G. H. PEMBER AND THE MONKS OF LLANTHONY*
[* This letter, dated Budleigh Salterton, Aug. 14, 1890, and not hitherto published, was addressed to the (Anglican) Monks of Llanthony Abbey under Father Ignatius, one of whom had expressed to Mr. Pember their deep appreciation of his Second Advent teaching; and its combined grace and courage, in a letter so extraordinarily difficult to write, make it a model worthy of record. – D. M. Panton.]
Pray accept my best thanks for your very kind and genial letter. I have, indeed, reason to feel grateful to our gracious Lord, if He has permitted my unworthy efforts to be of any service in unfolding His Word to you. Its glorious mysteries, its wonderous instructions, corrections, and encouragements - all tending to the further revelation of Him Who loves us and loosed us from our sins by His blood - are the study and joy of my life, and will, I trust, continue to be so until its close.
It gives me great pleasure to comply with your first request, and to enclose the little book on "Animals"; but I must beg your acceptance of it, and ask you to take back the money so kindly sent in your letter. As to your second wish, it is not in my power to accede to it at present; for many years have passed since I had a photograph taken. And, indeed, I must confess to some degree of prejudice against doing so. When it is possible to leave anywhere a new and more glorious impression of the great Saviour and Lord, then my chief desire in life has been, so far, fulfilled, but why do anything to perpetuate the memory of one’s oft-failing and sinful self?
It is comforting to know that all in Llantony Abbey are looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. And what else is there to hope for? Certainly not the improvement of the world: indeed, we have received no commission to attempt to improve it, directly at least, but only to draw out of it as many as we can, and to be God’s instruments for transferring them to the Kingdom of His dear Son.
But many, I fear, deceiving themselves by supposing that they will be ready to meet the Lord with joy, because they have gone so far as to believe in His propitiation for our sins. Such a belief is, indeed, very precious - unspeakably so. It saves from hell: it secures eternal life, and ensures resurrection to it on the Last Day, that is, at the general resurrection of the dead (John 6: 40). But the New Testament teaches that it is only by obedience after conversion that we can attain to the First Resurrection, or resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3: 11: Cf. Luke 20: 35); and so be among the number of those who shall be Christ’s at His coming, members of His body and partakers in His Heavenly Kingdom.
By obedience to Whom, then, or to what, is this consummation to be obtained? By obedience to the Lord Jesus Himself, of Whose commands we have no inspired record, save in the New Testament. There we read :- "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me ; and he that loveth Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him" (John 14: 21). "But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt 15: 9).
Now, dear friend - as you rightly say - while we both agree as to the great and only Foundation; yet, as soon as we begin to build upon it, our opinions diverge. From my point of view, then, and so far as I can see, the reason is this. In spiritual things, I wish to know and obey nothing but the commandments of the Lord Jesus; and these, as addressed directly to those of His people who are being gathered during the present dispensation, are contained only in the New Testament.
But in that volume I can find no commandment respecting monachism, nor any example of it. On the other hand, there were monks in the great ancient and false religions, and that very many centuries before Christ. And, what is more, they seem to have been always distinguished by four characteristics. (1) They wore the usual monk’s habit and cowl - even the two miniature figures of Chaldean Magi brought from Cilicia by W. B. Barker are clothed in these: (2) they were celebates: (3) they had the tonsure: and (4) their Trinity consisted of Father, Mother and Son, though the Scriptures are, of course, careful to mark the Holy Spirit as ‘He.’ (John 14: 26).
Now any one conversant with the New Testament, and the early history of our era, must be well aware of two facts:- (1) Christ foretold that the body which would pass for His Church upon the earth would become fearfully corrupted, and would never be freed from the tares until He Himself should return. (2) History shows us that Christianity did become fearfully corrupted by an influx of Buddhistic and Classical Pagan ideas, during the second and third centuries.
How, then, can one avoid the logical inference when he sees that Buddhistic and Classical-Pagan doctrines and practices abound in the nominal Church, and, at the same time, cannot find them in the New Testament? Of course, some points press upon one more than others - e.g., the tonsure, which is unquestionably Pagan (Inv. Vi. 533, Mart. xii., xxix. 19); and was positively forbidden, as a mark of Heathenism, in the Old Testament (Lev. 21: 5); and Mariolatry, which, while ‘altogether opposed to Scripture,’ is also too evidently the beginning of a movement for the restoration of the Pagan Mother to her position in the Trinity. Can it be wise, with whatever motive, to foist such practices upon the Christian faith? Are we thus looking off - [see Greek]- from all other influences unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, and holding fast the Head?
I have written frankly to you as a friend; and you will, I feel sure, receive
what I have said in the same spirit. If I am wrong, may the merciful Lord show
me wherein the mistake lies; if I am right, may He reveal the truth to you
also, and to your dear
thanks for your very kind invitation, which will you, please, convey also with my
greetings to your
With thanks again for your friendly note, and every good wishes and prayer, believe me.
G. H. PEMBER.