Extract From Correspondence.

1869 239 Revised by the writer.

There may be, and no doubt is, practical failure in this as in other matters; but I do not think that, as a principle, or as a rule practically, the so-called "exclusive" Brethren refuse the table to any Christian who may be walking consistently, merely because he may be connected with one or other of the various systems around. Such a course would be to abandon the true breadth of the church of God, and to make ourselves in very deed a sect. It is of the utmost importance that the absolute freedom of every believer, as a member of the body of Christ, to the Lord's table, and to all the privileges and responsibilities connected therewith, should be jealously maintained and acted upon. What they do (and so long as this fundamental principle is secured from violation, what I trust they ever will do) is to guard against any such supposing that the ground we are upon is the same as that which others occupy; and that accordingly we ought to go in and out amongst the denominations, or at least, by expressly stipulating to let those do so who wish to break bread with us, admit that they are as right as we. Now it is just here that the shoe pinches them (to use a common but forcible figure); and, believe me, it is just here that it ought to pinch, because it is the truth of God that is involved.

It is not that we are better than they, or more faithful to the light we have received; no, but it is a question of perceiving the mind of God, as to the unity of the body of Christ on the one hand, and what is contrary to it — what in reality sectarianism is — on the other hand, and of simply holding to His will at all cost.

You will often find (and from what little you say of your friend it may be so with him) that other Christians of the more spiritual sort would like to be identified with "the Brethren" (so-called), provided we could receive them on the ground of their being at liberty, as with our sanction and approval, and as if it were scriptural, to continue in fellowship with their respective systems. It is a device of the adversary, plied with great energy, and made to press heavily upon us on all hands of late, to swamp the true character and testimony of the church of God.

We do not attempt to re-establish the church in its outward unity as at the beginning, much less do we profess to be it — that would be arrogant indeed; but we do not and cannot admit that the ground we are upon (viz., the unity of the Spirit), finds its expression in the saints' deliberately, and of choice, identifying themselves one Lord's day with one system which denies that unity in one way, and with another the next Sunday which denies it in another, and then on the third identifying us with their loose position and ways.

If a Christian, sound in doctrine, and blameless in morals and in his associations, wish to break bread with us (upon adequate testimony of those who know him to be such), none could refuse or make bargains one way or the other with him; nor could any put him away for continuing to identify himself with the orthodox systems; but that is no reason why we should not remonstrate with him, and try to teach him better. But, alas! this is just what our alleged and obnoxious exclusiveness consists in, and what those who like "liberty" in these things, better than they understand the interests of Christ that are involved, will not tolerate. Looked closely into, I am persuaded that, without being conscious of it, a large number of Christians are too much occupied with the interests and rights of the saints with respect to this matter of fellowship. I mean too much in comparison with the interests and the rights, etc., of Christ. Both are true, but each must have its due place, Christ and His claims first; and if these be entertained, the others will inevitably follow. What now characterizes the bulk of the more spiritual and active Christians is that a preponderance of their interests is on behalf of sinners on the one hand, and on behalf of the saints on the other hand: that is to say, both evangelically and also ecclesiastically their labours begin from the human side and not from the divine. The interests of God and of His Christ are a good deal, to say the least, overlooked.

You say that your friend admits it would be inconsistent to receive "constantly" at the table one who continued to go to and fro; but are there in scripture two kinds of receiving, one less important, and less definite, and less responsible than the other? Either a person is on the ground of the church of God or he is not. If he is not, he ought to be seriously instructed, and if possible made to understand before he practically takes that ground with us, that he makes himself a trangressor in having done so if he abandon it. But whether he understand it or no, you have no right to refuse him his place, if he be not otherwise disqualified. If however he be eligible to break bread once, it could only rightly be upon ground that would make him always so; and if his not having renounced denominationalism was no obstacle at first, it could not be such at any time. He not only has title to the Lord's table as being a member of Christ, but has actually taken his place there, and, unless he should disqualify himself otherwise, is free of all its privileges and responsibilities.

It is said, Oh, but after all, the unity of the Spirit has long since been broken, and we must in all love hold one thing in the way of church fellowship to be pretty much, if not altogether, as good and as right as another: therefore who is to arrogate to themselves such exclusiveness as prevails in certain quarters? To this my reply is very simple. I deny altogether that the unity of the Spirit is broken or can be. It is an absolute and unalterable fact that the saints of this dispensation are baptized by one Spirit into one body. In Ephesians iv. the saints are exhorted to keep this unity, not from disrupture, but "in the bond of peace." They were to exhibit not outward only, but in condition of soul that unity, but it existed to be so kept, and it exists still, though we have grievously failed to hold it and to exhibit it in the bond of peace.

Now if these loose brethren, where and whoever they may be, deny that there exists this unity for the saints to keep, we do not wonder that to them one thing is pretty much as good as another. As to unity, they have themselves nothing that is divine to contend for, and do not see the use of contending, and would have us to give up the truth we have learned, and for peace' sake to resolve ourselves into a mere sect, like the denominations, and go on comfortably as they do. But no! it was the true mother of the child who exclaimed with horror at the decree of Solomon to divide it. The other had nothing to lose by it and could afford to consent; but it only betrayed the true state of the case — she had nothing to lose. The true one had a living mother's interest in a living child, whose life was most precious to her: she could not and would not consent to such a compromise. So is it with the so-called exclusives. They have — I would rather say the Lord has — something to lose by a compromise, and they cannot consent to it. Let us hold fast. We shall never really help our brethren by lowering our ground, or relaxing our hold on the truth of God as to the character and testimony of the church. Let us receive as many as will come, telling them faithfully that in coming they take ground which, whether they apprehend it or not, utterly condemns all denominationalism; but if they come, let them come. "Let them return unto thee, but return not thou unto them." (Jer. xv. 19.) If this seem to be taking very high ground, be it so: we dare not contend for lower. The best way to prevent their going back to what they have left is to give them what is better. The ministration of Christ to each other in the power of the Holy Ghost cannot fail to bind together those that are His.

In these remarks I have passed over the question of evil doctrine, which God suffered to trouble us some years ago. It was needful in order to arouse us to the question of fellowship; and it tested the ground we were upon, and it was found that with some, to meet "as Christians" simply had lost its true and scriptural import, and had come to signify that, if a person was a Christian, we had no responsibility to ask any other question. He might hold all sorts of evil doctrine, or be suspected of it, and yet because he was a Christian, he had his right to a place at the table of the Lord. Others seeing the evil of that principle did not see that deliberate identification in the breaking of bread with a gathering in which evil doctrine about the person of the Lord was known to be held and taught, made the individual guilty, although he did not himself imbibe it. They overlooked 2 John 10, or denied its application. They hold and have taught that the fornicator was to be put out of the church at Corinth, not because his presence defiled the assembly, but lest he should corrupt others!! Alas, what an overlooking of the character of the assembly as the place of the presence of Christ. Read Numbers 19.

Jude directs us to have compassion of some, making a difference; this has always been enforced and acted upon, so far as I know. But when we find saints ignorantly linked with those who leave the door so wide open to evil, we do, and I trust ever shall, try to make them see and understand their danger, and the dishonour that is done to the Lord Jesus. I have lately been informed that some of these brethren, unable longer to resist the effect of the truth as to the unity of the Spirit upon many of the simple-hearted, are now advocating it themselves, but in such a way as to make it sanction and uphold what is really the utter denial of it. That is to say, just as, according to their reasoning, the name and profession of Christ ought to bind together individual saints in fellowship, without reference to their guilty association with evil; so the unity of the Spirit should be enforced as linking together the various denominations as such. Scripture speaks of many members, yet but one body; it does not say many bodies, yet but one body. O.