EXCLUSION OF BELIEVERS FOR FALSE DOCTRINE, UNSCRIPTURAL.
(Third Edition. MDCCCLXXXV )
‘ARE BELIEVERS TO BE RECEIVED TO COMMUNION WHO HOLD ERRONEOUS DOCTRINE?’
This is a question of much moment, and now agitating the minds of many. Opinions are divided. Some think, we may exclude for error of doctrine. A tract has just emanated from three leading Christian brethren, giving all to know - that they will not receive to the Lord’s Supper, and that they will put out of communion, those who are unsound in regard to the person and work of our Lord; and those who hold Annihilationist or Restorationist views. Is this Scriptural? The dear brethren give no Scriptures as their warrant. I suppose it is not the Lord’s teaching. Let us look into the matter.
Observe first, that we are agreed in excluding from the Lord’s Supper believers guilty of the immoralities specified in 1 Cor. 5. For such proceeding there are both precept and example.
Let us next set off from the true question, propositions likely to be mistaken for it. We are not, then, inquiring - What is the truth about the person and work of the Lord Jesus? Or whether Universal Restoration and Annihilation be true or not? On these great points the writer is at one with the authors of the tract.
The questions again are not, Is there not false doctrine abroad? Is it not fearfully mischievous? Fast spreading? Likely to lead further astray the holders of it? Ought we not to watch against it? to resist it by the Scriptures? Ought we not to set forth the truth? On all these points also we are agreed.
Nor is the question - Is there not a difference in regard of the virulence of error? Are there not some who hold it simply through ignorance?
Are there not those on the other hand who are teachers of error? Are there not those who refuse to let it go, even after the light has been brought to bear upon and convict their false doctrine? Should we not distinguish such cases? We should. Scripture does: Jude 22, 23.
But the real question is - WHAT IS GOD’S WAY OF MAINTAINING TRUE DOCTRINE AMONG BELIEVERS? WHAT IS HIS PLAN OF KEEPING OUT ERROR/ OR OF DRIVING IT OUT WHERE IT HAS ENTERED?
Are we to exclude from communion teachers of error, and holders of it?
This paper says ‘Yes!’ The Scripture, I believe, says ‘No!’
On this point, then, the conflict is to take place.
‘But does not the Scripture teach us to put out the heretic after two admonitions?’
It does: Tit. 3: 10, 11. But is the Scripture sense of ‘heresy’ and ‘heretic,’ the same as the ecclesiastical and Romish sense of it? Does ‘heretic’ mean - ‘the man who holds erroneous doctrines’? By no means. ‘Certain of the heresy of the Pharisees which believed rose up:’ Acts 15: 5.* Now the Pharisees were right in the distinctive views of their party, as opposed to the Sadducees. "After the strictest heresy of our religion I lived a Pharisee:" Acts 26: 5.
[* These were believers also.]
does it mean then? ‘A
party.’ "When ye come together in the church I hear that there are divisions
among you; and I partly believe it.
For there must be even parties (heresies) among you, that they which are approved maybe made manifest
among you:" 1 Cor.
11: 18, 19. A heretic,
then, is a maker of parties in the
This objection answered, let us trace out a little the workings of this erroneous doctrine of the exclusion of unsound believers from fellowship.
I ask first, then, of the holders of this view:-
1. What is your standard of doctrine?
They would reply doubtless, as one brother did to whom this was put, - ‘The Scripture, to be sure! That is sound and clear enough, and worthy to be our standard.’ Yes! But how readest thou? What doctrine do you take out of it?
‘Well, brother, we to whom you refuse to admit to communion, take the Scripture as our standard.’
‘But you interpret it wrongly in this matter.’
‘We do not think so.’
Let us take a practical case. Here is a brother who holds infant sprinkling to be baptism, he applies for communion.
‘You are wrong, brother. New Testament Scripture teaches only the immersion of believers.’
Here, then, are differences of no little import between those who take Scripture as their standard. We listen to the applicant’s proofs of paedobaptism. We expose their fallacy to our satisfaction. He stands out against our testimony and our arguments against his error. Now what is to be done?
The Scripture, our standard, does indeed teach only one view. But the impaired vision of believers sees various and different doctrines in its pages. How then are we to act? What is to be the standard of soundness? In practice, it will be the views of Scripture taken by the leading brethren of each church (or ‘gathering’). The sprinkler of infants will be shut out by one church. The baptizer of believers will be excluded by another church; if this principle be carried out. Each assembly may say, ‘No fellowship till you agree with us!’
I ask in the second place:-
2. What is the measure of unsoundness which shall exclude?
Not every error is of equal virulence; how then shall we distinguish those errors which are so bad, that we cannot tolerate at the Lord’s table believers who hold them? This is still a more delicate question.
But the paper commented on suggests in reply, that the errors which are to exclude are those which "we regard [just so* Here the first point is confirmed. The views of the leaders must be the standard,] as affecting foundation-truth."
Where is your Scripture for this distinction? Where do you find it stated, that while erroneous believers on minor points may be admitted to the Lord’s table, the erroneous on points affecting foundation-truth may not?
Again, What errors are there, which do not affect foundation-truth? Such is the connection of truth with truth in God’s system, that it is anything but easy to say, what does not touch the foundation?
(1) Take one of the points in which believers are taught by Paul to bear the differences of doctrine in each other. The strong believer was confident he might eat anything. He was right; he was ‘sound.’ Paul says so: Rom. 14: 14. But the unsound believer would use nothing but vegetables. It was to him unlawful to eat animal food. He judged his ‘sound’ brother for so eating. It was ‘unclean food.’ But such doctrine denied the full licence given by God in the Old Testament to Noah and his sons. It overturned, too, the New Testament. For Jesus ate animal food, and gave it to others, both before His resurrection and after it: Luke 24: 42; John 21.
(2) May we receive believers in communion with the Establishment? Here some will doubt, perhaps. But is it not certain that the errors of ‘the Church of England,’ such as ‘baptismal regeneration,’ ‘the baptismal covenant,’ and ‘confirmation,’ affect foundation truth?
May we, if this principle be good, receive persons holding and practising
the sprinkling of infants? Now:
for this affects ‘foundation-truth.’ It
is one of the main roots of
(4) There are those who deny, that the Saviour’s commands on the Sermon on the Mount are meant for believers now. May we receive such? Does not the denial of Christ’s being our Teacher affect foundation-truth?
(5) Again, if doctrinal error avails to exclude believers, must not deficient and wrong practice opposed to the principles of our dispensation, exclude also? Here is a believer in a secret coat: he lives by warfare. Is that consistent with love of enemies? Shall he, with the colours of his profession upon him, sit next to me who abhor war, as contrary to Christ’s words and spirit! Shall believers who call themselves Majors, Colonels, and Generals, be welcome to the table of the Lord? Certainly not, if the principle is constantly carried out. Is not war leaven of the flesh? Jas. 4: 1. "Our weapons are not carnal." "Love your enemies."
I ask in the third place :-
3. Who is to state the standard? And enforce it by exclusion of the unsound?
Our three brethren seem to feel themselves in an awkward position, as one of considerable assumption. Has Jesus set any one possessed of infallibility over brethren and churches? Was any such standard of doctrine enforced by any censors in apostles’ times?
"But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master (teacher), the Christ; but all ye are brethren:" Matt. 23: 8, 10. There is no supreme human judge to whom we are to bow. That is Romish doctrine.
Again, who shall guarantee the soundness of those who exclude? If they be sound now, who shall guarantee that they will so continue? If they be sound on the points stated, are they on all others? Cannot errors be found in the writings of even the three, where one or other of them has printed anything? If the standard, too, be fixed, may not further study of the Scriptures, and more light from the Holy Ghost make such persons ‘unsound’? Peter by going among uncircumcised believers, and eating with them, became ‘unsound,’ It is not often that leading brethren will listen to the defence made by an ‘unsound’ brother; much less often are they convinced by it, as on that occasion they were.
I think I see in Scripture a truth not perceived by most. It is stated, I believe, that there are two objects set before the Christian. One is a "gift" against desert; the other a "reward" according to works. Now, though I am ‘sound’ on the points stated in the circular, I fear I should be subject to exclusion because of this; though I can assign plenty of Scripture in proof of it.
I ask lastly:-
4. On whom is this supervision to be enforced? On individuals first - when they apply for fellowship; or on those in communion, after their unsoundness has become known. Then on churches, also. We "do not acknowledge any assembly of saints which countenances them [errors about Christ, or annihilation] to be faithful to Christ." Here is judgment of assemblies by the three who give their names. Here is judgment about faithfulness to Christ - a point to decide about which is directly forbidden. "It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very little thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself - [‘I am not conscious of any unfaithfulness’] - yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come:" 1 Cor. 4: 2-5.
But our brethren in enforcing this principle are guided by conscience.
"We feel bound in faithfulness to the Lord, and in dependence on His grace, to keep ourselves clear from all complicity with these errors,"
Good! By all means do so! But is fellowship at the Lord’s table with a believer holding error, complicity with his error? That is the question. Would it not be well to prove this from Scripture, if it be true? And will not this, if carried out, lead on Christians much farther than this tract supposes them prepared to go? Am I not in complicity with Church-of-England-error by sitting at the table with a believer in communion with the Establishment? Am I not defiled by paedobaptismal error and ideas of hereditary sanctity, if I sit at table with a believer who sprinkles infants? Do I not own war to be Christian, by fellowship at the Supper with a naval officer? Here is one whose profession requires him to take oaths. But Jesus and His apostles forbid them. Am I not in complicity with his sin, by sitting at the Lord’s table with him?
I suppose that this idea is proved to be a mistake by many Scriptures. It errs, by not severing between the person of a believer, and his errors. If I accept his person, because God and His Christ have accepted him; while I rebuke his error: how can any say I am identified with his error? I am knit to him as a believer; because, as I am a member of Christ, so is he. I am not knit to his error; for I refuse it now, and he will one day wholly leave it. He who receives a believer because he is a member of Christ, while he expresses his error in love, is not in complicity with that error, either before God or man. I countenance the brother in Christ. I am required to do so I do not countenance his error. His person is accepted through Christ before God; and so therefore by me. His errors are not accepted before God; nor are they before me.
"Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren:" Heb. 2: 11. Jesus calls us brethren then, as we are children of God, undergoing the Spirit’s sanctification. This, this is our principle. Shall we be ashamed to own as brethren in God’s way at His table, those whom Christ owns? Were the Hebrew brethren faultless, or of sound views? Let the Epistle say!
‘But is not error dross?’ True. Shall I then throw away the ingot of gold, because in it there is a piece of dross? Does God do so? I am to imitate Him: Eph. 5: 1; 1 Cor. 11: 1. Would we wish God to deal by us as we should then be dealing by His sons? Are you gold of Ophir alone? Was this Paul’s principle of action? He studied to keep always "a good conscience void of offence toward God and men." Did he then refuse fellowship with believers holding error? The very reverse was his practice.
some in a church have defiled garments, are all defiled? It is not so.
"Thou has a few names (even) in
Not all of the church in Thyatira are regarded by Christ as defiled by Jezebel’s false doctrine and evil practice. The remnant who refused this Jesus does not require to leave the old communion. "I will put upon you none other burden; but that which ye have already. Hold fast till I come:" Rev. 2: 24, 25.
There is no defilement entailed by our having fellowship with believers in remembering the Lord’s death, even if they hold erroneous doctrine. Is not the contrary teaching a declaration, that the believer, though accepted with God and Christ is to us unclean? Is not this the very error which the vision of the great sheet was given to refute? Peter the clean man beholds in the great sheet all the four-footed creatures of the earth, and the wild beasts, and the creeping things, and the birds of the heaven. ‘Rise, Peter, slay and eat!’ "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean." ‘What God hath cleansed, do thou not call common.’ These creatures that you so despise came out of heaven, tarry but a while in earth, and are going up to heaven again to dwell! Even Peter, a Jew by nature, and no sinner of the Gentiles, was to have fellowship with these, and would not be defiled by them. How much less, then, can Gentile Christians be defiled by Christian intercourse with God’s cleansed ones. These cleansed wild beasts are clean enough to dwell with God; are they not clean enough for you? Does false doctrine so defile the believer, that it undoes God’s cleansing, and makes him unfit for eternal life? Until it does that, the plea for severance because of false doctrine, is vain. Nay, to call those unclean whom God has for ever cleansed, is to be guilty of the folly and sin rebuked in Peter’s case. GOD’S RECEPTION IS THE CHIEF POINT; IT RULES THE LOWER ONE. MAN MUST FOLLOW GOD: 1 John 4: 11.
What was the ground on which the believing Jews of Jerusalem acquitted Peter of transgression? God had bestowed on these believing Gentiles the supernatural gifts of the Holy Ghost. They were accepted of the Lord therefore. "Then hath God to the Gentiles also granted repentance unto life," say the brethren! That is, - GOD’S ACCEPTANCE OF THEM AS MEN OF FAITH, AND HEIRS OF ETERNAL LIFE, WAS THE GROUND OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP THEN, AND SHOULD BE THE GROUND NOW.
Is a believer called by Christ to come out from an assembly of believers, because of corruptions of doctrine? Nowhere! The Saviour’s closing epistles to the seven churches furnish abundant proof of this: Rev. 2. & 3.
‘Would you then receive a Unitarian?’ Certainly not! He is not a believer; and we are speaking of the reception of believers. What are the points necessary to be received in order to communion with God and His people are stated in Rom. 10: 9-13.
The paper on which I have my eye, and the system of which it is the manifestation, set aside individual liberty in Christ. How far have brethren power over brethren to exclude them from the Lord’s table? For immorality only. Whenever I can plead conscience toward God, my brethren’s power over me ceases. Let each be careful about the truth of doctrine for himself. For he holds this liberty under responsibility to Christ in the great day to come.
But here is one who says - ‘I think it right to sprinkle infants of believers.’ Here is another who says, ‘I was one who signed the ‘Letter of the Ten.’ I thought it right then. I think it right now; after reading all that has been said against it!’ May you coerce such an one to your views? God forbid! "WHO ART THOU THAT JUDGEST ANOTHER’S SERVANT? TO HIS OWN MASTER HE STANDETH OR FALLETH:" Rom. 14: 4.
may argue from Scripture with one whose conscience is erroneous. We may labour to set him right. But if, in spite of our appeals, he still
says, - ‘I think myself justified in doing as I do,’ or ‘believing as I do’; -
our power over him ceases. We are not
his master. We are only
fellow-servants. "Why is my liberty judged by another’s
conscience?" 1 Cor.
10: 29. My own conscience is to
decide my liberty. Another’s conscious
is not to coerce me. In
Here is a case. A Christian sister in communion at N ------- asks to sit down with believers at a meeting in the West of England. They inquire - ‘Where do you come from?’ On learning the assembly of believers where she had been received, they refused to allow her to commune with them, unless she would promise that she will commune no more with the members of Christ with whom she met before. Is this Christian liberty? Or man’s bondage?
In short, there is neither precept nor example for exclusion of a believer from the Lord’s table, because of erroneous doctrine.
TEXTS GIVEN AS AUTHORITY FOR EXCLUSION.
Against this conclusion two texts are often alleged.
Let us consider them.
1. The first and most relied on, is 2 Tim. 2: 19-21.
"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, ‘The Lord knoweth them that are His.’ And, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work."
How are these words to be understood? The following is the account given by the leader in this interpretation.
"The whole of that which calls itself Christian is here looked at as a ‘great house.’ The Christian is of it outwardly in spite of himself, for he calls himself Christian. But he cleanses himself personally from every vessel which is not to the Lord’s honour. This is the rule of Christian faithfulness; and thus personally cleansed from fellowship with evil, he shall be a vessel to honour; fit for the Master’s use. Whatever is contrary to the honour of Christ in those who bear His name, is that from which he is to separate himself."
1. First, then, we ask - What is the "great house?"
What proof is there that by "a great house" is meant "all that calls itself Christian?" There is none. It seem, that the true Christian would not belong to ‘the great house’ if he could help it. Its greatness is supposed to be evil.
There being no proof, it is enough simply to deny that the "great house" here spoken of intends anything manifested during this dispensation. But I add a proof to the contrary. The great house is God’s empire during the day of His future manifested kingdom. The scope of the passage shows this. False doctrine had come in, denying the first resurrection. The confidence of some in the great truth was shaken. But the solidity of the divine testimony abode firm. The future rest reposed upon God’s authority: ‘tis destined, according to His word, for those who are His elect and holy ones. To come out from wickedness the Most High calls all His elect. But what if they do not obey this call? (Here is the force of the ‘But,’ verse 20.) Then God, in His great future kingdom, has places suited to all the saved: places of honour, or of dishonour, to be awarded according to their conduct now.
The sentiment, as stated by the apostle, is quite general. The arrangement mentioned is right, and suitable to a great house. Every palace has, and ought to have, vessels of these various materials and uses. It was so in God’s temple, which was a "great house:" 2 Chron. 2: 5, 8, 9. Greatness in the world during this dispensation of God’s mercy is forbidden to the Christian, and is evil. Christians, if obedient to their Lord’s direction, would be little in the world’s eye. Assemblies of believers (and Paul deals with these alone) in the name of Jesus never are, in this sense, great. The Mustard Seed’s greatness is forbidden greatness; and it lends an open door to the birds, the enemies of the Sower, to enter and dwell in it. But the greatness of the house here spoken of is a right greatness: for it is God’s, and it belongs to another dispensation - His manifested kingdom. Greatness rightly belongs to God: Deut. 5: 24; 32: 3. The great house is owned as the Lord’s: it is not merely ‘what calls itself His:’ ver. 19, 20. The uses of the vessels are sanctified and arranged, by the Master, and for Him: ver. 21. The accepted vessel abides for ever in the great house. The principle of the arrangement, too, is different from that of our present dispensation of God’s patience. It will be then according to conduct now: ver. 21.
Believers alone during this dispensation constitute the "house of God:" Heb. 3: 6; 10: 21; 1 Tim. 3: 15; 1 Pet. 2: 5. And they are never a great house, but only a "little flock:" Luke 12. "Many are called, few chosen." Nor is the sphere of their present action great in the world’s eye. "Thou hast been faithful in a few things." It is only their greatness as rulers over many things is to be shown: Matt. 25. The assemblies of God’s saints in Paul’s day were not such as to constitute them a great house. National systems of Christianity are indeed called ‘great,’ by way of rebuke. But such greatness was not to be found in Paul’s day, nor for centuries afterward. The Holy Ghost says not - ‘In the great house of the professing church there will be vessels of honour and dishonour.’ But in a ‘great house there are.’ It is the statement of what is generally the cause, and of what is right; when God’s kingdom puts on its future greatness, this will be fully realized; and that will be the fitting, and the abiding, result.
2. What are the vessels? The vessels to honour, and those to dishonour?
Believers! The apostle is speaking not of the "vessels fitted to destruction:" but of the places of comparative honour and dishonour appropriate to materials so different as ‘gold’ on the one hand, and ‘earth’ on the other.
we tell who is ‘a vessel of gold’ now, and who ‘of wood?’ Can we say what post in the
It is only in resurrection then, and after judgment rendered, that these words have their fulfilment. They are, therefore, not designed to furnish a present guide for believers’ conduct. We are not called to purge ourselves from "vessels to dishonour:" for until their dishonour has been manifested by God’s adjudication in resurrection, we know not who they are. Our faith, our partial unbelief, and our deeds, are working on to the final adjustment of our place and use in God’s kingdom of glory: Rom. 2: 10, 16; 1 Pet. 1: 7. "If any therefore purge himself from these (things) he shall be a vessel unto honour."
3. We inquire next, - WHAT IS THE PURGING?
‘Withdrawing from the table were those not to the Lord’s honour are found.’ ‘If I continue associated with such, I shall become unclean.’
This is not what is said by Paul, but something very different. He is not teaching the clean believer how, in certain circumstances, he is to maintain his cleanness. First of all, the coming out from these supposed unclean persons does not cleanse. The man is supposed to be already defiled. He is to ‘cleanse himself.’ If you have dirtied your fingers with the coal-scuttle your putting it down, or setting it our of doors, or going out of the house, will not clean them. The taking a golden cup out of a dust-pan, where it has contracted dust, will not clean it. It is not the clean believer leaving unclean believers. It is not - ‘If you continue among those unclean, you too will become so.’ The person indirectly addressed by Paul is already unclean. It is not, ‘he will become polluted, if he alter not his course.’
If it were intercourse with a special class of believers which defiled, they would have been described to us by some present moral aspect, capable of being by us perceived and applied. But this passage presents only (1) their relative value as before God, and (2) their destiny in a day to come. Now, neither of these points is known to us; and therefore they cannot be our basis of action. Moreover, the time of the self-cleansing lasts all through our life - it ends by the Lord’s elevation to honour.
4. Next we inquire - FROM WHOM is the purging? Or from what?
"From" denotes the cause of defilement: Lev. 12: 7. "He shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean:" Lev. 14: 7; 16: 30; Jer. 33: 18; 1 John 1: 7, 9.
Is the apostle speaking of things? Or of persons?
Our Established Version inclines apparently to ‘persons.’ Let us notice this point first.
then, are the defiling persons? ‘Vessels to dishonour.’* But
that is their destiny, and it cannot be known now. Are they persons converted or
unconverted? From fellowship at the Lord’s table with the unconverted, we are indeed told to
shrink; or rather, not to admit them: 2 Cor. 6: 14-18.
From such we have already severed ourselves, or we should not be a
[* This is very different from "every vessel which is not to the Lord’s honour." "Personally cleansed from fellowship with evil." Oh the mischief of changing the Lord’s definite word, ‘iniquity,’ into indefinite, ‘evil!’ What kind of evil do you mean? If you mean ‘moral guilt,’ ‘tis true, but not to the point. If you mean ‘doctrinal error,’ you beg the question.]
Is it, then, from unclean converted persons that we are to withdraw? Where is it said, that we are not to have fellowship at the Lord’s table with children of God, erroneous in doctrine, because such intercourse would defile? All believers are cleansed by the blood of Christ in order to fellowship with their fellow-believers, as the vision to Peter shows. But of this farther by-and-bye.
I suppose, then, that the apostle is calling each believer to cleanse himself from feelings and contact to be found in every one.
What are they?
Paul has spoken in the context of denying Christ, (ver. 12,) of want of faith, (13,) of logomachy, (14,) of wrongly dividing the Word of truth, (15,) of babbling, (16,) of ungodliness, denial of the resurrection, (18,) and of iniquity, (19). It is from these spiritual evils, naturally inherent in each, that the believer is to cleanse himself, if he would be in the great day acceptable to Christ.
Paul, then, is giving an exhortation parallel with 2 Cor. 7: 1. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." He is treading in the footsteps of our Lord, who traces the man’s defilement, not to things external, as did the Pharisees; but to things within: Matt. 15: 17-20.
"But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man."
That ‘things’ are in question is partly, indeed, confessed in the extract given above. "Whatsoever is contrary to the honour of Christ in those who bear His name, is that from which he is to separate himself." This may be done without separating from the persons of believers. Only, it is observed, separation of one’s self is not cleansing one’s self.
if communion with believers holding error defiles us, much more are we warned
against the defilement of sect-making and of evil speaking. Are not these the very mischief which the
principles of this tract are sure to produce? Rom. 16: 17; Tit. 3: 10. Parties there will be in the
Thus taken, the lesson to Christians is universal; for the things to be put off are found in all believers. In the other acceptation, it would refer only to special times and places. But God’s way to future promotion is open to all. Thus obeying, and cleansing himself, "he shall be a vessel, unto honour." I could not cleanse myself from a dirty vessel, if it had never touched, never defiled me.
In short, the error combated has two main roots (1) It is wrong in regard the source of the mischief. ‘Tis internal, nor external. (2) It is wrong in regard of the mode of cleansing: it is not our removal from erroneous persons, lest we should become defiled by them. It is a word, on the contrary, to those who already need cleansing within; and no removal from external defilement will avail to cleanse such. *
[* In short, the unproved and untrue assumptions of this doctrine are mainly eleven.
1. The ‘Great House’ means Christendom.
2. After ‘these’ in ver. 21, we must understand ‘vessels.’
3. Vessels of inferior quality, as wood and earth, defile him who touches.
4. Vessels to dishonour if touched, defile.
5. He touches a vessel to dishonour so as to defile himself, who has fellowship with a believer in error, at the Lord’s table.
6. Vessels can be distinguished now, (1) in reference to their quality, as wood or gold; and (2) in reference to their destiny, as to honour or dishonour.
7. The man who is called to cleanse himself has become defiled by communion with vessels to dishonour.
8. Heresy means false doctrine, and a sound believer’s fellowship with an erroneous believer defiles the sound one.
9. Hymenaeus and Philetus were heretics, and vessels to dishonour.
10. The cleansing of one defiled is to take place by separation from the vessels to dishonour.
11. ‘depart from iniquity,’ means ‘separate from believers holding false doctrine.’]
This principle, once introduced, would break up any assembly of
believers. ‘Why do you leave the church
(2) ‘But there is another hold which we have on this passage. Paul says, ver. 22. "Flee also youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart." Hence it appears that we are to break off alliance with those who do not call upon the Lord "out of a pure heart."
This interpretation is founded on a mistake in regard of the sense of the words. The connection is not - ‘Follow after righteousness, associating yourselves with believers of a pure heart.’ It is, ‘Cultivate peace with those who so call.’ It is, in short, in its construction, parallel with, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men:" Rom. 12: 18. And still more with Heb. 12: "Follow peace with all men." The ‘with’ connects itself with ‘peace.’
Hymenaeus and Alexander were delivered to Satan by Paul, not because of false doctrine, but for blasphemy; and delivering to Satan is not the same thing as excommunication.
(3) Our brethren might say still - ‘But there is another passage stronger yet.’ "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him ‘God speed’ is partaker of his evil deeds:" 2 John 10: 11.
Does this decide the matter? I suppose not. For what is the question – ‘May a church put out of communion one already received as a believer, because of erroneous doctrine?’ Or, ‘May we refuse to admit to communion one owned to be a believer, but holding erroneous doctrine?’
(1) Now first, This passage speaks not of church action. The Epistle is directed to a lady and her children. It refers not to reception at the Lord’s table, but to private hospitality.
(2) It does not treat of one already owned to be a believer. There is nothing to show that the party to be refused is a Christian at all. He is only characterized by holding false doctrine. It is not "If any brother come." Preceding words speak of "deceivers and antichrists:" ver. 7. Many Antichrists were gone forth, denying the Trinity, denying the humanity, or the Deity, of Jesus: denying that He would return in flesh: ver. 7. Such a teacher coming from a distance was to be interrogated as to his doctrine, whether he owned the Father and the Son: ver. 8.
(3) It does not treat of the putting away from the Lord’s table one supposed to be Christ’s. But the previous Epistle decides this point for us. Even Antichrists were not, by the authority of God, put out of communion after once being received at the Lord’s table. They went out of themselves: 1 John 2: 18, 19.
But Jesus rebukes the church in Pergamos, because
there were some there who held the doctrine of Balaam: Rev.
2: 13. He rebukes the
answer. 1. While the unity of the church
is a great truth, there are also local churches; and Jesus teaches that
responsibility is local.
2. Have we ‘the angel’ now, to whom the appeal is made? I suppose not.
3. Does Jesus command that the holders of Balaamite doctrine be put out? He does not.
4. The open immorality of some in Thyatira is provided for by 1 Cor. 5.
5. Does Jesus command that disciples leave the churches where there were ‘evil unjudged,’ and ‘vessels to dishonour?’ He does not. He gives promises to the individually holy in each church: but he says nothing about their leaving it.
6. Jesus, in the case of Thyatira, is dealing with an individual female teacher, over whom the chief pastor had especial power. "Thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel," is, I doubt not, the true reading.
7. There is to be found in the New Testament only the reception or exclusion of individuals. Nowhere are churches cut off by excommunication: 2 John.; 1 Cor. 5.; 2 Thess. 3: 14.
Is there not rebuke ministered by the 3 John to Diotrephes, and to those who refuse brethren, and cast them out of the Church? To shut out brethren is in John’s view an evil which we are to flee.
Unconsciously to themselves, the three Christian brethren who send forth the tract, add to Scripture.
"We hold that all who believe are one in Christ, as indwelt by His Spirit, members of his body the Church, and we therefore recognize the spiritual privilege of all believers walking in truth and holiness, to have fellowship in worship one with another."
In this passage are not the principles widely astray from the conclusion?
1. The Church consists of the members of Christ, the Risen Head, chosen in Him, indwelt by the Spirit, beloved of the Father.
2. But do we not receive those who are members of Christ, beloved of God, unless there be beside the absence of doctrinal error. Does then the holding of doctrinal error destroy membership in Christ, and love on God’s part?
3. Will our brethren, who flatter themselves that they are sound, be content to be themselves cut off from fellowship with Christ, and the love of the Father, if they hold now, or shall hereafter take up any doctrinal error?
Again, there is no such expression in Scripture as "walking in truth and holiness." John speaks of "walking in truth:" 2 John 4. "The brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth." "I have no greater joy, than to hear that my children walk in the truth." A new sense, then, is given to ‘walking in truth.’ John means by it the life of holiness which springs from reception of the fundamentals of the faith. He does not mean, that in after-knowledge all believers must agree, ere they can have fellowship one with another. To John it is enough to have brethren ‘walking in truth.’ Shall not this suffice us? Our reception of all believers ["brethren"] is John’s way of helping the truth: 3 John 8.
I turn, then, after meeting those objections which lie at the threshold, to -
THE SCRIPTURAL VIEW
ON WHAT GROUND ARE WE TO UNITE?
whom is the
1. Peter calls upon the awakened to come out from "the perverse generation:" Acts 2: 40. Some do: they believe and are baptized. Believers assemble together: they are called "the saved:" 44, 47.
2. A second time Peter preaches in the temple, calling on his hearers to repent. Many believe: 4: 4.
3. The Apostles are seized: but being set free they go to their own men: 23. "the multitude of the believers is of one heart and of one soul:" 4: 32.
4. Ananias and Sapphira are cut off in their sin. "And great fear came upon the Church, and upon as many as heard these things:" 5: 11. This is the first occasion of the word ‘church’ being used in the Acts.* "Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both men and women:" 5: 14.
[* It is considered that the word "the church" in chap. 2: Ver. 47, is nor genuine.]
5. Believers are next called by a new name. "The number of the disciples was multiplied:" 6: 1, 2, 7.
Saul rises a great persecution against "the Church" at
Saul is converted. He is received as a
disciple by the disciples at
The Church throughout Judaea, Galilee, and
We see, then, in the names whereby the constituents of the Church (or Assembly) of God are called, what is the basis of it. It consists of the receivers of God’s message of pardon through His Son: Acts 2: 41; 8: 14. The refusers of the truth are "the perverse generation," out of which believers come forth at God’s call. It is a new body created by God, and specially related to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
1. As related to THE FATHER, believers are sons begotten of God: Gal. 3: 26; 4: 6, 7; 1 John 3: 1, 2. Jesus died on purpose to bring them together: John 11: 52.
2. As related to THE SON of God, they are made alive in Him, members of His body: 1 Cor. 1: 2; 1 John 5: 20; Eph. 1. They are "accepted in the Beloved."
3. They are regenerated by the HOLY GHOST, dwelt in by Him as His temples. Their renewal is begun; they are called of God "saints." Together they constitute "the Church" or Assembly of God.
They are, then, two great multitudes which God now sees in the world: HIS CHILDREN, on the one hand; and THE DEVIL’S children, on the other. On the one side are the sheep of Christ; on the other, the wolves of Satan: on the one side the callers on Christ; on the other, blasphemers of God. The one class the Holy Spirit leads; in the other, Satan works. The one are begotten flesh of the flesh; the other, of the Spirit.
Jesus desired and prayed, that the closest union might be found among these, God’s elect and beloved ones: John 17. He commanded them to partake together of the one loaf in the Lord’s Supper, in token of their oneness: 1 Cor. 10: 16, 17; 11.
Whom, then, may we receive to the Lord’s Supper? Receivers of God’s word - believers: Acts 2: 41, 42, 44. How much of God’s word must he accepted in order to this? The testimony that the Lord Jesus died for our sins, and rose again, and commanded this rite to keep alive the remembrance of Himself: 1 Cor. 11: 23, 26.
Are we to say to an erring son of God - ‘We will no more receive you than if you were a child of the devil?’
Nay : here is THE CANON OF RECEPTION.
1. "HIM THAT IS WEAK IN THE FAITH RECEIVE YE, BUT NOT TO DOUBTFUL DISPUTATIONS:"* Rom. 14: 1.
[* More exactly rendered - "but not to discrimination of trains of reasoning." How has this been forgotten!]
2. "Let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth, FOR GOD HATH RECEIVED HIM :" ver. 3.
3. "WE , then, that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves :" xv. 1.
4. "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another, according to Christ Jesus. That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. WHEREFORE RECEIVE YE ONE ANOTHER, AS CHRIST ALSO RECEIVED US, TO THE GLORY OF GOD:" 15: 5-7.
Whom, then, are we to receive? And what is reception?
1. Reception here signifies the admitting sons of God into the visible assembly of God, and to its privileges. It is more fully spoken of in the opening of the next chapter of this Epistle
(1) "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea, that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you:" 16: 1, 2.
‘receive’ is the contrary to ‘exclude.’ As the subject here is the reception of a
saint among saints, it supposes, as one of its chief privileges, admission to
the Lord’s Supper. ‘The nature of the
reception depends on the character in which the person comes:’ Matt. 10: 40, 41.
This is the receiving of one who belongs to God, and to His Christ, into
the assembly or
To disciples Jesus says:-
(2) "Whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth Me:" Matt. 18: 5.
The little child that comes in Christ’s name, is to be received as belonging to Christ, yea, as Christ Himself.
(3) "I suppose it necessary to send you to Epaphroditus, my brother, and fellow-labourer, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger (apostle) and he that minister to my wants ... Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such in reputation:" Phil. 2: 25, 29.
(4) "Aristarcus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you; and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnamas (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you receive him)": Col. 4: 10; Acts 15: 4; 18: 24-28.
once received, goes in and out among the church at
the question - ‘Whom are we to receive?’ the example of Paul is
of deepest moment. He believes, is
his life is in danger, they exert themselves to effect
his escape. "But when Saul was come to
One witness suffices to introduce to the Lord’s flock and to their visible privileges, this terrible wolf of former days. When do they receive him? As soon as they believe him to be a disciple: one who has received the first elements of the faith, and forgiveness of sins.
This, then, is an exemplification of the rule here laid down. Whom are we to receive? Men ‘in the faith.’ Men "in Christ," as opposed to those outside of Christ, who are to be excluded. We are to receive disciples. Now the Saviour distinguishes two classes of knowledge; the elementary, necessary to reception by God and His people (Luke 1: 77; John 17: 3); and the higher teaching to be imparted to those who have embraced the former. "Go ye therefore and (1) teach (make disciples of) all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; (2) teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you:" Matt. 28: 19, 20. (Greek.) If, then, it be granted, that any has the experimental knowledge necessary for discipleship, may we exclude him from the table of the Lord, because he is defective or erroneous in regard of the after-knowledge suited to believers?
Nay, all believers are to be received (with the exceptions specified) at the Lord’s table, because they have been accepted by God on receiving His first truths; not because of a certain measure of light or attainment in grace after believing. Faith in first truths is all that is necessary to union with Christ. And failure in the after-truths proper to believers does not destroy membership in Christ. Neither, then, may such errors cut them off from the communion with fellow-disciples and members. In the after-truths of Christ all must be even learners or ‘disciples.’ It was as still ‘learners’ that disciples of old gathered around Christ’s board: Acts 20: 7. We sit at the Lord’s table as ‘children of God,’ not as ‘well-instructed children that hold no error.’
May we say - ‘We receive all believers SOUND in the faith?’ This is an unauthorized addition. Our canon excludes it: Rom. 14: 1. We are to receive not only those ‘in the faith,’ but those ‘weak in the faith.’ Now truth is soundness, and strength. Error is unsoundness, and weakness. The cases which are cited by the Apostle discover to us errors held by some believers of that day. They were ‘unsound’ partially.
But the ‘strong’ brother is to receive the ‘weak’ brother; the ‘sound’ brother is to accept the ‘unsound’ brother. The Church is the place of life; and those alive to God are to be accepted by those who are alive to God. The healthy believer is to receive his brother, even where there is spiritual sickness, manifested by opposition to Scripture truth. "If any teach otherwise, [above the service of Christian slaves] and consent not to wholesome (healthy) words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is proud, knowing nothing, but sick (margin) about questions and strifes of words:" 1 Tim. 6: 3, 4. "Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed:" Heb. 12: 13.
Why are we to receive those "in the faith," but unsound in after-knowledge? “BECAUSE GOD HAS RECEIVED THEM." This is the all-sufficing plea. Our reception is to follow on God’s reception; as the less on the greater; as the servant’s reception is to follow on the Master’s acceptance.
The way to prove ourselves sons of God is to love all those who are His. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death." 1 John 3: 13, 14. The world and the Church are opposite spheres. All who are Christ’s are to be objects of love to those that are His.
Do we profess ourselves zealous for God’s glory? His way of showing it is the reverse of that of many. It is by receiving, and not by excluding, those that are His. “Glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”
It is self-evident, that more cannot be required for fellowship with disciples than God requires for fellowship with Himself. Is any one a son of God? Then he is fit company for sons of God! Is any united to Christ as a member of His body? Then he is knit to US if we are members of Christ: whether we please to admit it, or no. It is not at our option to exclude such from the privileges which are the result of such sonship and such membership.
We enquire next :-
SEPARATION; WHERE IS IT GOOD? WHERE EVIL?
Separation of believers from unbelievers is commanded by God; and is there good, because of the essential opposition between the two classes.
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with
unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath
Christ with Belial? Or what hath he that
believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the
The Holy rights of Christ are not to be given to the unrenewed.
(2) "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your perils before swine; lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you:" Matt. 7: 6.
Paul severs disciples from unbelievers.
At first indeed he teaches in the synagogue of
(3) "But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of Tyrannus :" Acts 19: 9.
separation among believers is evil.
Jesus died for
"NEITHER PRAY I FOR THESE ALONE, BUT FOR THEM ALSO WHICH SHALL BELIEVE ON ME THROUGH THEIR WORD; THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE; AS THOU, FATHER, ART IN ME,AND I IN THEE, THAT THEY ALSO MAY BE ONE IN US: THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT THOU HAST SENT ME:" John 17: 20, 21.
In this case, even the strifes and coldness which partly separate believers, united in communion one from another, are contrary to the mind of God: 1 Cor. 1.; 11: 17. "Ye are the temple of the living God:" and it is not fit that the stones of which it consists should be severed.
unity which the Holy Ghost seeks to produce is the oneness of the members of
the one body of Christ: 1 Cor.
12. The strongest barriers, even
those of God’s own raising, were thrown down, in order
to produce this new unity: Eph. 2. Jew
and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, are one in Christ. The strength of the strong in Christ is to be
exercised in bearing the weakness of the weak in Christ, not in
Paul rebukes even coldness of spirit and estrangement while meeting at the Lord’s table: 1 Cor. 11: 18. He knows of no separation of believers which was good. On our [mistaken] brethren’s views we ought to separate ourselves from believers in error on subordinate point, not only in spirit, but we ought to keep aloof from the table of the Lord where they meet.
The new distinction then attempted to be set up by these three Christian brethren, between ‘SOUND believers’ and ‘unsound believers,’ is unscriptural and disastrous. It is a severance of believer from believer, of some members of Christ from other members of Christ. It is "the church (assembly) of God" [not Mormans or ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’] which is to meet together to break bread: 1 Cor. 11: 22. Now he is a member of that assembly who is a son of God. To shut our from fellowship at the Lord’s table those whom the Lord has received, is worse schism than that for which the apostle rebukes the Corinthans. Eating and drinking unworthily (with the specified exceptions as to actions forbid) is a question between a partaker and God: ver. 27-34. "Let a man examine himself!"
In this discussion all important is the
TESTIMONY OF THE EPISTLES TO CORINTHIANS.
The Epistles to the Corinthians and to the Galations present us with clear light upon the principle before is. Let us consider them, with the [Holy] Spirit’s aid! The first Epistle to the Corinthians treats at once of (1) immorality, (2) of unsound doctrine, and (3) of the Lord’s Supper.
In it there is exclusion for immorality, but none for unsound doctrine! There is no distinction of ‘sound’ and ‘unsound’ brethren. There are (in the second Epistle) false apostles, yet they are not excluded: 2 Cor. 11: 13, 26.
first Epistle opens by owning the Corinthians as a
These are the great points, on the ground of which Paul loves them, and can have fellowship with them. He serves himself, not from them, but from whatever he finds wrong in doctrine or in practice. Their party-spirit and setting up of teachers as their leaders, he rebukes. The Christ is not to be divided by us. As all are one in Christ, there is to be no division among the saved. They were wrong who said, ‘I belong to Paul’s party.’ But they were wrong also, who said ‘I am of Christ.’ Christ is not to be the basis of a party among those who are all His. "Is Christ divided?" Any attempt to sever some of Christ’s members from others of them, whether on the ground of doctrine, or rite and ceremony, is here rebuked. These words, then, I suppose, remove the attempt to divide members of Christ into ‘sound’ and ‘unsound.’
is false doctrine at
In another part of the Epistle the Apostle considers doctrinal error. It will be dealt with by God, not by the Church. It will be decided in another day - even the day of judgment; and not in this. This is the day of building, the day of grace. But another day is coming - the day of fire - to try what is built: 1 Cor. 3: 10-15.
does Paul deal with the error and sins at
how does the [Holy]
Spirit of God by Paul really meet the matter?
He first owns them a church and saints, and then begins to reprove
them of conduct unsuited to saints and sons of God. Paul would accept gifts from them for the
not all this, in the eyes of our brethren who have put forth the tract, have
been a fearful complicity with the sins and errors of
Also, in the second Epistle, though not every cause of complaint was removed, (12: 20, 21,) he was a third time coming to visit them: 13: 1. He desires their prayers for himself: 1: 11. Paul was, together with them, confirmed in Christ: ver. 21. His spirit was in their hearts: ver. 22. Even apostles had not lordship over their faith: ver. 24. They were to confirm love even to the incestous one, for awhile put outside the pale: 2: 8. What they forgave, Paul did, in the person of Christ: ver. 10. The great division which Paul recognizes is, the ‘saved in Christ:’ ‘the lost outside:’ ver. 15. He could even boast of them as his own Epistle of Christ: 3: 3. "We all with uncovered face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Lord the Spirit:" ver. 18. (Greek). The grace of Christ, the love of God, the joint participation of the [Holy] Spirit were to be with them all - not with the ‘sound believers!’ "All the saints salute you:" 13. May we not say therefore with confidence - Paul’s ideas of complicity with false doctrines and evil practice, are very different from our brethren’s. But Paul is right. They must therefore in this matter be wrong.
On our brethren’s principle, if any church recommended a person proceeding to another assembly of believers, it will not be enough to describe him as a believer; he will be recommended as a ‘sound believer.’ Now here we can test a thing. Do apostles, recommending a person to churches under their care, describe any as a ‘sound brother?’ Never! It is enough for him that he is a ‘brother.’ "I commend to you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:" 16: 1. "Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother:" ver. 23. "Salute the brethren which are with them:" ver. 14. So 2 Cor. 8: 18-23; 9: 3, 5; 12: 18, etc. It is enough for Paul to meet with "disciples:" Acts 20: 1, 7; 21: 4. May we be kept from adding to Scripture; and setting up a fellowship of ‘healthy disciples,’ ‘well-instructed disciples,’ ‘disciples of a superior kind!’
Let us turn to the evidence derivable from the Epistle to the Galations, compared with the parallel narrative in Acts 15.
Paul speaks of love to the brethren he never interposes the limit of
‘soundness:’ "All the brethren greet you:"
1 Cor. 16: 20. "Paul and all the brethren which are with me." To whom? To the unsound
"Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity:" Eph. 6: 23, 24.
"Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss:" 1 Thess. 5: 26.
Peter, when going astray and leading others with him, is only rebuked to the face - no more!
The Holy Spirit and apostles, even where false doctrine is abroad, and they are earnest to counteract it, lay on nothing but what is ‘necessary:’ and soundness of doctrine is not made necessary. They address themselves to ‘the brethren,’ not to the ‘sound brethren:’ Acts 15: 23. They do not distinguish themselves as ‘sound.’ They leave these doctrinal offenders to God, even while they hold error subversive of the soul.
the brethren with Paul saluted the ‘churches’ of
In short, there is neither precept nor example for a believer’s leaving an assembly of believers. There is neither precept nor example for excluding believers infected with doctrinal error. ‘What is to be done in such a case?’
"Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereunto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing:" Phil. 3: 15, 16.
taking leave of the elders of
[* The translation has wrongly omitted the ‘the’ before ‘disciples.’]
If these brethren will distinguish believers into ‘sound’ and ‘unsound,’ making it the basis of fellowship, they will originate a new sect; and must take a new name. For what is a sect? It is an assembly of persons brought together for Christian fellowship on grounds, wider or narrower than those which include all disciples of Christ. ‘The Brethren’ used to speak of the ‘Strict Baptists’ as a ‘sect,’ because they received not ‘believers’ as such, but only ‘baptized believers.’ If this principle which I am contesting is true, they were not sectarian, but Scriptural.
The Holy Ghost now on earth is creating for Christ one body; and every Christian, however disordered or feeble, is a member of that body, and has a title to all the privileges of it.
The old name ‘Christian’ ought to be enough. It was ‘divinely given:’ Acts 11: 26; 26: 28; 1 Pet. 4: 16. It will be enough, as long as we keep to divine principles of fellowship. It is the name of the body which the Holy Ghost is forming in union with the Head, Christ. It includes those who believe in the death, resurrection, and lordship of Christ. It embraces those accepted by God on the foundation of these truths: 1 Cor. 15. It includes those wrong in the after-knowledge, in which so many members of Christ fail. The proposal of the paper commented on is to originate a new division. To be a ‘Christian’ is not enough. Ere you can be received by these brethren - if they would carry out their plan (may the Lord open their eyes!) - you must be a ‘sound Christian.’
One would like, indeed, to find none but polished and unflawed gems. They would require much less work; would create much less trial. But is not obedience our duty? Are not these ‘rough diamonds’ used of God to help to polish us? Is not this the way we are taught to bear and forbear in love : Eph. 4: 2; Col. 3: 12, 13.
Are not these Christian teachers putting themselves under the Apostle’s sentence? - "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause the divisions and the stumbling-blocks contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them:" Rom. 15: 17.
If brethren in Christ unite on principles which exclude other brethren in Christ, their union is sectarian. It is, then, no longer true to say, ‘We receive all believers.’ It is, really, ‘We receive all believers that are ‘sound,’ and we are the judges of what constitute soundness. Hence we do not receive those who are unsound in doctrine.’ This is contrary to Rom. 14. and 15: 7. This is in effect to say, ‘We refuse all who do not agree in doctrine with us.’
We are warned in John’s last Epistle against refusing ‘brethren.’ Diotrephes who did so, at length went on to forbid those that would receive them, and cast them out of the Church. Yea, he even spoke against John himself with malicious words. The reception of believers is the way to becoming helpers to the truth: 3 John 8. The refusal and rejection of them is evil, and not to be imitated: ver. 11.
PREVIOUS PRINCIPLES OF ‘THE BRETHREN.’
The views above presented are those originally promulgated by those called ‘Plymouth Brethren,’ most of whom are now so severed from other Christians, and so divided among themselves. I trust I write with no desire to aggravate confusion, but rather to bring back to Scripture and to love.
(The quotations are taken principally from tracts circulated by ‘the Brethren,’ and sold originally at their Depot.) I will arrange the quotations to be given, under the following heads.
1. The principle of unity given by God is, that all believers are to be received at the Lord’s table, where no immorality is found in them.
"Our principle is this, sir: - Whenever the first great truth of redemption, - in a word, whenever Christ has received a person we would receive him. That false brethren may creep in unawares is possible. If the Church be spiritual, they will soon be made apparent: but as our table is the Lord’s not ours, we receive all that the Lord has received; all, who have fled as poor sinners for refuge to the hope set before them, and rest not in themselves, but in Christ as their hope. We then afterwards teach them as they are able, according to the grace, and knowledge, and wisdom we have received, all the truth we received at God’s hands. We do then receive on the one great truth of Christ’s salvation all that through divine grace believing it, are converted to God." Darby’s Claims, pp. 62, 63.
"I am sure of the truth of those blessed principles the Lord has taught me, that I glory in their propagation. Simple obedience to Christ alone; recognition of Christ alone in my brother, as the Alpha and Omega of terms of communion; lastly, unreserved devotion to Christ alone." - Grove’s Life, p. 321.
"Why is it, then, that Christians are gathered upon many and different grounds? Why is it that they allow human distinctions to prevent their manifested union on earth? Just because other things besides ‘the blood of the Lamb’ have been allowed to interpose terms of communion; because something more has made requisite for union than that which unites to Christ; because varying judgements have been looked on as sufficient to keep apart those who are one in Christ, and are dwelt in by one Spirit." - Tregelles. Blood of Lamb, p. 13
"I conclude by a few propositions:-
1. "The object to be desired is the gathering of all God’s children.
2. "The power of the Holy Ghost can alone effect this.
3. "Any number of believers have no need to wait till that power produces the union of all (provided they act in the spirit of unity, which, if carried out would unite the whole body of Christ), because they have the promise that, where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, He will be in the midst of them (Matt. 18.), and two or three may act in reliance upon this promise." - Darby’s Works, vol. 1. p. 233.
"If I am a member of the whole body, I am a member of the parts of this body, which meet in divers places; it is not a question of becoming such - I am such already. This is the principle I have always maintained, and on which I have insisted and acted. By the very fact that I am a Christian, I have all the claims of a member of the body, wherever I may be found. It is not a right which I acquire by joining any particular body; it is a right which I possess as a member of the body of Christ." Darby Works, vol. 1. p. 369.
"It is the desire of our hearts, and, as we believe, God’s will under this dispensation, that all the children of God should be gathered together as such, and consequently, as not of the world. The Lord hath given Himself ‘not for that (the Jewish) nation only, but that He should gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad.’ This gathering together in one was then the immediate object on earth of Christ’s death." - Darby’s Works, vol. 1. p. 213.
"If Christ received any, we have to do the same; while we may ever seek that, being taught by the Spirit, we may arrive at oneness of judgment. Of course, in the communication of saints, it must be judged that inclination and convenience would only be the actings of self-will, if they were permitted to have any place; and therefore they should never be allowed (as they so often are) to rend the children of God asunder." - Tregelles. Blood of Lamb, p. 14.
"The communion was open to the sheep of Christ; - that is, to everyone who professed to have been led to rest on a crucified Redeemer, and whose walk commended his profession. It was well understood that they felt it to be their place before God to receive those whom Christ had received, even as they had been received by Him, to the glory of God." - Tregelles. Three Letters p. 5.
"The command is to keep the unity of the Spirit. But where is this spiritual union? Where is the union of believers as such,
that it can claim the title of the only true and
"I ever understood our principle of communion to be the
possession of the common life or common
blood of the family of God (for the life is in the blood); these were our
earthly thoughts, and are my most matured ones.
The transition your little bodies have undergone, in no longer standing
forth the witness of the glorious and simple truth, so much as
standing forth witness against all that they judge error, have lowered them in
my apprehension from heaven to earth in their position of witnesses."
2. Believers are to be received, despite their differences, and consequent errors, on subordinate points.
"The power of a union in common life is so strong, that
evils, endless in variety and often intense in character, are not sufficient to
divide, when this life is felt to exist.
This surely is the nature of the unity of God’s love with all the
members of the one body; nothing should
divide when Christ unites. I shall
return to my native land with the very feelings I left it eleven years ago,
only strengthened tenfold by experience."
"The presence of Jesus Himself - the most precious of all things - is vouchsafed even to two or three of the least of those who are His, if it is truly in His name that they are met. Let it be only His name in which it is done. The fleshly pride which loves to make much of a gift, and would claim lordship over God’s heritage - human arrangement which would seek to avoid simple dependence upon God, the narrowness which would welcome upon the ground of peculiar views - none of these is in the name of Christ. Those who unite in the name of Christ embrace, in heart and mind, all those who are His - all the members of His body; they embrace them in the principle upon which they are met: otherwise it would not be in His name that they were united; for one cannot exclude from the power of His name those that are His. His heart embraces them, and we are not united according to His heart, if, in principle, our assembly does not embrace them. Clearly His name does not embrace the world, nor sin, nor that which denies the truth which that name reveals." - Darby’s Works, vol. Vii. p. 179.
"If you say - ‘What is to keep you from error?’ We should watch against it on the very same principle that an Apostle did (I do not say, with the same power), but we can lean only on God to keep us from it; and we trust He will, and are sure He will, while we humbly wait on Him." - Darby’s Claims of Church of England, p. 60.
"As to our banishing of error we have abundant provision in the Word of God, if we have grace to do it, and on this we lean. Without it clearly we can do nothing. You assert, that the Scripture is insufficient for this precisely on the same ground as the Roman Catholic does ... You say, with the Roman Catholic, that ‘A Socinian could appeal to the written word.’ Could he? Do you say he could? But we believe in the sufficiency of the Scripture, and the grace, energy, and power of the Spirit the Comforter, to keep out error from the Church so as to guide us in the truth." - p. 63.
"You say - ‘Would you receive a Roman Catholic?’ If a Roman Catholic really ‘extolled Jesus’ as a Saviour, and his one sacrifice of Himself as the sole putting away of sin, he would have ceased to hold the error and delusion by which the enemy has misled some souls (who are still, I would trust, precious to Jesus). He would have ceased to be a Roman Catholic in the evil sense of the word, and on these terms only could he be with us. I repeat, then, we receive all that are on the foundation, and reject and put away all error of the Word of God, and by His ever-blessed, ever-living, and ever-present Spirit." - Darby’s Claims, p. 64.
"I was almost forgetting, till a letter from Mr. Bellett of
"Every one owns it is needful to give up views contrary to Christ, and yet how few are enabled to sacrifice on this altar! I do not mean we can or ought to give up what we hold to be truth; but we may bear as Christ does, with many errors of our brother: the preciousness of this liberty in Christ I daily feel, and I do trust by earnest and anxious prayer, we shall be preserved in this way unto the end.-'"-Groves Life, p. 299.
"The term 'Free or Open Communion' is adopted to indicate the right of all who are known (or supposed, on the best evidence that we can command) to be sincere believers in the Lord Jesus, to come to the table of the Lord, however different their degrees of faith and love, however diverse their judgments on many points, which however important in themselves, are yet not such as to prevent their being recognized by the Lord Jesus as His members."-Open Communion, p. 5.
"That some are Baptists, so called, and some Paedobaptists, among us is very true; but by the Lord's mercy we have felt the unity of Christ's body more important than the unity of judgment on this point, and each person without any hindrance to charity, acts in this as he believes according to the mind of God. Would you exclude a Baptist from the Lord's table with you, were he disposed to go. We have acted on the principle, of this word, ‘I Whereto ye have already attained let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.' 'If in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal this also unto you.' We have found most happy peace and flow of charity in it; we do not pretend to have attained perfect light in all that God reveals."-Darby's Claims, p. 57.
"When it was found that even amongst weak believers the principle of meeting simply in the name of the Lord Jesus, could be understood and admitted and that with a disposition so to meet (their motives being various) their hearts were often unsubdued by the truths which they knew, and old forms of evil, as to outward things, were still acting on them; there could yet be no question of admitting them to fellowship:- ‘Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations; ' 'Who art thou that judgest another man's servant, to his own master he standeth or falleth’ Rom. 14: 1-4”. Christian Witness, vii. P. 78.
"It is thus that the felt union of mind and heart which displayed itself among those, in different places so acting, led us to speak of 'the saints' and 'the brethren,' in a special and no doubt also in a sectional and denominational sense; and where persons from a distance were received at the Lord's table, it was common to introduce them as 'meeting with the saints at such a place.' This I consider as one of the snares which we have unwittingly spread for our own feet; and into which many, I believe, have now fallen. That this denominational character is now fully acknowledged and avowed, cannot but be manifest; for recent proceedings are entirely based upon it. A circle is drawn, including all those who meet in acknowledgement of particular scriptural principles, and they form the - shall I say favoured? - body that is to be dealt with by different rules from all others. Persons would be (or at least would formerly have been) received at the Lord's table for occasional communion, who attended the Establishment, and even had they thought fit to attend habitually the ministry of one who maintained false doctrine, or who was himself a child of the devil. No question would have arisen about the reception of a Christian, who was himself a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. What, then, but the denominational idea, the idea of those meeting as we do, constituting the church, or at least 'the church ruin,' according to present favourite phraseology, could lead to such an interference with personal liberty as we now hear of?” Brethren Bewiched, P
3. The contrary principle - '
"Individuals of the children of God are to be found in all the different denominations who profess the same pure faith; but where is their bond of union? It is not that unbelieving professors are mixed with the people of God in their communion, but that the bond of communion is not the unity of the people of God, but really (in point of fact) their differences."
"The bonds of nominal union are such as separate the children of God from each other: so that instead of (itself an imperfect state) unbelievers being found mixed up with them, the people Of God are found as individuals, among bodies of professing Christians, joined in communion upon other and different grounds; not in fact as the people of God at all."- Darby's Works, vol. i. p. 33.
"If we wanted an exhibition of the evil our Lord declares would
result from man's assuming the
power of tare-pulling, we should find it in the attempts made by many to separate
from real saints, simply because they refuse to be answerable to
their self-constituted judicature. The husbandman in the parable speaks only of
the children of the wicked one as tares."-
"Your systems in their very principles tend to the entire suppression of the Spirit's rule and ministry amongst you, by the establishment of man's order and appointment, and that they necessarily hinder by sectarianism the development of the oneness of all believers in Christ. I have no hesitation in saying, that with the feelings which so generally prevail amongst Christians, whatever measure of the Spirit, producing unity might he given, it would be deemed an actual loss, if their own peculiar distinctions must be given up, and their own separate denominational standing were to be merged in the simple gathering of true believers to Christ." - Dorman to Dissenters, pp. 6, 7.
"Take that form which assumes to be the nearest to scriptural correctness, I mean practical independency, with which the Baptist denomination agrees, except that it makes the question of Baptism another ground for division: this system neither assumes nor contemplates the oneness of the children of God, nor does it in reality gather souls on the ground of all believers being one in Christ. A dissenting church is not really a union of believers in Christ, on the common ground of redemption by the blood of Christ, but it is a voluntary association of professed Christians holding certain principles, by which they are distinguished from other Christians having different judgments on these points. It is not a gathering together on that ground in which all true believers must be agreed (being washed by the blood of Christ), but upon those points on which they confessedly differ. This is not the Lord’s principle of gathering: “He died that He might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” ‘Dorman to Dissenters, P. 13.
“I suppose I need hardly say to you, there is that which
makes a man a Christian, and thus brings him into the family of God,
independently of his being a dissenter or a churchman, and altogether apart
from any of the grounds on which the various denominations meet. It is upon this ground alone, as gathered to
Jesus by the power of His cross, that he ought to be
gathered into the
“The principles upon which the different churches have been respectively gathered, have never been such as would comprehend all the children of God upon the great essentials of Christian belief; but some special point has been made the ensign of each party, and they who have gathered round it have proved their preference of the object in question to the general unity of God’s people. In truth, they are now united, not simply as children of God, but upon the particular sections of Christian doctrine, which give the names to their several divisions.”- Borlase on Separation, p. 28.
“The Reformed Churches, Lutheran, Genevese, and others – what is their bond? Unity again, but Unity in knowledge only : blessed indeed when the gift and consequence of the Spirit! but most evil, when, as with them, ‘assent and consent’ to any truth (beyond free pardon and salvation of faith in the Lamb) becomes the watch-word of the citadel; for what is this but the appointing of a word which the weaklings of Christ are often, the strong ones of the adversary never, unable to pronounce?” – God’s System of a Church, p. 3. p. 3.
“We have seen enough of close communions to perceive their
evil - and it is an evil of fearful magnitude to exclude brethren;
it is a deep sin against the Spirit of God, for any set of men to bind not
only themselves, but other and after generations
to their own measures of light; so that
those who do not come up to it, or those who go beyond it, are equally put out. This is Sectarianism – a spirit
of selfishness, which often ends in the sinful pride of saying ‘The Temple of the Lord, the
“In the pages of inspiration he finds all divisions among Christians reprobated in the strongest terms – described as sin – those who cause divisions spoken of as serving not the Lord Jesus Christ, but such as should be marked and avoided. He finds the great Apostle of the Gentiles, expressing himself under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, as though it were a thing almost incredible that there should be divisions among the Corinthians (‘I partly believe it:’ 1 Cor. 11: 18), and beseeching them by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that there be no schisms among them; and finally that the Holy Ghost stamps this mark of reprobation on such a state of things. ‘Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?’
“At the present time he finds, on the contrary, that instead of Christians ‘coming together into one place,’ as one family, there are it may be in his own neighbourhood, ten or twelve ‘sections of the church,’ to any of which he may unite himself, if he can be satisfied not only to make public confession of the Christian faith, but also to walk with them in those things in which they differ from, their brethren.”- Christian Fellowship, pp. 1, 2.
Fellowship, pp. 1, 2.
“In the early days of Christianity (that is, in the days of the Apostles) there were among Christians no sects or denominations; but, in every place, all who had, through the Holy Spirit’s teaching, known forgiveness of sin in the Blood of Jesus, met together as the Church of God. A foundation broad enough to admit to equal blessing all who are believed to have known the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“God’s broad foundation is clearly set aside when any portion of truth beyond the
knowledge of Jesus unto eternal life, is made the condition of full communion,
- as adult baptism among the Close Baptists; or the independency of the
churches among the Independents; or agreement with Mr. Wesley among the
Wesleyans; or church order among the Separatists; or the inward light among the
4. What is a Church?
“I have no objection to the flock being called ‘Church,’ save the fear that, in imitation of ancient dissent, the idea might be allowed that it is the church of the place. The word recognizes all the Christians of one place as forming the church of that place.” – Darby’s Works, vol. iv. P. 345.
“The only signification of a ‘church,’ in Scripture, is a union of Christians; it is not represented as composed of written documents, but, of living individuals; and, as a whole, a union of believers AS SUCH; and in this manner the pillar and ground of the truth, a speaking, acting testimony for God. And, whatever may be alleged respecting corruptions elsewhere, or in times past, there is all the difference imaginable between a body as in the primitive churches, proceeding upon the principle of recognising as its members Christians only, gathering the church out of the world, and a state of things which systematically and designedly includes, without the slightest attempt at discrimination, all sorts and degrees – godly and ungodly; in short, which is framed theoretically and practically to include ‘The World’”.-Borlase on Separation, P. 11.
5. What is Schism?
"The believer who walks according to his profession, has a right, to be received at the table of his Lord; and that body which establishes any other test than this, destroys the unity of the heavenly family, and is justly chargeable with the sin of schism."- G. H. D. to Wesleyans, p. 14.
"The only way, then, of deciding the question, what is Schism? is to refer at once to that which is given in the Scriptures of the principles and character of the churches. And these by the evidence of all the apostolic Scriptures, were each, as before said, simply a union of believers upon the ground of the common Salvation; ‘congregations of faithful men,' ordered by the Spirit of God. Nor does it appear that anything beyond the mere ascertaining, as far as it was possible, that they were believers, was necessary to make them partakers of this fellowship. The whole tenor of the accounts given for our instruction proves this, and that the terms required were none other than those which make a man a member of the body of Christ: 'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and shalt believe in thine heart that God bath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.' I repeat that this ground of the common salvation is the only one which is sanctioned by Christ; that it is meeting as believers only which is spiritual union, or which can be owned by Him. The question is not now, as to whether evil may or may not exist among them, but as to the principle on which, as the preliminary to obedience, Christians are bound to be united; and that is as Christians, and Christians only." Borlase on Separation, P. 17.
"If the cross declares unto us the end of all fleshly distinctions we must not stop here; we must press on so as to get a present entrance into those things which the Spirit reveals. In these things all believers have a common interest. In these there is nothing which ministers to division. These are spiritual blessings and are to be apprehended only in the Spirit. Hence unity is in the Spirit, and that which maintains it is the Spirit, shed abundantly on the Church by Jesus Christ, giving to each individual saint union with Himself the Head and communion with all the members.
"It necessarily comes to pass that the moment anything is introduced as a point of unity which the Lord has not commanded, there is room for the sin of Schism. That thing is made to occupy the place of the cross, and it is not that which links to the Head. Instances of this very early showed themselves in the Church. Questions arose as to the observance of days, and as to the cleanness of meats; but they were met and ruled by the wisdom of the Apostles." Christian Witness, vol. v. p. 125.
"There are two ways in which individually we can be guilty of this sin. The one, refusing to assemble ourselves together as Christians; and the other is separating ourselves from such, after union with them." Christian Witness, vol. v. p. 128.
6. What is a SECT?
"For what, let me ask, is an organized, systematized body of some hundred persons scattered over the world, and held together by unity of opinion - but a sect, and that in the strictest sense of the word?"- Howard. Principles and Results, p. 13.
7. Are we to leave a body of believers if there be among them any kind of evil?
"Without being able to recall to my mind all such cases, there is not a single one that I know of in which the corruption of an institution is a reason for abandoning it: so little does the author understand what the question is. What I say is, that neither he nor his friends have a right to take upon themselves, and to accomplish that which depends on the power of God, and the exercise of Christ's authority in His house; and this is what they pretend to do and to impose on others." - Darby's Works, vol. iv. p. 436.
"As to your appeals to our brotherly love to remove the
degeneracy of the Church of England, my answer is, I cannot spend my strength
in correcting what is in principle wrong, it is lost labour. It is not degeneracy, it is the system and
principle of it, as to its incorporation, government and principle of ministry
(though individuals may be good men and Christians who minister) which I
believe contrary to the mind, word, and will of
God. This was not the case with
"I felt so thankful, that on the evening of the tea-meeting
he was led to trace a little of the history of Brethrenism,
and the downfall of collective blessing, from the moment
that ‘separation from evil, God's principle of unity,' became their standard of
communion. I went along with every word he said, and the language of my heart
was, ' Let me live and die with such as occupy themselves with beholding the
beauty of the Lord, rather than with detecting and judging evil in their
"I also daily more and more desire to see raised up for God
discriminating witnesses, discerning between things that differ ; enduring the
evil for the sake of the good, rather than fleeing from the good for fear of
the evil. I am so fixed in this principle that I could never give it up, even
were those I most love to oppose me in it."-
"The moment the witnessing for the common life
as our bond gives place to a witnessing against
errors by separation of persons and preaching, (errors allowably compatible
with the common life,) every individual, or society of individuals, first comes
before the mind, as those who might need witnessing against, and all their conduct and principles have first to
be examined and approved before they can be received: and the position which
this occupying the seat of judgment will place you in will be this: the most
narrow-minded and bigoted will rule because his conscience cannot and will not
give way, and therefore the more enlarged heart must yield. It is into this position, dear D, I feel some
little flocks are fast tending, if they have not already attained it. Making light
not life, the measure of communion. But I am told by our beloved brethren, C and
H, that if I give up this position of witnessing against evil in this peculiar way of separation from
the systems in which any measure of it is mixed up, I make our
position one of simple, unpardonable schism, because we might join some of the
many other systems. I cannot be supposed
of course to know fully their grounds of acting, but I thought I
knew yours, at least your original ones. Was not the principle we laid down as to
separation from all existing bodies at the outset, this: that we felt ourselves
bound to separate from all individuals and systems, so far as they required us
to do what our consciences did not allow, or restrained us from
doing what our conscience required, and no further? And were we not as free to join and act with
any individual, as they were free not to require us to do what
our consciences did not allow, or prevent our
doing what they did, and in this freedom did we not feel, [that] brethren should not force liberty on those who were bound,
nor withhold freedom from those who were free?
Did we not feel constrained to follow the apostolic rule of not
judging other men's consciences,
as to liberty, by our own; remembering it is written, 'Let not him that eateth judge him
that eateth not, and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth
; seeing that God bath received both the one and the other?' Now, it is one of
these two grounds; their preventing me from, or demanding from me, other than
the Lord demands, that divides me in a measure from every system, as my own proper
duty to God, rather than as witnessing against their evils. As any system is in its provision narrower or
wider than the truth, I either stop short, or go beyond its provisions ; but I
would infinitely rather bear with all their evils, than separate
from their good. These were the then
principles of our separation and intercommunion; we had resolved
never to try to get men to act in uniformity further
than they felt in uniformity; neither by frowns nor smiles, and
this for one simple reason, that we saw no authority given us from God thus to
act: nor did our experience lead us to feel it the best means at all of
promoting their blessing, or our common aim of a perfect spiritual uniformity
of judgment; whilst to ourselves it afforded a ready outlet to
the propensities of the flesh under the appearance of spiritual
authority and zeal for the truth."
Many more quotations might have been given. These were the constant testimonies of 'the brethren' at the first. Which then of the two antagonist principles is right? The old? or the new? Both cannot be alike the mind of God. If the original principles be unscriptural and wicked, prove their unscripturalness: denounce them! If this new principle be God’s, prove it! Answer, and show the fallacy of, the texts on which the former views repose. If so, wrongly did 'the brethren' rebuke ‘the sects' for excluding from the Lord's table those they owned to be the Lord's. Their real fault then was, they were not sectarian enough! Divisions among believers on the ground of doctrine are quite scriptural, and right! All along, the Strict and Particular Baptists have been holding out the true doctrine and practice!
you say so, brethren? For myself, I rest
on the Scriptures with which
Jesus' disciples united were to be the light of the world. Confessing, Jesus as the Son of the living, God, they were built upon the rock: Matt, 16. Beloved of the Father, they were to love one another; were to assemble to the name of Jesus, and to find Him present in their midst: Matt. 18. The Supper which tells of the Saviour's death for sin, and looks on to His coming again, was to be the visible centre of union to all who were His disciples, "cleansed by the blood of the new covenant:” Matt. 26: 19, 26, 27.
It used to be said, that the death of Christ was designed to gather in one all the children of God, up till that time scattered: John 11: 52; 12: 21, 32, 33. That attempts to gather on any other than on Christ's principle were sure to scatter: Matt. 12. That love to Christ was to be seen in love to His disciples, and in their reception to His table: John 13.; 15: 12, 17; 1 John 3: 18. That disciples were with earnestness to seek to carry out Christ's dying prayer for the unity of believers: John 17. Are these things no longer true? Have principles, of late discovered, cashiered the old?
It used to be pointed out, that the Spirit of God descended at Pentecost, in order to carry out the design of Jesus. Thenceforward multitudes believed, and assembled together on the ground of that faith in Jesus which constituted them disciples. Those whom God had received and cleansed by faith, their fellows were also to receive. Those led to Christ were members of the Son of God; their name, divinely given, was "Christian." No subordinate division, severing off those who were unhealthy Christians from the healthy, was allowed. The Spirit commanded the reception of unhealthy Christians, as well as of those strong in faith: Rom. 14: 1. The callers on the name of Christ in every place were to be one: 1 Cor. 1: 1, 2. Those whom the Lord had added, might the disciples subtract? Acts 2: 47. Might the believer rend away from the Lord those joined to Him? It used to be said - ‘No! It cannot be done without committing, the sin of fighting against God.' Was this a mistake? The joined to the Lord are one spirit: 1 Cor. 6: 17. 'Therefore bear with his infirmities'-was the old conclusion. Was this a wrong inference? Rom. 15: 1.
God has severed between the men of faith and the men of unbelief. Let us sever there! If we divide where He would unite, will He approve us?
‘May I receive those who hold error which touches foundation-truth?' Open - communionists at least have decided this question already. You admit to the Lord's table those who set up a fiction of men in place of the command of Christ - those who introduce the flesh into the Church, which is the fellowship of the Spirit. Is this admission right? Then be consistent. Admit those who on other points are in error, though resting on Christ the foundation. Is this practice wrong? Go back, then, to Strict Baptist principles. Confess that 'the brethren' movement was wrong in principle. Is it not the scripture testimony, that on the points of first moment on which believers agree, they are to unite, and to bear joint testimony to the world? And that on the points in which they disagree they are to bear and to forbear in love? Seeking the unity of judgment and practice which the Spirit alone can give: Phil. 3.
'But am I not to be separate from evil?'
What kind of evil do you mean? Let us consider!
1. You are to be separated from "the evil generation," from evil men: Acts 19: 9; 2 Cor. 6: 17. So was Jesus: Heb. 7: 26. From evil spirits and fellowship with them, keep aloof! 1 Cor. 10: 20.
2. From Unitarian teachers, from men destitute of the truth, from those who have the form of religion, but deny its power, keep aloof! 1 Tim. 6: 5; 2 Tim. 3: 5; 2 John 11.
3. From deeds of wickedness. Neither do them, nor be partakers with those who do: 2 Tim. 4: 18; Eph. 5: 11; 1 Cor. 5: 13; 2 Cor. 13: 7; Rev. 18: 4; 1 Tim. 5: 22; Matt. 7: 23; Luke 13: 27.
4. But there is evil within, in your own heart, from which (alas!) while you are in the flesh, you will never be entirely separate: Mark 7: 22, 23; Rom. 7: 21. And the evil within often shows itself in speaking against those who are Christ's. Separate yourself from that, as much as you can. The days are evil and we cannot yet leave them: Eph. 5: 16.
But to separate from disciples, the children of God, is evil. Peter got rebuked for it: Gal. 2: 12; Acts 20: 30. All believers are partakers of the heavenly calling, of the Christ, of the Holy Ghost, and of the grace of God: Heb. 3: 1-14; 6: 4; Phil. 1: 7. If they are not separated from our love: Rom. 8: 35, 39. If any then say to you - ‘Are we not to be separated from evil?’ Ask - ‘Are believers evil? Are we to have no communion with a mistaken child of God, than with a CHILD OF THE DEVIL?’
Mind! there are two forms of evil, from which let us be alike careful to maintain separation. (1.) Keep separate from Unitarian teachers, and receive them not unto your house, or bid 'God speed' - lest you partake their evil deeds: 2 John 10, 11. (2.) But be equally careful to avoid shutting off believers from communion. For this is the way to evil - to prate against what God loves with evil and malicious words: 3 John 8, 11.
we not to exercise toward others God's principles in exercise already toward
ourselves? Resting on grace, and needing
God's patience toward ourselves, are we not to exhibit like grace and patience
toward others? God hates putting away:
are we not to exclude, only on the clearest testimonies of scripture? Ought not each believer conscientiously
acting toward Christ to possess freedom from interference by his brethren?
With the same measure you measure shall it not be measured to you? Will you exclude from the table of the Lord the believer unsound on this or that point? Are you not afraid lest this measure be meted out to yourself "in that day?" Or shall we say - That Christ will receive all believers into His millennial kingdom of glory, whatever their failures in doctrine or practice? whatever their disobedience to His commands, whatever the amount of their backslidings? How is it, then, that you are so much stricter than your Lord? Is it right to demand for the Lord's table in the kingdom of His grace more than He will require for the sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the day of justice, and in the kingdom of glory ?
If we were to look more at our own ignorance, weakness, and errors, should we not make more allowance for the like failings in others? Would it not teach us more of the spirit of humility? Would it not prepare us to deal lovingly with those who differ from us? Is [this] not the gospel grace? Is not the spirit we should seek to cultivate towards Christians one quite contrary to that of the detective? Who will give the most joyful account to Christ? The keen-eyed observer of others' faults? or the gracious one who seeks to esteem others better than himself? And are not these the last days of a ruined dispensation? Is not the Judge standing before the door? If I am too stringent, pardon me!
‘The Brethren' began by magnifying the centripetal force of love, which bids the members regard their union with Christ. Very potent were the results attained; very beautiful to outsiders; very surprising to the world. Love and light advanced apace. Now the centrifugal force is being magnified, as the true principle of cohesion! And though divisions of spirits and of communions have resulted, and the world smiles, and believers are troubled, there are those who still press this disastrous principle. How long, shall it be so? It can only be, so long as we forget the prayer of our Lord -"HOLY FATHER, KEEP THROUGH THINE OWN NAME, THOSE WHOM THOU HAST GIVEN ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE, AS WE ARE:" John 17: 11.
Our brethren, afraid of 'heresy' in men's sense of false doctrine,' are rushing into ‘heresy' in God's sense of 'sect-making.' They. [‘the Brethren’], are making a sect, which, [as they believe,] shall exclude false doctrine - [by excluding other regenerate believers, not belonging to their sect, from the ‘Lord’s Table.’] The Lord keep His people from the heresy, of the ‘Sound Brethren' and from all others!