"Open" "Exclusivism."

1881 361 "Extracts from the Memoir of the late Mr. Anthony Norris Groves, brother-in-law of the venerable George Muller, one of the chief originators of the movement which has since developed into 'Brethrenism,' showing how very far many of his followers, especially novices, have diverged from his spirit and practice, in relation to other Christians." — [As this paper was sent me, I add a brief but sufficient refutation. — Ed. B. T.]

1. — "Visited, for a short time, the brethren at Plymouth, where I found less comfort than elsewhere, feeling that their original bond of union, in the truth as it is in Jesus, had been changed for a united testimony against all who differed from them." — p. 342.

2. — "The moment the witnessing for the common life as our bond gives place to a witnessing against errors by separation of persons and preaching, (errors allowably compatible with the common life) every individual, or society of individuals, first comes before the mind as those who might need witnessing against, and all their conduct and principles have first to be examined and approved before they can be received; and the position which this occupying the seat of judgment will place you in will be this: the narrow-minded and bigoted will rule because his conscience cannot and will not give way, and therefore the more enlarged heart must yield. It is into this position, dear D—, I feel some little flocks are fast tending, if they have not already attained it. Making light not life the measure of communion." — Letter to J. N. Darby, March 10th, 1836.

3. — "As to our liberty in Christ to worship with any congregation under heaven where He manifests himself to bless and to save, can there be in any christian mind a doubt? If my Lord shall say to me, in any congregation of the almost unnumbered sections of the Church, 'What dost thou here?' I would reply, 'Seeing Thou wast here to save and sanctify I felt it safe to be with Thee.' If He again said. as perhaps He may amongst most of us, 'Didst thou not see abominations here, an admixture of that which was unscriptural, and the absence of that which was scriptural, and in some points error, at least in thy judgment?' my answer would be, 'Yea, Lord, but I dared not call that place unholy where Thou was present to bless, nor by refusing communion in worship reject those as unholy whom Thou hadst by Thy saving power evidently sanctified and set apart for Thine own. Our reason for rejecting the congregations of apostate bodies is, that Christ does not manifest Himself among them in their public character, though He may save some individuals as brands plucked from the burning To these churches we cry, standing on the outside 'Come out of her, my people; come out of her.' Among the others we stand, as the Son of man, or rather with Him, in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:13), telling them to remember their first love, first purity, and first work in all holy doctrine and discipline, lest the Lord take away their candlestick; but we would rather linger, in hope the impending judgment may be stayed, or some yet repent than say, like Edom, in the day of Judah's sorrows 'Down with her, down with her, even to the ground.' (See also Obadiah 10, 14.)

"To the question, Are we not countenancing error by this plan? our answer is, that if we must appear to countenance error or discountenance brotherly love, and the visible union of the Church of God, we prefer the former, hoping that our lives and our tongues may be allowed by the Lord so intelligently to speak that at last our righteousness shall be allowed to appear; but if not, still we may feel we have chosen the better part, since we tarried only for our Lord's departure and as the candlestick retired, and its light vanished we pronounce our sad farewell; but so long as Christ dwells in an individual, or walks in the midst of a congregation, blessing the ministrations to the conversion and edification of souls, we dare not denounce and formally withdraw from either, for fear of the AWFUL SIN OF SCHISM, of sin against Christ and His mystical body." — Letter to J. N. D. p. 528.

4. — "Whenever it is the Lord's pleasure that I should return, I do most fervently pray that my soul may be filled with Himself, and not with those angry questions: what seems really wanted is that true humiliation of soul before God, which makes the beam in our own eyes visible, and the mote in the eye of another comparatively disregarded. 'Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?' often recurs to me, when I read those exaggerated statements; and I often fear that if such a state of things continue, some signal mark of God's displeasure will rest upon it all. For myself I would join no Church permanently that had not some CONSTITUTED RULE. I have seen enough of that plan, of every one doing what is right in his own eyes, and then calling it the Spirit's order, to feel assured it is a DELUSION; and I consider it far more dishonouring to God, than where no pretension is made, beyond that of governing according to the best of the spiritual wisdom given us, guided by the word and Spirit of God, which is always promised to us for asking." — p. 413.

Are not many of the "open brethren" as "exclusive" ecclesiastically towards other Christian bodies, as the "exclusives" are towards them? And what a repulsive spectacle to outsiders is this twofold exclusiveness! prompting the question:

"Tantaene animis coelestibus irae?" [Can such anger dwell in heavenly minds?]

A few remarks from a private letter in reply to a friend who enclosed the paper.

Let me assure you that, were I ever so sensitive, I am too inured to the hardness a soldier of Christ must endure, if in any measure faithful through grace, to take amiss the little extracts from A. N. Groves' Memoir.

Further, I admit and deplore the tendency of not a few in our midst, "especially novices," to diverge from the grace and wisdom of Christ — which is to me a more serious thing than the late Mr. Groves' spirit and practice — in relation to other Christians. United testimony against all who differ is to me a principle and practice of stiff and narrow dissent, readily imported and inherent in our nature, but in no way conceivable for such as love the church as such according to Christ in their little measure. It might be their melancholy inconsistency, if they became false to their principles. I am sure that I have in my affections nothing to boast; but I dare not belie the fixed conviction and purpose of my life as a Christian, in dropping Anglicanism, to abjure all party and to cleave only to His name in the present most difficult times of Christendom. I would hear 2 Timothy 2:19-22, and every other scripture which contemplates and provides guidance for our actual disorder and complications; and I pray that grace may be with all those that love our Lord Jesus Christ in uncorruptness. The idea or feeling of greater love for such as see with me practically (i.e. Brethren so-called), I do not think ever consciously rises in my breast. I would know nothing, in addition to Christ Himself, but the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and would diligently keep it.

Mr. Groves' seems no bad witness, however, of his mistake as to Brethren; for he was welcome, though first and last he materially differed from them. He never recognised the assembly, the body of Christ, as you know Brethren do, though in no way forcing it on or from a single member of Christ, who is received simply and solely in His name. He never understood the baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the new birth, nor saw that while this is common to all believers from Abel (or Adam) downwards, that is special to God's dealing in sovereign grace since redemption and Christ's going on high. (John 14, John 16, Acts 1, Acts 2, 1 Cor. 12 etc.) Mr. Groves used to cite (as you may see in his Memoir) Matthew 13:30, in a way which destroys ecclesiastical purity and annuls discipline, just as Papists did against Protestants, but rejected by Chillingworth, etc. before us. So far from being a "chief originator" therefore, he was always especially opposed to those who affirm that, while grace is the power, separation from evil is the necessary and spiritual principle of unity according to God. He was a unit, but never understood unity.

Mr. Groves' was a devoted man, of a practical turn of mind, confused and incapable of analysis, and so he thought that separation from evil, which is another way of expressing holiness, was made by us the power and aim of unity, instead of being (as it must be) its principle, if God had to do with it. Attractive grace in Christ, the one object and centre, is the power in the energy of the Spirit. Yet, though differing as to this from us, and finding out that there was a difference which he never discerned truly, either where or how it lay, he went along with Brethren who never thought of troubling him, till he went off himself with his brother-in-law in the unhappy Plymouth-Bethesda rupture.

But, apart from himself, what can be less intelligent than these statements of Mr. Groves'? Not life, as he says, nor light, as he erroneously imputed to us, is the bond, but the one Spirit, who has baptised us, whatever we might have been before, into one body. This is not a slight distinction, but fundamental. And therefore, while striving (I trust) as much as Mr. Groves to maintain brotherly love, and fully believing in God's gracious action by His servants in all orthodox denominations, I still humbly but firmly maintain that the very principle of different denominations is dead opposed to the "one body and one Spirit" of scripture; and scripture cannot be broken. The sanction of distinct communions is irreconcilable with God's word. That is the point of Mr. Groves' difference from Brethren, who stand decidedly for the rule the Lord constitutes with which the Spirit's order (though I prefer calling it His action) ought to coincide; which I feel assured is the simple truth on this subject, as revealed in the word, the only safeguard against all delusions.

I do not differ from the late Mr. Groves in abhorrence of narrow-minded arrogance and bigoted assumption, which are altogether at variance with the only becoming ways of the Christian, the lowliness and meekness and long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, in which we are called to walk together, as individually. Nor do I deny the grave occasion we (Brethren I mean) have given by our grievous failures in times of controversial struggle. But this is due, not to a mistaken principle, but to our state of unjudged carnality and to worldly love of party success, and to other humiliating evils inadequately watched against, which have too often tarnished the testimony of Christ in our midst. But Mr. Groves is wholly mistaken if he supposes that his laxity as to Christendom even admits of anything like the same horror of schism, of heresy, or any such sin against Christ and the church, as those brethren must feel who seize the body of Christ according to the written word as he never did.

Surely, my dear brother, we do owe it to Christ to be "exclusive" of all that offends Him, of which His word abides the test; as one's heart would be "open" to all that pleases Him according to the same word. More or other than this I desire not.

To the Rev. D. D., etc.