and all kindness done to a total stranger. The wistful loneliness in many a weary face is an un-assuaged suffering of Christ : "ye did it not unto Me."
"I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." It is true, not for church officers only, but for all disciples, that we either visit, or do not visit, Jesus: for "pure religion and undefiled [for us all] before our God and Father is this, to visit" (Jas. 1: 27) the bereaved. Some are too poor to feed or clothe others: none are too poor to visit. Jesus does not say, I was sick, and ye did not cure Me; or, I was in prison, and ye did not release Me: all He asks is a visit. Yet gifts that are coined out of flesh and blood are more valuable, and more costly - in sympathy, in sacrifice, in weariness - than any which bear the imprint of the Royal Mint. "Pastor," a member once said to his minister, "that was a good sermon you preached on Heaven yesterday: but you did not tell us where Heaven is?" "Ah," said the minister, "I am glad of the chance to tell you now. Yonder, on that hill-top, a member of our church lies in bed ill with fever, and her two children lie ill in the other bed: there is not a bit of coal, or a stick of wood, nor flour, nor sugar, nor bread in the house. If you will buy five shillings’ worth of these things, and say to her, - ‘Sister, I have brought these in our Saviour’s name,’ and then, with your Bible in your hand, will kneel down and pray, - if you do not find Heaven before you are through, I will pay the bill." Next day the brother said, - "Pastor, I have seen Heaven, and I have been fifteen minutes in it." "I was sick": it is Christ who lies on the sick bed where we minister; and in times of persecution the best place in all the world to find our Lord is a prison cell.
So we have in our hands the supreme clue whereby we can show our love for Christ. As, in the days of His flesh, Jesus was always crowded by the obscure and the despised and the sick and the sad, so He is thronged by them now: even in the glory of the gathered nations He draws them round Him still - "these my brethren": and, if we would find Him, quickest and surest, we must seek Him in the sufferers of the Flock, where every smart the Body feels, the Head suffers. What would we do if Jesus crossed our threshold to-day, underfed, ill-clad, sick and lonely? How exquisite a discovery that we can actually reach Him through them, - an opportunity, which will never recur to all eternity, to feed and clothe and cheer and love Him, as He wanders down the bleak and cheerless highways of the world. Nor will He forget. It will amaze us to find every momentary kindness, every forgotten gift, every touch of sympathy, tabulated and restored to us in the glory (Matt. 10: 42): blessed is that disciple who goes before the Judgment Seat clothed in the intercessions of the poor! "Inasmuch as ye did it unto these my brethren, ye did it unto Me."
Yours always in Him.
For years now it has been a cause of deep thankfulness that our members, as a whole, have been exemplary in attendance; and so, in emphasising WORSHIP, I am merely strengthening what is already strong. Yet it is well to remind ourselves of the amazing fact that as lately as 1854 it was illegal for more than twenty persons to meet for prayer in an unlicensed hall: how we should use to the full privileges so recent, and perhaps precarious!
1. THE TYPE.
The priests, consecrated in the Laver and by the touch of blood on ear, thumb, and toe, were shut in with the High Priest for seven days, until, on the eighth day, Aaron came forth to bless the assembled multitudes. So we, God’s priests, consecrated in the baptismal laver - "the laver of regeneration," i.e., the laver attached to regeneration (Tit. 3: 5) - and having entered on service with blood-purged ear for hearing, blood-purged thumb for working, and blood-purged foot for walking, are now commanded to abide within the Church of God till the eighth, or resurrection day. "Abide day and night seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord" (Lev. 8: 35).
2. THE PERIL.
For the peril of desertion is incalculably grave. God prohibited the forsaking of the Tabernacle, but He did not prevent it: the priest could abandon his charge - but only at the peril of his life. "Abide day and night seven days, that ye die not." Paul reveals the solemn antitype. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together; for" mark the dreadful reason - "if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10: 25). Abandonment of the assembly is the first step in a career of backsliding the ultimate issues of which no man can foresee. Snow in the street is bad for meetings, but snow in the heart is worse: the sole reasons which justify abstention are reasons which we can give without a blush at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Devotion will not long survive fellowship.
3. THE SAFEGUARD.
So also each year makes fellowship more imperative: "the more so as ye see the day approaching." Subtle errors, fascinating illusions, powerful world currents - all these lie just beyond the threshold, and to yield to them is to be swept away. "Many shall stumble" - then we must put our arms lovingly round one another: "the love of the many shall wax cold" - then we must cultivate love : "iniquity shall abound" - then we must provoke one another to good works: "many shall depart from the faith" - then we must cling the closer together in God. Within the warmth of the Fold we foster life; and as the wolves draw nearer, so the sheep must draw closer together.
4. THE PRIVILEGE.
Whatever seat is vacant, remember, Christ is always there: let us ever come together, therefore, to worship. In the wise words of Wesley, - "If we get nothing but chaff from the pulpit, we get the finest of wheat from the reading-desk"; nor should we forget Thomas Fuller’s words, - "An imperfect church? The church was imperfect before your cradle was made, and it will be imperfect long after your coffin is rotten." The word here for ‘assemble’ (Heb. 10: 25) is but once used elsewhere, and there (2 Thess. 2: 1) for our assembling above: our earthly gatherings are but preparations and rehearsals of our roll-call in the skies. What a lightning-flash on church worship!
also our opportunity in coming together is great. The
6. THE EXHORTATION.
"Exhorting one another" and "provoking one another" - we come together to promote in each other all the lovely virtues and activities we covet for ourselves. I commend to you Mr. Muller’s words:- "As to the importance of the children of God opening their hearts to each other, especially when they are getting into a cold state, or are under the power of a certain sin, or are in especial difficulty; I know from my own experience how often the snare of the devil has been broken when under the power of sin; how often the heart has been comforted when nigh to be overwhelmed; how often advice, under great perplexity, has been obtained, - by opening my heart to a brother in whom I had confidence. We are children of the same family, and ought therefore to be helpers one of another." God shares his gifts amongst His children, but He shares no child out; and, if your experience is as mine, you will never meet a child of God to whom He has not shown some truth, or given some grace, which He has not imparted to us.
7. THE REWARD.
How God values such fellowship! "They that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened, and heard it" - liking the conversation so much, says Mr. Moody, that He took notes; for - "a book of remembrance was written before Him; and they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels" (Mal. 3: 16). These hidden diamonds out of the dust-heaps of the world God will set at last, as stones in a crown, or stars in a constellation-clustering together in glory, for they clung together in rejection.
So let us assemble continually:- because our coming influences others; because our regularity has a steadying effect on wavering ranks that are about to break and fly; because only when we have no mercies to acknowledge, no sins to confess, no blessings to crave, no brethren to love, no souls to sanctify, no lost to save - may we stay at home with a clear conscience; and because the best place to find the Shepherd is among the sheep.
Yours in Him,
D. M. PANTON.
According to the purity of the Salt (Matt. 5: 13) will be the force of its impact upon the world: therefore the Scripture says, - "Put away the wicked man from among yourselves": that is, where commanded, exercise CHURCH DISCIPLINE. For savourless Salt has the dreadful power of making all other Salt savourless; so, for the very life of the Church, the deliberate and unrepentant leaven-eater, if inseparable from his leaven, must be excommunicated. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" (1 Cor. 5: 6).
But the limits of excommunication are sharply defined. Six is the number of evil: six, and six only, are the excommunicating sins; and to excommunicate on any other ground (with the possible exceptions of church contumacy, Matt. 18: 17, and sloth, 2 Thess. 3: 11, 14) is schism. (1) Fornication is so horrifying in a Christian, as the Holy Spirit declares (I Cor. 6: 15-20), because the members of a believer are members of Christ. (2) Covetousness to the degree of excommunication is a sin peculiarly difficult to define: nevertheless the Holy Spirit assumes that we can define it, and insists that we must. Happily covetous disciples as a rule give a wide berth to assemblies where Scripture truths on money are plainly stated. (3) Worship of the Bread and Wine must, by its nature, be included in Idolatry. (4) Reviling is the assailing of others with angry charges and bitter words. (5) Not the use of alcohol, but the abuse of it - "be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess" (Eph. 5: 18) - involves excommunication. (6) It is startling to observe that money sins - the very sins for which, Probably, there, has been little or no excommunication for eighteen hundred years - constitute one third of the whole. Nor need any church lack competent advice in defining and locating these sins: "is it so, that there cannot be found among you one wise man, who shall be able to decide between his brethren?" (1 Cor. 6: 5).
Excommunication is the most dreadful weapon the Church can use: the destruction of the flesh which may ensue is actual, continuous to this day, and may be immediate. "It is a mystery to me," says Dr. A. T. Pierson, "how people can trifle with the Holy Ghost in the assembly of the saints; and how ministers are blind to the fact that they have charge of a body over which the Holy Ghost presides. On one occasion three men in my congregation were making hopeless discord, and could not by me be reconciled or adjusted. I tried to bring these men and their differing brethren together, but in vain. [Reviling had doubtless entered]. For eighteen months I bore the burden, and then I carried it to God in prayer; and I said to God, - ‘I can no longer take care of this business: either reconcile these men, or take them out of this church.’ One of them was smitten with diphtheria next day; both the others were compelled by business to leave the city: not one of the three ever entered the church again" So both Pergamos and Thyatira (Rev. 2: 14, 20) had within their assemblies unexcommunicated fornication; therefore our Lord says, - "I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you" - whether church discipline falls in ruins, or not; whether we avoid membership to escape discipline, or not; whether our sin has been successfully secreted, or not - "according to your works" (Rev. 2: 23).
Three safeguards, however, are of supreme importance. (1) No charge of these sins must ever be made without proof accompanying the charge; and no member must ever make a public charge without being prepared to establish it with public proofs, or withdraw it as publicly as it was made. The Holy Spirit is extremely sensitive on justice between man and man, between brother and brother. Deut. 19: 18, 19. (2) Excommunication is never to change a brother into an enemy. "Note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3: 14). Deut. 25: 3. (3) Confession and repentance must be met with instant, utter, and unremembering forgiveness. "Ye which are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6: 1): "forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you to confirm your love toward him" (2 Cor. 2: 7). Excessive care must be exercised, for all Scriptural excommunication, justly enforced, is ratified at the Bema. "What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18: 18).
Can we ever thank God enough that, for all these years, we have not had to use this fearful weapon? Yet let us be very lowly before God: we are of the same frail clay; and there is no degradation to which we too would not fall, but for the grace of God. Nor must we flinch from the pain of obedience. The very elasticity of our communion, embracing all the saved without doctrinal distinction, must make us more sensitive, not less, to perceive and maintain the few, sharp barriers which the Holy Ghost has erected.
Yours in the grace of life,
D. M. PANTON.
Once more the ocean rolls between us; and as those ever deepening, I believe, in grace, and abounding more and more, let me remind you once again of OBEDIENCE, the one virtue in which lies the whole blessing of God. Not that I need to write it; for in many of your lives I know that the Lord Jesus is gloriously enthroned: yet for both you and me ever fresh obediences are always possible, and will ever be demanded by God.
No sect bulks larger in the Gospels than the Pharisees; no group thwarted Christ more effectually at every turn; and no soul has been so gibbeted in chains, before all ages, as a perpetual warning that a man may be a master of the Word of God, and a passionate believer in its inspiration, and yet make a proselyte "two-fold more a child of Hell than he is himself." "The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat" - as authorized expounders of God’s Word all things "therefore" - so true and accurate is their exposition, so absolute is their belief in the infallibility of the Scriptures - "whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23: 2). No man was ever so scathingly denounced by the Son of God as the man who knew his Bible from end to end, and did not do it. To a soldier who excused himself for not carrying out a command Lord Kitchener once said, - "The reasons you have given me why you did not do what I told you are the best I ever heard: now go and do it." "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves" (Jas. 1: 22).
For our Lord desires the acutely responsive spirit. His plaintive cry over the men of His day was this:- "We piped unto you" - as children playing at a mock wedding - "and ye did not dance; we wailed" - as children conducting a mock funeral - "and ye did not weep" (Matt. 11: 17). Apathy is the murderer of piety. If Christ’s ambassadors speak of the solemnities of the Judgment Seat, we are told we have harsh conceptions of Christ; if we unveil the wickedness of the unregenerate heart, we are intolerant; if we warn of Hell, we are inhuman; if we insist on separation from the world, we are strait-laced; if we exhort to prayer and fasting, we are gloomy; if we warn the believer lest he become a wicked servant, we are undermining the doctrines of grace: "we wailed, and ye did not weep." So, also, if we speak of free and instant pardon for all, we are immoral; if we announce that Grace supersedes all pledges and abstinences, we are libertines; if we preach the Gospel, it is for hire; if we invoke to the glories of the Advent, it is a dream; if we summon to the highest and the holiest, we are self-righteous: "we piped unto you, and ye did not dance." Christ invokes us to action, and we do not act. "That servant, which knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12: 47).
So here lies the sole pathway to blessing. "He that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty" i.e., the law of Christ, as distinct from the law of Moses - "and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing" (Jas. 1: 25). Says an old writer:-"I am commanded to search the Scriptures. Now that is not to be able to repeat any history of the Bible without book; it is not to ruffle a Bible, and upon any word to turn to the chapter and verse: to search the Scriptures is not as though thou wouldest make a concordance, but an application; as thou wouldest search a wardrobe, not to make an inventory of it, but to find in it something to wear." We must set our faces to obedience like a flint. I fancy I could count on the fingers of one hand the intimate Christian friends of a quarter of a century who have not attempted, sooner or later, to persuade me to abandon some unpopular or unpalatable passage of Scripture: we must fight a lonely battle again and again. But "he that looketh into the perfect law" - always remedying the defects he sees in his face by means of the New Testament mirror into which he looks - "and so continueth" - ever finding fresh obediences to follow - "being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing." Obedience changes us into His likeness whose face we find in the mirror, and the blessing concentrates on the obedience.
For our obedience is the measure of our love. "Knowledge puffeth up" - it is an invariable law - "but love edifieth. If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know" - not one of us has reached the height of his opportunities "but if any man loveth God, the same is known of Him" (1 Cor. 8: 3). And who loves? "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (John 14: 21). A Korean Christian, having learned the Sermon on the Mount by heart, walked a hundred miles to recite it to his pastor. "Now," said the minister, when he had recited it, "you must put it into practise." "Why, pastor," the man replied, "that is the way I learned it. At first I tried to commit it to memory by rote, but it would not stick; then I would learn a verse, and find a heathen neighbour, and practise that verse on him: then it stuck." So shall we prosper. "This Book shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe TO DO according to ALL that is written therein: for then shalt thou make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Josh. 1: 8).
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Yours in the obedience of faith,
D. M. PANTON.