There is a question, and one not of little moment at the present time, before Brethren: its importance is obvious both in present results and in the principles involved. To myself it is one of peculiar interest, because I am persuaded it is a formal presentation by God to many of his saints in England of that truth by which He is acting upon saints throughout Europe at least, if not throughout the world; and therefore, because presented by God, so far from being a question which man can judge, that it will be found rather to be God's test of man: the test by which man judges himself, or is led to take, in action before his fellows, the place he holds, before God, as to present association with the energy of the living God working on the earth.
To myself it is evident, that besides "truth," the saint has to consider truth in its present connection with the living God. The scriptures contain nothing but truth, and all the truth in them is mine; but, clearly, while I am blessed with the whole of scripture, there are parts in it which are the revelation of the present names, position, and conduct of God, and so of what now becomes the believer likewise. It was the same God who gave the law at Sinai (concerning whom, as well as concerning Christ and man, that law was replete with instruction) who gave, dispensationally, the contrast of the law at Pentecost. And here was the importance of the difference I have referred to? for where truth was merely a notion in man's mind, man at Pentecost could reject the new for the old word; but when truth was seen in its connection with a living and a present God, the same faith which accredited God acting by law would now accredit God in the change of His dealings. And thus dispensational truth from God becomes the test of faith in man at every time, I believe. I cannot doubt, whatever others do, that the New Testament, — besides containing the pentecostal deposit of truth (which was formative of the dispensation) — presents us with testimony as to man's corruption of that truth; and also as to God's faithfulness notwithstanding this; and that these scriptures show plainly that in the last days, when men have corrupted everything, God, in living power, will show among and in men that He has not forgotten the elementary blessings of the church; but, in living men, He will vindicate His power and His wisdom — not in setting up a new church, but in enabling men of faith, amid the ruin of everything, to separate from all that which the church was to be the expression of separation from, and to own and identify themselves with all that which the church was set as a witness of. Jude and the epistles to Timothy, etc. prove this. This question is not then of eternal salvation, that turns and hangs on faith in the cross;* and doubtless many a one, at every time, whose works will be all burnt up, will yet be saved yet so as by fire: and, it may be, some such will stand in the world witnessing against, and perhaps actively opposing that present testimony I refer to, given by those who awake to the truths of an ascended and returning Lord, are now servants of the living God. But if the question involved be not that of individual salvation which is God's question for the worldling — His present glory in man's present circumstances ought to be dear to the hearts of His saved people, as well as the grace which leads Him to stoop to associate any of us with His present testimony for Himself. And surely also the sense of His company and presence with us in the wilderness now are most precious. And these things are involved in our present question.
"The grace, and truth, and power, all divine as they are, which are involved in the salvation through faith of an individual soul, while its security for entering into glory, are its responsibility as to its present walk. For there is a walk consistent with both the grace and the glory, every wandering from which will bring sorrow to the true disciple. If he judges not himself, the assembly of which he is a member must judge, or else the Lord will. I would just remark, that until God (one God in three Persons) is all in all — or, speaking of the church, varying the thought, I might say, until we are there, where God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) are all in all; for so in the heavens, to us it will be during the thousand years, though not so exactly, to those that are on earth — all truth is dispensationally given. Now, the very notion of dispensation involves imperfection; for while there are dispensations, God is not all in all. The Divine Glory, with its various names and displays for the earthlies, and with its various names and displays for the heavenlies, is not ushered into the earthlies or heavenlies in full display until dispensations are, in a certain sense, past. Neither is there displayed till then full, present, upholding power. Till then, Satan is either loose or unjudged. Till then, man's day goes on. Man is still in probation; that is, tried under responsibility. This is true as to men on earth, during the millennium. When the Son of Man takes the sword and government which Noah received and forfeited, to wield them on God's behalf among men on earth, Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is there, is the Metropolis of the earth. His connexion with the heavens (blessed One) will also then be known, for the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Bride, the Lamb's Wife, shall be seen in glory over the land. No longer will the testimony, as with us, be only one of faith; nor, as in Old Testament times, will the testimony of sight be limited as it then was. The Man whom God delights to honour the God-Man, will be there. The Man that died and rose, and ascended and sat 1800 years on the Father's throne, in the glory that He had with Him before the world was, will be there — Himself infinite — the Centre, Presenter, Upholder of the testimony, — suited to Himself as Jehovah, the King of the whole earth. It is clear that Himself personally, like his words in the Gospels, expressions as they were of his own thoughts of things, though presented in a dispensation, cannot be limited to its capacities. Satan will not be there, though once thereafter allowed, at the close, to enter the scene, that it may be seen that nothing can stand out of Christ, and that the flesh of man, as such, is unmendable; while the power of Christ in upholding them that are His, and overthrowing the adversary, will have its last great display. Of Him, and to Him, and through Him are all things. The saint has to learn this as being also true, in connection with himself individually as a saint. The origin, the power, the end of all that he has or is, as a saint, is divine. As to the dispensations, not to speak of them severally as to their various characteristic marks, or of the divine grace and wisdom in so developing redemption's history, or of the wondrous connection of divine glories in creation, Providence and Redemption (as touched upon in the 1st of Colossians), I would say a word as to the mode in which they have been formed. In Eden, after the fall, God dispensed certain truth of redemption, and put man thereby into the position, and under the power of, the responsibility of the dispensation. A while after man had failed under that, fresh light, formative of a new position, with different power, was given; this formed another dispensation; and so onward, the patience of God, after every successive failure of man in the deposit committed to him, still approved itself, and God brought in some better thing. All this supposes man under probation. The mind will hardly see aright on this subject, which has not a vivid perception that the fall of man was an expression of the malice and hatred of Satan against God and His Son. Redemption was, however, no after-thought of God's, merely to meet man, found in misery. Creation and Providence had not systems large enough to contain adequate expressions of divine grace and glory, as in connection with man; so at least God thought, for He used them as means to an end, and that end is the display of the Mediatorial glory of redemption; in which, not only will there be various expressions of the near relationship of God to man, which Eden could never have had (for there was no incarnate God there, no heavenlies opened upon it, no sinners saved by grace), but the God-Man will be there, with the Bride, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, one Spirit with the Lord. But all that scene, while it speaks riches of mercy and grace, which savour of the Father's love, is the trophy also of the power and wisdom of God over the serpent, whose enmity against Himself was evinced, as I have said, in Eden. The Unity of Truth — in the diversity of divine applications of it, — is taught by dispensation, etc.
Another thing is to observed, and that is, that when man is sunk in unbelief, or even low in faith, questions which God is thrusting forward will not act upon man's conscience often, through uninstructedness in the word, or through supineness, until they become connected with, or sometimes hidden in questions of local and individual nature. By such sometimes the Lord awakens conscience, and then by other questions, which, while in nature they are vital and universal, are in application local and individual to ourselves, He leads us into action. For our Father is the God of Providence, and all is ruled for the glory of Christ. And oft thus — as in Lot's separation from the cities of the plain, and Abraham's return from Egypt — God proves His faithfulness even when man has utterly failed.
The question I advert to is this — Is the unity of the church of Christ compatible with the sanction of unholiness — unholiness either in that which is moral or spiritual? I might put it yet more strongly, for the formative truth of gathering amid failure is, "Cease to do evil, learn to do well."
The form in which the question meets us is peculiar; and if at first sight it seems to be divested of all that can revolt a fine mind, and even calculated to allure the simple-hearted, it is not the less dangerous. It contains, too, several very interesting points.
The Question will be found in these letters. They are called forth by the growing demand, as I judge, for them; but, more particularly, by the request to me for the expression of a judgment by a brother. May the Lord bless them, for his Son's sake, to His people.
What has to be guarded against in Bethesda?
MY DEAR BROTHER,
I am really sorry to have to touch the question of Bethesda again. For their sakes who are in it, many of whom I love; and for my own sake; and for the sake of saints and the world, — I am sorry. Neither is it in the conceit of being myself of better report than they that I do it; for, if I desired to think of my character as a man, I should certainly let this matter alone: neither is it in any thought of self-righteousness I do it; for I am a, poor sinner saved by grace, and without any thing to look to for upholding or preservation to the end but grace. But it, does seem to me, that, in the question now raised by Bethesda, my heart is challenged upon two points: 1st. Am I willing to surrender the grace that keeps myself by denying one of the leading features of the mode in which it works, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"? and, 2ndly, Am I willing to give up that which constitutes the essential property of the church of the Living God upon earth — "Holy separation from evil around, by the energy of the Holy Ghost in the body"?
I am glad, however, that I have not to treat of it as an abstract question merely, but as a practical one; and that, too, in connexion with one whom, like yourself, I have long loved, and with whom I never had the slightest difference.
I judge by your letter that we are agreed thus far, viz. that there has been, within the last year, such an apparent connexion between Bethesda and some of Mr. Newton's friends, that no one could be received thence save upon the understanding that they were clear from the evil which was said by some to characterise him and Compton-street. If I have not here used sufficiently general terms to include you and myself in a common opinion, you must do so for me; for that is what I want.
But now what is the evil to be guarded against as to Mr. Newton? Long (i.e. many months) before the awful blasphemy against the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as taught by Mr. Newton, was known to exist — there were charges laid against him, and a separation from him. The grounds were, 1st. "Utter untruthfulness; and 2ndly. [God, as the alone end and object of action, being forgotten] the formation of a party [in order to have a union of testimony against the teaching opposed to his own views] which was characterised also by a system entirely inconsistent with and destructive of all moral integrity." All the controversy is now on my table before me. The tracts charging "untruthfulness" and "the formation of a party characterised by a certain immoral system," are dated 1845 (its close); 1846 and 1847 (April was the last). In 1847 M'Adam and Harris' first tract on the doctrine as destructive of the "Gospel Truth" appeared, dated, July 1847. This is the review of Notes on Psalm VI. Mr. Darby and Mr. Deck wrote soon after this, as may be seen by the date of Mr. Newton's feigned recantation, Nov. 26, 1847. Observe, after "untruthfulness" and "a system of tricky shuffling" (charged by some to be the work of a lying spirit) had been seen for a year and a half; then, 3rdly. the awful blasphemy against the person and work of Christ (which had existed long before and been artfully brought* into a second edition of the Christian Witness) rose to the surface to show something of what was the root of the untruthfulness and immoral system. I remark in passing, that so far from the error discovered (awful as it is, and really held as it is) being THE point of false doctrine, it is not. There is yet another thing to be developed as to the divine glory of the Son. I feel free to say what I think, because there has been NO examination as to Plymouth as yet had.
*One sister (who had the second edition) again and again complained to me of the bad doctrine of the paper in question. I as often went home and read it in the first edition, and could see nothing to complain of.
Into the history of the immoral system I refer to I shall not go; neither shall I attempt to trace its features. One point, however, I will notice, and that is, that language was habitually used, not as the channel by which to communicate thought, but as the mode of hiding thought; and not of gathering the thoughts of others, but of corrupting their meanings. It was not merely the positive denial of facts, or the positive assertion of the existence of what was known not to exist, though both occurred, as also equivocation and fallacy of every kind. The mark however was, the so speaking as that the real object and meaning of the speaker might be misunderstood by the hearer; and another meaning, perhaps, than what was in the speaker's mind (which he did not wish to be seen by the hearer) communicated to him — something, perhaps, which would please him or subserve the speaker's ends, just as the serpent in the garden, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The consequence was, not only that mutual confidence was destroyed, but the candid, open bearing of the simple-hearted in that place which they had esteemed the House of the Living God — of light, grace and truth — was met with a policy of artifice, which it required either the wisdom of an Ahithophel, well versed in Satan's ways and the wickedness of man, and in grammar and logic, to meet; or else a prayerful waiting upon God, that in His light, light might be seen. The more simple, unable to solve the riddle, said, "God has left them under the delusion of a lying spirit," and withdrew upon this ground from contact with the evil.
There is another thing I may advert to as showing the separableness of the doctrinal error as to the person and work of the Lord as the root, from the untruthfulness and immoral system as fruits. I refer now to the last May meeting in Bath. What occurred there was not the confession and repudiation of certain doctrines destructive to salvation, and blasphemous against the person of Christ — that had taken place some months before — but the showing out into light a system of spiritual and immoral evil, in which some, even at that time, were sticking, though they had given up the bad doctrine months before. Brethren then present cannot but remember the system as then variously displayed by some, of whom it is our joy to think now that they then and there bade farewell to the system.
Now as to Bethesda. The evil of it — the charge, if you please, against it — was, 1st and chiefly, the admission of the evil moral system I have referred to, and only 2ndly and very subordinately, the being tainted with the doctrine. This you will see in the lithographed letter signed "J. N. D.", and in mine dated October 1848, and you may prove it among the brethren who meet in York-street, Bristol. The moral question is, in their minds, the paramount one. The lithographed letter thus speaks: —
"I feel bound to present to you the case of Bethesda. It involves, to my mind, the whole question of association with brethren; and for this very simple reason, that if there is incapacity to keep out that which has been recognised as the work and power of Satan and to guard the beloved sheep of Christ against it, if brethren are incapable of this service to Christ, then they ought not to be in any way owned as a body to whom such service is confided; their gatherings would be really a trap laid to ensnare the sheep. But I will not suppose this, my heart would not, nor will I suppose that the influence or reputation of individuals will induce them to do in one case what they would not do in another. I press, therefore, the position of Bethesda on brethren. It is at this moment acting in the fullest and most decided, way as the supporter of Mr. Newton and the evil associated with him, and in the way in which the enemy of souls most desires it should be done.
"The object of Mr. Newton and his friends is not now openly to propagate his doctrine in the offensive form in which it has roused the resistance of every godly conscience that cared for the glory and person of the blessed Lord, but to palliate and extenuate the evil of the doctrine, and get a footing as Christians for those who hold it, so as to be able to spread it and put sincere souls off their guard."
* * * * * *
The result is, that members of Ebrington-street, active and unceasing agents of Mr. Newton, holding and justifying his views, are received at Bethesda; and the system, which so many of us have known as denying the glory of the Lord Jesus (and that when fully stated in the most offensive way) and corrupting the moral rectitude of every one that fell under its power, that this system, though not professed, is fully admitted and at work at Bethesda."
Here then are two things charged; the admission of, 1st, an evil moral system, and 2ndly, of definite evil doctrine.
Now here clearly, judging by your letter, you and I have not one opinion. You would rather go with T., and be satisfied, if you could certify that A. B., though he has been in Bethesda of late, "brought the doctrine of Christ, and that he expressed his entire disapproval of Mr. Newton's views and separation from him personally."
I must stop a bit. A good profession and good moral walk, and separation from Mr. Newton and his views, are good; but what about Bethesda's accrediting the immoral system and acting upon it since?
Let such a one, mutatis mutandis, come from Oscott, or from among a fraternity of Jesuits, and I should have more to ask him; and so I have in this case.
A Christian has the Spirit (as well as faith and morality) and a company proper to him. — The evil of Bethesda.
MY DEAR BROTHER,
It is not always enough that a man should be, as an individual, ostensibly sound in faith and holy in walk, in order to be received at the table; because inasmuch as the church is not merely a number of separate Christians together as individuals, but a fellowship by the Holy Ghost, — the question. Of what spirit are you? (see 1 John 4.*) may become very important to her, in connexion with those she receives, for her own and their sakes; it characterises the faith and walk, that they are to be those of heavenly men who have the Spirit of God; this will guard against declension and a lowered standard; and it may be, too, as it was in measure in Irvingism, the clue to the discovery of unsoundness in faith and practice. On the other hand, circumstances may make the same question important for the sake of the inmates of her walls, lest they should be corrupted.
*There is as beautiful a connexion between the Gospel of John and his epistles as between any two books in Scripture, not excepting even Luke's gospel and its recorded connexion with the Acts. In the Gospel of John, the fountain of life, full of grace and truth, is presented: first, as here below in Himself; then as doing and suffering that by which He could take the place of making poor sinners to be channels through which His own river of refreshing might flow. The Rock is cleft, the waters are seen to be there for man; and Himself is lost to sight below, gone on high for us. In the first epistle the question is about this water of life, of which He is the fountain (1 John 1:2); but here it is seen flowing in us. 1stly. 1 John 1:3-5. The way of our receiving and the character of the blessing. 2ndly. 1:6 - 2:6. The channel of this water as knowing itself in the presence of God; 3rdly. 2:7-12. The channel in its various parts one with the other; 4thly. 2:13-27. The various peculiarities of these as of different measures, with the truth respectively connected with each; 5thly. 2:28 - 3:24. Their contrast with the world in which they are; 6thly. chap. 4. The genuine known from the spurious by the Spirit, as contrasted with the many false spirits, and by character as seen before God. After which, to the end, some most blessed general principles are given. In the second epistle and third we get the contrast of the genuine and the spurious channels as before man. In the second epistle, the elect lady is quietly to turn the key against all that bring not the truth; lest she be a partaker of their evil deeds. In the third, the well-beloved Gaius in the church has to discern between a Diotrephes and a Demetrius. How beautiful is all this! I pray brethren to study what is said about believing not every spirit, but trying the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Surely no gathering in the neighbourhood of Oscott (the great Roman Catholic college) would be satisfied to receive a person living therein, upon the ground that individually his faith was sound and his practice holy. Of what spirit is the man who lives among the Jesuits? would be another question. For how could any gathering risk, under such circumstances, her sanction to those who looked so like false brethren, who had not the Spirit; or how risk the introduction of the deadly errors of Romanism by some one used by Oscott, perhaps, in his or her simplicity, yet as a decoy and unconscious bearer of the false doctrines; or how feel in her act of receiving such that there was surely in him the germ of an after spiritual walk involved.
Who again ought to be received while persisting to maintain fellowship among the Socinians, or among any fresh and new set of heretics who were raised up with a jesuitical system of their own to spread error subversive of the foundations, as the Irvingites. Of what spirit are you? must occur to a sober mind. The question is not, Are they conscious of the danger? But this rather, Does the Holy Ghost, who presides over the gathering, lend His sanction to her reception of such a one while of such fellowship and company? Does He, ever mindful of Christ and the sheep, justify the exposure of the lambs to such risks? Clearly if the gathering receives, it commits the Holy Ghost to the act; as if it demurs to do so, it is upon the ground that she doubts his concurrence in the reception. "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding."
I would just remark, that, what the school-men call the fallacy of "composition and division," frequently gets in to trouble Christians.
Thus, because the church collective is the Bride of Christ, some individuals have forgotten that their connexion with this honour is only as being each a member in particular in their place in the body; and some have called themselves as individuals the Bride of Christ. As an illustration of the opposite error, I may instance what is a very frequent case, and that is individual believers being so engrossed in what they are in themselves, as individuals, as that they entirely forget that they are still a part of that body the church which is accepted in the beloved, and of which He himself is the head, which is His body — the fulness of Him that filleth, all in all.
And is it not quite clear that not only may a body be criminated by one of its members upon the ground of company or fellowship, as was the whole camp of Israel in the case of the sin of Achan, for God was offended — even He who was the God of Israel; — but also that an individual may be criminated by the body as Caleb and Joshua, who had to wander till their generation had died for its sin. And Moses and Daniel, and the Prophets and the Apostles, too, knew and tasted the sorrows of this. And just let me note here that sin is in its essence a negative. If God is not in the will, the heart, the mind, there is sin just as much as in any result of this in overt transgression. And a man may get involved, as a man, for not protesting against that which he has no power to prevent. If a ship's crew mutinied, and I knew the plot and did not even protest, I should be an accessory before the fact in the eye of the law. "Be not a partaker in other men's sins."
There is another case mentioned: — 1 Cor. 10 I may advert to in the contrast drawn between God's house of true worship and Satan's many houses of false worship (15-33), and the way a member of the former disqualifies himself by association with the latter.
The instruction is presented variously in this chapter; 1st. in warning very solemnly, and especially so in connexion with my subject; because, first, from verses 1-13, the conduct and experience of Israel as a nation while in the wilderness is declared to have been typical of what would befall the church; and then, 2ndly. the unity of the table is illustrated by the unity of Israel with its altar, and the unity of the false demon-worshippers with their altars: I add, that the unallowableness and the impossibility of commixing the worshippers of different kinds is (verse 21) pressed. I would just remark here that people deceive themselves (themselves most surely, if no one else) when they remain in a place of fellowship and think that their individual dissent from its spirit, theory or acts, as a body, exonerates them from the fellowship and its responsibility. Whether that dissent be mental, verbal or in action, they must remain shareholders in the blame or praise of all the acts of the body, if it is in their own power to leave and they do not do so. And the nature of the excuse they plead is of no value, save as an index to what it is which is governing them. God is not mocked. If the fellowship is an entity, it criminates them; if a non-entity, why do they profess it? The unity of each scene of worship as above presented is based upon the questions; as to form, 1st, of truth or error; and 2ndly, of "animating energy" as to that which is the power of fellowship. The church had the truth and grace of God, as presented in the Lord Jesus, once here on earth, but now at the right hand of God, and about to return, as the formative of her standing, while the animating energy was the Holy Ghost as Comforter. In Babylon, as such, the animating energy was clearly of Satan, with all untruthfulness, lying, and cunning craftiness.
It was moulded clearly on corrupted truth. A false Christ as to the past, present, and future, but such an one as human selfishness could act upon to exalt itself in the world by was presented, while a mock unity, authority, and catholicity was wrought out thereby, and the church was made mistress of the world — a queen on earth. At the reformation, Scripture was recognised as being the word of God and alone standard; and sanctification by faith alone was owned: yet the church recovered not her proper position as the confidante and widowed spouse of Christ, dependant on God, and therefore guided and sustained. She had been the queen of earth — she now became its vassal; the world was lord of the church, or that which was called so. Very interesting is the question as one advances onward into nonconformity in its various forms, and the synagogues of Satan, as Swedenborgianism, Irvingism, etc. In national reformations, etc., the world held a place connected with the church as much as in Romanism, though, as being now tyrant of her whose servant it was before, her experience more nearly approximated to that of the primitive normal state of the church; when, as being set in pointed contrast and avowed opposition to the world, though it might he used at one moment to caress her, at another it would vex and worry her. In the normal state it vexed habitually and only occasionally seduced. Since the Reformation it has habitually seduced and only occasionally vexed. In nonconformity the world has been more stood aloof from, and a fuller range of truth held and rejoiced in; but the flesh and the will of man not thereby set wide, nor the maxims of the world purged out. Expediency and human policy will constantly be found in dissent as the order of government; sure token, as well as is often the very form of the constitution of the body (which could not be ruled without some man's presence), that human will is not duly set aside. In such cases as Irvingism, Princism, etc., in which most surely an unclean spirit has worked, it will generally, I think, be found, that some individual man has at first set himself and his own name and honour as an object, and that, trying to force a worship for himself (which godly nonconformity would not tolerate), a lying spirit has been allowed to enter. Such a spirit, once entered, gives a perfectness of unity to the house and system, which would be as far beyond the unity of a system the animating energy of which was human will, as the energy and power of a lying spirit are above those of a mere man. I cannot but think that this will be found to be the case. If true, it will solve the riddle of what all feel, viz., that there is something which constitutes a most essential ground of difference practically between a noncomformist body and a body of Princites. Defective truth and human will may mark the former, but their corporate fellowship is ideal and conventional; the members are really a bundle of units, whose truth is common to all saints, and whose human will, alas! we all also share; though they may think themselves bound to consecrate its energy, while the more intelligent saint counts it is to be crucified. The body of Princites have perverted truth and a lying spirit. Their fellowship is a real thing in spirit, and their corporate fellowship identifies them with the adversary. I do not speak with confidence; but I suggest here what has struck me as the solution of a difference all godly saints admit, while they do not account for it, viz., why persons coming from Romanism, Campbellism, Irvingism, Princism, Swedenborgianism, and such things, would prima facie be to be rejected, though godly persons from the church establishments and various nonconformist bodies would be to be received.
When a work of God had been set in bold relief and contrast, and victory over a work of Satan at the Bath meeting in May, it was an unwise and unholy act of Bethesda to cut itself off from connexion with that work of God (thereby also casting out some really godly people from among themselves), and to identify itself with and endorse that work of Satan by receiving and retaining the emissaries of it.
Now the peculiarity of Bethesda is, that it not only has let in the jesuitical system of Compton-street, and given currency to the doctrine of Mr. Newton, but it has done so in acts which exhibit the very same evil system of want of moral integrity, and in a way by which it has made the whole body of its members, as such, commit themselves to the evil.
This I shall now proceed to. It is the answer, most unwillingly given, to the question raised by Mr. Jukes of Hull, and by many others, who love and desire to honour George Müller for his past service in the Lord — Why is not George Müller to be received? To examine George Müller as an individual, and accredit him for his confession of faith and moral walk, — if he stands connected with an immoral spiritual system, and if his name stands signed to a paper full of guily pretexts and containing untruths, a paper which at once sanctioned in Bethesda the presence of the emissaries of a heresy, cast out many saints and raised a mound against others (that is, was the power by which an heretical schism was accomplished) — and if, too, it was he whose influence led to the body's adopting that paper — would be impossible until he has confessed his error and removed the evil.
The primary charge against Bethesda was the sin of receiving and sanctioning the agents of the system, the immoral system of Compton-street; clearly, if not tainted with the blasphemous errors, yet, if agents of such a system — a system in which men of the highest natural rectitude had proved that (being deluded) they could state as fact that which they knew to be the very opposite of it, and deny to be fact what they knew was fact — I say, if agents and under the energy of such a system, their being individually free from the error in doctrine mattered not. I knew in Ebrington-street those who are now in Compton-street who repudiate with horror the doctrine, and perhaps do not hold it, and who yet are under the power of this spell, so that they circulate the books and are utterly regardless of truth. The primary charge against Bethesda was, that it made itself the home of some that were such.
The history of Bethesda and of its decline, of its reasonings and actings during the Plymouth controversy; of the consultations, debates, conferences, etc., which it held; whether in the question at issue between it and Bath, or in that in which it was at issue with all the brethren as such, as to accrediting the members of Compton-street, it is not my task to write.
All I propose doing is, to present "The Act" of its accrediting itself, after receiving members of Compton-street, against those who were ejected by this act.
The whole is briefly presented in two documents: one, a circular of Mr. Alexander's; the other, in reply to it, signed by ten of reputation in Bethesda. This was approved by the congregations of Bethesda and Salem, as such.
Mr. A.'s circular, I shall leave to speak for itself. As to the public document signed by ten of its pillars, which the body, as such, accepted; I have numbered, for conveniency's sake, its sentences, and added below it a running commentary. Spread both humbly and prayerfully before God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and in faith look to Him for light, through the Spirit. The document you can now examine for yourself. My comment, too, you can weigh and prove easily for yourself. The greater part of it results from the mutual relationship of the various parts one with another, i.e. its internal evidence: the other parts, which flow from external evidence, are either -
1st. Such as flow from Scripture where Scripture truth seemed to me to be infringed by it; or -
2ndly. Such as result from the evidence of documents which are appended; and thus far your judgment, reader, can correct mine. The only point of evidence where this is not the case, which is a very small part here, is -
3rdly. Such as rests upon the testimony of two or three credible witnesses.
Scripture requires us, in cases of the highest moment, to admit that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word shall be established. Law and Gospel alike confirm it; and Paul owned himself, as apostle, subject to it. The persons who give me this evidence must stand to their testimony, and be ready, if a general meeting is held anywhere, to meet our brother Müller and Mr. Craik, and before you to confirm their words.
Of course, I am still open to further light.
Mr. G. A.'s Letter.
"[FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION.]
"To individual Brethren, more especially to those who labour, guide, or care for the Saints, meeting at the Chapels of Bethesda and Salem, and at the room in Newfoundland Street.
"I write this note to you individually to state, in the, fear of God, the grounds on which I feel compelled, for conscience' sake, to withdraw from fellowship with believers meeting at the places above mentioned.
"Certain doctrines have been taught, and disseminated, at Plymouth, which have been judged to be evil and heretical by most of the gatherings of saints who meet on the scriptural principles on which we profess to meet. More, as has been stated, than one hundred believers, at Plymouth, have testified of the evil of this doctrine; spoken of it as the work and delusion of Satan; have renounced it openly, and separated themselves on account of it. We have all therefore, been fully aware, that a peculiarly solemn testimony has been given against it. The solemn question, as to the character of this doctrine, has been brought to our door here by some coming to the table of the Lord, who have had fellowship, and who desire (as I was given to understand) to continue such fellowship, with those (at least with one) who held and taught such doctrine.
"After waiting some time, in the hope that this subject would be thoroughly investigated and judged of, I find amongst the brethren who guide and labour here, a refusal to do so, and an objection to do so expressed by many. Many of the brethren are of opinion that the entering upon such a matter at all would be sectarian. My conscientious conviction is precisely the reverse. Further, that there being no judgment here concerning this truly momentous subject, three things follow, which, in my apprehension, are positively evil: — 1. Many, I believe very many, of the Lord's people will be, or may be, excluded from fellowship. Should they come here, they will not be able to have fellowship, for conscience' sake, as having judged this doctrine to be evil, which is unjudged in these meetings;- by the exclusion of these, the saints here lose the benefit that would be derived from the communion of such:- 2. There being no judgment, persons may come in and go from this to Plymouth. holding, as far as is known here, these very doctrines, and I see no effectual hindrance to their dissemination under these circumstances, should any desire to disseminate them. This may always happen, simply because there is no judgment in the matter. 3. The believers here (I mean such as refuse to judge) lie under, at present, the suspicion and appearance of supporting and countenancing a doctrine, which I firmly believe to touch and dishonour the Person, Glory, and Majesty of Jesus Christ our Lord.
"I feel persuaded (according to my judgment*, on which I must act,) that certain statements which have been published are, in their obvious interpretation and legitimate inference, subversive of the Atonement, notwithstanding the pointed statements of the writer in other parts to the contrary. And, if our Lord Jesus, the Centre of Unity, be touched and dishonoured, where is, I would ask you, unity or fellowship? It is a nonentity. Under the imputation or suspicion of harbouring and countenancing these evil doctrines I cannot remain. My conscience before God would not allow of it; and, therefore, dear brother, while such a matter remains unjudged and uninvestigated, I feel that there is positive, manifested evil, according to my sincere conviction, and from such I am compelled to separate, under the word 'Cease to do evil; ' Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth; ' 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin;' Romans 14:22, 23.
*I form this judgment on papers published by Mr. B. Newton, and I think I may confine myself to two of them, viz.-one, a Letter on the sufferings of Christ; the other, a Statement respecting certain Doctrinal Errors. The former paper, it has been stated, was withdrawn for a time for reconsideration. How this may be now I know not, so many changes appear to have been made. It is sufficient, I suppose, that I find this paper in circulation among believers. I have been lent a copy recently in this place.
This step is a very painful thing to me, but faithfulness and allegiance to Christ admit of no compromise. I could further state one or two grave objections in my mind, one of which, as far as I can see, would prevent me from continuing in fellowship; but, I confine myself to the statement of such reasons, as, according to my apprehension, justify the solemn step of separating from the fellowship of any believers. I act according to the light I have, and the judgment which I have very deliberately formed. You may not agree with me. I would pray, dear brother, that we may both be led to weigh all these matters in the balances of the sanctuary. It is there, in the presence of the Lord only, we can have any right apprehension, anything according to His mind.
"In conclusion, I desire to state, that I have met none here whom I do not love individually, and desire to serve, and cannot be separated from, as individuals; and some whom I must ever 'esteem very highly in love for their work's sake.' But, I cannot, with my judgment and a good conscience, hold with them collectively in what I believe to be evil in God's sight; and if I must stand alone until the day of the Lord's appearing, I am content to do so in this cause. I do heartily 'commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up.'
"Your affectionate brother and faithful servant in Christ,
1. At one of the Friday meetings of labouring brethren which took place after the Orphan House meetings were ended, Mr. Alexander said, that he must separate from evil, and as they had determined not to judge the doctrine, he must leave the gathering. At a previous meeting he had intimated that he thought of clearing his conscience in this matter before the whole gathering, to which Mr. Craik replied, "You would he quite at liberty to do so."
2. Mr. A. printing and circulating the letter amongst the brethren, without giving them notice that he was about to do so, is what Mr. Craik spoke of, when he said that "in his zeal for the orthodoxy of the Gospel, he had forgotten its morality."
3. Mrs. Brown was "not received" at this time, though she was breaking bread. That is, Bethesda has a technical term "not received," like the domestic denial of politeness, "not at home." She was breaking bread, but something or other had not been done; or it did not suit them to admit she "was received." I beg it may be noticed that I do NOT say "she had been received," for fault has once been found with me for so saying. I only say she was breaking bread.
LETTER OF THE TEN
1. Our brother, Mr. George Alexander, having printed and circulated a statement expressive of his reasons for withdrawing from visible fellowship with us at the table of the Lord; and these reasons being grounded on the fact that those who labour among you have not complied with his request relative to the judging of certain errors which have been taught at Plymouth; it becomes needful that those of us who have incurred any responsibility in this matter should lay before you a brief explanation of the way in which we have acted.
GVW - Observe the general outside-facts of the case. There were three persons, one of them an aged lady, who had left the Bath Gathering, because Mr. Newton would not be received, and was standing in the position toward Bath of a person excommunicate. Hear her character from Mr. Bellett: "She would heartily prosper the principles, and views, and purposes of Compton Street, and make it her delight and her business to advance them all, in their full measure and stature, unconfessed and unretracted." There were also the two Mr. Woodfalls: one of them intimately known, from his connexion with Davenport, and some of the worst parts of the evil; the other charged by a brother abroad with being an active emissary of the evil. Both charged, upon the testimony of many witnesses, with being accomplices in the evil of Plymouth.
Now, firstly, without entering into details of the letter of the Ten, what is it but a vindication, whether good or bad, called for or uncalled for is not the question now — It is a vindication of the labourers for their receiving such suspected persons. Robert Chapman, John Code, John Bellet, O'Brien, the Bath Brethren, some of their own congregation; brethren in the distance, as Wilkie, Dorman, Brenton, Darby, Macadam, and I know not who, warned and entreated, by letter or in person: "No; we shall not attend to you." The doctrine makes out that the Lord needed a Saviour for himself! There is a system of lying like that of the Jesuits goes along with it! The evil has broken up Ebrington Street; and you can ask Harris, Campbell, Hake, Hall, Deck, Jarrat, etc., etc., etc., or read what they have said. "No, no, no!"(i)
(i. It has been well said, When obstinacy blinds the mind of even a wise man, the simplicity of a foolish companion will oft lead him astray.)
Secondly, let us turn to the paper. The substance of it is nine reasons — "The grounds on which we have felt a difficulty in complying with the request of our brother Mr. Alexander, that we should formally investigate and give judgment on certain errors which have been taught among Christians meeting at Plymouth." And yet, as you will see, these reasons, and all the in and out argument they contain, are not the kernel, — that is hidden beyond; and only when the mind has been wearied, and fretted, and lost its calmness with what is found in these reasons, the important matter is quietly slipped in — slipped in as a well-known truth, which no one would question. [See the section 'The Ecclesiastical Position'.]
But there are these reasons. And who are the people who signed them? The Ten, whose signatures and conduct in having received certain suspected persons were clearly testimonials that they had all thus far judged that they were sure there was no practical danger in receiving the persons charged. Again, though none of them, I suppose, did really apprehend, or do apprehend, the Jesuitical system of Compton Street, yet they had, some of them at least, formed a judgment about the doctrine; and, in some of them, the judgment belied their act in signing. H. Craik, for example, could combat, and I heard did combat, Mr. Code's counter-statements, was not clear as to the doctrine, and had taken special care never to set himself against it. George Müller, again, at one of the meetings at which the paper was read, was asked by J. Code, whether he objected to state in public what he had stated in private? At first he objected, but afterwards said, that, as an individual, he considered there were some very bad errors in the tracts, and that he did not know to what evil they might lead. (j) Then, again, John Meredith had read and condemned the doctrine; and Robert Aitcheson had investigated it, and favoured Mr. N. Moreover, they all have committed themselves to those that know the doctrine, to an utter rejection of it, as we shall see when we come to VI. — XI.
(j. It was at this time Mr. Müller was understood "to protest against the conduct of those who would force them to judge the doctrine. If asked and entreated, they might have acted differently; but they were determined to maintain their liberty in this matter; and, rather than give it up, they would forego the fellowship of those who made the requirement." They were entreated by many outside of Bethesda.)
Now, what would be thought of such a proceeding I will not say on the Stock Exchange, or at the bar, but in any commission office in the city, or in business. Change the subject-matter, and imagine any men in London so acting as to insurances, or the sale of shares, cattle, coals, estates, etc. Here it is a gathering committing the purity of the church, in a question touching the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
The prima facie thought on reading the paper is — These ten men had nine reasons common to them, why they could not meet what they call Mr. Alexander's request, and form a judgment about the doctrine. But, lo! four of them had formed private judgments for themselves about it, as well as the whole ten had, both accredited the doctrine by the reception of the emissaries of it, and yet discredited it by declaring they held it not. See VI. — X.
And now to go a little in detail into the paper. There is much of it which is true according to the letter, but not true according to the drift and meaning. As to Mr. Alexander:- read over the document again, and see what impression it leaves on your mind. The feelings it awakened in mine, on a first perusal, might be expressed in one sentence, thus: "What a dangerous person that is; piqued by the most reasonable refusal of the labouring brethren of Bethesda in Bristol to form and record their judgment about a controversy with which they had nothing to do down in Plymouth, he has revenged himself by awakening suspicions among the congregation." And the first sentence would rather lead a stranger to think, (k)"How unreasonable of Mr. Alexander, to be piqued because Bristol people would not go and examine the errors at Plymouth!" than to say, "When the representatives of a doctrine charged by numbers as being subversive of the Gospel and of a lying system of Jesuitry stood at the door, it was right for any one to insist upon the evils said to be connected with those who were entering to be investigated and judged, and too bad of Bethesda to refuse this."(l) The case is really stronger, for instead of being at the door merely, Mr. A.'s letter says they were at the table, and there desired to continue their fellowship with the place whence they came. If so, instead of being hasty or premature, Mr. A. was really too tardy in acting, for meeting them at the table(m) identified him with their evil, since he knew it. Mr. A.'s statement, expressive of his reasons for withdrawing, is not at all fairly stated here. He went out, and said he went out because certain persons, charged with being accomplices in certain evil things, were received without the evil being investigated, and not because of the ten workmen refusing to judge an abstract question.
(k. It must be remembered, that while I have presented Mr. G. Alexander's letter before the letter of the Ten, at the first church meeting the former was not read at all: the latter twice.)
(l. I cannot but remark, looking at the experience and present condition of Bethesda, now, how foolish it would have been to have given it credit for discrimination in 1845 and 1846 as some wished.)
(m. Mr. A. never personally met them, it may be, at the table; but Newfoundland Street and Bethesda were one table.)
To leave Bethesda because it would not examine some abstract question which has troubled saints in Demerara is one thing. No one could demand such a thing in reason, faith, or the Spirit. But to leave Bethesda because when persons credibly accused of being accomplices in certain sins committed in Demerara were coming, or had come, into Bethesda, is quite another thing. The latter was the case, and so A.'s letter proves. They misstate the case in 1. Though this misstatement is nigh enough to the truth, and presented in a way to challenge displeasure against Mr. A. for misconduct in unreasonable demands and foolish pique as to beloved pastors, etc., sufficient at once to pass current, and yet have a decided influence on the simple-minded. I speak of what the document is, not of what the writer or adopters of it intended.
2. And first, it may be well to mention that we had no intimation whatever of our brother's intention to act as he has done, nor any knowledge of his intention to circulate any letter, until it was put into our hands in print.
GVW - Again, sentence 2. This is partly true in the letter, and partly false. Looking at it in the facts referred to, they are not the least objectionable. It was open to Mr. A. to choose his own line, and measure of warning too. It was open, too, to God to guide him in what way He pleased. One could suppose that, instead of the servants of the saints here speaking, it was the schoolmaster. All godly deference I entreat my brethren to show to those who labour among them and are over them in the Lord; but this is another thing, and a thing which most of all prevents that subjection in the Lord; viz., men's claiming it for themselves, and claiming deference as lords over God's heritage, which is due to the ensamples of the flock.
"We had no intimation whatever of our brother's intention to act as he has done, nor of his intention to circulate any letter."
Here, notwithstanding all that some have said about "nor" not being always "disjunctive" in grammar, etc., a common simple mind would understand two things, and not one: viz. that, first, he gave no intimation he would leave, which is not true, as may be seen by his Mr. A.'s letters; nor, secondly, of his circular. Mr. Craik drew up the document, — he is a scholar, and a good English scholar; and he has spoken about this being a very carefully worded document. If it is so, I defy any simple person to understand "the acting as he has done" as the same thing with "circulating the letter." To grammar and logic I have no objection: I like both. But I will not acknowledge the place, as the church of God, which, in a document presented to five hundred poor people, has to vindicate its statements by logic and grammatical quibbling. He did not state that he should publish a circular. He did warn again and again that he should leave.
3. Some weeks ago, he expressed his determination to bring his views before a meeting of the body, and he was told that he was quite at liberty to do so.
4. He afterwards declared that he would waive this, but never intimated, in the slightest way, his intention to act as he has done, without first affording the church an opportunity of hearing his reasons for separation.
GVW — 3 and 4. See Mr. A's letters. I may just here remark, that I think in Mr. A.'s letters we get several striking instances of how incompetent any one is to cope and deal with this system of things who is not awake to its character. A good man takes the prima facie aspect of a letter from brethren, or even honourable men in the world. Mr. A. did so with the letter of the Ten; and so did others when it was read; and they erred, and were some of them snared. Suspicion and shrewd watchfulness are necessary when one is dealing with that in which Satan is working; but the place which accredits him, or needs such power to guard the intercourse of its members, cannot be the church of God.
5. Under these circumstances, we feel it of the deepest importance, for relieving the disquietude of mind naturally occasioned by our brother's letter, explicitly to state that the views relative to the Person of our blessed Lord held by those who for sixteen years have been occupied in teaching the word amongst you, are unchanged.
GVW - 5. Is a painful sentence. A cry was heard, "You have driven me out, because the door is open and the wolf has entered." The shepherds answer, "We are all as sound now as for the last sixteen years." It is painful too, because by thus suggesting that A. had said otherwise, it called off the minds of those who were troubled for the Lord and themselves, by a call for sympathy towards the pastors. See also, 7.
6. The truths relative to the divinity of His person — the sinlessness of His nature — and the perfection of His sacrifice, which have been taught both in public teaching and in writing, for these many years past, are, through the grace of God, those which we still maintain.
7. We feel it most important to make this avowal, inasmuch as the letter referred to is calculated, we trust unintentionally, to convey a different impression to the minds of such as cherish a godly jealousy for the faith once delivered to the saints.
8. We add, for the further satisfaction of any who may have had their minds disturbed, that we utterly disclaim the assertion that the blessed Son of God was involved in the guilt of the first Adam; or
9. that He was born under the curse of the broken law, because of His connection with Israel. We hold Him to have been always the Holy One of God, in whom the Father was ever well pleased.
10. We know of no curse which the Saviour bore, except that which He endured as the surety for sinners, — according to that Scripture, 'He was made a curse for us.'
11. We utterly reject the thought of His ever having had the experiences of an unconverted person; but maintain that while He suffered outwardly the trials connected with His being a man and an Israelite, — still in His feelings and experience, as well as in His external character, He was entirely 'separate from sinners.'
GVW - Sentences 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11, are most strange, passing strange! in a paper in which a Decemvirate state nine reasons why they decline to "formally investigate and give judgment on certain errors which have been taught at Plymouth." Why, here all the leading points of the controversy are touched upon! And where were these, the leading points of the controversy, so far as doctrine is concerned, — where were they picked up? And how can your expression of a judgment here harmonize with the well-known contrary thoughts of some of you, as Mr. Aitcheson? or how with your reception of the persons charged with being the underhand circulators of the doctrines you condemn? Did you draw a bow at a venture(n) in these sentences? or do you condemn what report has wafted to your ears? If so, report about whom but about Ebrington-street people, whom you are receiving? But it is utterly impossible to call this fair dealing. Utterly impossible to say it is worthy of the church of God, or of the rulers that belong to it. Utterly irreconcilable with the drift, in good faith, though not with the very letter of, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th reasons (see 19-25), or grounds afterwards assigned; and, I cheerfully thank God to add, utterly irreconcilable with the characters of George Müller and Henry Craik. They have their faults like us all, but disingenuous shuffling is not, I think, the natural fault of either.
(n. Mr. Müller said, before many witnesses, he had read Mr. Dyer's tract.)
12. We now proceed to state the grounds on which we have felt a difficulty in complying with the request of our brother, Mr. Alexander, that we should formally investigate and give judgment on certain errors which have been taught among Christians meeting at Plymouth.
GVW - And now in 12, we come to the grounds or reasons against a judgment. Alexander's words are, "After waiting some time in the hope that this subject would be thoroughly investigated and judged of," etc., and then finding "there being no judgment here concerning this truly momentous subject," and "unjudged in these meetings," — "there being no judgment," — "there is no judgment in the matter," — "while such a matter remains unjudged and uninvestigated," — that is, he complained of the absence of judgment which could be acted upon. Why is this twisted round here into something else?
13. 1st. We considered from the beginning, that it would not be for the comfort or edification of the saints here — nor for the glory of God — that we, in Bristol, should get entangled in the controversy connected with the doctrines referred to.
14. We do not feel that, because errors may be taught at Plymouth or elsewhere, therefore we, as a body, are bound to investigate them.
GVW - The 1st, that is sentences 13 and 14, is mere evasion. The question was this, "Will you, as overseers, though warned, mix, in the day when the plague is in the country, some suspected strangers with the healthful people?" The answer is, "The citizens, as a body, could not have been profited by having been exercised with the contests about the cause and indices of the plague in Smyrna." And let me ask here, first, as to 13, whether is it more evil, to have to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints and for moral integrity, or to be corrupted by that which makes the needs-be of controversy; Cain's, Balaam's and Kore's sins. Would to God Bethesda saints had had the sorrow of watching and praying, rather than that of falling into temptation. As to 14, the pastor is no pastor who does not study the current dangers of the day; and the talking about "at Plymouth," and "the body," investigating is mere quibbling.
15. 2nd. The practical reason alleged why we should enter upon the investigation of certain tracts issued from Plymouth was, that thus we might be able to know how to act with reference to those who might visit us from thence, or who are supposed to be adherents of the author of the said publications.
GVW - 2nd reason, sentence 15. Whence got they this? But why not rather think of the glory of God, the honour of Christ, — the presence of the Spirit, — the welfare of the church, its name before the world, as the keeper of the truth, — victory over the adversary, — the putting out of the world and the flesh, — the soul of a zealous (if not by them esteemed wise) brother? No, none of these things are thought of; — but a minimum of an answer is given.
The practical reason alleged — perhaps what is meant above, is 'the reason practically alleged,' i.e. the practical substance of what is alleged.
16. In reply to this, we have to state, that the views of the writer alluded to could only be fairly learned from the examination of his own acknowledged writings.
17. We did not feel that we should be warranted in taking our impression of the views actually held by him from any other source than from some treatise written by himself, and professedly explanatory of the doctrines advocated.
GVW - 16 and 17, are, of course, true in some sense; but "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established," must not be forgotten; and in this case there were witnesses at hand most unimpeachable. Not those who had been "bitter" and hard in controversy against Satan and the evil, but gentle and tender spirited men also; some of whom, like Deck, who had stood by and watched and thought himself rather deceived with what he heard and saw, than that those he loved could be so wrong, and some too, who had been plucked as brands out of the fire, after having lost more than man's heart knows how to estimate, for the one who led them into the evil; who treated them dogmatically while they owned his Tirshathaship, and cast them off when their conscience could not consent to continue to hold a false Christ, or to abide in the devious, tortuous, course he had marked out for them. Alas! it was easy for Bethesda to speak of the mercy which had saved such, as "servile fear of having no leader." — But, so far as 16 and 17 are true, why are they put in the form of objections, as though Mr. A, had not gone to the fountain-head? He did, and he said he did.
18. Now there has been such variableness in the views held by the writer in question, that it is difficult to ascertain what he would now acknowledge as his.
GVW - 18 is, alas, alas! the confession at once of disbelief of the charge of delusion and treacherous dealing, and the avowal of entire ignorance as to Satan's mode of warfare. An argument to silence an opponent it may be, but reason for not investigating, it is none; if it shows the difficulty of investigation, does it not the more show the need that those who are responsible as pastors, and who know most the help God gives, should investigate? And who is George Müller, to talk of difficulty? Besides, the question is, not what the writer acknowledges as his, but for what is he responsible. A Roman Catholic Priest is held responsible, and justly so, for more than he will own to.
19. 3rd. In regard to these writings, Christian brethren, hitherto of unblemished reputation for soundness in the faith, have come to different conclusions as to the actual amount of error contained in them.
GVW - 19, the 3rd reason is monstrous. For the very things, which, before God, constitute the responsibility to do the thing, are pleaded as the reason why it should not be done. And, I must again say, not honest. A man and his party are accused of blasphemy, and delusion, and Jesuitry; and George Müller, who never was afraid of any responsibility, God being his helper, says, — the difficulty must justify our not doing that, without which we could not act for God in this matter. And is it not a mere diversion to talk about the brethren hitherto of unblemished reputation for soundness in the faith, who have come to different conclusions as to the amount of error contained in them? Shades of difference, of course, there are in those who are of one judgment, but light and darkness, Christ and Belial, are the antipodes the one to the other; and the question raised, was never how much of evil, but are they fundamentally evil or not? And I do say that Romanism or Swedenborgianism could sail in under this most shameless statement. And pray where, if true, is the church of God at all, where the Holy Ghost? Satan is abroad everywhere, and most true, human wit cannot meet him; but has God made no provision for our need in the Spirit and the word? Surely he has, and for worse days too. But it is a regular fog and mist here, as ever, when human opinions are looked to instead of God, and the word of his grace. But the fact is, sound godly men in every denomination only condemn the doctrine; but these will not do that, but only talk of measuring the amount. But I pray brethren to observe two things here; first, that the talking about shrinking, "from the responsibility of giving any formal judgment in the matter" has no weight in it at all. They were not asked, — that was not the request, — to form and record a formal judgment before others. They had no responsibility to do so. No one asked it or wished them to do so; but they had a responsibility laid upon them by God TO ACT in certain cases; and they did, because they were obliged to it, act. The question was, "Will you act prayerfully and deliberately according to a sound judgment, and a sober mind, or will you act blindfold, and darkly, though warned of danger?" In some cases, not to act is to act. That is, when things are simply in progress onward, not to act is to let them go forward. But in this case it was not merely so, for it was quite clear to all around, and to themselves as warned by many, that not to reject the Mr. Woodfalls, etc., would be to reject a great many others.
20. The tracts, some of us knew to be written in such an ambiguous style, that we greatly shrunk from the responsibility of giving any formal judgment on the matter.
GVW - Mark too here, under 20, that the knowledge of "some of us" could at times effect "that we [all] greatly shrunk," etc.
21. 4th. As approved brethren, in different places, have come to such different conclusions in reference to the amount of error contained in these tracts, we could neither desire nor expect that the saints here would be satisfied with the decision of one or two leading brethren.
22. Those who felt desirous to satisfy their own minds, would naturally be led to wish to peruse the writings for themselves.
23. For this, many amongst us have no leisure time; many would not be able to understand what the tracts contain, because of the mode of expression employed; and the result, there is much reason to fear, would be such perverse disputations and strifes of words, as minister questions rather than godly edifying.
GVW - 21, 22, 23, i.e., Reason 4, is mere trifling. The request is, Examine an evil which is at your door, and see whether it does not betray the foundations of the faith? The answer is, If we attempt to record in a formal creed our exact estimate of the amount of the evil, the saints around us will not be satisfied whether or not, to the grain and half grain, we are correct: how should they, when approved brethren elsewhere have not agreed as to the precise and exact amount of the evil. Saints will want to measure the writings for themselves: the result will be that, in their incompetency, they will come to difference of judgment about the amount of the measure, and fall out about it.
Brethren inside Bethesda may answer how far they think that G. Müller is really one among those who share the responsibility of being the conscience-keepers of the body of the saints there. Is he one with a single vote in the assembly? Do they look at him as such? or rather as a bell-bearer in the flock? I pray that the way in which, when there is a body of conscience-keepers of an assembly, their incompetency to meet evil must appear, may be observed. And how the old saying, that a committee has no conscience must lead, when the saints have thus a committee, both to the choking of conscience and the dishonour of the Lord. And if in men like G. Müller, how much more in those of less power.
It sounds very well, and if the attention is absorbed by it, and the real question forgotten, may seem very wise. But the real question is not, What to an infinitesimal is the measure of the evil, and how will you put this exactly before each one? but, Does it not destroy the foundations? And do the Ten mean to say, either that in Arianism or Socinianism, they have measured to a minim the evil, or that they are able to satisfy the saints, or make the saints see and hold exactly the same thoughts of any evil.
And how will this bear the scrutiny of being compared with the conduct of these responsibility-bearers of the gathering on other occasions? Here they could not give a formal judgment, because of difference of judgment of approved brethren about the exact amount of the evil, etc. etc. Here the question is about the person of the Lord Jesus. How was it when the conduct of Müller was impeached needlessly (as I, unacquainted with the case, trust) about the Orphan-houses? Was there no difference of judgment about the amount of evil? Was there the same excessive fear of leading brethren to enquire, and of the incompetency and quarrelsome tendency of their company?
To my mind the most precious sympathies between those who are ensamples to the flock, and the flock are here all denied. And if I had been in Bethesda when the letter was read, I should have felt that it was a rebuke to the whole body — a sort of vote of want of confidence in it — which its most true love for and deference to G. M. made not meet.
24. 5th. Even some of those who now condemn the tracts as containing doctrine essentially unsound, did not so understand them on the first perusal.
25. Those of us who were specially requested to investigate and judge the errors contained in them, felt that, under such circumstances, there was but little probability of our coming to unity of judgment touching the nature of the doctrines therein embodied.
GVW - 24, i.e., Reason 5, goes a step further. —
[Reason 1 says, "There could be no comfort to us in Bristol intermeddling with a matter at Plymouth."
2. To the remark, How then will you know how to act towards persons coming from thence? we reply, as to the controversy, Who can tell what the writer would acknowledge as his views?
3. Good men elsewhere could not come to one mind as to the exact measure of evil.
4. We will not get our flock upon this difficulty of the exact measure; but] Here in —
5. Some who now condemn did not do so on a first perusal.
GVW - Therefore, 25, there is little probability of our coming to unity of judgment touching the nature of the doctrines therein embodied! And this upon foundation-truth: upon error which destroys the foundations. If this is not filthiness of the spirit, 2 Cor. 7:1, what is? But I cannot bring my mind to admit that any spiritual Christian, not under a delusion (much less George Müller), could pen this. What has become of God — of Christ — of the Holy Ghost — in the mind of these signers and of the congregation identified with the paper? What an apple of discord did the signers own to be among them. What a confession to the flock of the character of the union without faith of the congregation! What a presentation of the value of outward union above the sound faith. "Let heaven and hell be confounded together," was the impassioned word of Protestant Luther, "ere one jot of truth be sacrificed."(o) Here is something of which R. Chapman says, 'that it presents a Christ who could not save — who himself would need a Saviour.' Flock, we ten, are afraid to examine it, for "there is little probability of our coming to unity of judgment touching [not now the exact measure of the evil, but] the nature of the doctrine." That is (see 24), whether we shall condemn as "essentially unsound, or not so understand them." What can these ten have been about to sign their names thus, the one against the other, and to present the document to the flock. What a.....But, no; I am sure they meant it not. The mind of the writer was absorbed in making out a case: the minds of the signers only looked to see that it met the case; but delusion is the best thought one can have about it. And what was to be the end gained of all this pleading, but to stupefy their own minds as to the horrid sin of letting bearers of leprosy in among the people.
(o. It is singular that a Bethesda saint, about the date of the letter, circulated a statement of Roman Catholic Luther's as so very beautiful a picture of the value of unity.)
26. 6th. Even supposing that those who inquired into the matter had come to the same conclusion, touching the amount of positive error therein contained, this would not have guided us in our decision respecting individuals coming from Plymouth.
27. For, supposing the author of the tracts were fundamentally heretical, this would not warrant us in rejecting those who came from under his teaching, until we were satisfied that they had understood and imbibed views essentially subversive of foundation-truth; especially as those meeting at Ebrington street, Plymouth, last January, put forth a statement, disclaiming the errors charged against the tracts.
GVW - Reason 6. 26, 27. Under 24 and 25, we were told they had little probability (strange word where salvation through grace is concerned, or the church built thereon) of coming to unity of judgment touching the nature of the doctrine; i.e., whether upon a second perusal they would condemn, or on a first perusal not so understand them. Now, 26, the amount is brought forward again, and then its nature; neither of which would suffice to condemn the avowed followers of Mr. N. upon, seeing they have repudiated the errors charged. Here we get to a new point: let us review, ere proceeding. — 1st. The doctrine cannot have a formal judgment pronounced upon it; then, 5-11, we utterly repudiate it; 12, we will tell you why we will form no formal judgment upon it.
Reason 1. What comfort to us in Bristol to intermeddle with a controversy so far off as Plymouth.
2. Besides, it is unapprehensible; for who can tell what views the writer would own as his.
3. Good men have failed of unity as to the measure of the evil.
4. Let not our flock be similarly troubled as these good men about the measure of the evil. And —
5. As some who now condemn did not so at first, we fear our unity is at stake if we try to judge the nature of the doctrine. And —
6. If the exact amount of positive error was apprehended, this would not have rejected Plymouthians; for, even if the head of the party was fundamentally heretical, his followers could not be rejected unless individually proved to be holders of views essentially subversive of foundation-truth, etc.
Indeed! A heresy and a heretical party are not to be condemned, unless the individuals are deniers of individual salvation doctrine. This is what is meant. An Arian or Socinian denies the foundation doctrine of individual salvation, and makes a heresy and schism upon it. Condemn the man; but receive the followers, because they repudiate the notion that they hold what some see in their leader's doctrine. Why then are they followers of him? The theory here involved is that there is no such thing in the world as the church of God; no such thing as heresy or schism; no Holy Ghost in the church; no difference between the church and Babylon, or between the preserved in Christ and the misled. But if they disclaim, why do they circulate, that which poisons? Or is there no faith once delivered to the saints;? And how comes it, too, that the ten thus speak about the disclaimer? Did they see it? Did they weigh it? Did they hear what others had to say about it? The disclaimer can be read when the controversy cannot. Plymouth is not now so far off as it was. There is no such fog and mist over the disclaimer, or over their minds, as there was a few lines back. Cut off from all other brethren they were just now; but now they are in company with some. And what have they done with the charge of untruthfulness and of jesuitism? Are they able at once to receive everything the Jesuit-priest says — take his word for everything, though no one else can be listened to?
28. 7th. The requirement that we should investigate and judge Mr. Newton's tracts, appeared to some of us like the introduction of a fresh test of communion.
29. It was demanded of us that, in addition to a sound confession and a corresponding walk, we should, as a body, come to a formal decision about what many of us might be quite unable to understand.
GVW - 7. 28 and 29, is mere child's play and quibbling, and is most untrue. It was never demanded. All that was demanded was, if you have the faith and are the church of God, act upon that godly discipline which becomes that house which is the temple of God, through the Spirit. A man, most active and energetic, is accused of being untruthful, a subverter of the faith, the former of a party reckless of all truth to maintain his views; some of his disciples come to you, and you stand quibbling about being called upon to judge his doctrine, lest you should be setting up a new term of communion. 29 gives up, not only the church, but the individual's portion; "ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things." And sure I am, that many a simple poor woman in Bethesda, every one there that is godly, is, with the living God and the word of His grace, competent to judge such things, and also the conduct of the ten in thus systematically setting themselves against God, and thus despising the church of God.
30. 8th. We remembered the word of the Lord, that 'the beginning of strife is as the letting out of water.'
GVW - 8. 30 is a garbled use of Scripture. "Contend for the faith once delivered to the saints" is not inconsistent with freedom from strife about the things of this world.
31. We were well aware that the great body of believers amongst us were in happy ignorance of the Plymouth controversy, and we did not feel it well to be considered as identifying ourselves with either party.
32. We judged that this controversy had been so carried on as to cause the truth to be evil spoken of; and we do not desire to be considered as identifying ourselves with that which has caused the opposer to reproach the way of the Lord.
GVW - 31. It has been well said, if the two parties are God and Satan, it is not hard to say on whose side the professedly neutrals will really be found. 32. A while back, the controversy was down ever so far off at Plymouth. Then the question was about Mr. N.'s errors. But the distance was not, when the question was of the self-pronounced soundness of his followers; still, the distance is little, and we can see great error in the mode [? whose] of the controversy.
33. At the same time, we wish distinctly to be understood, that we would seek to maintain fellowship with all believers; and consider ourselves as particularly associated with those who meet as we do, simply in the name of the Lord Jesus.
GVW - 33. contains the denial of the church. We will have persons merely as individuals. If believers, though the partisans of a heretic, they are welcome — if believers, though members of a Jesuit college or Unitarian chapel, let them come — we will not doubt the goodness of human nature; they profess to be all right, and that all the hard things said against them are false. Who are we, to question them? Who so good a witness as a man for himself? We meet simply in the name of the Lord Jesus: let who will come in, they are welcome. God forbid that I should speak lightly. Is not God, indeed, among us? Is not the church His house, the residence of the Spirit, the place of the Lord's holy discipline? And does not George Müller know the power and truth of the living God? But what is all this but sheer Romanism over again? The leading truths of the church, as its unity, catholicity, holiness, power, all betrayed, because acted out in the flesh and not in the Spirit: and George Müller the leader in all this! May God awaken him as one beloved to Him and to us, and snatch him from the dangers of this sin.
34. 9th. We felt that the compliance with Mr. Alexander's request would be the introduction of an evil precedent.
35. If a brother has a right to demand our examining a work of fifty pages, he may require our investigating error said to be contained in one of much larger dimensions; so that all our time might be wasted in the examination of other people's errors, instead of more important service.
GVW - 9. 34 and 35. This surely is merely an excuse. If the glory of the Lord Jesus and the safety of the flock which he tends, needed the study of 600,000 volumes, — surely George Müller is not the man to say him nay. Delusion blinded his eyes ere he set his name to a paper having such a sentence in it.
36. It only remains to notice the three reasons specially assigned by Mr. Alexander, in justification of his course of action.
37. To the first, viz. — 'that by our not judging this matter, many of the Lord's people will be excluded from communion with us,' — we reply, that unless our brethren can prove, either that error is held and taught amongst us, or that individuals are received into communion who ought not to be admitted; they can have no scriptural warrant for withdrawing from our fellowship.
38. We would affectionately entreat such brethren as may be disposed to withdraw from communion for the reason assigned, to consider that, except they can prove allowed evil in life or doctrine, they cannot, without violating the principles on which we meet, treat us as if we had renounced the faith of the Gospel.
GVW - 36, 37, and 38. Here we are upon new ground; but new ground described so similarly to the old ground that the careless reader will confound the two together, and now accredit the former (on which perhaps he had a question when he read it) for the sake of this. Observe, "individuals .... who ought not to be admitted" are all of them to be shut out; and then comes a strong appeal about the evil of pressing more than this. But let not the reader be deceived — the early part is the definition of who ought to be shut out — and that includes the partizan of the heretic, and every man, however accused, who gives himself a good character.
39. In reply to the second reason, viz. 'that persons may be received from Plymouth holding evil doctrines' we are happy in being able to state, that ever since the matter was agitated, we have maintained that persons coming from thence — if suspected of any error — would be liable to be examined on the point; that in the case of one individual, who had fallen under the suspicion of certain brethren amongst us, not only was there private intercourse with him relative to his views, as soon as it was known that he was objected to — but the individual referred to, known to some of us for several years as a consistent Christian — actually came to a meeting of labouring brethren for the very purpose that any question might be asked him by any brother who should have any difficulty on his mind.
GVW - 39. The word "maintained" should have had "in our own minds" put after it, to make it accurate; or else have been exchanged for allowed. Observe, the guard as to Plymouth is what? Why, we are towards it as to every well accredited gathering. "Persons coming thence, if suspected of any error, would be liable to be examined on the point." The mass would be received without a question; if a particular person had a particular error charged against him, on that point he would be LIABLE to be examined. Liable does not necessarily mean surely and actually subjected to. I am liable to sudden death and various accidents which never yet have come near me. We should not say of the crew of a ship from Smyrna, when plague was known to be there, as it neared our shore, that crew is liable to be put on quarantine ground. The explanation of the "private intercourse" may be seen in Mr. A.'s letter. The labouring brethren felt no responsibility; some who have been driven out since did, and went to Mr. W's. Two or three (p) individuals I can name who did, who were the suspectors, voluntary visitors, and unsatisfied by the visit; but the fact of whose visit is now dragged in in vindication of the Ten by themselves. Every word is true, for there (was) private intercourse with him (the suspected of error) as to his views. The rest of 39 is quite true, but not all the truth. For the reason why he left the meeting was, that the meeting judged that that was not the time for it, and he was requested to leave on that ground. But there was a very particular something in the mind of the meeting as to the person also, besides the fact of there being a question for that meeting different from that which he brought to it, as we shall see in 40. Some one, I hear, said, as he was going, "that such an opportunity might be desirable on another occasion."
(p. Mr. Craik assented (I hear) to the propriety of any one who had it on his conscience to do so, going to M. H. W.)
40. Mr. Alexander himself was the principal party in declining the presence of the brother referred to, on that occasion, such inquiry being no longer demanded, inasmuch as the difficulties relative to the views of the individual in question, had been removed by private intercourse.
41. We leave Mr. Alexander to reconcile this fact, which he cannot have forgotten, with the assertion contained under his second special reason for withdrawing.
GVW - 40 and 41. People had better look back at 39 and forward to Mr. A.'s letter to Mr. Withy, in which he says that the objection by all to Mr. W's presence was, that having been at Plymouth, and a partizan, he could not possibly be a fair party in the discussion — the stress was laid on this, and not on his coming to answer questions, — and that Butler and Naish made it; on which ground only, Mr. A. declined his presence. He adds, Feltham and others objected to Mr. W. breaking bread at all till that had been investigated. I consider this 40 and 41 to be very, very dark.
42. In regard to the third ground alleged by Mr. Alexander, viz.: that by not judging the matter, we lie under the suspicion of supporting false doctrine, we have only to refer to the statement already made at the commencement of this paper.
43. In conclusion, we would seek to impress upon all present, the evil of treating the subject of our Lord's humanity as a matter of speculative or angry controversy.
44. One of those who have been ministering among you from the beginning, feels it a matter of deep thankfulness to God, that so long ago as in the year 1835, (q)he committed to writing, and subsequently printed, what he had learned from the Scriptures of truth relative to the meaning of that inspired declaration, "The Word was made flesh."
(q. "Pastoral Letters," by Henry Craik.)
45. He would affectionately refer any whose minds may be now disquieted, to what he then wrote, and was afterwards led to publish.
46. If there be heresy in the simple statements contained in the letters alluded to, let it be pointed out; if not, let all who are interested in the matter know, that we continue unto the present day 'speaking the same things.'"
Henry Craik, Edmund Feltham,
George Müller, John Withy,
Jacob Henry Hale, Samuel Butler,
Charles Brown, John Meredith,
Elijah Stanley, Robert Aitcheson.
GVW - 42. See before.
43. Heartily can I say, Amen and Amen; but I would add, with sorrow, that the word "speculative" comes in unhappily in connection with 44, as to H. Craik and G. Müller, who circulated his book as a specimen of orthodoxy. It contains expressions which to those who know the controversy, are painful, as in a measure criminating Mr. Craik, though not so much as his words have since, or his letter to T. M., which I published. It is painful to notice, too, the accuracy, verbally, of 44-46. The book, as thus described, may have no error in it. The error is in the pieces, not then in the book, i.e. in the first edition, but written and added afterwards, i.e. in the second edition.
The above paper was read at meetings of brethren at Bethesda Chapel, on Thursday, June 29th, and Monday, July 3rd, 1848.
Copy of Notice read at the three places of meeting, on Sunday, the 25th, inst. - "It is intended, the Lord willing, to have an especial meeting of all the brethren and sisters in communion, next Thursday evening, at Bethesda, at 7 o'clock, at which, explanations will be given relative to the printed letter of our brother Mr. Alexander. All the brethren and sisters are especially requested to be present. The usual meeting at Salem will be given up that evening."
1. It is to be remembered Mr. G. M. is a thorough man of business, and knows what the meaning and result of putting his name to a paper is. He knows that if he wrote a cheque for a thousand pounds it would be paid, though he may have meant to write but a hundred. He knows also, that, in legal documents, his name commits him to the contents of the paper. His intelligence as a man of business in every way is of the very highest order. Probably, few merchants in Bristol are superior to him in this, if equal. Several of the other signers are also men of business, who know what a signature means.
2. One of the questions eighteen years ago, among us, was, "Does the Church make the Spirit, or the Spirit make the Church?" That is, "Has that which man calls, or which calls itself the Church, the sanction and power of the Holy Ghost? or is that only which the Holy Ghost indwelling makes the habitation of God, to be reckoned as the Church?"
I beg it may be distinctly observed, that the paper of the Ten makes no allusion whatever to Mr. Newton's recantation; whether that was good for any thing, or, to those conversant with the facts of the case, worse than nothing — need not be touched upon. The paper of the Ten makes no allusion whatever to it.
If I take the paper as a picture of Bethesda's spiritual state, how lamentable is it? A cry is heard at the gate. "Three are come, charged with being connected with delusion, jesuitism, blasphemy." "Peace! Peace (is the governor's answer)! bring them in, and hush your hard words, watchman. Bring them in, even if you have to yield your place to them." Alas! that paper tells of a fallen sunken state. It tells of untruthfulness, a shuffling system, and a deceptive spirit's presence. God has gone down in their consciences as the sun that is set. The veil, grown thick, hides the living Christ from their faith. The Holy Ghost is not owned as being in the company. Circumstances absorb the mind — the world enters, and the flesh; and Satan is forgotten as the gliding serpent; and faith and vital union with Christ in the heavens are all as the bygone tale of yesterday. The Church is no longer that which has vital fellowship with Christ, and is able to shut out evil; but has sunk down into a company of men with a certain profession of faith and practice; but the spiritual responsibilities and associations are all denied: it is nothing more than a mere evangelical alliance. Do I say this haughtily? Nay; with deep sorrow of heart. Time was once when Bethesda was Nazarite in character, and decried by the world and by Dissenters; and I gloried in fellowship with her reproach. Now, alas! with shorn locks and eyes put out, it labours for the Philistines, and my heart is grieved. I see nothing now to prevent its becoming the hold of every evil thing, unless God in His mercy may yet hear. I would see it restored, but my heart fears that the opposite of the Plymouth tale will now be told there. Feeble as the faith was at Plymouth, there was a little faith when a man of God went in and blew the alarm. The congregation has been rescued there, and the very name of Ebrington-Street ceased to be named upon the remnant left in the evil: they are moved to a smaller room in Compton-Street, while Ebrington-Street is honoured as the scene of the testimony of an ex-clergyman who preaches salvation by Christ. I fear lest the opposite of this awaits Bethesda. I say the opposite; but the Lord show mercy, if it be possible.
The Ecclesiastical Position (r)
As to the ecclesiastical position proposed, I shall say a few words. I shall now put before you the theory which it aims to establish. The rest was the chaff — the theory is the grain — its great object, as I judge. Now observe: "Supposing that those who inquired into the matter had come to the same conclusion touching the amount of positive error therein contained, this would not have guided us in our decision respecting individuals coming from Plymouth. For supposing (see 27) [a man or] the author of the tracts were fundamentally heretical, this would not warrant us in rejecting those who came from under his teaching, until we were satisfied that they had understood and imbibed views essentially subversive of foundation-truth; especially as those meeting at Ebrington-Street, Plymouth, last January, put forth a statement, disclaiming the errors charged against the tracts." Again, after saying, "We did not feel it well to be considered as identifying ourselves with either party" (31), or with a controversy "so carried on as to the cause the truth to be evil spoken of" (32). "At the same time (33) we wish distinctly to be understood, that we would seek to maintain fellowship with all believers; and consider ourselves as particularly associated with those who meet as we do, simply in the name of the Lord Jesus." "Unless our brethren (37), can prove, either that error is held and taught amongst us, or that individuals are received into communion who ought not to be admitted, they can have no scriptural warrant for withdrawing from our fellowship. We would affectionately entreat such brethren as may be disposed to withdraw from communion for the reasons assigned, to consider that, except they can prove allowed evil in life or doctrine, they cannot, without violating the principles on which we meet, treat us as if we had renounced the faith of the Gospel." "We are happy in being able to state, that ever since the matter [? of Plymouth] (39) was agitated, we have maintained [? in our own minds] that persons coming from thence, if suspected of any error, would be liable to be examined on the point."
This is of all importance. It shows the theory on which Bethesda is now acting. This they will do. It might better have been presented either nakedly as stated above. — i.e., without the many reasons why they would not do what they would not do (which serve as dust to hide and conceal this) — or have been condensed into two or three propositions, into which its principles resolve themselves. It is most important, both in what it asserts and in what it omits. While I admit that Bethesda has always, so far as I know, been behindhand as to truth and the practical results of faith in Christ in heaven, and returning thence, and of the presence of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, during His absence — I do not admit that it is now in the state it was nine years ago. Practically, there is a new theory and new practice in it; and I think this might easily be shown, if necessary.
(r. So entirely is this slipped in, as if it were acknowledged, unquestionable truth — that few readers of the letters have noticed what it contains: intent upon the parts which were most prominently put, this part they have not weighed, — because it is put in, by the bye, as a matter of course. it is interesting as the parent of the "Declaration," "Memorandum," and "Record.")
Propositions of Bethesda's Present Position.
1. OUR FELLOWSHIP; in itself. — We meet simply in the name of the Lord Jesus.
2. In its connections. — We seek to maintain fellowship with all believers,
Even with those of that party, as to the doctrinal statements of whose leader we avow that some of them we know not (10); some we utterly disclaim (9); some "we utterly reject" (11); whose views are so variable (18), whose tracts are written in such an ambiguous style (20), that neither the amount of error (21), and positive error (26), approved saints can agree upon; so written, too, that a second perusal has led some to condemn that, as utterly unsound, who did not so understand them on a first perusal (24). The author of which may be fundamentally heretical (27). Or [? on the other hand] of that party whose mode of controversy has caused the truth to be evil spoken of, and the opposer to reproach the way of the Lord.
3. As to receiving persons. — We receive all [nominal Christians?] [even though coming from the temple of Heresy, from under the teaching of one whose writings are fundamentally heretical], until we are satisfied that they have understood and imbibed views essentially subversive of foundation truth (27).
4. As to protection of the Lord's glory, and the flock committed to us. — Any individual suspected of any error, would be liable to be examined on the point.
We hold also, as to a person withdrawing from us, that —
Unless error is held and taught among us, or that individuals are received into communion who ought not to be admitted, unless, that is, there be allowed evil in life or doctrine, he who withdraws from us [and so treats us as if we had renounced the faith of the gospel], violates the principles on which we meet (38), and has no scriptural warrant (37).
It has been suggested to me, that the Ten avow a sectarian position (33) in these words, "we would seek to maintain fellowship with all believers;" and yet we "consider ourselves as PARTICULARLY associated with those who meet as we do:" i.e. special membership is owned.
These four propositions seem to me to contain the theory stated above. Of one thing they may be quite sure, and that is, that those who believe it is a question between God and Satan, will neither recognize them any longer, nor those who associate with them; so that they will not be neutral after all.
Now, if words have a meaning, I get here something lower than the church of Rome, England, or any denomination or sect whatsoever. Nay, it is contrasted with all these things, for they spread the veil over their naked points, and make fair avowals. This openly avows spiritual lawlessness: and this from the pen of godly men, and with the fair sanction which their past holiness and devotedness gives.
The members and supporters of Romanism, Swedenborgianism, Irvingism, Princism, and of all those systems which have been the expression and hold of a lying spirit, have a highway thrown up for them here into Bethesda, as much as Newtonism. The question is not, "Did Bethesda mean to do so?" or, "Does she think she has done so?" but simply, "What is the meaning of the document?" Neither, again, is it the question, "Whose pen wrote the document?" but rather, "Whose energy blinded the minds and eyes of saints, so as that some have produced, and others accepted such a document?" And here, as before, the more honesty is proved in man, the more delusion from Satan also is proved.
In the theory (and as is the theory, so has been, and is the practice), truth and grace are not only separated from the Spirit, and faith, and good conscience; but may be used as the screen and shelter of any lying spirit which comes, of bad faith, and the seared conscience. The theory omits the Holy Ghost altogether, whose presence in the body is the distinctive difference of the church from every other company whatsoever; and shuts out the idea of "a fellowship in Him, or of vital union in Christ"; and it opens the door to all false doctrine, if the holder of it has but effrontery and subtlety enough to deny and baffle his examiners; for, denying the unity of the church of Christ, it sets aside letters commendatory, and the question concerning the company from which he comes, and of which he is still a member; and takes him as a unit upon his own testimonial of himself. "The manifested judgment of the Spirit of God in one gathering of saints is valid for all — this is here trampled under foot."
To meet (s) in the name of the Lord Jesus, is not enough. If He is the centre of unity, the Holy Ghost is the alone energizer in the quickened nature given — its sustainer. If this is forgotten, of course the Holy Ghost, personally present in the body, must be so also, as it is in so many places; and then there is no safeguard whatever for holiness or grace; and the table becomes that which sinks the soul of the individual into principles and practices of evil, from which, as an individual, he had emerged.
(s. See 'The Living God and His Church," in Present Testimony.)
The fellowship of all believers in the above extracts is not commensurate with that which follows. Professor would have been a better word than believer, as conventionally large enough to include known false brethren and heretics. But there is another error here, and it is more pointedly stated afterwards "to treat us as if we had renounced the faith of the Gospel." The fellowship of all believers assumes that every believer may be in communion; the excommunicate being "as if we had renounced the faith of the Gospel" puts discipline upon altogether a wrong basis, as if no man could be excommunicated who was a believer: whereas Paul says, "delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." To set aside this is to set aside the clearest token, the most overt one, of God's moral government in the Church on earth. He, God, is with her in her extreme acts of zeal for His name in her courts, when she puts away any; and the God whom she vindicated cheers her hearty love of grace, and vindicates her holy act by restoring the excommunicate in soul. There is here also the neglect of the difference of the Church standing upon earth in its perfectness as a whole, in contrast with the world and what Jude speaks of — the faithful few in the midst of false profession; while the danger of the framers of it is but too evident. The enemy seeks not to hurl them back into worldliness and fleshliness merely, but into that moral and spiritual corruption described by Jude, out of which we all came: if he succeeds they will build again the things they destroyed, and their last state be worse than their first. I speak of them now as if still retaining their Christianity. Lot's last going to Sodom was his worst.
The distinction between actual and practical union with all saints, and also the difference of holding a position not only open to all, but having a claim upon all, and a position of actual communication with all, seem too much forgotten. I have, as an individual, actual union with all saints who are in the world, for one Spirit sustains and feeds the life given in common to us all; but I know not all even so as to be able to practice communion with them, beyond praying for the (to my mind) undetailed all. Again, scattered and buried in various systems, whose centres are points of difference, and not the one centre (viz., the grand common points of agreement), if I take up any position of fellowship at all, it cannot be one of actual communication with all saints, because some are buried in systems which deny the Word and the Spirit, and will not come where they and spiritual holiness are owned; and besides, some, in coming, could not be received, because they would demand the sanction of what God's word and faith and the Spirit would prohibit the surrender of, or would bring evil which he forbids the reception of. Of course, the communion of the brethren, if around the person of the Lord Jesus, is in the Holy Ghost and in the hallowing presence of God, even the Father — ever separative of all evil, whether of the world, the flesh, or the devil, as that will be found. To attempt a position of actual fellowship with all that have life, now, can only lead either to disappointment, if we be indeed true to God, or to latitudinarianism, if the heart, forgetting God, prefers the notion of brotherhood. And here let me remark, that the fallacy which troubles many upon this subject, is the assumption, made by themselves, that Jude's epistle is not true, and that the Church on earth has not failed; they think the Church is still an unbroken body, standing in the world in contrast with it. The fact is, that amid all the confusion of worldly Christianity and Christian worldliness, saints may be found everywhere and in every system; but witnessing for God will be in those who, ceasing to do evil and learning to do well, cleave to the living God in His present vindication of His competency and wisdom to keep whom He will. That these will have an obedience of faith as to all that was given at the beginning, and no other standard save Scripture, is quite true. It is also true, that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." But serving the living and true God — that is their clue through the maze which man's wickedness has reared around them. And most surely, if I would take a position in the world of serving the living and true God, and waiting for His Son from heaven, that is possible; and not only is accessible to all saints, but has a claim upon all to come and do likewise.
Instead of all this, the theory proposed presents a system utterly at variance with God's truth as to the Church, utterly incompatible with the present walk of faith.(t)
(t. What effort did Bethesda make either to retain the godly men it has driven out, or to get them back? One letter (and that was connected, too, with sad shuffling) I saw, which said that some would be glad to receive them back, if they would but consent to "the little" matter of giving me up. As if they had not acted entirely without me. They had been breaking bread apart from Bethesda I know not how long, ere I went to Bristol, and took their course upon matters which I knew nothing about. The powerful presence of the Lord in their room, amid their manifest and felt weakness, has made me since oft find refreshment there.)
Many Scriptures, among the rest — 1 Tim. 4:1, 2; 1 John 4:1, 2, etc., convince me that — besides the fanaticism of the flesh, or the prejudices and wounded feelings of the human mind — lying spirits are permitted sometimes to act among saints in the church. The light of God's eye will discover them to those who walk in the Spirit near Him through faith. The signs by which they may be discovered may be different at different times. The spirit of the pythoness (Acts 16) was discovered to Paul, by the attempt it made to unite the testimony of Jesus with the spirit of divination. The false apostles (2 Cor. 11) were detected like Simon (Acts) by a false estimate as to money. The work of the adversary among the Hebrews and Galatians was very striking: in the former, it was a turning back from the new testimony about heaven to earth; in the latter, it was a mutilating of the grace given, by an attempt to perfect in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit. Both of these, I judge, are to be seen in present evil. The hope of the coming brought to many souls, fifteen years ago, many searchings of heart as to ecclesiastical position, and set before our souls the Lord of Glory as the alone object of action; and the presence and power of the Holy Ghost was known at Bochim. Instead of this, this man or that man has now been exalted; present things, and sometimes present testimony, and the church made objects of — the coming of the Lord as a heavenly thing forgotten — a spirit wanting in candour formed in brethren, and policy admitted among the saints. This has been followed by a new ecclesiastical system, in which man comes between the individual conscience and God; the body has been settled down in worldliness where Satan's power is; and false doctrine has crept in as to the person and work of the Lord.
I have confined myself to "the case" I took as an illustration of the evil in Bethesda.
If I look at the spirit of the acts of the signers of the paper, what am I to say? I cannot say it is honest; and yet they are honest men. There is a system of shuffling also connected with it; for the congregation has been deluded into the snare, and persons outside deluded too. What shall I say? I trust it is a delusion of the enemy's.
And here I know it will be said, "But all this is nearly a year ago — things have changed since then." THEY HAVE NOT CHANGED. G. Müller's and H. Craik's courses since are as bad or worse, to those who know the facts of the case. And the letters from persons inside of Bethesda which have crossed my path are worse still — worse since the Woodfalls, and Mrs. Brown, and Mr. Aitcheson went out as to the system of shuffling, and much worse as to the doctrine. I said, in my four-page letter of October, that the Lord would justify what I said about Mrs. Brown and the Woodfalls; and so He has by their withdrawal, and the Messrs. Woodfall's reasons. If any ask why do I print this, so long a time after it occurred, I answer: 1st, Because I find that the untruthfulness and shuffling system, coupled* with the very same church policy, are in Bath, and are energetically pressed by some at London, and elsewhere. 2ndly, Because some are trying to use the blasphemous doctrine as a scape-goat, on which to send away the charge of untruthfulness and the shuffling system. Untruthfulness and the immoral system, were primary charges at. Plymouth; they are the chief spots on Bethesda, and the chief characteristics of the evil. I add, that I see more and more the grace and wisdom of God, in having made untruthfulness, and want of moral integrity, the primary charges. Every one can judge what is truthful and what is honest; and the poorest saint can tell when a lie is told, or the spirit of lying is present. I add (with sorrow), that every one that I have seen yet connected with it — however high, and open, and candid, naturally — has fallen under the power of these two evils of untruthfulness and underhandedness. Often too the symptoms are glaring in the inverse ratio of the natural character. That is they would be more obvious in a man of high character than in one of low character. So far as there has been removal from the surface of erroneous doctrine in Bethesda, it was chiefly through my acting outside. Mr. Müller, inside, may take the credit of it (as he does). Alas, it is only skin-healed, and the issue is working below the surface. 3rdly, Because nothing can clear Bethesda, as such, save some public act of its own, in confessing and repudiating this paper of the Ten: that must be the first thing; and while G. Müller persists in making his course all of a piece, no one that knows the facts can, or ought to be satisfied. When this monstrous paper of the Ten is judged, then one may ask whether truth and integrity are restored in the assembly.
*The Lord will not forget the church, and we ought not. To those who are amazed at all these troubles through which He is leading, I would say: If "there must be also heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest" is the Lord's word, such things turn for a testimony for us when they occur. So far from admitting my path is a wrong one, because of these last four years' sorrow, I say, I never thought to have been permitted to taste so much of the sorrow and experience of the Apostle Paul. Certes, I am not an apostle; and yet his experience, as recorded in the Epistles, I have been permitted in a measure to taste. This certainly, if true, ought neither to make me ashamed of my path, nor to incline me to faint. It does lead me to own how every thing is of grace from first to last, and how abundant the grace towards myself.
Some may think to neutralise all this by saying, "Who made you a judge or a ruler?" To such I say nothing; in so doing, they take their place as I have taken mine. If any, in godly simplicity and honesty of heart, say, "But is not your statement one-sided? I reply: It is, so far as being only part of one side of the question. One of my objects in putting it forth, is to proffer a fair and open investigation of the whole case from first to last before all concerned. The internal and external evidence of the documents is connected with facts not done in a corner. Let there be a fair and open meeting, and God will show the right.
And now, I only add one word more. This controversy has broken me not a little; and I would confess before my brethren, that I have to thank God for it, and the purging he has brought with it to my own soul, forcing me to awake from a lethargic slumber. I have to confess before Him, and all, how supine my soul has been, and alas! is, toward the glory of Christ, and the good of the church; and have been in measure taught to know how little, among his thousands, I am. But I am not aware of any sinister object, or any unkindly, feeling, toward any. I pray for all, and desire to do so, though less than the least of all.
And now, dear Edward, I beg your careful consideration of these points, as before the Lord.
April 23rd, 1849.
P. S. — I say again, I am not one tittle better than those that have done this evil; but I cannot see why this is to be my plea for denying that in the company of those who were once poor sinners, which makes them the church of God; and for sanctioning evil which, if sanctioned, will be my own ruin. As a poor sinner, I have no mastery over evil, save while I judge it. And what portion have I, save in that house of God? God is looking on, and the Shepherd of the sheep may be seen by faith in the height as well as the Holy Ghost down here; and this gives strength. I beseech brethren to be afraid both of mistrusting God and of not expecting blessing at his hand (Deut. 1). How cheering to know that God is with us!
MY DEAR BROTHER,
Little remains for me to say. My questions to those who came from Plymouth were, "What has been your connection with that untruthful, immoral system in Compton Street; and if you have left it, how have you shown that you have judged your past connection with its untruthfulness, shuffling system, and false doctrine?"
My questions to Bethesda people are the same, with this addition: "What is your connection with, and what your judgment of the evil act of Bethesda in persisting, when warned, in receiving the evil?"
As certainly as there is a living God and a living Christ, so certainly does the presence of God the Holy Ghost down here, demand that those who come into the place professedly under him should judge themselves, or be judged as to such evils. Such is the ground I take; such is the ground I hold as to Bethesda, and every place which identifies itself with the same evil. Clearly such questions involve, or nearly so, the requirement of the answer, "I have seen the evil, and have ceased from the place."
It is possible that some anomalous cases may be found in which a person may be found free from the evil in mind, heart and spirit, and yet by a foolish act committed to it as a member of a body; but if a false spirit is at work, this be a rare case. And are they in fellowship with it still? I may add, that, as untruthfulness and want of moral integrity are the primary evils to be guarded against, every one coming from such a place is suspected — just as a Christian from among Jesuits would be. This is very painful. It is, indeed, hard (seeing how exceedingly subtle some of them are, and how active in seeking entrance every where, and how utterly untruthful) to accredit any as pure.
*I do not propose (unless forced to do-so) to contend in any more places about this evil. I cease from those who receive it, as entirely as from Irvingism, the connexion with which is more than most suppose. Since October I have gone to no gathering which had not acted decidedly. Henceforth I shall, the Lord helping me, refuse all association in work with those who in any way have identified themselves with it, and stand entirely aloof from all who in any way dabble with it, save to warn and endeavour to rescue them by rough or gentle means from it.
*To contend against a heresy until the error is opened up and full warning is given to souls, seems to me to be the part of faithfulness, for those so led by faith and the Spirit. But there is a point beyond which, controversy can only be carried, because we assume that WE can give conscience.
My mind is now decided, with God's help, to retire from all association with the gatherings, into the solitude of an individual, rather than, in any way, to sanction the evil or to become connected in word or communion with those (however dearly I may love some of them as individual saints) who are known to identify themselves with it.
Less I cannot do if I believe it to be a direct work of Satan, and of a lying spirit among the saints.
Yours in the Lord,
G. V. W.
P.S. — The danger which has to be prevented, guarded against, or escaped from, as in various places it may be, is participation with an evil of which another expressed his fears thus pointedly. "I used to think, that. . . . ., since Brethren depended on the Spirit of God, if they followed the usual downward course of the church, all the result would be, that they must, like any lifeless body, be decomposed and scattered, since the power of life would be gone. I have now the conviction there may be a terrible living death, in which Satan himself should energise the mass, as taking the place once held by the Holy Ghost.
" Something of this kind took place in the decline of the early Church to Popery; and it is against such a decline and its results that I wish us now to be on our watch."
In such a state of things, clearly, God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) with the obedient PRESERVED ones, may be looked for, as on one side; and Satan (working through the world, the flesh, and as the devil) with the MISLED ones as on the other; among whom, doubtless, as in Romanism, would be many individual children of God. Let not the Saints forget that the sons of Levi, who had transgressed, had to consecrate themselves to the Lord with their swords upon their thighs, that they might receive a blessing from the Lord, while the Tabernacle was taken and pitched outside the camp, where the Lord met with Moses, and whence Moses returned for mercy's sake into the camp.
As rude in speech, and more accustomed of late to be among the poor than with others, I crave forbearance toward my great plainness of style. I have been anxious, as feeling it was due to the glory of God and His Church, to deliver my own soul, and to make the trumpet give a certain sound; and Satan being the subject of alarm, I have not cared either to conceal the excess and the strength of my own feelings or to make the sound a pleasant one to the slumberer, whom I desire to awake. I know of no soft words and fair speeches due to the lion or the bear. "Resist the Devil and he shall fly from you," and "The Lord rebuke thee, Satan," are words of conflict and positive opposition to the adversary and, nothing else. Against brethren I have nothing. Those who help the adversary against the Lord and his flock, I warn and entreat; and necessarily in standing apart from these evil deeds, stand apart from them so long as they continue in the evil; until they cease from it. Christ and His flock are dearer to God than all else — than any man's feelings.
I shall be sorry if any word of mine, which seems to any indicative of unkindly feeling towards any, is used by the adversary as a plea for their refusing the word of warning; sorry for their sake, I feel no unkindness to any, and if I did, it would not justify any before God in pursuing a wrong course. God is witness, who feels, and who prays, and who expects most as to delivering grace for his sheep at this time.
After such a letter as 2, brethren ought to understand, and so ought I, what is to be understood, when I say I desire to hold no place, save that of a poor sinner saved and kept by grace, seeking to be led by the Spirit of God as may glorify Him. I have confidence in God that He is present with us, and I look to him to uphold still, and to restore some who have fallen, and strengthen all. As to His goodness in teaching, first, in truth, God did teach us graciously for many years; — his book, without a rod, open before us (see the first edition of the Christian Witness, from January, 1834 to January, 1841). There was no rod of controversy then. Through Satan's guile, heretics were raised up; and our hearts, generally exalted instead of humbled, by the mercy and blessing given, were ready to be snared in what God could not own. His grace would not give us up, nor his testimony through us; and though, during the interval from 1841 to April, 1845, that is, while the evils were ripening till brought into judgment, it may be hard to trace the manifested teachings of God; since 1845, I can, to my own mind, at least, distinctly do so, mingled with the rod though they be — the rod which broke the primary evil, and has to break down the worldly self-sufficiency which followed in its wake. Thus, first, there was (in 1845) the question of the personal presence of the Holy Ghost in the Body, the Church. Then (1846) the question of the character of the Church, and how utterly incompatible with this was all untruthfulness and shuffling. Then (1847) the heresy, and that such a thing as delusions and works of Satan were to be found among saints — to clear in that which is spiritual and moral, as storms do the atmosphere in nature. Then (1848) was 1 John 4:12, taught practically at Bethesda, i.e. trying the spirits, whether they be of God; also the question of the links of the company of believers.* And secondly, I have no doubt that he is teaching moral lessons besides truth now, while trying our works, which will be of value to many hereafter — even peace and quietness, in a day when the storm may rage elsewhere. To some souls he is showing that, with all they know, they either never had any defined principles to walk by, or, if they ever had, then that they have lost them. In the souls of others, he is forming or deepening principles; and the souls of others he is forming to, and ripening in, their principles. If every one of us has to take before man, the place we hold, in truth, before God, — though humbled before man, — yet we shall, in the increased knowledge of ourselves, have more capacity and sense of our need of God and his Christ. When he bids the cup to be passed around, who shall, or who can, refuse to drink it. May we in gentleness bow to his hand! And surely, if no flesh shall glory in his presence, it is not merely because our flesh is worthless, but also because the grace and mercy of His love in Christ Jesus, have already filled that presence for us with the fragrant perfume of the worthiness of the Lamb. And what, if led by the Spirit, may not be expected from Him by those, whose desires are formed after the glory of that holy child Jesus whom he delights to honour, and of that Church which he delights to bless?
*This last point may be further developed, perhaps, elsewhere, in another scene.
I have deemed it well, in order to help my reader, and to save his time and Mr. Alexander's, to present the following additional evidence, gleaned chiefly in Bristol.
In quoting the following extracts from letters, I would just say how I came by them. When I challenged our brother A. with the gross discrepancies between the letter of the Ten and his printed circular, he replied, "There were other letters sent to the labouring brethren, and many meetings and much discussion had passed for nearly two and a half months before his circular was printed." As these letters had been produced by him (he said) at a public meeting in the vestry of Bethesda, and were shown to any who might seek information, they, of course, were freely given to me. They do not diminish the discrepancies at all, but make them worse.
I give those extracts which Mr, A., in order to save my time, pointed out as the most important. The parts omitted are unimportant, but the letters can be seen. In order to explain the circumstances as fully as possible, I have interspersed a few remarks which were really the result of my own investigations; they have been well weighed before being made. I give them as an historian, and am quite prepared to substantiate them, when called on to do so in a fair and open court, before all the parties concerned.
Mr. A. wrote to Mr. Craik and the labouring brethren in April thus: —
"In regard to the melancholy matter of Mr. Newton, I am anxious to say a little to you, dear brother, and our dear brethren labouring together. I feel a solemn persuasion, that the Lord has brought that matter to our door that we ought to judge it; and that if we do not, for peace' sake as maybe alleged, I feel intimately persuaded it must come, in a more difficult shape to deal with, and perhaps (if now neglected) in a way that may bring shame upon us. I have three papers of Mr. N.'s before me while I write; and, while I desire to write as in the presence of God our Father, I can have no hesitation in avowing to you and our dear brethren, that, in my poor judgment, these documents contain deadly heresy, doctrines subversive of the atonement, and touching the person and glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. I would just quote one or two parts for your judgment and that of brethren, just remarking, that it is vain to point out other passages which seem to state clearly the atonement and sinless nature of our Lord, while these passages remain. I judge them as they stand, and pray you to do so likewise. I only quote from the last two papers ... One is the recantation of error; page 3 I find these words: —
"'In allowing that the Lord Jesus had a body different from that of Adam in Paradise, I was right; I was right also in saying that inherent, corruption is not the originating cause of mortality, but the one sin of Adam. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin. I was right also in stating, that the Lord Jesus partook of certain consequences of Adam's sin, of which the being possessed of a MORTAL body was one.'
"That paper is dated in November last. The last paper published by Mr. N., which Mr. W. is now circulating here (I have known two copies given away by him, and one is now before me), contains extracts from Bishop Pearson's 'Exposition of the Apostles' Creed,' which Mr. N. commands to the saints as 'illustrating the Scripture doctrines of the real humanity and sufferings of our Blessed Lord.' In this paper I find, amongst several extracts of a like character, the following in page 9: —
"'As He [Jesus] was truly and properly Man, in the same MORTAL nature which THE SONS OF ADAM have, so did he undergo a true and proper death, in the same manner as we die; for Christ, who took upon Him all our infirmities, sin only excepted, had, IN HIS NATURE, not only a possibility and aptitude, but also a NECESSITY OF DYING.'
"Again, 'This body of Christ, really and truly human, was also FRAIL and MORTAL, as being accompanied with all the natural properties which necessarily flow from the condition of a FRAIL and MORTAL body.'
"I would simply put it to your heart and conscience, dear brother and the brethren, whether, by any interpretation, we can get over passages of this nature, especially that quoted from Mr. N.'s own recantation. If the Lord Jesus, in consequence of Adam's sin, became possessed of a mortal body, and therefore MUST HAVE DIED, independently of laying down his life for the sheep, — for instead of a voluntary, vicarious laying down of life, he must die IN CONSEQUENCE of Adam's sin, — then we have no atonement; the Lord of Glory, the Son of God, the Second Adam was of dust and ashes like us! as our brother Chapman so exactly stated." . . . .
After saying what his own thoughts were of the Lord, A. continues —
"I feel all this to be so sacred, that I cannot but write these lines, in hopes that you, dear brother Craik, and other beloved brethren, may yet take up this subject, which would occupy but little time to see all the principal points where such doctrines are laid down, and to judge these things before the leaven spreads; at the same time, I give this solemn warning, that the leaven is spreading. . . . . And I confess, that rather than accredit such statements as these, uphold any who teach (which I feel brings in the Scripture 2 John, 9, 11), or have any fellowship with any one who would put forth before the saints publicly or privately as Mr. N. does and has done, I would rather give up every thing; that is all I can say. It is a Jude-time. "Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." . . . I have had a peculiar bond of love and fellowship with the saints here, and if I write strongly, it is because I feel deeply for their welfare. . . . . Peace be with you. Ever affectionately yours, in the Lord Jesus,
To this letter there was no definite answer. The question was again considered; and most said they saw no responsibility to do any thing. All felt not so, for some one or other said, "Well then, all one can do is, to act individually, and save one's own conscience," or words to that effect. Mr. Alexander said he should visit Mr. H. Woodfall. After the meeting, others agreed to go also. Mr. A. went next morning, when Mr. H. W. said he should not teach, because he did not understand the doctrines, but would not promise not to circulate the tracts. Two others afterwards called, and were asked by one of the Mr. W.s, "did they come officially?" the answer was "No, upon their own responsibility."
I remark here that, among other things the church has to guard against this, the technicalities of formal order assuming a place to the disparagement of spirit, truth, and power. If Mr. A. had neglected any step which he ought to have taken, he would have been wrong; but the pleading of that omission by Bethesda (though correct if trying to put him right) would have been most wrong, if it was pleaded either to vindicate its own neglect in caring for the Lord's glory, or to raise feelings in the body against Him, or in favour of its labouring brethren.
About the end of May, Mr. A. wrote another letter to Messrs. Müller and Craik.
"My dear Brethren, — I feel it very strongly laid on my conscience to write this line, to beg earnestly that even yet there may be an investigation and judgment of the tracts of Mr. Newton; which can easily be done in a short time, as pointed out by our brother Chapman. I understood that brother Craik declined this inquiry again at the last Friday evening meeting he was present at; so I assume it is so in this, which I should be glad to hear otherwise. I feel that you must be stopped at each difficulty connected with this subject, until the subject itself be gone into, and judged as before the Lord. Whether l regard Mrs. Browne's case, or that of the Woodfalls (which has only been noticed by two or three amongst us), or the declaration of our brother Aitcheson, that he felt perfectly at liberty to circulate all Mr. N.'s tracts, though through respect to others he might feel restrained (which Mr. H. Woodfall likewise declared); in fact, which ever way I look, it seems to me that, duly considering our present circumstances, and all that has gone on around (which, as members of the same one body, we are bound to consider) we are most imperatively called upon to inquire and judge in this matter. I solemnly believe it is the first work, the chief thing we have now to do. Let me ask here, dear brethren, how could you meet Mrs. Brown, were she pleased to defend Mr. Newton's tracts, to justify his doctrine regarding the Person of our Lord, to state her wish to invite Mr. N. here (as she did state her wish and intention so to do at Bath)? what could you say, as not having satisfied our minds respecting the tracts and doctrine? Could you scripturally refuse fellowship to Mr. Newton, or to accredit him as one accustomed to teach the saints? I believe not, unless the question be judged. . . . I draw from all this my conclusion, that an indifference to this whole matter, or refusal to judge it when brought directly to our door, as it has been, and now is there; and when the person and majesty of Christ Jesus are in question, will, I am persuaded, bring the Lord against those who refuse to judge and act. No blessing can be expected, I humbly conceive. I believe we cannot sufficiently realise, that we are members of the whole body; that our acts must affect those gathered together in London or Dublin; and I believe I may safely say, that the not judging this momentous question is very grievous to many of God's people in fellowship; I mean those at other gatherings. After bearing some time, and considerable exercise of conscience, I feel my own path to be clear, which is, that if you, dear brethren, do think it meet and right before God to refuse to investigate and judge, I must withdraw from the meetings. . . . [After stating some facts that had been brought before the brethren] . . . . . Adverting to all this, I am thoroughly satisfied as before God, that a refusal to judge is a grievous wrong, though it might have been otherwise sometime back; yet now, the principle of non-interference directly interferes with the Lord's glory in this matter, and I feel assured that He Himself will judge it, let the church here do as they please at present; I believe, in fine (and on this I would act), that not judging this whole matter now is, of itself, manifested evil, if I may so express it (my own judgment of course); and, from manifested evil, I shall be constrained to separate, if persisted in. This may seem strong language; but to those who have no judgment on the points at issue I would say, How can they, how can you, dear brethren (supposing YOU have not read any of these papers), be in a capacity to say, it is too strong language? It is the refusal to judge or inquire which I complain of. If inquiry were made, and a directly contrary judgment to mine and that of others come to, the case would stand on different ground. Now, I would ask again, in all love, and in the respect so due to you, which has led me to write this long note, supposing you refuse to judge in this matter, how can you, as those placed of God as leaders here, or teachers, answer my conscience, or the inquiries of any exercised about these things? or meet the difficulties of parties coming and going from Ebrington Street, or this new chapel at Plymouth? But I forbear. You will pardon so long a note. You would greatly oblige me by a line from one or other. If your minds be clear as to the course you think it right to adopt; I mean, if you consider that investigation and judgment must at all events be declined by you, I should be glad to hear it, that, waiting upon the Lord, I may know what step to take. My comfort is, that God's heart is on Christ Jesus. He that toucheth Christ's person and glory, touches the apple of God's eye. . . . Believe me in much love and respect, yours affectionately in our Lord Jesus, "G. A."
"P. S. — . . . I learn this day that it is contemplated to read the narrative of the orphan-work during the next two weeks. I would humbly suggest, whether the question discussed in this ought not to have the pre-eminence?
A few lines of answer from Mr. Craik said, that several brethren had considered the subject with prayer, and had no light about it.
Let the reader compare these two letters with 2 - 4, and say how far it is a fair statement.
To perfect my outline, I add the following account of the winding up of the meeting at which the paper was read to the body of saints: —
On Thursday, June 29, the meeting was too protracted for there to be time for any judgment to be come to on the paper of the Ten. There was a meeting fixed, therefore, for the following Monday, July the 3rd. After prayer by G. Müller, Mr. Craik stated what would be the order of the meeting; viz., the perusal, first, of Mr. A's letter, which, by a strange oversight, they had not done at the first meeting; then of their reply. After which, the church would give judgment upon it. But that they (query, the Ten) stated deliberately and advisedly, that they were firmly resolved not to allow any extracts to be read, or any comments made on the tracts, until the meeting had first come to a decision upon their paper.
A discussion then took place as to the rightness of allowing the congregation to give a decision in the dark; that is, without information being given to it as to the nature of the error involved.
Mr. Müller said, the first thing the church had to do was, to clear the ten signers of the paper; and that if this was not done, they could not continue to labour among them; that the worse the errors were, the more reason they should not be brought out; no matter if it was as bad as Socinianism, the ears of the church ought not to be polluted with such things. That it was an unrighteous and unholy thing to bring out errors from tracts which the writer had withdrawn from circulation, and the errors of which he confessed with deep sorrow before God,* the church, and the world. So strongly did he feel this, that, though if any brother wished to do so, he was free, after the church had delivered its judgment and cleared them, to bring out the errors of the tracts — Himself and the Ten must retire first.
*Every one acquainted with the facts knows this to be as contrary to and contrasted with those facts, as it is possible for any statement to be.
[It seems to me, that while those who wished to open the tracts were quite right to say so; that they were "out of order" because their desire would have infringed the object of the meeting. While willingly at it, they were inconsistent in forgetting its object. I add, also, that they were mistaken altogether, I judge, in their motives, because Mr. Alexander's letter did inform the body; and, before God, and the church, and the world, the body acted, in giving its judgment, with the knowledge that the doctrine involved was doctrine which touched the person and work of Christ. I add, also, that I think they were out of order and inconsistent in another way, because the theory of Bethesda is, that the pillars are the conscience-keepers of the body. Now, clearly in the midst of an action of a body, and that a difficult action too (for, if it could not say Amen to the paper of the pillars, it ceased to be the same body), was not the right time to throw in so entirely another question as, "Is the principle of this body Scriptural?" The question then pending was really a very important one to Bethesda: Shall we continue our existence or destroy it? I hardly think the objectors can have seen this, or that that which they urged contained in it that which, though the mass would not have seen it, would have been a motive for self-destruction of the body.]
Mr. Craik stated the manner in which the church was to give its judgment; viz., by those first standing up who considered the reasons to be satisfactory, afterwards those of a contrary judgment. Those who chose to express no judgment, could keep their seats.
A pause for consideration was then allowed.
This was broken by the suggestion, whether the reasons themselves might not be open to discussion first?
Mr. Craik assented to any brother stating his objections to the reasons assigned for declining to investigate the tracts.
[This seems to me to have been really kind, and gratuitously so on Bethesda's part. I know not who proposed it. It was based, I judge, however, upon an entire error, as was the part taken, I judge, by the various ones who, toward the close of it, left the assembly.
The error I refer to is, the assumption that the paper of the Ten contains only the reasons against the examination of the tracts, and not also the outline of an ecclesiastical polity which is such as that (if the reasons had been seriatim condemned, and, moreover, the tracts in question then brought forward and analysed, and the contents condemned) the whole evil condemned could have been let in still. Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik, or the Ten, therefore, appear to me to have been consistent with themselves, while the others seem to me to have been dragged, by a desire to cleave to God, over the breakwater which they themselves had been sanctioning.
They thought and spoke as if they were in that which was to them the church, and it was only little by little that they perceived that the question was not about keeping evil outside, but of getting themselves out from evil which was inside.] At the close of the discussion which ensued, many left, and the question was put.
A very large majority stood up to signify their concurrence, some retained their seats, — Mr. Code: among the number. He rose and protested against the whole proceedings; stating, that he considered the Spirit of God had not guided them in reference to that paper; and that their mode of voting seemed to Him wrong.
[This seems to me to have been the proper course for any one who went to that meeting.]
Mr. H. Woodfall is said then to have defended and eulogised Mr. N., and said that he had brought out much deep truth as to the living sufferings of Christ Jesus, etc., Mr. Code said, "that ought to be stopped;" but he was allowed to go on. This looked so like partiality, that one left, and many were grieved. Mr. Müller afterwards said, he could not agree with all that Mr. H. W. had said; and, besides, "Mr. N. has confessed himself in error."
A copy of the paper of the Ten was sent to Mr. A., who, July 6, in writing to Mr. Withy, thus notices it: —
"I would take this opportunity of noticing a letter sent to me last evening by G. Müller, which is signed by you and nine other brethren; and I should feel obliged to you to state, before these brethren when together, and to any absent from such meeting (if I may ask for so much), that I received their letter, and desired in all love to make one or two remarks upon it. How you, dear brother, and Aitcheson, Hale and G. Müller (who has not gone through the proceedings from the first) and others, could have signed this document, and approved of each part of it, I cannot conceive. Can you really and fairly state, as before God, that you and others are happy in being able to state, that, EVER SINCE the matter was agitated, you HAVE MAINTAINED that persons coming from thence (Plymouth), if suspected of any error, would be liable to be examined on the point?" Did you state this when Mr. H. W. came? Did not brother Craik say more than once, at the meeting, when R. Chapman was present, that he had no wish or desire to ask Mr. W. any question? Would not you and brother Aitcheson (whose name more especially astounds me) rather have stated, dear brother, that, as you apprehended no error in the tracts or doctrine, you saw no necessity for any such examination? I leave this with your own conscience and that of others. I really grieve to read this paragraph and other parts of this letter. Just below the above part, for instance, the mention of Mr. W.'s coming to the labourers' meeting, I feel to be very uncandidly stated; indeed, the way in which it is stated seems to me to be totally incorrect. The objection to Mr. W.'s presence was, that, having been at Plymouth and a partisan, he could not possibly be a fair party in the discussion. This was the objection made by all — the stress was laid on this, and not on his coming to answer questions. The objection was made by brother Butler, decidedly; most strongly by H. Naish; afterwards, by J. S. It was on this ground only I objected to his presence. Surely it was forgotten that one or two of these ten (I think Feltham and some others) objected to Mr. W.'s breaking bread at all till matters were investigated; yet this paragraph charges all on me, and I feel in a very incorrect and uncandid manner.
The opening declaration of this letter I cannot look upon as a straightforward statement. We have no information whatever of our brother's intention to do as he has done. I had stated in two strong letters, and in two or three meetings, but especially at the last, that I should not be able to continue while these matters were suffered to be unjudged and uninvestigated, or left as brethren were disposed to do; and if I chose, after deliberation, and with the counsel of some whose judgment coincided on that point with my own, to deliver my own soul and conscience in that mode (of a letter addressed to those of intelligence), which I deemed less objectionable than addressing all who meet together, or those who would have come — surely, it can hardly be candidly stated that there was no intimation whatever.
I write thus much, dear brother; I grieve most over the special pleading and weak reasons why doctrine should not have been judged, as dishonouring our Lord, and which will be found so evil amongst the people here. I had proof yesterday of its circulation; that is, I heard of it by an eye-witness. I desire to love and pray for all the brethren, but in these proceedings — this letter of the ten, and these last Church meetings (so-called) — I cannot have any fellowship or sympathy, and cannot but surely foresee the result of all.
Believe me, very truly and faithfully,
Yours in Christ Jesus,
To Mr. Withy, and for the Nine brethren who have signed the letter alluded to.
In Mr. Withy's reply no notice was taken of the above remarks.
I add, lastly -
That Mrs. Brown, Mr. Aitcheson, the Messrs. Woodfall, and many others, have since left Bethesda. Brethren may judge upon what grounds they have left by the Messrs. Woodfall's paper.
Statement of G. and H. W., at the Church Meeting at Bethesda, on Monday, the 12th February, 1849.
We feel, dear brethren and sisters in the Lord, that the time has at length arrived, when we are called upon to withdraw from communion at Bethesda; and we think we can do it with a clear conscience towards God — for the sake of peace, and for the purpose of preventing bitterness, arising from the endless system of agitation kept up in the meeting from persons within yourselves as well as outside.
This step of ours has been FINALLY determined on from a conversation with one of your pastors, who seems to think this would relieve them from some of their difficulties.
In taking this step we do not at all waive our claim, as brethren in Christ, to a seat at the Lord's Table here.
We will now shortly state our reasons for this solemn step: —
1st. — Although we are not connected with any peculiar views or tracts of Mr. Newton, yet we consider him fundamentally sound, and therefore we cannot conscientiously unchristianise him, or deny him the right-hand of fellowship. Neither, as regards the Christians at Compton-street, dare we refuse to hold fellowship with them so long as we consider them entirely free from fundamental error; as sound in the faith; as walking in the truth; and as those whom Christ has received.
Here let us ask, if you would not think it unrighteous if one of your body should refuse to have any intercourse or fellowship with you, because the gatherings at Bath or London had, without sufficient reason, cast you out as unfit for communion, or as objects of suspicion?
2ndy. — We consider the regulations that have been, and will be virtually acted out, do effectually hinder the Christians at Compton-street from even applying for fellowship at Bethesda, as many of them will not subject themselves to a test they consider to be unscriptural; and we must solemnly protest against making Mr. Newton's tracts in any way a test of communion.
3rdly. — We understand that such is the present state of feeling among some at Bethesda, that our remaining any longer in communion would not conduce to peace, and, therefore, for the sake of the peace of the church, and for the purpose of maintaining real Christian love, and preventing any further heart-burnings, and being also desirous to respect the conscientious convictions of others (although deeming them mistaken), and feeling that we cannot renounce our liberty, as Christian men, to meet with, and fully recognise those we believe to be sound in the faith: —
THEREFORE, do we think it right, under present circumstances, to withdraw from the Meeting at Bethesda, and in so doing, we desire to maintain the exercise of love and affection to those who may differ from us in judgment, and not to withdraw from showing them all the courtesies and intercourse of social life.
IN CONCLUSION, we may state, that we would not willingly have withdrawn from communion, as we think all these divisions are most unhappy, and dishonouring to the Lord; that we have, in a certain sense, been forced out by the prejudices of those whose consciences, as we judge, have not been regulated by, or been in subjection to, the Written Word; and we would solemnly and affectionately warn such to consider their ways in this matter, whether they have been in accordance with that charity which "thinketh no evil."
(Signed in MS.) HENRY WOODFALL. GEORGE WOODFALL.
6th May, 1849.
To sum up the matter: — Ten men come before a body, and read from a paper reasons why they will not do what they will not do, and why they will do what they will do, with a distinct avowal that nothing can be done until the body identifies itself with their step. The body did so. What was this step? Simply this: when persons credibly charged with being accomplices in untruthfulness and dishonest shuffling and foundation-heresy had come to them, "they received them, and refused to investigate the charges." The so doing, it was obvious, would be an act of heresy and schism; i.e., it would cut themselves off from brethren through the country, and would cast out many from among their own selves. The nature of the reasons alleged, etc., is my sad subject; a document full of dishonest shuffling, which consists of the aggregate, perhaps, of the respective reasons peculiar to some of ten persons, with the joint names, as bearing the common responsibility, at the end, and contains an ecclesiastical polity which would admit all spiritual wickedness.
And now I ask: "What would restore confidence to them?" Examination of the case — humiliation — self-judgment — and confession before God of the evil, would soon win back every godly heart to them; but nothing else.
To those that see what has been done, no testimonial from any can be substituted for this: with it, none perhaps would be needed.
As to testimonials, what is their real nature, if issued from inside of, or from any who are in association with, a body in such a state? They would rather increase the want of confidence, than do otherwise. Surely, to the commonest capacity, it will be clear that the least association or fellowship with Bethesda would neutralise the value of any signature in its behalf.
And now, reader: —
Though I have felt called upon to trace out certain evils in connection with Bethesda, which make entire separation from it, and every one who maintains fellowship with it, as imperative as from Compton Street (whose great aider and helper it still practically is), I cannot doubt but that before GOD the important thing is, THE JUDGMENT HE GAVE LAST MAY IN BATH as to the Plymouth evil. The spiritually wise and the simple-hearted will own and shelter behind that: they that do not may learn wisdom and simplicity in an experience of details, in which the will is broken amid difficulties around. This judgment Bethesda despised and rejected. As to myself, -
I have to exercise myself before God, to have a conscience void of offence both toward God and man. I must give account as an individual to God. John Darby and others bade me to be still: I cannot, and still retain a clear conscience.
Certain things I have seen as evil, and HAVE separated from them. I deem it due to myself and to my brethren to state what those things are which I have left. If my reader cares for his own soul, or the glory of God and his Christ — the church or the Holy Ghost — let him take care how he neglects thoroughly to investigate before he identifies himself with such things. If he has a conscience he is bound to God to clear up this matter, and silence my word ere he commits himself to such things. He can stand apart from them until he has light, without sin. And unfeignedly glad shall I be to help him to discover wherein I have been misinformed; yea, unfeignedly glad to be proved, from first to last, to have been under error. But the conscience and morality of the church of God, as such, have to be considered; and God's honour, as connected with his household, has to be cared for too. I would desire divine fulness of decision for us all in four things: zeal for Christ; separation from evil; readiness of humiliation; mutual consideration, as dear to the Lord.
I avail myself of this opportunity of just saying, as to "Shibboleth," and "The Retrospect," and "The Admonition," that, being anonymous, I do not think myself called upon to answer them. Self-vindication is not part of my calling as a Christian. Alas, however, for those the desires of whose hearts the garbled and false statements of these books have met. If anxious to believe a thing, Satan readily will give reasons and grounds plausible enough for so doing. I am sorry for Bethesda to hear they are approved there.
"To take pleasure in iniquity" is iniquity — the sure sign of the presence and power of the Evil One. To the man of God, testimony against evil, if needful, will always be humbling; for he testifies against that which he knows and feels is but natural to, and characteristic of, his own heart and circumstances as a fallen man. Other springs, doubtless, will yield their tribute, too, to his soul; for his testimony flows upon the ground, through unmerited grace, of service to God and His Christ, by the Spirit. Of all the solemn, painful, and heartrending responsibilities, that which is most so, perhaps, is the duty of raising the voice for God and the Lord, while proclaiming in the presence of men of this world the failure of brethren beloved; and worst of all, when the conviction is — that a delusion of Satan has been allowed to lead them captive. Yet, silence at such a time would be wrong, because inconsistent with self-preservation, the welfare of God's people, and the vindication of the holiness of His name, and the truthfulness of His testimony before man. "Let God be true, but every man a liar." Surely, if Satan is in the field, misleading any of the flock of Christ, one may say — "Cursed is the man that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully."
As for the world, its pleasure, as in idle talk over the failure of God's children and of professors, is the sure token as to it that its damnation slumbereth not. "Idle words" it shall give account for to God in the day of judgment. Does that which dishonours God and Christ, grieves the Spirit, pains the brotherhood, and stumbles the world, delight the heart of Satan? The worldling, too, can find pleasure therein. Woe to them whose pleasure is as that of the devils. But the church of God, and, when it fails, the man of God, is nevertheless bound to vindicate the holy name of the God of mercy, and to renounce every work of "the world, the flesh, and the devil," as not fruits of faith or the Spirit, and as inconsistent with the mercy as with the holiness of God.
No veil covers us. Myself I avow, I desire to bear the shame of my own and my brethren's nakedness, and that all our sins may go before to judgment. Better to have the testimony of the Spirit and of one's own conscience, and the sneer of the world, than to lose these and retain the approbation, or even the continued communion of brethren. To continue in fellowship with any gathering which persisted against testimony, in still lying under such an evil, ought to be felt to be morally impossible where there is faith. The nature of the evil, too, must painfully affect the character of intercourse with those who are individually accomplices. Better for all, however, to be forced to confession, than subjected still to the leavening plague of such an evil.
One word as to church position. — What is that, if it is not a position in the light, where all is made manifest, and nothing can be hid. Impossible the thought, that where the Holy Ghost is, there, unconfessed sin should be covered over; or that where life in Christ is, it should not detect and confess every evil inroad of Satan. Let the confession be in the same circle as was the sin, and the knowledge and fruits of it. God loves the members of Christ's body too well to cover up sin without judging it. What is the church on earth, if thought of as a place exempt either from the moral government of God, or from the holiness, truthfulness and purity, which become the habitation of God?