My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Contending for the Faith.
The separation from the Dowieites naturally caused embarrassment in various directions. On my next visit to Aberdeen, in August, 1867, I was warmly taken to task for my action. I was told I ought not to judge, as Christ had forbidden it. My answer was that while we are not to judge in the sense forbidden by Christ (i.e., deciding in advance who are and who are not worthy of eternal life), there is a sense in which we are to judge, as Christ indeed expressly enjoins in saying, “Why do ye not of your own selves judge that which is right,” and “beware of false prophets, ye shall know them by their fruits.” I contended that we were called upon on our own behalf to decide where fellowship should be given and where it should be withheld. I asked:
“If this in not a true principle, whence arises the true distinction between the ecclesia and the world? We come out of the world; we separate from the Apostasy; we withdraw from the fellowship of both, and would one and all refuse to resume that fellowship by admitting parties belonging to either class into the ecclesia, and we would even, without dispute, refuse to countenance a disobedient brother. Paul says to the Corinthians (I Epistle 5:11), ‘I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat.’ Again, to the Thessalonians, he says (II Epistle 3:14), ‘if anyone obey not our word by this epistle, have no company with him that he may be ashamed.’ Again, ver 6, same chapter, ‘withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions he received of us.’ Again (I Tim. 6:3), ‘if any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing…from such withdraw thyself.’ Here are plain Apostolic injunctions which cannot be carried out without forming a judgment on the matters involved. For how shall we know when to withdraw from another, unless we conclude that a state of things justifying it exists? And how can we come to this conclusion without observing and considering the matters relating to it? The mental act is the very basis of the withdrawal enjoined.
“I pointed out that if these things were not so, the Aberdeen brethren themselves have committed the very crime of which they accused me; they were guilty of schism. Why had they left the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Morisonians and the others? Were not all these respectable, well-behaved people, plentiful, many of them, in gracious looks, kindly words, and good deeds? On what principle could they defend separation from them? Did not the orthodox communities believe the Bible, and profess the name of Christ? Why had they come away from them? Were they not guilty of having ‘judged’ these ‘sincere’ professors of religion? They had done quite right, for they are commanded to judge of themselves what is right, and act accordingly. John had said (II Epistle: 9,10), ‘If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine (that is the truth concerning Christ’s manifestation in the flesh), receive him not into your house neither bid him Godspeed: for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds.’ Paul indicates the same duty in several places. He speaks of certain ‘false brethren brought in.’ He says, ‘to whom we gave place by subjection no not for an hour.’ Judaistical believers taught the necessity for Paul being circumcised and observing the law. He says of them, ‘a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I would they were even cut off which trouble you’ (Gal. 6:9-12). There is nothing more conspicuous in Paul’s letters to Timothy, than his jealousy of those in the ecclesia, whose influence was detrimental to the truth. He says, ‘hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus…The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful me, who shall be able to teach others also…. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom are Hyumenaeus and Philetus … having a form of Godliness but denying the power; FROM SUCH TURN AWAY. [For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth …. Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou has learned. ….Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables’ (II Tim. 1:13; 2:15-17; 3:5-8, 13-14; 4:2,4).
“The same anxiety about preserving the truth in its purity from the corrupting influence of its loose professors is manifest in his letters to Titus. Defining the qualifications of an elder, he says he must be a man ‘holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped … a man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject.’ (Titus 1:9,11; 3:10) To the same purpose are the words of Jude, ‘It was needful for me to write to you that ye should contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints; for there are certain men crept in unawares,’ etc. (verses 3,4). The Aberdeen brethren and the Dowieites themselves had shown their apprehension of these apostolic precepts by separating from the sects and denominations of the orthodox world.
“It was said that the Dowieites had a great part of the truth: this is not enough. There is no authority for making one part of the truth less important than another. A reception of the truth on one point will not condone its rejection on another. Can we suppose that the Judaizers had no part of the truth? Did the Gnostics who denied that Christ had come in the flesh, reject the kingdom of God? Did not the unbelieving Jew hold the truth in great part? Yet Paul counselled withdrawal from them all. Nothing short of fidelity to the whole truth can be accepted as a safe policy. ‘The thing concerning the kingdom of God,’ and ‘those things that concern our Lord Jesus Christ,’ in their scriptural amplitude must be the measure and standard of fellowship. Those who go for less than this must be left to themselves; in this they are not judged, they are only subjected to the action of another man’s conception of duty, and are left at perfect liberty to organize themselves on whatever they my conceive to be a scriptural basis.
“By what means shall a community, based on the truth, preserve the truth in purity in its midst? Obviously by the means indicated by Paul and John, that is, by exacting of all who are in it an implicit adherence to the things, facts, principles, points, tenets, or whatever else they may be called, which go to make up the truth in its entirety, and by refusing to associate with those who oppose or refuse to endorse any of those elements. Some recommend in opposition to this the employment of argument with those who may be in error. As a preliminary process, common wisdom and humanity would dictate this course; but if an ecclesia is to go no further than argument, how could its existence continue? An effort should doubtless be put forth to reclaim those who are in error; but, where those efforts fail, dissociation by withdrawal is natural and inevitable.
“The ecclesia is not a place for argument; it is for worship in agreement. When a man requires to be argued with, his natural place is outside, and if he will not go outside, separation must be enforced by withdrawal on the part of the rest. Division is the inevitable concomitant of an uncompromising adherence to the truth. Peace purchased at the cost of compromise is doubly dangerous. The truth is the standard and must alone be allowed to rule. All doubt ought to be solved in its favour. This is the principle of action to which study will ultimately lead. The action of separation is not an act of judgment against those from whom we may separate. It is an act of self-vindication: an act by which we discharge a duty and wash our hands of evil. The truth has gradually emerged from the fables in which for centuries it had been lost, and only an inexorable policy on the part of those receiving it will preserve it from a recurrence of the disaster which drove it from among men shortly after the days of the Apostles.”
I paid a visit to Edinburgh about this time. I find I wrote of it, as follows, in The Ambassador for 1867: --
“The Editor stayed only one day, and gave but one lecture. He would have given more attention to Edinburgh than this, but for two things: the limited time at disposal compelled a preference for those places that were in most need, and in which labour might probably be more productive. In the second place, the door of utterance was not very wide in Edinburgh, not so wide as it might have been. The brethren are keepers of this door, to some extent, in every place where they exist. It is their business to throw it open as wide as possible, and they are responsible if they neglect their duty. In this case they did not open it at all. They left the Editor to push it a little ajar, and only didn’t just slam it in his face. They left it to him to say he was coming and how long he would stay, and made no suggestion of extended operations, and no arrangement by which even the little labour offered should be utilized as much as possible, but crowded into a mere house apartment, the endeavour which, with a little enterprise, might have had given to it a wider and stronger effect. Such poor-spirited policy is a mistake. What are well-to-do brethren afraid of ? Expense? They spend money on their persons, their houses, and their tables, and is the truth less worthy? Ought not the cause of the truth to stand the highest? Or are they afraid of compromising their respectability too publicly? Let them know that shame will recoil with disgrace in the day when Christ comes to acknowledge where he is acknowledged. Is it that they are lukewarm and insensible to their duty, paralysed by the deception on the senses by the world, which appears to be real, while it is the merest shadow, flitting with every hour? Or is it that they are afraid of giving too much scope to the stripling? Afraid that he will feel too much honoured? Afraid that he will get above them? Let them rouse and fling away this nonsense. The stripling has only one earnest business in hand, and has no other business to serve or object to promote. The paltry jealousy fostered by the tongue of the slanderer is a hindrance. Let the sons of God in Edinburgh throw it to the winds. The stripling has been too well castigated from the beginning to spoil now. He set but one thing before his mind now – and this he pursues by inflexible course which are sometimes evil-interpreted by those who are trampled on the toes thereby – and that is the promotion of the truth, and the protection and encouragement of its results among those who receive it. To accomplish this, he has laboured and spent money for years, fagging body and mind continually, and impoverishing his pocket on every hand. Are brethren afraid to encourage him in this? What is his offence? Hie is young and plain. If he were a lordly visitor, from parts unknown, with fine clothes, and bumptious ‘we-are-the-people’ airs, wouldn’t they exert themselves and make a fuss, and say great things? But being a young man whom they knew as a boy, who makes no brag, and puts on no airs, but does the work, they are afraid to open the door to him. They will repent this, perhaps, in time. Don’t let them delude themselves with the idea that ‘deep things’ are their exclusive property. ‘Deep things’ as they talk, may be but the illusions of mere morbid ingenuity. ‘Deep things’ are sometimes deep mire, in which a man may lose himself. There are deep things, but there is a medium in all things. About the glorious gospel of the blessed God there is no mistake. There are those who slanderously impute evil aims, and say many things that are as utterly false as a lie can be; and there are many to open their greedy mouths and smack their lips over the delicious morsels. This is why the Editor submits to the humiliation of putting in a word for himself, that the barriers of an unreasonable and mischief-working jealousy may, perchance, be removed from the path of the truth’s progress, at least among those who ought to be, in Edinburgh, the untiring, the enterprising, the unselfish, and the by all and by any means, effective soldiers of Christ.
“As to the Dowieites, it is not to be wondered at that they should be full of bad feeling and evil speaking. They have no answer to our case against them on the merits, and so they indulge in personal disparagements. This we pass by with the simple observation that no one shall be able on a fair, close, and personal examination for himself, to verify a single point in the allegations that are made to our detriment. They are, every one of them, falsehoods.”
One of the back ripples from the Dowieite commotion took the shape of a strongly-expressed protest on the part of a few against a proposed enlargement of The Ambassador, as it was then called. The following extract from an editorial which I wrote at the time will illustrate this:--
“One of the objectors writes in the following excited strain: --‘You act like a madman. Your tendencies are in the worst direction. What new folly is this you aspire to? To live “off” preaching and printing your peculiar ideas. By the first love you had for the truth, and the virgin hatred we all had for hirelings, cease to ape the clergy. Work fairly and honestly for your bread, and give the truth for nothing. How can you denounce those you seek to imitate? You have not the calm dignity to be a great father in the Church, so that you will never be one, I fear. Take, then, your place and comport yourself as becometh the gospel you profess.’
“So much as there is of mere denunciation in the foregoing, we pass by with the simple remark that the writer’s undoubtedly sincere impression that we are mad and bad, is one of those moral hallucinations which have, from time out of date, been created by moral antagonism. Difference of view, principle and policy, lead to this kind of misunderstanding. The ancient Pharisees, who thought themselves a very circumspect and excellent order of men, were of the opinion that ‘Jesus was beside himself; and the ‘most noble Festus’ (doubtless a sensible Roman in his way) formed the same idea of Paul. It is natural for minds of narrow scope, to condemn proceedings having their impulse in a state of mind beyond their own experience. If they call the master of the house Beelzebub, one must not be surprised if he incur the same obloquy in attempting to pursue the part of a servant.
“So much as there is of argument in the letter aforesaid, it is easy to answer. The writer very much misapprehends the nature and origin of Christadelphian hostility to clerical hirelingism, if he imagines that it arises from the simple circumstance that the clergy are supported in their efforts to confer a supposed spiritual benefit. The objection to their practice is: 1st, that the supposed gospel has been made a trade of, by which a man may acquire a stated income, in a settled place, in return for a stipulated amount of sermonising; 2nd, the service of the supposed gospel is made use of to support absurd personal pretensions and titles, creating a distinct and separate and unscriptural caste among professors of the truth; and 3rd, that they do not preach the gospel at all. If they were men who in the judgment of full age, and from an intelligent appreciation of the truth, and a disinterested desire to serve the supreme interest of God and man, gave themselves up to continued voluntary exertion in this behalf -- their acceptance of temporal co-operation from those who might sympathise with their efforts, so far from being reprehensible, would be in accordance with the dictates both of common sense and apostolic precept.
“The truth cannot be brought under the attention of men without active personal agency. In theory, it is in every man’s possession who has a Bible; but as a matter of fact, it does not get into his head or his heart until his attention is arrested by external means, and his notice drawn to what the Bible contains. Experience is the proof of this. The truth prospers in proportion as there is an effective agitation of it. When there is no one to call attention to it by mouth or pen, through the power of the apostasy it remains unnoticed, although in the Bible. If, then, it be to the advantage of men, and according to the will of God, that they should know the truth, it is clearly a good thing and a dutiful policy to set in motion every agency that will conduce to this result. This is the common sense view of the matter. It must be left to wisdom and experience to apply it in any given case. There is nothing to exclude any arrangement which the friends of the truth, in love, may voluntarily devise in the highest interest of men. The apostolic side of the question is coincident with the dictates of good sense (I Cor. 9:7-15). We admit the liability of such an arrangement to be abused. The uprise of the clerical system has shown it. But abuse is no argument against use. Lawful co-operation among the friends of the truth to discharge a common duty in a given way, is not to be cried down because a pretended gospel is upheld by an ignorant compact of many people, and because an order of men has arisen in connection with it who put forth unscriptural pretensions and assume blasphemous titles. To hate the clerical system is good, but it is possible to hate the evil and not to love the good.
“We append similar ebullitions of antagonism: --One writes to say that those with whom he is associated are of the same mind they were some 18 months ago, viz., that The Ambassador would be better reduced than enlarged – and accordingly they have reduced their order. The letter contains a cut about loaves and fishes. We are offered employment as soon as the Bankruptcy Court closes; and accepting that offer, we should be better off than we should probably be by charging 8d. for The Ambassador. But then, we should have to give up The Ambassador and the service of the truth, and this we should not feel justified in doing , if we can swim at all by continuing The Ambassador.
“Another writes to discontinue The Ambassador, observing that the mode of conducting it, especially in the matter of the Dowieites, indicates phrenologically considered, a very low and deficient organisation. Perhaps this correspondent would like to hear the definitions of one of the first phrenologists of the day. It may afford him a key to matters that now appear cloudy. ‘You are full of sympathy, are very much interested in whatever excites your kindness; you can be positively enthusiastic in a benevolent enterprise. Veneration is rather large, and with large conscientiousness, gives you a tendency to value things that are divine. You have a very large hope. You are constantly scheming, planning, projecting something new, and you are sure you are going to succeed. You have no faculty for contriving bargains. It bothers you to look after money matters; you are spirited in resistance – are prone to overcome obstacles in your way – but you are not cruel. You are fond of discussion, but your strongest motive is to advance ideas that appear to you to be important. Your conscientiousness and self-esteem, acting together, incline you to take responsibility and guide other people. You are sensitive to the opinions of others, but are not so much stimulated by ambition as by a desire to advance principles that you think are right.’ We add no more, as this is a sufficient set-off to the opinion of our correspondent.”
Berean Home Page