2 Timothy 2.
I believe that the churches have been merged in the mass of ecclesiastical popular hierarchism, and lost; but I believe also that the visible church, as it is called, has been merged there too.
Still there is a difference, because churches were the administrative form, while the church, as a body, on the earth, was the vital unity.
What I felt from the beginning, and began with, was this: the Holy Ghost remains, and therefore the essential principle of unity with His presence; for (the fact is all we are now concerned in) wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
When this is really sought, there will certainly be blessing by His presence; we have found it so, most sweetly and graciously, who have met separately.
When there is an attempt at displaying the position and the unity, there will always be a mess and a failure: God will not take such a place with us.
We must get into the place of His mind, to get His strength. That is now the failure of the church. But there He will be with us.
I have always said this. I know it has troubled some, even those I specially love; but I am sure it is the Lord's mind. I have said, We are the witnesses of the weakness and low estate of the church.
We are not stronger nor better than others (Dissenters, etc.), but we only own our bad and lost state, and therefore can find blessing. I do not limit what the blessed Spirit can do for us in this low estate, but I take the place where He can do it.
Hence, government of bodies, in an authorised way, I believe there is none; where this is assumed, there will be confusion. It was here [Plymouth], and it was constantly and openly said, that this was to be a model, so that all in distant places might refer to it. My thorough conviction is, that conscience was utterly gone, save in those who were utterly miserable.
I only, therefore, so far seek the original standing of the church, as to believe that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Christ will be, and that the Spirit of God is necessarily the only source of power, and that which He does will be blessing through the lordship of Christ. These [the Spirit present and the lordship of Christ] provide for all times. If more be attempted, now, it will be only confusion.
324 The original condition is owned as a sinner, or as mutilated man owns integrity and a whole body. But there a most important point comes in. I cannot supply the lack by human arrangement or wisdom. I must be dependent.
I should disown whatever was not of the Spirit, and in this sense disown whatever was - not short of the original standing; for that, in the complete sense, I am - but what man has done to fill it up; because this does not own the coming short, nor the Spirit of God. I would always own what is of God's Spirit in any. The rule seems to me here very simple.
I do not doubt that dispensed power is disorganised; but the Holy Ghost is always competent to act in the circumstances God's people are in. The secret is, not to pretend to get beyond it. Life and divine power is always there; and I use the members I have, with full confession that I am in an imperfect state.
We must remember that the body must exist, though not in a united state, and so even locally. I can then, therefore, own their gifts and the like, and get my warrant in two or three united for the blessing promised to that.
Then, if gifts exist, they cannot be exercised but as members of the body, because they are such, not by outward union, but by the vital power of the Head, through the Holy Ghost.
"Visible body," I suspect, misleads us a little. Clearly the corporate operation is in the actual living body down here on earth, but there it is the members must act, so that I do not think it makes a difficulty.
I believe, if we were to act on 1 Corinthians 12:14 further than power exists to verify it, we should make a mess.
But then the existence of the body, whatever its scattered condition, necessarily continues, because it depends on the existence of the Head, and its union with it. In this the Holy Ghost is necessarily supreme.
The body exists in virtue of there being one Holy Ghost. There is one body and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling; indeed this is the very point which is denied here.
325 Then Christ necessarily nourishes and cherishes us as His own flesh, as members of His body; and thus goes on "till we all come," etc. (Eph. 4). Hence, I apprehend we cannot deny the body and its unity (whatever its unfaithfulness and condition), and (so far as the Holy Ghost is owned) His operation in it, without denying the divine title of the Holy Ghost, and the care and headship of Christ over the church.
Here I get, not a question of the church's conduct, but of Christ's; and the truth of the Holy Ghost being on earth, and His title when there; and yet the owning of Christ's lordship. And this is how far I own others.
If a minister has gifts in the Establishment, I own it, as through the Spirit, Christ begetting the members of, or nourishing, His body. But I cannot go along with what it is mixed up with, because it is not of the body, nor of the Spirit. I cannot touch the unclean, I am to separate the precious from the vile.
But I cannot give up Ephesians 4, while I own the faithfulness of Christ. Now if we meet, yea, and when we do meet, all I look for is that this principle should be owned, because it is owning the Holy Ghost Himself, and that to me is everything.
We meet and worship; and at this time we who have separated meet in different rooms, that we may, in the truest and simplest way, in our weakness, worship. Then whatever the Holy Ghost may give to anyone, He is supreme to feed us with, perhaps nothing in the way of speaking; and it must be in the unity of the body.
If you were here, you could be in the unity of the body, as one of ourselves. This Satan cannot destroy, because it is connected with Christ's title and power.
If men set up to imitate the administration of the body, it will be popery or dissent at once.
And this is what I see of the visibility of the body; it connects itself with this infinitely important principle, the presence and action of the Holy Ghost on earth.
It is not merely a saved thing in the counsels of God, but a living thing animated down here by its union with the Head, and the presence of the Holy Ghost in it. It is a real, actual thing, the Holy Ghost acting down here. If two are faithful in this they will be blessed in it.
If they said, "We are the body," not owning all the members, in whatever condition, they would morally cease to be of it. I own them, but in nothing their condition. The principle is all-important.
326 Christ has attached, therefore, its practical operation to two or three, and owns them by His presence. He has provided for its maintenance. Thus, in all states of ruin, it cannot cease till He ceases to be Head, and the Holy Spirit to be as the Guide and the Comforter sent down.
God sanctioned the setting up of Saul; He never did the departure from the Holy Ghost. The "two or three" take definitely the place of the temple, which was the locality of God's presence, as a principle of union. That is what makes all the difference. Hence, in the division of Israel, the righteous sought the temple as a point of unity, and David is to us here Christ by the Holy Ghost.
On the other hand, church government, save as the Spirit is always power, cannot be acted on.
I suspect many brethren have had expectations, which never led me out, and which perplexed their minds when they were not met in practice. I never felt my testimony, for example, to be the ability of the Holy Ghost to rule a visible body. That I do not doubt; but I doubt its proper application now as a matter of testimony. It does not become us.
My confidence is in the certainty of God's blessing, and maintaining us, if we take the place we are really in. That place is one of the general ruin of the dispensation. Still, I believe God has provided for the maintenance of its general principle (save persecution), that is, the gathering of a remnant into the comfort of united love by the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, so that Christ could sing praises there
All the rest is a ministry to form, sustain, etc. Amongst other things, government may have its place; but it is well to remember that, in general, government regards evil, and therefore is outside the positive blessing, and has the lowest object in the church.
Moreover, though there be a gift of government, in general government is of a different order from gift. Gift serves ministry, hardly government. These may be united as in apostolic energy; elders were rather the government, but they were not gifts.
It is especially the order of the governmental part which I believe has failed, and that we are to get on without, at least in a formal way. But I do not believe that God has therefore not provided for such a state of things.
I do believe brethren a good deal got practically out of their place, and the consciousness of it, and found their weakness; and the Lord is now teaching them. For my part, when I found all in ruin around me, my comfort was, that where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, there He would be. It was not government, or anything else, I sought. Now I do believe that God is faithful, and able to maintain the blessing.
327 I believe the great buildings and great bodies have been a mistake; indeed I always did. Further, I believe now (although it were always true in practice), the needed dealing with evil must be by the conscience in grace. So Paul ever dealt, though he had the resource of a positive commission. And I believe that two or three together, or a larger number, with some having the gift of wisdom in grace, can, in finding the mind of the Lord, act in discipline; and this, with pastoral care, is the main-spring of holding the saints together in Matthew 18. This agreeing together is referred to as the sign of the Spirit's power.
I do not doubt that some may be capable of informing the consciences of others. But the conscience of the body is that which is ever to be acted upon and set right. This is the character of all healthful action of this kind, though there may be a resource in present apostolic power, which, where evil has entered, may be wanting; but it cannot annul "where two or three agree it shall be done."
So that I see not the smallest need of submission to popery; that is, carnal unity by authority in the flesh, nor of standing alone, because God has provided for a gathering of saints together, founded on grace, and held by the operation of the Spirit, which no doubt may fail for want of grace, but which in every remaining gift has its scope; in which Christ's presence and the operation of the Spirit is manifested, but must be maintained on the ground of the condition the church really is in, or it would issue in a sect arranged by man, with a few new ideas.
Where God is trusted in the place, and for the place we are in, and we are content to find Him infallibly present with us, there I am sure He is sufficient and faithful to meet our wants.
328 If there be one needed wiser than any of the gathered ones in a place, they will humbly feel their need, and God will send some one as needed, if He sees it the fit means.
There is no remedy for want of grace, but the sovereign goodness that leads to confession. If we set up our altar, it will serve for walls; Ezra 3:3. The visibility God will take care of, as He always did; the faith of the body will be spoken of, and the unity in love manifest the power of the Holy Ghost in the body.
I have no doubt of God's raising up for need all that need requires in the place where He has set us in understanding. If we think to set up the church again, I would say, God forbid. I had rather be near the end, to live and to die for it in service, where it is as dear to God; that is my desire and life.