Short Papers on Church History — Chapter 56


In looking over the general course of the churches we find in Ephesus, declension; in Smyrna, persecution; in Pergamos, worldliness, in Thyatira, corruption, in Sardis, deadness; in Philadelphia we find the blessed Lord comforting a faithful remnant without characterizing their works, though well He knew them. He speaks not here, as in His address to the church in Sardis, of His authority in government, or of the plenitude of the Spirit in blessing, but of Himself in His moral glory. "These things saith He that is holy, He that is true." This is the grand feature of this epistle - personal communion with the Lord Himself, as the Holy One and the True. He thus reveals Himself to the feeble few who are witnessing for Him. He speaks not of what He has, but of what He is. Although they had but "a little strength," they were in close connection, in intimate communion with Himself.

Seeing the outward ruin of the church all around, and feeling that it is now a hopeless thing to expect its restoration to the principles of the word of God, they cleave to Him alone who changes not. Thankful, indeed, for the fellowship of saints who are walking in the truth, but all dogmas, theories, and mere prudential arrangements, are cold and heartless things to a true Philadelphian. Christ in the word, Christ in the glory - a written Christ and a living Christ - is alone appreciated by him. But would not this narrow his mind and his service? some may inquire. Just the opposite; we believe that it would separate him from the world and the world's religion. The great apostle of the Gentiles writes his life and service in one word - Christ. "For me to live is Christ." To have Christ as our object, our motive, and power, would be to extend our sphere of service by prayer and testimony to the wide circle of the Holy Spirit's action. John also, in his first epistle, when speaking to the "little children" in the family of God, says, "But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." And again, "We are in Him that is True, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols." If the Christian has not Christ before him as his all-governing object, he has an idol. Christ, in His moral glory, is the true object for our affections, and the only standard for service, fellowship, and discipline. Christ is "He that is holy, He that is true."

It is natural to many of us to shrink from the painful work of discipline, and to allow things to pass easily if we are not personally offended, or the respectability of the community not touched. But this is falling short of our standard. The question is not, as to church fellowship, what suits us, but what suits Christ. Is it holy? is it true? Holiness and truth should be the two great pillars of the church's practical ways. The question must always be - Will this suit Christ, according to the character in which He presents Himself? Christ is "He that is holy, He that is true."

There can be no doubt that the condition of the church in Philadelphia was entirely different from that of Sardis. The one was negative, the other positive. "I know thy works," says Christ speaking to Sardis, "that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain: . . . for I have not found thy works perfect before God." There was a fair outward appearance, but nothing was perfect, or complete. Their works fell short of the divine word; nothing was in full accordance with scripture. That which characterized the church in Philadelphia was keeping the word of Christ's patience, and not denying His name. And this is what characterizes a true Philadelphian, wherever he is found, from that day even until now. It is not a question of power, or of anything outwardly great, but of close, intimate, personal communion with Christ Himself, through the written word by the power of the Holy Spirit. All around may be going wrong, or going on with rites and ceremonies and worldly show. He walks with Christ through it all, and like the few names in Sardis, his garments are not defiled.

We further see here the grace of the Lord Jesus meeting the faithfulness of the Philadelphians with many privileges and blessings. "These things says he that .... has the key of David; he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens. I know thy works: behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name." Christ not only reveals Himself in His Personal glory to these faithful ones, but also in His divine power and authority, because of their "little strength." He has the key of David, according to the ancient prophecy - "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." (Isa. 22:22) Thus all the treasures of knowledge, all the riches of grace, all the power of the Spirit, all the resources of the royal house of David, are under His hand and at His disposal.

Should the preaching of the gospel be forbidden in any place, except according to canonical law, the preacher has only to wait on the Lord in the faith of a true Philadelphian. The key, he knows, is in the Master's hand. He must not seek to force the door open, the Lord's time may not be come. Paul was forbidden to speak in Asia at one time, but the door was afterwards opened to him, and he laboured there for years. It is said of the blessed Lord Himself, in John 10, "To him the porter opens," and the scribes and Pharisees could not hinder the lost sheep of the house of Israel from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. The waiting one is in the sympathy of Jesus, and can count on His promise, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it."

Three things are here said of the Philadelphians, which are particularly to be noticed. "Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name." Their condition was not marked by any outward display of power; they were of little note in the sight of the world. There was no assumption of strength. They had not the "sign-gifts" of Corinth, which were a testimony to the unbelieving world, and we gather from the Lord's words that they were despised by Sardis - "Behold, I will make them to come and worship before Thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." Weakness characterized them, but they were without reproach from the Lord. And this very weakness, when mixed with faith, is strength. "When I am weak, then am I strong." If outwardly weak, they were inwardly strong. The needed grace and inward power of life, which flows from the exalted Head in glory, for the nourishment of His members on earth, can never fail. And mark the emphasis on the word "My." It is personal association with Christ in the sweetest way. "And hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name." - "My word," and "My name." The written word is Christ's own word, and is our only security and authority at all times, and is the means of direct communion with Himself. The name of the Lord means the revelation of what He is. We know Him as the Saviour, on whom the soul rests for salvation, and as the centre around whom we gather as the assembly of God by the power of the presence of the Holy Ghost. "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20)

The Lord, in verse 10, evidently looks forward to a period of seductive power, from which He will deliver His own. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." "Evil men and seducers," says the apostle, "shall wax worse and worse." The promise is, not that He will keep them when they pass through the tribulation - like Noah through the waters - but from it, like Enoch, who had been translated to heaven before the flood came. We are to hold fast the word of His patience, which is the hope of His return, and when He comes, He meets us with a crown. "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." This is very different from His coming as represented to Sardis - as a thief in the night.

Then come the promises. "Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." Here the promises are all connected with the glory, the New Jerusalem, the home, the rest, the dwelling-place - not only of the true Philadelphian, but of every true believer in Christ Jesus. Still, there appears to be an answer in the glory to what we were here. Those who have taken the place of weakness in themselves, but of holy firmness against evil, shall be made pillars there. And because they denied not His name here, He will write His own new name upon them there.

The blessed thought of association with Christ Himself is still kept up. And being associated with Him who is the object of the Father's infinite delight, we have this place of blessed nearness to Him in the temple, where He is worshipped in the beauty of holiness. Then these precious "Mys," which indicate the wondrous place we have in the temple - "My name," "My word," "My patience," "My God," and "My new name." Oh! what wondrous, marvelous, inconceivable, indescribable blessedness! To be pillars in the temple of God, and to go no more out! To have the name of God, the name of the city of God - the new Jerusalem - and the new name of Christ as the exalted Man in the glory, written upon us! A few moments' meditation of this scene of unmingled, unending, blessedness arrests the activity of our thoughts. We can only praise, wonder, adore, and long to be there.

"Lord of the worlds above
How pleasant and how fair,
The dwellings of Thy love
The heavenly mansions are!
To Thine abode our hearts aspire,
With warm desire, to see our God."


It is not without a measure of reluctance that we turn away from a picture so beautiful to look on one so painful. Laodicea is a perfect contrast to Philadelphia. In the latter, the Lord is seen as waiting on His feeble but faithful ones with the key of David, to supply their need, and reveal Himself to them as the object of their affections. This is perfectly beautiful, and perfectly blessed. But the former are threatened with utter rejection because of their unfaithfulness. There was no heart for Christ Himself as the Holy One and the True. "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth."

The unfaithfulness of the church of the Laodiceans to its heavenly calling, and as a witness for Christ at the right hand of God, had become so open and unblushing that it could no longer be borne with. And this alas! is a true picture of the sad condition which the professing church will have reached when the judgment here pronounced shall be executed, "I will spue thee out of my mouth." The church still subsists in form, we know, and the judgment lingers, but it is certain. When this is accomplished, Christ will take His place as the "faithful and true witness," the "Amen," the Verifier of all God's promises, and in relationship with the new creation. What the church should have done as a witness for God on the earth, Christ here presents Himself as doing, and secures every promise when all else had failed. "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him, Amen, unto the glory of God by us."

The failure, as we have seen, commenced in Ephesus; "thou hast left thy first love;" and Laodicea, the last of the seven, presents what Christendom will be when fully ripe for judgment. But, like the Amorites, her iniquity is not yet full. Grace still lingers; warnings are still given; the door still stands open; and whosoever will may enter in through faith in Christ Jesus, and find a refuge from the approaching judgments. Before a seal is broken, or a trumpet blown, or a vial poured out, the true church will have been caught up to heaven and will be peacefully worshipping in the temple of God.

What we have said of the successional character of these churches from the commencement of our history, seems fully proved by the Lord's own declaration to Laodicea of unconditional rejection. Though the professing church has not yet reached that state of entire failure, it is fast hastening towards it. It certainly grows worse and worse every year. There is not only a very general return to ritualism, and a refined character of rationalism almost everywhere but an open, an unblushing infidelity, even in our seats of learning and among the instructors of the young. And if the fountain be so corrupt, what must the streams soon be! Holding fast Christ's word, and not denying Christ's name, and looking for His return, or the Philadelphian state, forms a small part of Christendom in the present day.

Indifference to the truth, and to the glory of the Person of Christ, is the sin of Laodicea - lukewarmness or latitudinarianism. It is not ignorance that produces such a state of things, but cold indifference. The church says, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." There was great pretension to spiritual riches in the church itself mark, "I am rich;" but this was the sure sign of their poverty, because spiritual riches can only be found in Christ. Hence the Lord adds, "And knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Such is Christ's estimate of the church which carries its head so high and boasts so loudly of riches within itself. It was without divine life, spiritual discernment, and destitute of the riches of Christ and the righteousness of God.

The application of the Laodicean state to the present time we think plain and easy. It is to be feared that there are many churches going on with no small show of spiritual riches, who care but little for the word and the name of the Lord Jesus. Where is the absolute authority of the word owned, and the name of Christ as the alone centre and power of the assembly? We speak not of individuals, but of churches so-called. And are there not many pulpits which go the length of calling in question the plenary inspiration of holy scripture? Where this is the case, there can be nothing for the hearers but human speculations, notwithstanding the great appearance of intelligence and of spiritual wealth that may be displayed. But we must leave the reader to make his own application of both Philadelphia and Laodicea in the present time; they go on with Thyatira and Sardis, until the Lord return. Let the children of God, however, watch against lukewarmness as to the state of things around them, and rather seek to imitate the example of Christ who still pleads with deceived souls; He does not give them up yet.

"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear and - anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." The church was not looking to the Lord for these things, but boasting of riches within herself, as if she had been the vessel of grace instead of Christ. "I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing." But the gracious Lord knew her need, and counselled her to buy of Him without money and without price.

Gold is the symbol of divine righteousness - the righteousness of God which every Christian is made in Christ, hence it characterizes the standing and foundation of the saints. "The white raiment" is practical righteousness, the works of the saints, or first-fruits of the Spirit; such as "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Where do we see such fruits of the Spirit in the professing church? At the present moment we cannot say that she holds a place above the world around her. Then there is the eye-salve; for they were in the blindness of nature as to the things of God, notwithstanding all their pretensions to spiritual light. It could not be said of the Laodiceans, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." Of whom could it be said in the present day? "Be zealous, therefore, and repent;" says the Lord. What grace, what patience, and what a needed word for today, and for all! His love lingers about the door; but alas! He is outside. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock!" Solemn position! Outside the door of His own house. But it is all individual here; the church is given up; still He perseveres. At length the knock is heard, the slumbering one awakes; the sheep know His voice; He gathers them out; the number of His people is accomplished; the body is complete, and caught up to His throne. And now, the end has come: the long threatened judgment is executed; the corrupt mass of Christendom is cast off for ever. Then follow the awful judgments of the earth, of apostate Christendom, and the day of Jacob's trouble; but the true church, the holy elect bride of Christ is with Himself in the Father's house of many mansions.

We hear no more of churches on the earth. All church history ends here. We have the first page of her wondrous history in Acts 2, and the last in Revelation 3. A door is opened in heaven: John is invited to come up hither, and see the things that follow the rapture of the saints. In chapter 1 he says, "And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks." In chapter 4, he is invited not to turn, but to ascend to heaven's open door, and see what was passing within. And we, too, may look in and see, in vision, the living ones, and the four and twenty elders crowned, enthroned, and worshipping. Thunderings, lightnings, and voices proceed from the rainbow throne, but the saints are in a state of perfect, blessed, and eternal repose. Chapter 4 celebrates the glory of God in creation; chapter 5, in redemption: the proper action of the book, strictly speaking, begins with chapter 6.

May the Lord enable both reader and writer to keep the word of His patience, not to deny His name, and to hold fast that which we have, that no man take our crown.

If the exposition we have given of the epistle to Philadelphia and to Laodicea be correct, we may expect to find in the nineteenth century an entirely fresh work of God's Spirit; and chiefly in recovering many truths which have been long overlooked by the professing church; probably since the days of the apostles. Philadelphia is the only church that is without reproach from the Lord; and He commends them for holding fast His word, for not denying His name, and for keeping the word of His patience, which means the constant expectation of His coming. These characteristics of an assembly we have not yet met with in the history of the church.

Almost immediately after the days of the apostles, human inventions were substituted for the word of Christ, and human arrangements for the authority of His name. And little, if anything, seems to have been said or written on the subject of the Lord's return for the church as His bride, down to the present century. Doubtless there may have been at different periods, some loving hearts that sighed and longed for His coming; but it was no part of the truth taught, either during the middle ages, or at the Reformation. The doctrines of the unity of the church of God, of the coming of the Lord as the proper hope of the church, and of the Holy Spirit's presence on earth, while Christ is seated at the right hand of God, were almost entirely overlooked by the Reformers.

Prophetic Truth

The study of prophetic truth was greatly revived in the early part of this century. In the year 1821 a short treatise, entitled "The Latter Rain," by the Rev. Lewis Way, made its appearance. The main object of the writer is to prove from scripture the restoration of Israel, and the consequent glory in the land. His poem entitled, "Palingenesia," or "The World to Come," appeared in 1824. Thoughts on the "Scriptural Expectations of the Church," by Basilicus, followed it in 1826. The author takes a wider range in this book than in the former, though the kingdom of Israel occupies a prominent place. In 1827 the Rev. Edward Irving endeavoured to arouse the professing church, but especially his brethren in the ministry, to a sense of their responsibility as to the truth of prophecy. He translated the work of Ben Ezra, a converted Jew, on "The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty," with a long preliminary discourse. This book was originally written in Spanish, and first published in Spain in the year 1812.

The circulation of these books, with some others that appeared about this time, and fresh articles constantly appearing in the magazines, awakened a deep interest in the prophetic scriptures, which became at that time an entirely new study, and led to the establishment of what were called "The Prophetic Meetings," in Great Britain and Ireland - they were held chiefly at Albury Park in England, and at Powerscourt in Ireland. Clergymen and private gentlemen attended those meetings for some time; but, in their reading, it does not appear that they saw much beyond the restoration of Israel, and the glory of the millennial kingdom. The relations of Christ to the church, as distinct from the destiny of Israel and the earth, were not then clearly seen.

Church Truth

Just about this time the Spirit of God was evidently working in many minds, and in different parts of the country, and awakening many of His children to the importance, not only of prophetic truth, but of what He has revealed in His word respecting the church as the body of Christ, formed and energized by the Holy Spirit. This was especially the case at that moment in Dublin. A few earnest christian men became deeply exercised in heart and conscience, as to the low condition of things in the several sections of professing Christendom, and as to the great contrast between the church of God, viewed in the light of His word, and that which man calls the church. These convictions resulted - though with deep searchings of heart, and many painful feelings - in a positive secession from the existing religious systems with which they had been severally connected.

This was a new thing in the history of the church. The best of the Reformers in all ages had no wish to leave the communion of the church of Rome, had she consented to the reform of abuses. Nearly all of them were excommunicated. Even the Puritans, and Wesley and Whitefield, were forced out of the establishment. But as many are still alive, of those who took this place of separation in the early part of this century, we shall do little more than state the origin of this community, and give a brief outline of its progress. We could not bring down the history of the church to the present time without giving it a place. But of that which has appeared in print, and been written by themselves, we may freely speak. Their writings, in tracts, books, and periodicals, are abundant and widely spread over the face of Christendom, so that they are well fitted to speak for themselves.

"The Brethren"

In the winter of 1827-8, four christian men who had for some time been exercised as to the condition of the entire professing church, agreed to come together on Lord's day mornings, for worship and communion in the breaking of bread, according to the word of the Lord; namely, Mr. Darby, Mr. [afterwards Dr.] Cronin, Mr. Bellett, and Mr. Hutchinson. Their first meeting was held in the house of Mr. Hutchinson, 9, Fitz-William Square, Dublin. They had for a considerable time been studying the scriptures - along with others who attended their reading meetings - and comparing what they found in the word of God with the existing state of things around them, they could find no expression of the nature and character of the church of God, either in the national establishment, or in the various dissenting bodies. This brought them into the place of separation from all these ecclesiastical systems, and led them to come together in the name of the Lord Jesus, owning the presence and sovereign action of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and thus endeavouring, according to their light, "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 4:3-4) The brethren continued to meet for some time in Fitz-William Square, and others were gradually added to their number.

The Brethren's First Pamphlet

Here we have something most definite and positive as to their principles and starting-point: something more to be relied upon than general report or personal recollections.

In the year 1828 Mr. Darby published his first pamphlet, entitled, "The Nature and Unity of the Church of Christ." We may consider this tract as a statement of what the young community believed and practised, though not in the form of a confession, and further, as presenting the divine ground on which they acted. It may also be considered to contain nearly all the elements of those distinctive truths which have been held and unfolded by Brethren from that day even until now. Not that the writer thought anything of this at the time; he was simply making known for the help of others what he had learnt from the word of God for himself. But who could question the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such a production? Surely He was leading His chosen instruments by a way which they knew not, that the blessing which followed might be seen to be of His own grace and truth.*

{*See a Reprint of the Original in the Collected Writings of J.N. Darby, Ecclesiastical, vol. 1, G. Morrish, 20, Paternoster Square, also in the Christian Witness, vol. 1. and as a separate tract published by W.H. Broom, 25, Paternoster Square.}

As this paper was the first public testimony of a movement which was so rapidly to produce such great and blessed results in liberating souls, we will here give for the convenience of the reader a few extracts, chiefly as to the unity of the church.

"We know that it was the purpose of God in Christ to gather together in one all things in heaven and on earth; reconciled unto Himself in Him; and that the church should be, though necessarily imperfect in His absence, yet by the energy of the Spirit the witness of this on earth, by gathering the children of God which were scattered abroad. Believers know that all who are born of the Spirit have substantial unity of mind, so as to know each other, and love each other as brethren. But this is not all, even if it were fulfilled in practice, which it is not; for they were so to be all one, as that the world might know that Jesus was sent of God. In this we must all confess our sad failure. I shall not attempt so much to propose measures here for the children of God as to establish healthful principles, for it is manifest to me that it must flow from the growing influence of the Spirit of God and His unseen teaching: but we may observe what are positive hindrances, and in what that union consists....

"In the first place, it is not a formal union of the outward professing bodies that is desirable, indeed it is surprising that reflecting Protestants should desire it: far from doing good, I conceive it would be impossible that such a body could be at all recognized as the church of God. It would be a counterpart to Romish unity; we should have the life of the church and the power of the word lost, and the unity of spiritual life utterly excluded. Whatever plans may be in the order of Providence, we can only act upon the principles of grace; and true unity is the unity of the Spirit, and it must be wrought by the operation of the Spirit.... If the view that we have taken of the state of the church be correct, we may adjudge that he is an enemy to the work of the Spirit of God who seeks the interests of any particular denomination; and that those who believe in 'the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ' ought carefully to keep from such a spirit; for it is drawing back the church to a state occasioned by ignorance and non-subjection to the word, and making a duty of its worst and most anti-christian results. This is a most subtle and prevailing mental disease, 'he follows not us;' even when men are really Christians....

"Christians are little aware how this prevails in their minds; how they seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ; and how it dries up the springs of grace and spiritual communion; how it precludes that order to which blessing is attached - the gathering together in the Lord's name. No meeting, which is not framed to embrace all the children of God in the full basis of the kingdom of the Son, can find the fulness of blessing, because it does not contemplate it - because its faith does not embrace it....

"Accordingly, the outward symbol and instrument of unity is the partaking of the Lord's supper, 'for we being many are . . . one body, for we are all partakers of that one breed.' And what does St. Paul declare to be the true intent and testimony of that rite? That whensoever 'we eat of that bread and drink of that cup, we do show the Lord's death till He come.' Here then are found the character and life of the church - that into which it is called - that in which the truth of its existence subsists, and in which alone is true unity....

"Am I desiring believers to correct the churches? I am beseeching them to correct themselves by living up, in some measure, to the hope of their calling. I beseech them to show their faith in the death of the Lord Jesus, and their boast in the glorious assurance which they have obtained by it, by conformity to it - to show their faith in His coming, and practically to look for it, by a life suitable to desires fixed upon it. Let them testify against the secularity and blindness of the church; but let them be consistent in their own conduct. 'Let their moderation be known unto all men.' While the spirit of the world prevails, spiritual union cannot subsist. Few believers are at all aware how the spirit which gradually opened the door to the dominion of apostasy, still sheds its wasting and baneful influence in the professing church.... I do believe that God is working, by means and in ways little thought of, in 'preparing the way, and making His paths straight' - doing by a mixture of providence and testimony the work of Elias. I am persuaded that He will put men to shame exactly in the things in which they have boasted. I am persuaded that He will stain the pride of human glory, 'and the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of man shall be brought low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.' . . .

"But there is a practical part for believers to act. They can lay their hands upon many things in themselves practically inconsistent with the power of that day - things which show that their hope is not in it - conformity to the world, which shows that the cross has not its proper glory in their eyes.... Further, unity is the glory of the church; but unity to secure and promote our own interests is not the unity of the church, but confederacy and denial of the nature and hope of the church. Unity, that is of the church, is the unity of the Spirit, and can only be in the things of the Spirit, and therefore can only be perfected in spiritual persons.... But what are the people of the Lord to do? Let them wait upon the Lord, and wait according to the teaching of His Spirit, and in conformity to the image, by the life of the Spirit, of His Son....

"But if any will say, If you see these things, what are you doing yourself? I can only deeply acknowledge the strange and infinite shortcomings, and sorrow and mourn over them; I acknowledge the weakness of my faith, but I earnestly seek for direction. And let me add, when so many who ought to guide go their own way, those who would have gladly followed are made slow and feeble, lest they should in any wise err from the straight path, and hinder their service, though their souls may be safe. But I would earnestly repeat what I said before: the unity of the church cannot possibly be found till the common object of those who are members of it, is the glory of the Lord, who is the Author and Finisher of its faith - a glory which is to be made known in its brightness at His appearing, when the fashion of this world shall pass away.... The Lord Himself says, 'That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou gayest Me I have given them, that they may be one, even as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me.' (John 17)

"Oh, that the church would weigh this word, and see if their present state does not preclude necessarily their shining in the glory of the Lord, or of fulfilling that purpose for which they were called. And I ask them, Do they at all look for or desire this? Or are they content to sit down and say that His promise is come utterly to an end for evermore? Surely if we cannot say, 'Arise, shine, for Thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee,' we should say, 'Awake, awake, put on Thy strength, arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, as in the generations of old.' . . . Will He give His glory to one division or another? Or where will He find a place for it to rest upon amongst us? . . .

"I have gone beyond my original intention in this paper. If I have in anything gone beyond the measure of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, I shall thankfully accept reproof, and pray God to make it forgotten."

The Brethren's First Public Room

The effect of these statements - so plain and scriptural - was immediate and great. They found an echo in many a heart. Earnest Christians, feeling and mourning over the low condition of the churches, welcomed the truth thus brought before them. Many left their respective denominations, and joined the new movement. The numbers so increased that in little more than a year, the house of Mr. Hutchinson was found to be unsuitable for their meetings. Mr. Parnell (afterwards Lord Congleton), who appears to have united with the Brethren in 1829, hired a large auction room in Aungier Street, for the use of the Brethren on the Lord's day. His idea was, that the Lord's table should be a public witness of their position. This was the Brethren's first public room. There they commenced breaking bread in the spring of 1830, and it may be taken as a sample of the rooms which Brethren have generally occupied in all parts of the country ever since. In order to make room for the Lord's day morning, three or four of the brothers were in the habit of moving the furniture aside on Saturday evening. Many, on their first visit, felt the place to be very strange, having been accustomed to all the propriety of churches and chapels. But the truths they heard were new in those days; such as, the efficacy of redemption, the knowledge of pardon and acceptance, the oneness of the body of Christ, the presence of the Holy Ghost in the assembly, and the Lord's second coming.

"There is some difficulty," says Mr. Marsden,* "in laying before the reader, in a simple form, the principles of this body. It puts forth no standards of faith, nor publishes any forms of worship or discipline. It professes to practise Christianity as Christianity was taught by our Lord and the apostles in the New Testament.... The Brethren equally object to the national church and to all forms of dissent. Of national churches, one and all of them, they say, 'that the opening of the door to receive into the most solemn acts of worship and christian fellowship the whole population of a country, is a latitudinarian error.' Dissenters, on the other hand, 'are sectarians, because they close the door on real Christians, who cannot utter the shibboleth of their party.' . . . The one system makes the church wider, the other narrower, than God's limits. Thus in either way, the proper scriptural idea of the church is practically destroyed - dissent virtually affirming that it is not one body, but many, while nationalism virtually denies that this one body is the body of Christ. That which constitutes a church is the presence of the Holy Ghost in the assembly. 'It is the owning of the Holy Ghost as the really present, sole, and sufficient sovereign in the church during our Lord's absence.' This is the leading feature in the testimony of Brethren."

{*See Dictionary of Christian Churches.}

Mr. Marsden further observes on the subject of ministry, quoting from their writings: "So far from supposing there is no such thing as ministry, Brethren hold, and have always held, from Ephesians 4:12-13, that Christ cannot fail to maintain and perpetuate a ministry so long as His body is here below. Their printed books and tracts, their teachings in private and in public affirm this as a certain settled truth; insomuch that it is as absurd to charge them with denying the permanent and divine place of ministry in the church on earth, as it would be to charge Charles I. with denying the divine right of kings. Wherever it has pleased God to raise up pastors after His own heart, they gladly, thankfully own His grace, and esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. "

In a paper lately written by Mr. Darby about the Brethren at the request of a French journalist, we have not only the facts, but the thoughts and feelings connected with their beginning. "We were only four men," he says, "who came together for the breaking of bread and prayer, on the authority of that word, 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matt. 18:20); and not, I hope, in a spirit of pride and presumption; but deeply humbled at the state of things around us, and praying for all Christians, and recognizing all those in whom the Spirit of God was found as true Christians, members of the body of Christ, wherever they were ecclesiastically. We thought of nothing else but satisfying the need of the soul according to the word of God; nor did we think of it going any farther. We proved the promised presence of the Lord; and others, feeling the same need, followed in the same path and the work spread in a way we never thought of in the least."

It is very apparent from this extract, that the Brethren had no thought of constructing a fresh system, or of reconstituting the church as God had constituted it at first - of restoring it to its Pentecostal glory. This was the snare into which Satan wiled that otherwise noble soul - Edward Irving. But the Brethren seemed to have had no plan, no system, no organization. They held the common faith of all orthodox Christians with regard to foundation truths; but, having received light from God's word as to what the calling, position, and hopes of the church are, they could no longer remain in what man and the world called "the church." These thoughts and searchings of heart issued, as we have seen, in the secession of many individuals from the various bodies of professing Christians, and in their coming together for worship and communion on the ground of the "one body," as formed and directed by the "One Spirit."

The Spread of the Truth

Mr. Darby, who seems from the first to have had a love for travelling, or rather for carrying the truth from place to place, soon after the formation of the meeting in Fitz-William Square, set out on his mission; and in a truly apostolic spirit he has steadily gone on for fifty years, and never more so than during the last ten or fifteen. Limerick was the first place he visited. He held reading meetings, to which some of the gentry and clergy came. Thomas Maunsell, who lived there, worked with him, and was the active labourer for a long time. Mr. Darby went on to Clare, which led to the Lord's work at Ennis, where Thomas Mahon went on with it. He then went over to Paris, saw some Christians there, and had readings in the same quiet way. On his return to England, he visited Cambridge and Oxford, and then went down to Plymouth at the request of Mr. Newton, where he met with Captain Hall, who was then preaching in the villages. Reading meetings were held, and ere long, a few began to break bread. This was about the year 1831.

The Origin of the Title - "Plymouth Brethren"

Their first public meeting-place in Plymouth was called "Providence Chapel," and, as they refused to give themselves any name, they were only known as "Providence people." But when the brothers began to go outside the town and preach the gospel in the villages - then a rare thing - they were spoken of as "Brethren from Plymouth," which naturally resulted in the designation, "The Plymouth Brethren." This new title rapidly spread over England and elsewhere. As the numbers increased, the little chapel was bought and enlarged considerably. The effect of the truth on the hearts and consciences of the Brethren was soon manifest. There was great freshness, simplicity, devotedness, and separation from the world. Such features of spirituality have always a great attraction for certain minds; and many, no doubt, who left their respective denominations and united with the Brethren had very undefined thoughts as to the nature of the step they were taking. But all was new: they flocked together, and gave themselves to the study of the word of God, and soon experienced the sweetness of christian communion, and found the Bible - as they said - to be a new book. It was, no doubt, in those days of virgin freshness a most distinct and blessed work of God's Spirit, the influence of which was felt not only throughout this Country, but on the continent, and in distant lands.

It was no uncommon thing at this time to find valuable jewelry in the collection boxes, which was soon turned into money, and given to the deacons for the poor. But the bloom of this new movement was soon to be blighted by the subtlety of Satan. Mr. Newton, though one of the earliest labourers in Plymouth, seems never to have entered into the truth of the position occupied by Brethren, but, almost from the first, to have pursued a course distinct from the others. The tendency of his teaching, though for a time most speciously disguised, was to undermine and neutralize those distinctive truths which the Lord was bringing out by the ministry of the Brethren, and to set up afresh, though in another form, all that had been renounced. His aim was clerical position and authority; and thus practically denying the first principles of the church of God, he fell into the snare of Satan. Several of the Brethren who had laboured much in Plymouth, not feeling happy with Mr. Newton's course, left to work elsewhere. Mr. Darby went abroad, Captain Hall to Hereford, Mr. Wigram to London; and Mr. Bellett, at this time, was ministering with great acceptance in Dublin.

False Doctrine Detected

Soon after the year 1845, when the numbers at Plymouth, Devonport, and Stonehouse had reached about a thousand souls, troubles arose which caused the first breach among the Brethren; but it was not until 1848 that what had been strongly suspected by some came to the light and brought matters to a crisis at Plymouth. It was discovered by Mr. Harris - through copious notes of Mr. Newton's lectures accidentally falling into his hands - that he had been diligently and systematically teaching, not only that which is ecclesiastically, but that which is fundamentally heretical as to Christ. When this became known, Brethren in all parts were deeply affected by the sad tidings, and numerous meetings were held in different parts of the country to investigate the charges. Nearly all were agreed, after much prayer and confession, that the doctrines which Mr. Newton had been teaching were not only false, but utterly subversive of all that is essential to Christianity.

But though they were thus agreed as to the character of the heresy, they were divided in their judgment as to the principle of separation from it. One part thought that the poison of the doctrines - which had been insidiously taught for some years - might have infected more than were yet manifested; and, therefore, they could have no fellowship with any who sympathized with the doctrines, or had fellowship with their author at the breaking of bread. Others thought these terms of communion were too strict, that each one applying for fellowship should be examined, and if it were found that they neither understood nor had imbibed the false doctrines, they should be received, even though they came from Mr. Newton's meeting; that every true Christian should be received on the ground of his individual soundness in the faith, no matter from what meeting he came. But many strongly objected to this way of dealing with so grave a matter. They maintained that the glory of Christ was in question, as well as the purity of His assembly, that, on this principle, the door was left open for the heresy to come in and that it was giving up the unity of the church of God, as the ground of action, and going back to independency.

The Division

On this point the Brethren divided. The one part maintained, that, on the principle of the one body, a person coming from a meeting where false doctrine was known to be held, is tainted, though personally sound; and that in receiving one member of the community all are received. This they sought to prove by the divine principle which the apostle applies to the assemblies at Corinth and Galatia: "Know ye not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" The other part adhering to the open ground which they had adopted, the breach widened, and reconciliation became hopeless.

Thus the Brethren have stood from that day until now. Their history is well known. Only one thing further need be noticed. From this time, the term, "The Brethren," as found in statistics, or controversial and other writings, applies almost exclusively to those who adhered to the original principles of Brethren. In the census of 1851, three years after the division, the writer concludes his article by stating that "The number of places of worship which the census officers in England and Wales returned as frequented by the Brethren was 132; but probably this number is below the truth, in consequence of the objection which they entertain to acknowledge any sectarian appellation." In a list of meetings which they publish annually for the convenience of Brethren who may be travelling, they give the addresses of 523 in England, 48 in Ireland, and 75 in Scotland. There are also a goodly number on the Continent of Europe, in Australia and New Zealand, in the West Indies, in Canada, and in the United States. And indeed almost everywhere, if we may believe the testimony of The Southern Review, which says:

"The Society, or order of christian men, usually styled, 'The Plymouth Brethren,' has already, and almost without observation, spread over the face of the civilized world. It seems, in fact, to have stolen a march on Christendom, and must now - whether for good or for evil - be acknowledged as a power in the present awful crisis in the world's history, or tremendous conflict between the powers of light and darkness. That it is felt to be such a power, is evident, from the fact of the controversy about Plymouth Brethren coming up all over the Protestant world, just now, and by the innumerable articles, pamphlets, and volumes, which this widespread controversy has called forth. We have placed, at the head of this article, only three references to the literature connected with this controversy, but, if we had so chosen, we might easily have embraced in our list the titles of more than a hundred volumes of the same literature."*

{*See The Southern Review for April, 1877, published under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopalian church. South Baltimore: Bledsoe, and Herrick. London, Trubner.}

The above article is written with great vigour, extends to seventy-nine pages, and discusses the question of "Plymouth Brethrenism" more fully than any of the "hundred volumes" referred to that have come under our notice. The writer, being a Methodist, of course does not agree with all their doctrines, but he admires their zeal in spreading the work, admits that he has profited by their writings, and heartily rebukes their unfair critics.

The Free Church of Scotland

This large and influential section of the Scottish church was organized into a religious denomination, distinct from the Establishment, in the year 1843. The conflict between the "Evangelicals" and the "Moderates," which at length terminated in this great division, was chiefly on the long vexed question of patronage.

From the days of Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine - whose secession from the Established church we have already noticed - the evangelical party had been opposed to the interference of patrons with the religious rights of congregations. But under the powerful ministry of Dr. Chalmers in Glasgow, and Dr. Thomson in Edinburgh, the tide of popular feeling was decidedly turned in favour of the anti-patronage movement. In the General Assembly of 1834, the evangelical party introduced the celebrated Veto Act, which was passed by a majority of forty-six. By this act, it was declared to be a fundamental law of the church, that no minister should be intruded on any congregation contrary to the will of the christian people; and the better to effect this, it enacted, that if a majority of male heads of families, being communicants, should object to any presentee, the presbytery, on that ground alone without inquiry into the reasons, should also reject him. The objectors, however, were required, if called upon, to declare solemnly before the presbytery that they were actuated by no malicious motives, but solely by a conscientious regard to their own spiritual interests, or those of the congregation. The legality, or rather the illegality of this act, which directly interfered with the civil rights of patrons, was soon put to the test.

In the course of a few months after the Veto Act had passed into ecclesiastical law, the Earl of Kinnoul presented Mr. Robert Young to the parish church of Auchterarder; but the presentee, not meeting with the approval of the congregation, was rejected, and the presbytery refused to ordain him. The earl, not willing to be deprived of his rights as a patron appealed to the civil tribunals; long law-suits followed, and the whole question was raised as to the terms of the connection between church and state.

The decision of the Court of Session not only went against the church party, but proceeded to enforce compliance with its decisions by pecuniary penalties, and awarding damages to the persons deprived of their churches, by the presbytery refusing to induct them. The protesters were now a large, popular, and influential body, they would admit of no compromise; they took the ground of martyrs, and maintained that they were contending for the "CROWN RIGHTS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE ALONE KING AND HEAD OF THE CHURCH." Public meetings were held in all parts of the country, and addressed by ministers in the most exciting style, until Scotland was in a state of religious agitation and ferment from one end to the other. Lay patronage was denounced, as contrary to the spirit, principles, and constitution of the Presbyterian church of Scotland and the Veto Act treated as of divine appointment. In place of submitting to the law as declared by the Court of Session the assembly of that year - 1842 - declared by a large majority, that lay patronage ought to be abolished, they also issued a "Claim of Rights" against the encroachments of the civil courts. A memorial to this effect was presented to the government, but with no favorable effect; and on the 9th of August, the House of Lords gave judgment against the majority of the presbytery of Auchterarder, finding them liable in damages to Mr. Young and the Earl of Kinnoul.

The Disruption

All hope of a pacific arrangement on the part of the government being now at an end, the momentous event, which many had for some time been dreading, seemed unavoidable. From the high and independent position which Dr. Chalmers and his followers had taken, they could not in honour draw back; therefore they nobly resolved to separate from the Established church. At the General Assembly which met in May, 1843, Dr. Welsh, the moderator, laid a protest on the table to this effect, and withdrew, followed by those who adhered to the protest, and proceeded in solemn silence to Tanfield Hall, Canonmills - a large building situated at the northern extremity of the city of Edinburgh. There they constituted themselves into the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, choosing Dr. Chalmers as their first moderator.

"On Tuesday, the 23rd of May, the ministers and professors, to the number of four hundred and seventy-four, solemnly subscribed the Deed of Demission, formally renouncing all claim to the benefices which they had held in connection with the establishment, declaring them to be vacant, and consenting to their being dealt with as such. Thus, by a regular legal instrument, the ministers completed their separation from the establishment, and the Free church of Scotland assumed the position of a distinct ecclesiastical denomination, holding the same doctrines, and observing the same forms of worship as had been received and observed in the National church."

Thus, in one day, these ordained ministers of the Scottish establishment gave up their manses, their churches, their benefices, and state support. Their wives and children had to leave their comfortable parsonages with their glebes and gardens. To many of these the new position wore a gloomy aspect, and they were ready to blame the leaders for having gone too far. But the zeal and sympathy of the people soon placed their ministers in finer buildings as churches than they had left, and abundantly met all their need. In a few years about eight hundred new churches were built by the liberality of the people, which must have cost nearly a million of money. Dr. Chalmers, foreseeing what must take place, had made arrangements some months before the disruption, for establishing associations throughout the country, with the view of collecting funds for the support of the ministry; and so successful was his plan that, before the day of trial came, six hundred and eighty-seven separate associations had been formed in all parts of the country, and at the close of the first year of the history of the Free Church, her income amounted to the munificent sum of three hundred and sixty thousand, seven hundred and nineteen pounds, fourteen shillings, and threepence.

Such was the sympathy felt with this movement in Scotland, that all contributed liberally to the various funds connected with the Free church. And even to this day, after the lapse of more than thirty years, the source of her supply, we are told, shows not the slightest symptoms of exhaustion.*

{*For full particulars as to this opulent church, see Appendix to the Scots' Worthies, Blackie, Glasgow; also Faiths of the World.}

The Awakening in 1859

The great awakening in 1859, which filled so many lands with the blessed fruits of salvation, being still fresh in many minds, we need do little more than notice its humble beginnings. It has been a point of special interest to us all through our history to know the beginning of things. When the Spirit of God works, and means to accomplish something great, either in individuals or in nations, He usually commences without observation: man sounds a trumpet before him.

The Origin of Noon-Day Prayer-Meetings

In September, 1857, a city missionary in New York, observing that masons and other workmen had some time for rest during their dinner hour, proposed to speak to them about the things of the Lord. The men being agreeable, they gathered around the missionary for about fifteen or twenty minutes. The interest increased, and as the winter drew near, the missionary applied for the loan of a schoolroom, connected with a chapel in Fulton Street, where the men were working. This being granted, the men assembled for their brief service. But the Lord had a great work to do there. Others were attracted to the little noon-day meeting; the unction of the Holy Spirit was felt; divine blessing was manifested, and it soon became a large meeting. Similar meetings sprang up in different places, and were commended and sanctioned by the presence of ministers, men of business, the gentry, and all classes. In a short time, noon-day prayer meetings spread over the United States, a great Revival followed, and thousands of precious souls were said to be converted.

The North of Ireland

In the same month of the same year, as if by concert, four young men, near Connor, county Antrim, were led by the same blessed Spirit to commence what was termed "The Believers' Fellowship Meeting." One main object of these young men, in connection with this meeting, was to pray to God that He would bless their labours, as Sunday-school teachers, and that He would revive by His Holy Spirit the churches around them, which they felt to be in a dull dead condition. This humble beginning, like the one on the other side of the Atlantic, was greatly blessed of God; numbers rapidly increased. The power of prayer was soon felt throughout the whole neighborhood. Souls were converted in the prayer-meeting, the Spirit of God was working mightily, and the spirit of prayer so prevailed, that in the following year - 1858 - prayer-meetings were almost innumerable. There were known to be in one district, about sixteen meetings for prayer every night in the week. These facts we learnt from living witnesses on the spot at the time.*

{*For particulars of the awakening, and the work of God in Ireland, see vols. 2 and 3 of Things New and Old.}

Thus were the foundations of the great Revival in the north of Ireland strengthening and deepening for about eighteen months before it burst forth to public view, and rose to such a glorious height in 1859. Conversion at that time was frequently accompanied with utter physical prostration for several hours. A similarly unpretending agency was employed in beginning the work of Revival in Greenock, Glasgow, and other parts of Scotland.

The Week of Prayer

Just about this time, a request was sent out by some missionaries in Lodiana, calling upon all Christendom to set apart the second week in January, 1860, as a week of prayer. The call was much talked of, and when the time came, it was most heartily responded to by all classes of Christians. It was a week of real, earnest prayer to God, that He would revive His own work, and bless the preaching of the gospel to the conversion of many, many, souls. This cry arose from every quarter of the globe, and was continued in many places far beyond the one week.

We can testify, as partakers of that marvellously gracious visitation of the Spirit, to the power of prayer which then prevailed, and to the abundant showers of blessing which fell on the church and on numberless precious souls. Meetings for prayer were held in the early morning, at noonday, and in the evening, so that all classes might be suited; and a spirit for gospel preaching, altogether unknown before, was then awakened. Preachers sprang up from the very lowest condition of society, as if by a miracle, and were possessed of such gifts as to attract thousands night after night. The grandees of the land, too, turned preachers of the gospel, and the poorest were privileged to hear the glad tidings from the lips of noble lords, and then to be shaken by the hand, and entreated in the most kindly loving way, to give their hearts to Jesus, and to be decided for Him. The great work of the gospel seemed to have passed entirely into the hands of laymen; but it was no time to find fault with that which was uncanonical. God was working, who is above the routine of traditional order; and thousands of souls were converted, from the poorest to the richest, with numbers of little children.

But this gracious visitation of the Spirit in special power was not of long continuance. In a few years man's bustling importance became more manifest than the Spirit's power. The meetings were kept up, and certain forms were introduced, to make them outwardly more orderly, but the vital power rapidly declined. It is one thing to accept the Spirit's order, and pray Him to work in His own way; it is quite another to set up our order, and then pray Him to work according to our arrangement. Still, the effects of the great Revival remain amongst us, even to this day. These, we think, may be summed up under three heads:
1, the great increase in the number of prayer meetings;
2, the growing activity in gospel work from that time, both in preaching and the circulation of tracts;
3, a more general interest in the Lord's second coming.
The midnight cry - "Behold the Bridegroom comes" - has spread over the face of Christendom since 1859. We have no doubt that the cry was raised in the early part of this century, but the Revival gave it eagles' wings.

Everything has been moving with great rapidity, both in the church and the world, since that period, as if to hasten the coming of the Lord. This has been the century of invention, and of the display of man's energy, as if he were approaching the highest pinnacle of human fame before his final overthrow. (Isaiah 2) There is also great activity in every section of the professing church. We are in that period spoken of by the Lord in the parable (Matt. 25) - "Then ALL those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps." None are asleep now. The foolish are professedly trimming their lamps as well as the wise. Hence the activity of evil in the church along with that which is unquestionably good. Ritualism, Rationalism, and open infidelity, have made rapid strides of late years, and all so mixed up with science and the world.


Such alas! is the condition of what man and the world call the church at the close of our history. "The falling away" has commenced; "the strong delusion" may have set in; the coming of the Lord draws nigh. The Christian, in these last and closing days, is only safe in keeping the Lord Himself constantly before him, and daily looking for His return. He must not trust or follow entirely any community of Christians; there are none of one heart and one mind in the Lord. But this need not prevent him from breaking bread with those who are gathered to His name. We only mean that his Christianity must be intensely personal, intensely individual. He must maintain a holy walk with the Lord, and uninterrupted communion with Himself, in separation from the swelling tide of evil which is rising on every side. When the darkness thickens, and troubles arise, the soul's only refuge is in the secret of His presence. Nations may be quarrelling, the cry of war may be coming from all quarters, calamities of the most overwhelming character may be happening daily in our midst, the professing church may be passing through the several stages of departure, as "the way of Cain, . . . the error of Balaam, . . . the gainsaying of Core;" but the soul's hiding-place from the strife of nations and the divisions of Christendom is the unchanging and unchangeable love of the ever-blessed and all-adorable Lord.

We must leave the reader to apply the principles of Philadelphia and Laodicea to the professing church of the present day, according to his spiritual judgment. The Philadelphian period has not passed away, but we must be on our guard against the spirit of Laodiceanism which is spreading rapidly among all classes of professing Christians.

May the good Lord keep both reader and writer near Himself until we see His face, hear His voice, and be for ever in the full enjoyment of His love and His glory. Amen.