5. MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS ON
THE MUTUAL DEPENDENCE OF THE SAINTS,
IN MEETINGS FOR MUTUAL EDIFICATION, AND ON OTHER SUBJECTS
My remarks in this will be of a more desultory character than in the preceding letters, my object being to gather up several points which could not be so well embraced in the subjects of my former communications.
And first, may I remind you, that whatever takes place in a meeting for mutual edification ought to be the fruit of communion. That is, if I read a chapter of the word, it is not that I have to look through my Bible to find a suitable chapter; but being more or less acquainted with the word, the Spirit of God brings to my mind the portions He would have me read. So if a hymn is to be sung, it is not that I feel the time is come for singing, and so look through the hymn book for a nice hymn to sing. No; but out of the measure of acquaintance with the hymn-book that I have, the Spirit of God reminds me of a hymn, and leads me to give it out. The idea of half a dozen looking through their Bibles and hymn-books to find chapters and hymns suitable to read or give out, is as subversive of the real character of a meeting for mutual edification, in dependence on the Holy Ghost, as can well be conceived.
I may, indeed, have a given chapter laid on my heart, and may need, from imperfect acquaintance with my Bible, to look for it; and so of a hymn; but this is clearly the only object one can rightly have, in turning over the pages of either when assembled on the ground of mutual dependence on the Holy Ghost for mutual edification. Then, secondly, if this were well understood, it would follow, as a matter of course, that when any one was seen opening his Bible or his hymn-book, it would be known to be with the thought of reading a portion of the word, or giving out a hymn. The word, "Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another", 1 Corinthians 11: 33, would then quite preclude the thought of anyone else taking part in the meeting, till the brother who had evinced his thought of doing so had either carried it into effect or laid it aside.
This brings me fairly to the subject of mutual dependence, on which we may well and properly meditate for a little while. The question as to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 11, was not as to ministry, but as to eating the Lords supper. The question of ministry comes on in 1 Corinthians 14. But the moral root of the disorder in both cases was the same. They failed to discern the body of Christ, and so each was occupied with his own individual self. "For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper", 1 Corinthians 11: 21. The result was, "And one is hungry, and another is drunken". The principle of self was here permitted to produce fruits so glaring and so monstrous, as to shock ones natural sensibilities.
But if I come to the meetings, and sit in the meetings, thinking only of the chapter I am to read, the hymn I am to give out, the part I am to take, self is as entirely in spiritual things the hinge on which my thoughts and solicitudes turn, as though, like the Corinthians in natural things, I having a supper, brought it and ate it, while my poor brother who could not afford this, went away without. It is in the fellowship of the one body of Christ quickened, actuated, taught, and governed by the one Spirit, that we meet together; and surely the thoughts of our hearts in thus assembling should neither be the supper I myself have to eat, or the part I myself have to take, but the wondrous bounty and grace of Him who has committed us to the keeping of the Holy Ghost, who will not fail, if humbly waited on, to assign each his proper place and part, without any restless anxiety in us to know what it is.
In the body of Christ each one is but a member and surely if the Corinthians had discerned and realized this, the one who had a supper would have tarried for those who had none, to share it with them. In like manner, if my soul realizes this precious unity of the body, and my own humble place in it, as but one individual member of it I shall not be in such haste to act in the assembly as to prevent others acting: and if I feel I have a word from the Lord, or a call from Him for some service, I shall still remember that others may have the same, and so leave room for them: and most of all, if I see another with his book open to read a portion or give out a hymn, I shall wait till he has done so, and not be in a hurry to get the opportunity before him. "Tarry ye one for another", will surely apply to this as well as to the breaking of bread.
And in the fourteenth chapter we find that when prophets were speaking in the meeting by immediate revelation, there was to be so much deference of one to another, that in the very act of speaking, if anything was revealed to another that sat by, the first was to hold his peace. Besides, the general, moral bearing of such a word as "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak", James 1: 19, would teach us thus to tarry one for the other.
Then, thirdly, the object of our assembly is edification. This is the point pressed in 1 Corinthians 14. In 1 Corinthians 12 we have the body of Christ in subjection to Him as Lord, and the witness here of His Lordship, by virtue of the indwelling and inworking of the Holy Ghost, who divides to every man severally as He will; closing with the catalogue of gifts, apostles, prophets, etc., set of God in the church in their several places of use, or service, for the whole. To covet earnestly the best gifts is enjoined, but a more excellent way referred to, namely, the charity, or love, of 1 Corinthians 13, without which the most splendid gifts are nothing, and which must regulate the exercise of all gifts if edification is to be the result.
This latter is the subject of 1 Corinthians 14. The gift of tongues was what seemed to man the most wonderful, and the Corinthians delighted in displaying it. Instead of love seeking the edification of all, it was vanity seeking to display its gifts. They were real gifts gifts of the Spirit. And here, beloved brethren, is the solemn thing for us to weigh, that there may be the power of the Spirit for service, without the living guidance of the Spirit in its exercise. The latter there can only be where self is crucified, and Christ everything to the soul. The object of the Holy Spirit is not to glorify the poor earthen vessel which contains His gifts; but by the humble, gracious, self-renouncing use of these gifts to glorify Christ from whom they flow; and this is accomplished in the edification of the whole body. How beautiful is this self-renunciation in Paul! Possessed of every gift, with what singleness of heart he sought not to exhibit his gifts, but to exalt his Lord, and edify the saints. "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue".
How forcible from the pen of such an one, those words of the Holy Ghost, "Let all things be done unto edifying". "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church". Then again, every servant to be faithful must act under his masters directions. Hence the importance of what was so much pressed in my last, that if I act in the assembly of the saints, it must be on no lower ground than that of a full and solemn persuasion in my own soul before God, that it is my Masters present will I should so act. "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith", Romans 12: 3. The measure of what I do is to be the measure of faith God has given me; and God will take care that His servants know thus what He would have them do. Nothing less than a firm and solemn conviction that it is His will, can be a warrant for my acting in the assembly, or indeed anywhere besides, as the servant of God.
In the assembly, however, there is a divine check or guard on the abuse of this principle, namely, the provision made in such a word as "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge", 1 Corinthians 14: 29. It is for my own soul in the first place to judge, and know whether the Lord calls me to speak or to act in the assembly; but when I have so spoken or acted, it is for my brethren to judge, and in the vast majority of cases it must be by their judgment that I abide. The case is a rare one indeed in which I should be warranted in continuing to take a part in the meetings, if my doing so were not approved by the brethren. It is quite evident, that if God has called me to speak or pray in the meetings if it be really from Him that my conviction of being led to do so proceeds it is as easy for Him to dispose and prepare the hearts of the saints to receive my ministry, and unite in my prayers, as it is to dispose my own heart for such service. If I am really led of the Spirit thus to act, the same Spirit who leads me and acts by me dwells in the saints; and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the Spirit in the saints, will respond to ministry or worship in the Spirit on the part of any.
Ordinarily, therefore, if I found saints burdened and troubled by my taking part in the meetings, instead of being edified thereby, I should be warranted in concluding that I had mistaken my place, and that I was not called thus to act. In the second place, suppose that what made the ministry of any one for a time unacceptable was to be found in the state of the assembly, not his own state: suppose that he is so much more spiritual than the assembly, that they cannot enter into or appreciate what he ministers to them, what of such a case as this? It is not a very common one, and when it does arise, it may be for such a servant of Christ to enquire whether he has not to learn to be like his Master, and to teach and "to speak the word unto them, as they are able to hear"; whether he does not need a little more of Pauls spirit, who could say, "we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children"; who says, too, in another place, "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able". If, with such discriminating care and tenderness as this, his ministry is still not received, it must indeed be trying to the faith of such a servant of the Lord; but seeing that edification is the object of all ministry, and that saints cannot be edified by a ministry that does not commend itself to their consciences, there could be no good in forcing it upon the saints, whether they can receive it or not.
The general weakness and disease of ones body may produce the dislocation of some particular joint. The body in such a case will not be benefited by forcing the dislocated joint into action. It may be deplorable that it cannot act; but the only way for its use to be restored is to give it perfect rest for the time being, while the general health of the body is sought to be restored by other means. So in the case supposed, continued ministry where it is not received, even if the cause be the low state of the assembly, only adds irritation to the generally bad condition of things, and thus makes it worse. The servant of the Lord in such a case will find that to be silent is his wisdom, or it may be to him the intimation of his Masters will that he should serve elsewhere. On the other hand, let me earnestly warn you, beloved brethren, against what probably enough Satan may now seek to make a snare to us, the spirit of criticism on what takes place in the meetings. His effort is always to urge us from one extreme to another; and if we have erred on the side of indifference, as though it made no matter what took place if only the time was filled up, it is more than likely we shall now be in danger on the other side. The good Lord in His mercy keep us. Nothing can be more deplorable, as to the state of heart it indicates, and nothing can be a greater hindrance to blessing, than a captious, criticizing spirit. We assemble to worship God and edify one another, not to occupy ourselves in determining who ministers in the flesh, and who prays in the Spirit. Where the flesh does manifest itself, let it be judged. Sorrowful and humiliating work it is to discern and judge it, in place of our own proper, happy privilege of mutually enjoying the fulness of our blessed Saviour and Head.
Do let us beware of a spirit of fault-finding. There are lesser gifts, as well as greater ones, and we know who it is that has bestowed more abundant honour on the parts that lacked. The actings of a brother in the assembly are not of necessity all fleshly, because he acts in the flesh to some extent. On this point, it would be well for us all to ponder the words of one most highly honoured amongst us, "There is great need of this, namely, that we attend first to the nature, and, secondly, to the measure of our gift. "While on this last, that is, the measure of the gift, let me say that I do not doubt that many a brothers gift would be recognized, if he did not go beyond his measure in it, If he prophesy, let him prophesy according to the proportion of faith. "All beyond that is flesh, and putting himself forward, and this is felt, and his whole gift rejected; and this because he has not known how to confine himself to it; and therefore his flesh acts, and his speaking is attributed to it and no wonder. "It is also true as to the nature of a gift; if a man sets himself to teach, instead of confining himself to exhorting if he exhorts he will not, and cannot, edify. "I would especially desire the attention of every brother who ministers in the word to this remark, which, from lack of faithfulness in his hearers, may never reach him in any other way".
It is to brethren who minister that these words are addressed, but I quote them to you, beloved brethren, that we may learn not to condemn everything that any one says or does, because something of the flesh is discernible in it. Let us thankfully own what is of the Spirit, distinguishing it from all else even in the ministry or actings of the same individual.
There are still two or three points of minuter detail on which, in the confidence of brotherly love, I would add a word or two. As to the distribution of the bread and wine at the Lords table. It is, on the one hand, most desirable that this should not be uniformly and exclusively by one or two individuals, as though it were some clerical distinction; while, on the other hand, I can see no warrant in scripture for any one breaking the bread, or giving the cup, without giving thanks. In Matthew 24: 26-27; Mark 14: 22-23; Luke 22: 19; and 1 Corinthians 11: 24, we are told that the Lord Jesus gave thanks when He broke the bread and took the cup; while in 1 Corinthians 10: 16, the cup is termed the cup of blessing or of thanksgiving. If, then, scripture is to be our guide, how plain that any one who breaks the bread or takes the cup should at the same time give thanks; and if any of us do not feel power to do this, may we not rightly question whether we are called to distribute the bread and the wine? Then as to rule or oversight in the church, and indeed as to the qualifications to be looked for in any who act in ostensible service amongst saints, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 ought to be prayerfully studied by all of us.
There is one particular in 1 Timothy 3: 6, which it may be well to be reminded of. "Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil". It is possible for the call of God and the gift of Christ to be found with a young man like Timothy or if we go back to the Old Testament, with a Jeremiah and "let no man despise thy youth" would apply to any such in the present day, even as to Timothy of old. But it is to Timothy the words quoted "not a novice", etc., were addressed. His youthfulness was to be no encouragement to those to act who had neither the gift nor the grace which had been bestowed on him. And there is even a natural fitness and beauty in the young taking the place of subjection instead of rule, which seems to me to be sadly overlooked sometimes. "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble", 1 Peter 5: 5. The Lord in His mercy, beloved brethren, grant us to walk humbly with Himself, and thus may no hindrance be presented to the working of His blessed Spirit amongst us.
Yours, in unfeigned affection, W. Trotter.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography