THE STEP I HAVE TAKEN
Being "letters to a friend" or "taking his place among the Brethren"
BLACKHEATH, January, 1875.
Mv BELOVED BROTHER,
Your letter was so full of gentle and loving remonstrances, and our friendship has been so intimate, that it is due to you that I should explain somewhat more in detail the grounds of the change I have made in my position. And since there are many others who are asking how it is that I, who some years ago wrote a pamphlet against "the Brethren," have so changed my "views" as to become identified with them, you will not, I am sure, object to my addressing them through you. It is, indeed, due no less to the "Brethren" than to my friends to give some account of the way by which I have been led.
First of all, however, permit me to recall our past association. Some six years have now elapsed since our friendship was formed - a friendship that has continued without even a passing shadow, and which grew ever deeper and more intimate with the lapse of time - no small evidence, I think, that the blessing of the Lord was resting upon it. Its very commencement was a prediction of its nature and character; for it sprang out of fellowship in what we, at that time, held to be the truth, and until the other day our position, both as regards truth and denominationalism, was almost identical. What then, let me ask, was that position? Nominally we were Baptist miniters, but in spirit, and also in practice, we were outside of the Baptist denomination altogether, so much so that we not only disliked, but we very often refused, the appellation of Baptist ministers. And wherefore? Because we had been emancipated from the trammels of theology, and had been led to prize the Scriptures as the veritable word of God; and hence, having been taught something of the truth as to the dispensation - the distinctive position of the Church of God, and teaching, as we did, the true doctrine of the believer's standing before God through death and resurrection with Christ, the heavenly nature of our calling, the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the return of the Lord for His saints before the millennium, and the Messiah's glorious millennial reign, etc., we found ourselves entirely out of harmony with our fellow-ministers (so much so that we were afraid to ask them to preach in our pulpits, lest they should contradict our own teaching), and in conscientious dissent from all denominationalism whatsoever; for, with the truths we held, we could not heartily support "our societies ;" we were constrained to stand entirely aloof from the political proceedings of so many of the denominational gatherings, and we had no sympathy with the plans for denominational extension which were so often discussed. The consequence was that you and myself, when present, were alone in these meetings, and we were very strongly suspected (as many would phrase it) of a tendency toward "Brethrenism." Our position was well known, and our isolation was nearly complete.
The effect of this was that we gave ourselves more heartily to the work of the Lord, striving to fence off our people as much as possible - though the task was very difficult - from denominational influences, to train them to study the Scriptures for themselves, and to build them up in the truth of God. The Lord graciously blessed our labours, encouraging us by many tokens of His favour. Indeed, up to the end of 1872 we both had abundant cause for gratitude; for scarcely a month ever passed without our having to rejoice over souls brought to Christ under the preaching of the gospel. How often did we at that time pour out our hearts together before the Lord, in gratitude for His great condescension in using us for His glory! And you will bear me witness that in all our prayers our one desire was to become "vessels sanctified and meet for the Master's use." And while we were speaking our prayers were heard; for I cannot but see in the experiences of the last two years the answer to our cries. Our hope was to continue with our people, and to have increasing blessing resting upon us and our labours in their midst. But we had prayed for greater consecration, and we were shutting our eyes to the fact that there were things connected with our position which were not according to the mind of God (and there were some things, in my teaching at least, which were not according to the Scriptures). Hence, if our prayers were to be answered, it could only be by separating us from all, whether in position or in teaching, which was evil before the Lord; and so it came to pass that He answered us according to His own thoughts of love, and not according to our desires.
Believe me, dear brother,
Yours affectionately in Christ,
BLACKHEATH, January, 1875.
My BELOVED BROTHER,
How merciful it is of the Lord to conceal from us the future; for I am afraid that, if we had seen the character of the path by which we were about to be led, our prayers would have died away upon our lips. How, then, did the Lord deal with us in answer to our prayers? In both cases it was by sickness. I was the first to be smitten down. This was in October, 1872; but having somewhat recovered, I struggled on with my work until March, 1873; and I may perhaps add, that this period of weakness was more fruitful of blessing, in the conversion of souls, than any former period of my ministry. It was, therefore, my earnest desire to remain at my post; but the Lord's design was to send me away into the desert for a long season of heart-searching in His presence.
For now, breaking utterly down, I was sent away for a six months' sojourn on the Continent; and this period was extended to thirteen months before I returned. And though the Lord has now separated me from my people,* it is my joy to recall all the tender affection with which they throughout this period ministered to my need. May the Lord abundantly recompense them, inasmuch as they did it as unto Himself in the person of His servant, and "supply all their need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil. iv. 19.)
Before, however, I enter upon my exercises of soul during my sojourn in Switzerland, let me anticipate some few months. Not long after I had departed, your health also began to fail, and finally you had to succumb; and yielding to medical advice you likewise were sent away to the Continent. I need not recall to your mind how unexpectedly we met at Lausanne, or the pleasure we had the day we spent together at Veytaux. But you will not forget, how deeply I was impressed with the coincidences in the Lord's dealing with us, and how consequently I suggested for our consideration, whether there might not have been something in our position and teaching which had brought upon us loving chastisement from the hand of the Lord, and whether therefore it might not be the Lord's design to correct us on these points, and to lead us into a fuller apprehension of His truth, and a position more in accordance with His mind and will.
But this very question had sprung out of much previous self-examination and self-judgment. It is only natural to the child of God that the time of affliction should be a time of searching of heart; and, accordingly, no sooner had I reached the Continent than, in my daily walks and during my sleepless nights, the question which continually presented itself to my soul was this, What is the Lord's purpose in this affliction? or, What does He thereby design to teach me? And, by His grace, I was resolved not to rest until He had been pleased to reveal to me the meaning of His chastening hand; and hence I examined and re-examined my past modes of work, the truths I had taught, whether from the pulpit or by the pen, and the position which I had occupied. Let me, then, detail as briefly as possible the results of my investigation.
At the very outset, my tractate against "the Brethren" engaged my anxious consideration. Very soon after it was issued, I regretted its publication. The reason of my regret then was, that while I at the time believed all that I had written, I could not but entertain the most sincere esteem for such of the "Brethren" as I knew. I could not fail to admire their separateness of walk, their simplicity of life, and their love for the word of God and the person of our blessed Lord; and oftentimes I felt most acute sorrow that I had wounded such, and that by my book I had shut myself out from all fellowship with them. Besides this, I sometimes suspected whether I had dealt quite fairly with them in criticising detached quotations; whether, in fact, I had conscientiously sought to ascertain their real meaning, and to test it by the Scriptures. The consequence was, that I had long since, before leaving England, ceased to have it advertised (I had never allowed it to be advertised in a local publication with the rest of my books), and had more recently determined that it should be discontinued. But now, after having an opportunity of more authentic information upon many of the points on which I had dwelt, and having been compelled to renounce, after again searching the Scriptures, some of the doctrines which I had therein advocated, I was compelled not oniy to resolve that the book should be withdrawn, but also to confess that I could no longer adhere to all the statements therein contained. And I further resolved, that on the first opportunity I would state this much publicly, and express my sorrow for its publication, on my resumption of work.
Next in order I examined my practice in the light of my teaching. Had I in this respect been consistent? Very sorrowfully, I was soon compelled to admit some important discrepancies. Thus I had held for many years that believers should be gathered as such on the Lord's day to "break bread," and had often stated this from the pulpit; so also I thoroughly held the evil of pew rents, etc.; for, apart from their unscriptural character, I had often noticed that poor believers were compelled to sit anywhere and everywhere, however uncomfortable it might be, because that unbelievers who could pay had the option of choosing pews. I had frequently stated my convictions on these points, and had satisfied myself with my testinwny. here was the failure. I was responsible for the truth which the Lord revealed to me, and hence I was bound in faithfulness to Him to seek to carry it out in action. This I had neglected; but now He gave me grace to confess my error, and to seek strength for faithfulness on my return.
After this I tested the doctrines I had preached by the light of the Scriptures; and here also I discovered grounds for regret. I had, as already stated, in the pamphlet to which I have referred, as well as from the pulpit, advocated the mortality of the Lord's human body - in the sense of being under the necessity of death - though, I can truth-fully say, that I was not aware at that time of the nature of the errors with which this doctrine had been associated, or I should have shrunk from them with horror. Further study of the word of God now showed me that I had been hasty in my conclusions; that indeed the Lord's human body was mortal, but only in the sense of being capable of dying, AND NOT IN ANYWISE AS BEING UNDER TIlE NECESSITY OF DEATH; for to maintain the latter would be, as I was now convinced, to assail the very foundations of the atoning sacrifice. The conming of the Lord Jesus for His saints also occupied my attention. Together with yourself, I had maintained that, while His coming would be premillennial, there were necessarily intervening events before the rapture of the saints, and hence that the Church would have to pass through the final tribulation, and be therefore on the earth during the power and sway of Antichrist. I devoted the whole winter, more or less, to the reconsideration of this subject; and as the Lord so ordered it, I was brought into contact at Veytaux with other Christians, and we searched the Scriptures together upon this question. You will not expect that I should set forth the steps by which I finally arrived at the conclusion that the Church will not be in the tribulation; but I may just say that the perception that Matt. xxiv. does not apply to the Church, and a closer study of the Apocalypse, largely contributed to this issue. It was, however, with no small delight that I saw it to be the believer's blessed privilege to live daily in the expectation of his Lord's return; for, indeed, I had long had a secret conviction that, unless it were so, many of the exhortations of Scripture as to waiting and watching had lost their force, and that such a hope and expectation must exert, in the power of the Holy Spirit, a most blessed and sanctifying influence upon the believer's soul. (See 1 John iii. 2, 3.)
The effect of my change of view on this subject was to modify several other points. It brought into clearer light the nature and calling of the Church, the contrast between the earthly hope of the Jew, and the heavenly hope of the believer, the kingdom and the Church, and led to the readjustment of related truths. But further than this I did not at that time go; and I can truly say that the above represents the extent of my change of view during my residence on the Continent. For though during the winter, at Bible-readings and in conversations with Christian friends, I had many discussions, and sometimes found it difficult to defend the "church" practices with which I was associated, I yetciung most tenaciously to my position. With the exceptions named, therefore, the close of the winter found me very much where I was before; for I had not altered any fundamental principle - anything at least which affected my continuance at the post which I had held for so many years. And if I had entertained any doubts of this kind, the prospect, now dawning upon me, of returning to my beloved people would have scattered them, and re-established my confidence. When finally, therefore, we started on our homeward way, the only fear I had was, whether, though I was much better, my health was sufficiently restored to enable me to resume my long-interrupted work. But I will leave the account of my return until my next letter. In the meantime believe me, beloved brother,
Yours affectionately in the Lord,
BLACKHEATH, January, 1875.
MY BELOVED BROTHER,
On the 6th of May we landed once more upon the shores of England; and on the 24th it was arranged for me to recommence my ministry. As, however, I was still far from strong, my beloved people kindly consented for me to preach but once on the Lord's-day; and through the tender mercy of our God and Father, I was enabled to do this much with comparative ease, and with no little joy. Perhaps, never in my past experience did I realize so much of the presence of God, and the power of the Spirit in preaching the word, as after my return. The reason, no doubt, was, that never were so many prayers offered as now that the Lord's strength might be made perfect in my weakness, and truly those prayers were abundantly answered. But notwithstanding all these happy experiences, new evidences of the Lord's faithfulness and tender love, the Lord was about to appear on the scene and constrain me to retire from my work. Scarcely, indeed, had I settled down before indications began to appear that it was not His will that I should continue at my post. You, beloved brother, are acquainted with the peculiar path by which I was led, and therefore know that I scarcely took a step of my own will, but that when I acted it was because there were influences from without which compelled me to do so. It thus came to pass, owing to circumstances over which I had no control, that I summoned a meeting of believers, and read to them a paper in which I embodied the leading truths which I at that time held. I read the paper to you before I carried it to the meeting, but I will insert a part of it here, as it will serve to explain very accurately the gradual nature of the change which finally I was led to make. After some personal references, I proceeded as follows:
"I am said to have taught 'Plymouth' doctrines last Lord's day week. Now it so happens that on two occasions before I have expressed exactly the same 'views;' and then, as far as I know, not a single complaint was made. Be this as it may, the question resolves itself simply into this, Did I proclaim truth or error? For because the Catholics hold the divinity of the Lord Jesus, am I to reject this most true and blessed doctrine? But I am free to confess that I do largely agree with the doctrines usually associated with 'Brethren.' When I commenced my ministry here, now thirteen years and a half ago, I was a great student, and read many books. But gradually the Lord opened my eyes to see that, with the Holy Spirit as guide and teacher, the Bible is all-sufficient for the instruction of the man of God (John xiv. 16, 17, xvi. 13); and thus my books became fewer and fewer, until now, for some years past, the Scriptures have been my chief companion, and certainly my only text-book for the pulpit. The result was that I had to reject most of, if not all, the views which had previously been instilled into my mind; and I was soon compelled to confess that many of the doctrines of 'Brethren' were according to the mind of God. For instance, I could not but see that it is right to meet as Christians to break bread on the Lord's-day. Again, in regard to dispensational truth, though hitherto I have differed from them on some material points, I could not but agree with 'Brethren' in their general outline, as for example in the premilennial advent of Christ (speaking now of the general doctrine and not of its details); in the first resurrection of believers, and the rapture of the saints; in their association with Christ in the glories of His millennial reign; in the restoration and conversion of the Jews, and in the conversion of the world, not by the preaching of the gospel before the second advent, but after the Lord's return, when 'He will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent.' (Zeph. iii. 9.) I agree also with them, speaking generally, in their teaching on the standing and walk of believers, separation from the world, the indwelling Spirit, etc. At the same time, I have differed from them on other points; for had I not, I hope I should have had grace to unite with them; for I hesitate not to declare to you that if I had been fully convinced of the ground they take as to worship and ministry, it would have been my pleasure, I trust, to seek to glorify God by obedience to His will. "I will go farther. I have often said in conversation with friends that under some circumstances I would rather be with 'Brethren' than with other Christians; for even now were I in a place where no definite truth was taught, I should at once seek the privilege of fellowship with them in the 'breaking of bread.'
"Once more, I have often expressed regret that I ever wrote my tractate against 'Brethren,' a regret which some in fellowship with us felt at the time of its publication. The reason was that I soon found that Unitarians, clergymen, and other ministers, with whom I had not the least sympathy, were using my book as an auxiliary to their cause; and I felt therefore that I was in the wrong camp, that I must have fallen into error. It was also cited in newspapers and reviews in support of views from which I entirely dissented; and hence I cannot but express my deep sorrow (though at the time it embodied my sincere convictions) that I ever published it. For in these days of worldliness and error I would far rather see Christians with 'Brethren' than in the Establishment, or with many Independents and Baptists; and I take this opportunity of saying that I could not now adhere to the statements and views which my book contains."
Such, dear brother, was the substance of the paper which I read on that occasion; but I added to it the announcement that, as my teaching had been called in question, I should "resign my pastorate" at the end of September. I returned home that evening with more joy of soul than I had experienced for some time past; for I felt that the Lord had opened a door for me to declare plainly all the truth that I held. And I was sure that, whatever might be the trials of faith connected with my separation from my people, He who had spoken so plainly to me would give me grace to be faithful, that He would strengthen His feeble servant for the testimony to which he might be called, and enable him still to follow on, though the character of the path on which he was entering was at that time entirely concealed.
Believe me, beloved brother,
Yours affectionately in the Lord,
BLACKHEATH, January, 1875.
Mv BELOVED BROTHER,
The effect of the meeting which I described in my last letter was as unexpected as it was wonderful. I felt like a bird which has just escaped from the snare of the fowler - so great was the liberty and freedom of soul on which I was entered. More than this - there was another consequence. Truths which my mind, if I may so speak, had previously held in solution were, by the influence of this meeting, precipitated in solid forms, and they glistened in my eyes like newly-discovered treasures. And hence, when I was still urgently entreated by many friends to remain with my people, as I was continually, both by letter and in personal conversation, with the assurance that I might preach any and all things which the Lord had revealed to me, I could not for one moment entertain the thought. My heart yearned over the souls which had been given me in the gospel; the ties which Christian fellowship had formed drew me very close to many believers amongst the people; temporal maintenance seemed, humanly speaking, bound up with my continuance at my post; but all these things together could not draw me back, or compel me to recall the word I had spoken. The fact was, having uttered the truths as expressed in my paper, I felt that I could never more consent to hold them in subordination; and I began to long after a position which could bear the test and application of the word of God. One thing more followed. Having expressed in public my regret for the publication of my book, I felt that I was bound to say as much to those against whom it was written. Accordingly I wrote a brief letter to Mr. Kelly - as one well known amongst "Brethren"- stating what I had done, and expressing my sorrow that I had written and published the pamphlet.
This done, I was entirely free from all entanglements, and I now determined, by the help of God, to bring the light of Scripture to bear upon everything connected with my position, that I might obtain guidance for my future path; for as yet all was uncertainty beyond the truths I have named (i.e. as to the exact position I should take on my separation from my people). Several distinct paths opened up before me, with many promises of support, which I gratefully record, but my only desire now was to know the will of the Lord.
The first thing that demanded my attention and examination was The Ministry as exercised amongst Dissenters. This sentence recalls a strange incident. Some eight or nine years ago I wrote a pamphlet under this title, and actually took it to my publishers, but afterwards decided that it should not be issued; for I shunned the controversy which might be awakened, as many of the statements there made would bear a very distinct resemblance to some that will follow in this letter.
You, dear brother, and myself have been for years past in the public estimation (though I admit, as I have said already, that we were both unwilling to accept the appellation) Dissenting ministers. How did we come to occupy this position? That no mistakes may be made, I will answer only for myself. After I had confessed Christ I became possessed of an ardent desire to "enter the Ministry." I was young and uninstructed, and, according to the practice of the denomination, naturally turned my eyes to one of the colleges for the needful preparation. Recommended by two ministers (though I had never preached but once, and then not in their hearing), I obtained admission, and, after the customary probation, was received for the usual curriculum of four years. I studied most diligently, but not the Scriptures, though these had their place, if subordinate to that of other studies. In fact I began to study under tutorial advice with a view to the B.A. degree in the London IJniversity. I matriculated at the end of the first session; was prepared for the B.A. at the end of the third; but, while waiting for the examinations in October, was seized with typhus fever, and was consequently unable to proceed to my degree. After some months of weakness, I recovered, through the blessing of God; and, then, some six months were all that remained of my term for study. At the end of three out of these six months I was invited to preach on probation, at the end of which "the church" was convened to discuss my merits as a preacher, etc., and then by vote I was unanimously elected to be their pastor. In the same way I was elected to the pastoral office at L. R.
Now I will not here enter upon an examination of the mode of preparing young men for the ministry, though I am sure you would agree with me that it is fraught with evils of the worst possible kind, and utterly unwarranted by Scripture, as well as singularly unadapted to secure the end proposed; but I shall confine myself to one question, Is there any Scripture authority for the election of a pastor or minister (either term is in use among Dissenters) by ties vote of the church? This, indeed, was the question which, with Bible in hand, I sought to answer.
The first passage to which I turned was Acts vi.; and there we do find something like an election of "church" officers by the believers in fellowship. (v. 5.) But may I ask you to note several things? First, that though they were chosen by the multitude, it was by direction of the apostles; and that the appointment was confirmed, if indeed not made, by the apostles. (v. 6.) Secondly, that though they were chosen by the multitude, the word used to indicate the act of their choice is not the peculiar word on which the vote-by-suffrage theory is founded. It is (Greek), which indicates simple selection. Thirdly, that the officers chosen were not elders or bishops; they were appointed solely for the purpose of attending to the daily ministration of relief to widows - of serving tables. (vv. 1-3.) It is true that we find Stephen afterwards preaching the word in the power of the Holy Ghost; but no one contends that this was in consequence of his appointment "to serve tables." There is, therefore, nothing whatever in this chapter that bears upon the election of "pastors" or "ministers."
The next passage to which I turned was Acts xiv. 23, which is certainly more to the point. We read there that Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church." I say that this passage is more to the point, because it is well known that "elders" and "bishops" are synonymous in the Scriptures, or rather, that these two terms indicate the same office; and that the office of the Dissenting minister is supposed, indeed held, to correspond with that so designated, The proof that the two terms indicate the same office is found in Acts xx. In verse 17 it is said that Paul "sent for the elders of the church." In addressing them, he says in verse 28, "Take heed there-fore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers"; i.e. bishops. If these, then, were appointed by the suifrages of the church, then there may be a show of justification for the practice of Dissenters. Turning, then, back to Acts xiv. 23, let us see what is the exact word employed.
It is (Greek) -that is, literally, "having appointed them elders." Now it is contended, and until now I had received it on the authority of others, that the word translated "appointed "-" ordained" in the authorized version - means 'appointed by the vote of the church;' in other words, that the radical idea of the word is "to hold up the hand," and hence, that the church first selected these elders by vote, and that then the apostles appointed them, or confirmed or ratified the choice which the church had made. Conceding for one minute that this might be the meaning of the word employed, I yet ask you, dear brother, if this is the usual method of interpreting language? For you will see from the context that the participle translated above, "having appointed," refers solely to the action of the apostles, and that the pronoun rendered "them" refers to the disciples "in every church." It is very evident, therefore, that, whatever the word may exactly mean, we are here told of something which the apostles did on behalf of the churches. Or, if you insist that the word does convey the meaning of the exercise of suffrage on the part of the church, I should at once reply, on the authority of this passage, that if the church voted, there could be no valid appointment apart from the presence and action of the apostles. But is this the meaning of the word? As far as I know, the same word only occurs in two other places in the New Testament - once in the same form, and once compounded with a preposition of time (irpo)-which leaves the meaning of the word untouched. The first of these passages is 2 Cor. viii. 19, where we read, "And not that only" (the apostle is speaking of the brother whose praise in the gospel was throughout all the churches), "but who was also chosen" (the word translated "ordained" in the former passage) "of the churches to travel with us with this grace," etc. In this place it is the action of the churches in appointing; but we have nothing but the word itself to indicate the mode of appointment, and then you will perceive that it is not the appointment of an elder, but simply of one who was sent by the churches to act with the apostle in the administration of their benefactions - a wholly different thing. Let us, then, turn to the other passage: it is Acts x. 40, 41. There we have these words: "Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen" (the same word) "before of God," etc. Is not the use of the word in this place decisive as to its meaning? For used as it is here in connection with God, it is impossible to attach any idea to it beyond that of selection or appointment; and hence this passage, concerning which there can be no possible doubt as to the sense in which the word is employed, should govern our interpretation of that which from the very nature of the case is so doubtful. For I repeat that the word is used only in one place in connection with the appointment of elders, or bishops - the office which is claimed to be held by Dissenting ministers-and even in. that place the action in the word is ascribed, not to the churches, but to the apostles. Can any unprejudiced mind, therefore, refuse to concede that the Scriptures have actually no proof whatever of the election of "ministers" (elders) by the suffrages of the church? that there is nothing, no idea contained in the use of the word, beyond that of simple appointment? and hence that the elders in the passage referred to were appointed by the apostles? Speaking for myself, this was the conclusion which the word of God compelled me most reluctantly to admit. Nor could I gain any comfort from the apostle Paul's direction to Titus -" Ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (Titus i. 5); for, first, the word "ordain" is not the same as that already discussed; it is (Greek), which signifies "to constitute," or "establish;" and secondly, what Titus did, he did only under the direction and authority of the apostle.
You have then, dear brother, the results of my investigation, and my conclusion that the mode of our appointment is wholly without the sanction or authority of the Scriptures. If you would like to pursue this subject more minutely, let me recommend to you a pamphlet, entitled Ministry of the Word, Eldership and the Lord's Supper, by Richard Holden (Broom); and Lectures on the Church of God, by W. Kelly (Broom). And after you have read these, I could not recommend you to a better book (though on the other side) for confirmation of their exposition than Davidson's Ecclesiastical Polity. But you will find, I doubt not, the Scriptures amply sufficient to show the correctness of the conclusions I have deduced.
There remain other aspects of the subject which I hope to deal with in my next letter. In the meantime believe me, beloved brother,
Yours affectionately in the Lord,
BLACKHEATH, January, 1875.
Mv BELOVED BROTHER,
For the sake of perspicuity, it may be well to sum up in a distinct form the conclusions of my last letter - changing only the order, for the clearer display of the teaching of Scripture - before I proceed with the remaining part of the subject. We saw then-
(1.) That the Scripture contains only one instance of an absolute appointment by the church; and that, in this case, it was not an elder, but simply a brother who was delegated by several churches to accompany the apostle, with a view to the administration of their benefactions. (2 Cor. viii. 18, 19.)
(2.) That there is only one instance of the selection of' "church-officers" by the church, and that the duty of these officers was to "serve tables ;" and that though they were selected by the church, they were actually set apart to their office by the apostles. (Acts vi.)
(3.) That there is no instance whatever of the selection or election of elders, whether by vote or otherwise, by the church; but that, in every recorded case, they were appointed either by the apostles or under the apostles' direction and authority. (Acts xiv. 23; Titus i. 5, etc.)
(4.) The inference then from these facts is, that unless we have apostles, or apostolic authority, we have no Scripture warrant for the appointment of elders or bishops. Such was the inference forced upon me by a careful examination of the Scriptures, and, as you know, the episcopalians affirm this principle, and consequently accept the fiction of apostolic succession; but I need not point out to you the utterly unscriptural character of this dogma.
It is possible, however, that you may tell me that in 1 Tim. iii. and Titus i. we have precisely those apostolic directions and authority which are desidarated. But it is to be remembered, that these directions were not sent to the churches but to individuals, and to those very individuals, Timothy and Titus, who were acting under the direction of the apostle, and who needed therefore just such instructions as are there given. It is most significant, indeed, that in Titus the qualifications for the bishop (or elder) follow upon the direction given to "ordain elders in every city." Thus the very place of these instructions shows that, instead of being our warrant to appoint elders or bishops, the church, by so doing, is arrogating to itself a function which was strictly bound up with the apostolic office. Anything, therefore, more conclusive as to the unscriptural character of the mode of appointment of "dissenting ministers" it would be impossible to imagine. And I am convinced that there are hundreds of godly men in dissent who would be only too thankful to be taught this conclusion. For, while they have accepted the traditions of dissent on the subject, they have found it hard to reconcile them with their belief in the divine wisdom. Suppose, now, "a church" without a minister - what is its resource? First of all, enquiries will be made of notable men as to any who will be likely to suit; applications will also flow in from "moveable" ministers. In due course a selection will be made of one or niore eligible candidates to come and preach, for three or four Lord's-days, on probation. At the termination of this critical period, a "church" meeting will be summoned, and the merits of the candidate or candidates will be discussed and then, finally - all alike being judges, the aged believer and the veriest babe in Christ, the most instructed as well as the most untaught, being on the same level - all alike supposed to be able to pass judgment upon the spiritual qualifications of the candidate for the post to which he aspires - after many speeches, it may be for and against, a vote will be taken, and if there be a majority in favour of the candidate, the invitation to the pastorate (although the candidate has only been tested as a minister in preaching) will in due course be forwarded, and then the candidate accepts the invitation or not, according to his own exigencies, or inclinations, or judgment.
All this, I freely confess, was present in my mind when I was reexamining the whole subject, and perhaps aided me to come to the unbiassed conclusion - I say unbiassed, because my own position was bound up with the investigation - that the ministry, as appointed amongst nonconformists, is wholly without the warrant of Scripture.
Thus far, I have gone on the assumption that there is correspondence between the office of a Dissenting minister and that of the elder or bishop of Scripture; for I desired to examine the subject on this ground. But I soon saw - if indeed I had ever seriously thought otherwise - that there is scarcely, if any, correspondence between these two things; that in Scripture there is always the most absolute distinction between office and gift; and that while there was appointment in time way indicated to the former by the apostles, the possessor of the gift exercised it in sole responsibility to the Lord, and never was appointed to exercise it either by the apostles or the assembly. (See Rom. xii. 6-8; 1 Peter iv. 10, 11, etc.) Consequently, it is never said that the Lord gave "elders" in the enumeration of the gifts (see Eph. iv. 11, 12), though apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, are all named. The fact is, elders were appointed for rule, and hence they held an office; but the possessors of gifts - such as prophets, pastors, teachers, etc.- received their gifts for the edification of the saints, and were bound, therefore, in obedience to Him fiom whom their gifts had emanated, to exercise them to this end. But this, as you know, dear brother, cannot be the case amongst Dissenters, because, in opposition to this plain distinction of Scripture, the exercise of gift is bound up with election to office. Hence a Dissenting minister is said to be an elder or bishop. He is also called a pastor; likewise, he is a teacher; and he is also supposed to be an evangelist - to be, in facts a compendium of all the Scriptural gifts and offices excepting that of deacon. Is it not strange that we have been so long content with such a system?
Pursuing my subject, however, in all its branches, I found there was yet another difficulty - that connected with the one man ministry; so that if all the rest had been clear, this would have been insuperable. For I found that there is not a single passage which speaks of an elder or a bishop of the church; nor, as far as I can discover, is the word (in either case) ever found in the singular, except in the pastoral epistles, where, as we have seen, the qualifications of the office are detailed. Take Acts xx. 17 (already cited): "He sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church;" Acts xiv. 23, "Elders in every church;" Phil. 1. 1, "With the bishops ;" Titus 1. 5, "Ordain elders in every city ;" 1 Peter v. 1, "The elders which are among you," etc. If, therefore, every other difficulty were removed, it would be impossible to obtain from the Scriptures any justification for the Nonconformist method of appointing one elder or bishop to "preside over a church." Not that I think that the practice is ever seriously defended; for I remember some years ago dining with some Congregational ministers, when one of them took opportunity to condemn the practices of "Brethren." Interposing, I said, "Are you sure of your own position? Show me now from Scripture the justification of the one-man ministry." He replied, "That can easily be done." But on being pressed, the only passage he could adduce was, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches!" The others were equally helpless; and it will suffice to show, not only how entirely indefensible the practice is, but also how easily we are led to assume solemn and responsible positions, without asking ourselves whether we have the guidance and justification of the word of God. But surely, if we have a single eye to the glory of God, if we desire to walk in the light, we shall seek to be separated from all evil, whether of heart or position, to make God's word the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path, both for daily walk and life, and for all our church practices and associations. Nay, to set up anything in time house of God which has not the direction. and sanction of the Scriptures is practical disobedience to the Lord as Head of the Church.
But I am sure that you will hardly refuse assent to the conclusions I have demonstrated from the Scripture; for I remember how in times past we have longed for some change, and that we cherished at one period a dream of association together in the work of the ministry, so that in union we might be the stronger to carry out our own plans, unfettered by any other authority than the Scriptures; and how we have often said one to the other, that if anything should occur to separate us from our people respectively, we could not conscientiously offer ourselves for the pastorate of any of the ordinary denominational "churches." The fact was, we had learned from the Scriptures very much more than we were willing to confess, and hence we were dissatisfied and uncomfortable amid the usual "church" and denominational modes and activities. In truth, we were outside already in spirit, and we needed only to apprehend our responsibility before God for what He had taught us to be outside altogether.
Believe me, beloved brother,
Yours affectionately in the Lord,
E. D. Continued in Part Two
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