2. THE CHURCH EDIFIED BY GIFTS
In resuming the subject on which I lately wrote to you, I would present you with the following extract from a tract, written at least nine or ten years ago.
The author, if I am rightly informed, is one who has been greatly honoured of God amongst us, and who is known personally to most of you. The tract is in the form of a dialogue.
E. I have heard that you assert that every brother is competent to teach in the assembly of the saints.
W. If I did so, I should deny the Holy Ghost. No one is competent to do this who has not received gift from God for this very purpose.
E. Well, but you believe that every brother in the assembly of the saints has a right to speak, if he is able.
W. Indeed I do not. I deny the right to any one, save God the Holy Ghost. A man may in nature be very able to speak, and to speak well, but if he cannot please his neighbour for good to edification, the Holy Ghost has not fitted him to speak, and he is dishonouring God his Father, grieving the Spirit, and undervaluing Christs church, if he does speak; and is showing, moreover, his own self-will.
E. Well, what is the peculiarity which you do hold?
W. You may think it peculiar to me, perhaps, to believe, that as the church belongs to Christ, He has, in order that its attention may not be wrongly directed and its time mis-spent in listening to that which is not profitable pretty as it may be given gifts to it, by which alone it is to be edified and ruled.
E. No. I admit that, and only wish that there were a little more coveting of such gifts from God, and more caution to put a stop to the use of every other means, however accredited by human power or eloquence.
W. I hold also that the Holy Ghost gives gifts to whom He pleases, and also what gifts He pleases. And that the saints ought so to be united together, as that the gift of one brother should never make the exercise of the real gift of another irregular, and that there should be an open door for the little as well as the great gifts.
E. That is a matter of course.
W. Not so; for neither in the Church of England, nor in Dissent, do I find 1 Corinthians 14 acted upon. Moreover, I assert that no gift from God has to wait for a sanction from the church ere it is used. If it is of God, He will accredit it, and the saints recognize its value.
E. Do you admit a regular ministry?
W. If by a regular ministry you mean a stated ministry that is, that in every assembly those who are gifted of God to speak to edification will be both limited in number and known to the rest I do admit it: but if by a regular ministry you mean an exclusive ministry, I dissent. By an exclusive ministry I mean the recognizing certain persons as so exclusively holding the place of teachers, as that the use of a real gift by any one else would be irregular, as, for instance, in the Church of England, and in most dissenting chapels, a service would be felt to be irregular which had been made up by two or three persons really gifted by the Holy Ghost.
E. On what do you build this distinction?
W. From Acts 13: 1, I see that at Antioch there were but five whom the Holy Ghost recognised as teachers: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. Doubtless, at all the meetings it was only these five, one or more of them, who were expected by the saints to speak. This was a stated ministry. But it was not an exclusive ministry: for when Judas and Silas came Acts 15: 32 they were pleased to take their place among the others, and then the recognized teachers were more numerous.
E. And what connection would this have with the giving out of a Psalm, etc., or with praying, or reading a portion of scripture?
W. These would fall like the rest entirely under the Holy Ghosts direction.
Alas for the man whose self-will chose to give out a hymn, or to pray, or read a scripture, without the guidance of the Spirit! In doing these things in the assembly of the saints, he is professing to be moved and guided by the Holy Ghost; and to profess this where it is not true is very presumptuous. If the saints know what communion is, they will know how very difficult it is to lead the congregation in prayer and singing. To address God in the name of the assembly, or to suggest to it a hymn as the vehicle for the expression of its real state to God, requires great discernment, or else a most immediate guidance from God. Such is the light in which this subject was viewed by one known, as I believe, to most of you; one of the earliest labourers among those who, for twenty years and upwards, have been seeking to meet in the name of Jesus.
In further confirmation of the main thought in the above extract, namely, that God never designed all saints to take part in the public ministry of the word, or in conducting the worship of the assembly, I would refer you, first, to 1 Corinthians 12: 29, 30. "Are all apostles, are all prophets, are all teachers, are all workers of miracles, have all the gifts of healing, do all speak with tongues, do all interpret?" There would be no meaning in these questions if the fact had not been self-evident, that such places in the body were filled by but a few. The apostle had just said, "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles", etc. And then he says, "Are all apostles?" and so on. Thus we find in the very portion of scripture which most largely treats of the sovereignty of the Holy Ghost, in the bestowal and use of gifts in the body, the church in the very portion which is always referred to, and justly, in proof that liberty of ministry is what God has established in His church in this very portion we are told that all were not gifted persons, but that God had set some in the body; enumerating the different orders and kinds of gifts by which they were distinguished.
Will you turn now for a moment to Ephesians 4? Questions have been raised as to 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, whether it be possible to act on the principles there laid down, in the acknowledged absence of so many of the gifts there enumerated. I have no such questions myself, and as to any who have, I should only ask them, What other principles have we in scripture whereon to act? And then, if there be no others, What authority have we to act on principles which are not found in scripture at all?
But there can be no such question as to Ephesians 4: 8-13. "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ". And you will observe too that they are given until the church is completed. As long as Christ has a body on earth needing the service of such men, He bestows on them the gifts of His love for the nourishing and cherishing of His body, His bride, "Till we all come", etc. It is thus by the ministry of living men, whose place and calling it is to minister, that Christ cares for and feeds His flock that the Holy Ghost works in the body which He inhabits.
These men, it is true, may work at their trades. Paul was a tentmaker. And they may be very far from any pretensions to clerical, official place and dignity: the further the better. But still they are Christs provision for the edification of His saints; yea, and for the calling in of souls; and the true wisdom of the saints is to discern such gifts of Christ where they have been bestowed, and to own them in the place which He has assigned them in His body. To own them thus is to own Him; to refuse to do so is both to wrong ourselves and to dishonour Him. Be it remembered, too, that it is in the body, the whole body, God has set these gifts: it is on the whole body Christ has bestowed them; and we are not the whole body. Suppose the church had still been manifestly one, as it was in the apostles days; even then, it is quite possible that the church in one place might be without an evangelist, and in another without a pastor or teacher; while in some places there might be more than one of each.
But now that the church is so divided and scattered, how much more true is this of the little companies here and there, who have been gathered in the name of Jesus. Has the Lord Jesus ceased to care for His church because of its torn, divided state? God forbid. Has He ceased then to manifest His care by the bestowal of suitable and needed gifts? By no means. But then it is in the unity of the whole body they are found. And we need to remember this. All saints in form the church of God in the place; and there may be evangelists, and pastors, and teachers among those members of the body who are still in the Church of England, or among the Methodists or the Dissenters. And what benefit do we derive from their ministry? or what benefit do the saints with them derive from any of Christs gifts which are amongst us? Why do I bring this forward? To press upon you this point, beloved brethren, that if among the seventy or eighty who meet in the Lords name at there be none who are His gifts according to Ephesians 4, or if there be but two or three such, the circumstance of our meeting as we do will not of itself increase their number.
A brother who is not made a pastor or evangelist by Christ Himself, does not become one by beginning to meet where the presence of the Holy Ghost and liberty of ministry are recognised. And if because there is liberty from all human restrictions, those begin to assume the place, or act in the character of teachers, pastors, or evangelists, who have not been given as such by Christ to His church, will edification be the result? No, but confusion; and "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints". If we have not such gifts among us, let us own our poverty: if we have two or three, let us be thankful, own them in the place God has given them, and pray for more and better gifts and ministries.
But let us not suppose that the activities of any whom Christ the Lord has not set in such a place will supply the lack of gifts like these. The only effect of such activities is to grieve the Spirit, and hinder His actings by those whom He would otherwise use in service to the saints. One happy thought arises before me, in drawing this second letter to a close. If we were not in a position answering to what we find in scripture, such questions could hardly arise amongst us. Where all is settled and arranged by some human system; where officers, appointed by a bishop, a conference, or a congregation, attend to the routine of duties prescribed for them by the rules under which they act, questions like these have no existence. The very difficulties of our position prove by their character that the position itself is of God. Yes, and God who has brought us into it by His Spirit through the word is all-sufficient, and will not fail us in the difficulties, but guide us through them, to our profit and His own praise. Only let us be simple, humble, and unassuming. Let us not pretend to more than we have, or to do that for which God has not qualified us. Some points of detail I reserve for another letter. Meanwhile, I remain,
Affectionately yours in Christ Jesus,
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