Remarks on a "Prophetic Letter."

1887 366 (Published in the "Christian," Sept. 23rd, 1887.)

The title arrests the attention. But on reading the letter we find it is not about prophecy, but about the divergence more than fifty years ago of Mr. A. N. Groves from Mr. Darby.

But the point for us is the subject and the spirit of this letter; and we find, underneath the profession of accepting and honouring all that is good, a real indifference to the great truth that forms the foundation of Christianity. This may not be apparent to a stranger's hasty glance; nevertheless it is painfully distinct to those who are acquainted with the circumstances that led to the Bethesda or O.B. separation. And the causes of the separation and accompanying facts must be known to have an adequate judgment if not of this letter, certainly of the motive for calling it "prophetic" and of its reproduction.

In it there are not wanting expressions of love, "dear Darby," etc., and also a few sneers at the friends of Mr. D.: which are genuine? Or did the feelings alternate, while G. was writing the letter?

Its keynote is that not "light" but "life" is the ground of communion.* There cannot be communion without life; but life per se is not the ground of communion. The Holy Spirit sent down after redemption acts in those who have the life of Christ and does indeed make all who possess it members one of another, and therefore is the "bond" between all who now believe. The ground of communion, of sitting together at the Lord's Table, is thus much more than the possession of life. Further, godliness of walk, and sound doctrine are assumed in scripture, above all, due honour to Christ — His divine glory, and the absolute purity of His humanity — not only the truth of this fixed in our souls, but complete separation from all who dishonour His Person, or who are indifferent to it. The writer of this letter was, and those who reprint it, are in the position of such indifference. This resolute stand for Christ is what Mr. G. deplored and witnessed against as an evil thing. In thus witnessing against (what he thinks) evil, is he not doing the thing he condemns?

[*It is striking that 1 John 1:7 decisively and in terms gives Mr. G. the lie: "If we walk in the light (which is what Mr. G. everywhere dreads), we have fellowship one with another. The principles of the "prophetic letter" oppose not only the church but vital Christianity.]

On Christ's behalf to resist the devil is the first of Christian duties. But the real cause of separation among those who were together does not appear plainly in his letter; it is comparatively out of sight. At the close he speaks of possible reasons for separation, and that, if he witnessed against evil, he would separate from all, on his principles (and they are his, not God's) he would receive all! He never had faith in the holy gathering power of the Spirit to Christ: nor have his admirers. He mentions baptism in connection with Mr. D. But different views of baptism never separated Mr. D. from any christian for it is well known that many, if not most, of those with whom he was in fellowship, differed from him on that point. What caused the separation of 1848–9 was of infinitely greater importance than any such question. The real cause of separation is ignored by those who can find any thing "prophetic" in so fundamentally shallow a letter, to say nothing of its more deplorable features.

Briefly, about forty years ago or more a blasphemous doctrine was taught concerning the person of Christ — that He was born as an outcast from God, i.e. born like others under darkness and curse, and at a distance from God, but that by holiness as well as by baptism! He had to win and did win His way into the favour of God (though elsewhere it was taught to be only through His own death on the cross!).* To attribute to Christ such a relationship before God is rightly styled blasphemy of the worst sort. At that time brethren generally condemned the doctrine, but some would not repudiate connection with those gatherings where this evil doctrine was unjudged, on the misleading plea of receiving saints spite of their being in a sect. They would receive individuals that kept up intercommunion with those who taught or held the blasphemy. Notably Bethesda insisted on receiving a christian, no matter what his association might be, provided he himself professed personally not to accept the heterodoxy. Thus, such an one could return whence he came, and again come back forgetting the truth that one leprous stone defiles the house, and that the leprosy if not removed entails the destruction of the whole house. The glory of Christ's Person was thus openly made secondary to what was called brotherly love, in defiance of all we held from the beginning, excepting Mr. G., who of course ranged himself among such. Those with whom Mr. D. met abhorred this neutral ground, and refused fellowship with all who in the slightest way stood knowingly connected with it. Is it not striking that the letter is made to cover that monstrous high treason against Christ? It is really "prophetic" of the O.B. party.

[*It is well to say that what the author confessed or withdrew we never allege against him. It is false that he ever gave up more than the Adamic headship in Rom. 5 involving Christ. The rest he reserved, and no doubt still holds. We are bound to treat him as guilty of all he has not renounced.]

All G.'s talk about life and accepting the good he sees in others, and not witnessing against evil, is nothing less than a plea for sin. It was bad enough to make light of ecclesiastical error in the establishment or dissent; it is far worse to justify those who, after dissociating themselves from human system, would form another and far more evil union, where Christ may be dishonoured, and His glory annulled in order to keep up a human idea of brotherhood with bigger numbers, and with more or less sanction of the denominations, or "churches," as G. regards them. For he never knew what God's church is.

Many expressions of desire for christian fellowship unshackled by peculiar doctrine, which seem to flow out from a heart enlarged by love to all saints, are found here at the expense of Christ's honour, and the glory of His Person. For the writer's party in the hour of trial failed to give Christ His true place (as indeed is the evil principle of this letter), and would receive in joint-fellowship those who do and those who do not regard it as of paramount importance. Now without it, as a fundamental confession, Christianity is nothing but a delusion. This immense truth — the divine glory and the sinless humanity of Christ's Person — is the sine qua non of God's glory in redemption. To this truth of Christ's Person the admirers of this letter have proved indifferent. It is a solemn thought, that indifference to it opens the door to that blasphemy which affirms that the Lord Jesus was liable to loathsome disease and death like another! Of late years another of the same school published that the Lord at one period of His life here below was this, if not a leper!

The writer's principle pleads for indifference to those who hold evil, if they are supposed to have life. But if such wickedness is not to be witnessed against, is it not the vilest affront put on Christ, Who to this end was born, and for this cause came into the world that He should bear witness unto the truth? "And no lie is of the truth." Now if this be the character of the letter, it must equally apply to him who requested it to re-appear in the "Christian." One might perhaps say to him and others with him, "Ye did run well: who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" The truth is lost for neutrals. One might surely pass a severer sentence on such.

Let us give a moment to one or two statements, in this letter written by Mr. Groves in 1836, which is thought worthy to be again thrust before the eyes of professing Christians in 1887.

"You will be known more by what you witness against than what you witness for." Does the writer forget that truth is and must be now aggressive? That we have to maintain a spiritual warfare? That the christian is a soldier of Christ, and is called to put on the whole armour of God, one part of which is the sword of the Spirit? It is offensive, as well as defensive. That sort of Christianity which excludes all antagonism to error, however dishonouring to the Lord, has a sweet ring to some ears, but it is the knell of death. There are cases (and this is one) where not to witness against antichrist is to witness for him. Neutrality begins with being neither cold nor hot: we know its judgment. But we are told that witnessing against evil is practically witnessing against all but ourselves. God forbid that the character of our testimony should differ from Christ's! Christ is ignored, Who was the True Light, no less than Life. The antagonism is false. The word of God says, "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." In the evil day (as it is now) we have to "withstand" as well as to "stand." Neutrality can do neither; it is in itself a fallen thing.

Take the following, "As far as I know what those principles were in which I gloried on first discovering them in the word of God, I now glory in them ten times more, since I have experienced their applicability to all the various and perplexing circumstances of the present state of the church; allowing you to give every individual, and collection of individuals, the standing God gives them without identifying yourself with any of their evils." This is a long sentence, and contains a serious avowal that the truth is not gloried in for its own sake so much as for its principles being applicable to every place of religions profession, and that he can so give not only to individuals, but to companies, the standing that God gives. Is not this to say that the various forms of religious association have a standing from God? They were "churches" to Mr. G.; they are not to God's word. He levels God's standard of the church down to the errant will of man. Nor need we wonder; for he can hear the church's Lord blasphemed, and yet not witness against it! Separation from evil is the only true witness against it; and what evil is so abhorrent to the Spirit of God as that which dishonours or makes light of Christ's Person?

I wonder the "endorser" did not omit the following; yet it may be well as showing how some minds are caught by mere sound: "The common life or common blood of the family of God (for the life is in the blood)." What think you of the "common blood" of the family of God? and of the attempt to justify this strangely unscriptural expression by the still stranger quotation, "For the life is in the blood," from Leviticus?

We are prophetically told that the "little bodies" no longer stand forth the witnesses for the glorious and simple truth, so much as against all we judge error, and that this is to lower us from heaven to earth! Be the bodies little or big, is it lowering the testimony from heaven to earth to contend earnestly for the glory of Christ's Person and to separate from those who do not so contend? It is a natural conclusion that he who requested the insertion of this letter in the "Christian" is as indifferent to it as Mr. G. or the lose principles of his "prophetic letter."

Again, "dear Darby" is told that some "little flocks" are fast tending to the position where the most narrow-minded and bigoted will rule, and he (J. N. D.) is charged with making light, not life, the measure of communion. That is, we are now so charged. This is false. But if requiring that all admitted into fellowship from companies that tamper with antichrist should abjure this blasphemy against Christ, if this be the light the writer means, we do make it a test in accordance with 2 John.

Liberty of conscience is demanded — liberty for what? To this end Rom. 14:3 is quoted. Liberty of conscience as to eating or not eating is of God. But only think of compromising the truth as to Christ's Person (the real motive for reproducing this letter) down to the level of eating or not eating herbs! Is it not a perversion of scripture?

Latitudinarianism, indifference, disobedience, or by whatever other name the various forms of Mr. G.'s evil principle may be known, comes out boldly in printed capitals, "I would INFINITELY RATHER bear with all their evils than SEPARATE from THEIR GOOD." Bearing with evil and not witnessing against it by separation from it is fellowship with it and simply unholiness. Is this the position of him who by requesting the republication of this letter makes it his own? The Word says, "Cease to do evil, learn to do well." We are not told to bear with such evil, but to be separate in every way (2 Cor. 6).

It is said we have a "Shibboleth" as well as those from whom we separate. The one who now stands in the place of the writer says he has none. Yet he is mistaken; for the Shibboleth of neutrality is the denial of the divine test of 2 John. He and his are in the position of Israel when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. To this he would reduce the church of God, and call it communion in life. To "light" he does not pretend. He talks of uniformity and deprecates it, except what he calls "perfect spiritual uniformity" which amounts to this — "You may think as you please about this or that fundamental truth; only let us unite — and this is perfect SPIRITUAL Uniformity! "To me it is the perfect abandonment of spirituality and of true unity in principle.

Unity, if not "uniformity," is required by God. There is a test given to us of God; and by His grace all among us pronounce it. Underneath it is this principle, that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father.

The separation which has existed for nearly forty years unto this present day is that those who are represented by Mr. G. do not honour the Son even as they honour the Father. They are in ecclesiastical fellowship with evil; the house of which they form part has a leprous stone in its walls. It may have been scraped again and again during the last forty years; still it is leprous. Will the leprous house ever be taken down and cast into an unclean place?

This letter as a whole I regard as an ungodly pleading for the allowance of sin in the assembly. It is a denial of corporate holiness. For in a company where the glory of Christ is touched, or where His dishonour is not absolutely refused, there is corporate unholiness. No doubt when the letter first appeared, it was exposed; but the revival of the letter demands some fresh notice, even if feeble.

R. Beacon. Oct. 11, 1887.

P.S. It may be added that Mr. G. was known to hold principles "entirely at variance" with Brethren's. What could one expect from a person who failed to see the difference between "the kingdom of heaven" and "the church"? He consequently misused the parable of the wheat-and-tare field to oppose the godly separateness of the saints. Like Papists, etc., he applied to the church what our Lord said of the world. For the field is the world, not the church; and in the world there can be no righteous separation till judgment. Was it intentionally to be so in the church of God?