In retracing the experiences the Brethren have passed through, an impartial observer cannot but be struck by their apparent inability to deal with a crisis when it actually arrives, even though their literature abounds with the most careful and minute instruction as to the methods of disciplinary action according to Scripture. The principles consistently carried out would have kept them from division and averted their multiplied schisms from the first, but the weakness of the movement has been in its lack of coherence and therefore of anything like unanimity of action when a grave crisis has arisen. Even where good and godly men believed the same things and were in agreement that evil ought to be dealt with, they seemed incapable of acting together. This has been clearly demonstrated in the four divisions already noticed and it is equally apparent in the so-called Bexhill-Greenwich, or Raven schism of 1890.
Less than five years after the Reading trouble, disastrous results of wrong principles were again manifested in the London party, which eventually culminated in another world-wide separation. To make plain what led to this, it is necessary to make the reader more fully acquainted with a unique figure, whose teaching was indirectly responsible for what took place at this time. J. Butler Stoney was one of the young men attracted to J. N. Darby in the thirties. He was a brilliant and wealthy youth, educated as a barrister, and seemingly had the world at his feet when the attractive power of the cross brought him to the place where he saw the emptiness of all earth’s dazzling prospects, and Christ became henceforth the absorbing passion of his soul. In the new movement he found just what he delighted in: unworldliness, and a fellowship with spiritually-minded believers that his soul craved. He gladly threw aside splendid opportunities for advancement down here to “lay hold on that which is life indeed.” His affection for Mr. Darby was almost extravagant-yet not to be wondered at-so much did he see of Christ in his servant in those early days, and so eager was he to learn the truth that was being unfolded.
For some sixty years Stoney was an outstanding figure among the Brethren. He edited several monthly papers, notably Food for the Flock, and A Voice to the Faithful (the latter envelope size), and was a frequent contributor to the other periodicals. Perhaps no finer expository and pastoral ministry was put forth by him than his Discipline in the School of God, though most of his books are of a very high order and are edifying to a degree. On the other hand their intensely subjective character requires that they be read with great care and with due regard to the other side of the truth, developed by the objective teacher.
His mind was of the character of that of Fenelon or, perhaps more aptly, that of Tauler, although without a trace of asceticism. This comes out very manifestly in his written ministry, as noted above.
As most of the Brethren’s teaching was decidedly objective, it may be that this particular line was given by God in grace to preserve the balance of truth-but, as is so often the case, soon it became apparent that there were two rival schools among them, the majority following the objective teachers, and a minority delighting in the subjective, which ministry soon considered itself “the remnant testimony,” led by Stoney and a few others whose mental processes were similar in character. These developed what came to be known as “The Brethren’s Perfectionism.”
J. B. Stoney died on May 1, 1897, having been confined to his room from October, 1895, with a severe illness. It is blessed to note how preciously he entered into the realities of spiritual things during those months in which he was shut away from all outside activities: months, too, in which the movement with which he had been so long connected was passing through a severe trial, the direct result of the perversion of his own teaching.
A. E. Knight summarizes those sickroom experiences in a way that will refresh the souls of those who know Christ. He says:
In those October days of 1895, physical weakness and suffering were a new thing to Mr. Stoney, and soon after being confined to his room he was heard reviewing before the Lord these unfamiliar experiences. “I am learning a new road in dependence upon Christ ... He has fought the battle and we get the good of it. Thank Thee, glorious Lord!” His thoughts go out to beloved fellow pilgrims traveling the same road, and he communes helpfully; “The reason people find their path so difficult is that they have not a single eye for a single Person.” How fully the Lord was his own object at this time may be gathered from the admission so remarkable in its utterness and finality, “I have learnt to do without anything or anyone but the Lord. He is enough without letters, or friends, or anything else.” All his springs were in God.
The affections of this beloved saint of God were indeed set on things above, the things where Christ is (Col_3:2), and he realized more than ever in those first days of his illness how clean must be the cut with the world ere full attainment of his quest could be realized. “There is a great gap between God’s things and man’s things,” he was heard saying ... “I began with, ‘I will delight in the Lord,’ and it brought me to the end of all things here.” Anon he asks-and the goal of his affections seems nearer than before-”Do we belong to the scene where the brightness is, or to the scene where blindness is? It is not the scene only that is bright, but the Person in it. He belongs to it. Wonderful way to open heaven ... by a Person!” He did not pretend, of course, that earthly things had no beauty-his mind was keenly alive to the beauties of the old creation; but the more excellent beauty of “things above” eclipsed them all, and they became by comparison of no account. “If a man would only dwell on the divine reality of God’s world,” he soliloquizes, “he would see that this is only man’s world. In God’s world all is divinely beautiful. This is a beautiful world, but it is only like a flower. In God’s world all is according to God. I am roaming in beautiful worlds, and I rouse up and find myself in this world.” Then, as he poises the one against the other-man’s world against God’s world-his soul exclaims, “How small everything is in contrast to eternal things!” Small, indeed, and how transitory! Does not the prophet say, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it” (Isa_40:6-7)? Death and decay are here; that is the trouble. Yonder there is no decay, no death; “There everlasting spring abides, and never-withering flowers.”
He is still engaged with this study of contrasts in the following meditation, wherein his experience is not so much a condition of ecstasy as the peace of communion, a holy tranquil resting in Christ. “There is a great contrast between things outside this scene and the things here; but no matter what they are, you must look up to the Lord for small matters as well as for great. My rest is, that I am not conscious of anything here until I open my eyes; I am above the things here in the sense of His power; that is rest even in the night. Outside of everything with the Lord, that is communion, that is what I call rest-the great thing is to stay in it. Make the Lord your delight and not any circumstance; when lost in Him, that is rest.” Weighty words, as emanating from a bed of weakness and pain, where the speaker was practically cut off from all creature streams save the ministrations of a devoted daughter, his companion to the last. Ripe for glory, it needed but a very brief experience of the sickroom to reconcile him to the new conditions; indeed he was heard saying on the very first day: “A day’s experience in bed. I began with grace and I came to praise. Then I came to see what service is. I see that the great lack in the servant is that the purpose of God is not his ideal. If it is not, if he does not know the purpose of God, he cannot lead souls to glory. You must begin with grace in order to end with glory. Your knowledge of the glory is according to the measure of your knowledge of the grace.” . . .
At times he must have had memorable entrance into the experience described in 2Co_3:18, “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” and the reflected glimpses we get of these experiences are very sweet. “I had a wonderful night,” he told his daughter somewhere in February, 1896. “The whole sky seemed lighted up; the light circling around, and the Lord in the midst, immensely great, surveying the earth. I was there too. It seemed as if He were showing it to me, or at least there it was for me to see at a distance, and I was but a speck looking at it.” “The whole sky seemed lighted up and the Lord filling the whole space,” he said on another occasion, alluding to the same experience; and doubtless this “beholding’ with open face the glory of the Lord” (2Co_3:18) was still in his mind when he declared, “I have been in the courts of glory. What do you think is the first thing you learn when you get there? You find that glory is your destination.”
Sometimes these visions of the night were of a less tranquil character, but the record of them is vivid and stimulating. “I think you would like to hear of my experience last night,” he writes to a friend in March, 1896. “I awoke in the night with great fervor, occupied with a verse, ‘saved by the mighty power of God.’ I had been contending for it in my sleep, but the people were making such a rant of it, and I was panting like a hunted hare. I tried to explain to them that salvation was effected on the cross, and that the believer is given the power of God to enjoy it. My great text for myself was, ‘I sat under his shadow with great delight’; but that only in the Spirit of God could I enjoy it. The moment I went to sleep the rant began again, and I awoke in excitement. I looked to the Lord to establish the fact to myself, that it is only in the Spirit of God we can get clear of excitement in the flesh, and the Lord in a marked way made me know that I was free from the flesh, and could enjoy it all in the Spirit. When I awoke this morning I felt like a man after a race; and in reviewing it, my meditation was, that the first great thing is to overcome the man that was removed in the cross, and the next great thing is to walk in the power of God-to walk in the Spirit. Those I was contending with were all imaginary people whom I did not know, but you can imagine the sort of night I had.” . . .
In October one seems to mark a further step. Six months before he had spoken sweetly of enjoyment found in the Lord’s shadow; now he remarks to a friend: “When I last saw you I was sitting under His shadow with great delight. Now I am with Him in heaven. I could not express what He brings before me-the sense of His love and favor . . . Keep yourself in the love of God-in the love of God ... I delight in the love of God ... In the beginning of my illness I used to say that my body is the Lord’s. Now I say that I am a member of Christ” (1Co_6:15).
It would be of profit to quote more at length but space forbids.
One of Mr. Stoney’s most intimate disciples was Mr. F. E. Raven, an English gentleman, who until his retirement held a position under the government. His mind was even more mystical than that of Stoney, and he was greatly valued as an exponent of the subjective school; but his unguarded utterances soon exposed him to much criticism from the rest. In a special meeting held at Witney, near Oxford, about Easter, 1888, certain of Mr. Raven’s teachings were called in question by a number of laboring brethren, led by Mr. J. H. Lowe, who objected seriously to statements made that seemed plainly to deny the believer’s present possession of eternal life. Mr. Raven at that time insisted that he meant nothing more than what J. N. Darby had taught in connection with life and sealing. But the teaching in question seemed clearly to deny the believer’s present possession of eternal life. He spoke in a vague way of eternal life as a sphere of blessing, and a condition of soul, rather than as something communicated to the believer in new birth. He was also very confused as to the hypostatic union of the divine and human in the Person of the Lord.
In November, 1889, some one hundred and fifty Brethren in London, who had been looking into the teaching considered questionable, felt the matter so seriously that they were much relieved when Mr. Raven stated: “In view of what happened at the last meeting, I do not want to set myself in opposition to Brethren. I am not conscious of having taught anything contrary to the truth, though I do not wish to justify expressions. But in present circumstances, out of respect to Brethren’s consciences, I will abstain from ministry in London. Further, if Brethren wish it, I will abstain from attending these meetings.” While this relieved the tension temporarily, it settled nothing, as “F.E.R.” was as active as ever in disseminating his teaching elsewhere.
In essence, the teaching objected to can be given in F. E. R.’s own words as published in 1890. (There are lengthy footnotes which for brevity’s sake are omitted, though of importance) :
Greenwich, March 21, 1890.
I have thought it well, I trust before the Lord, to reprint, on my own responsibility, the text of my letter to Mr. O. of December 6th, 1889, adding some notes in explanation of points that in the text may not be quite clear, or may appear open to question. The text remains unchanged, save that the last paragraph is omitted for the reason that I believe some of the thoughts therein referred to have been withdrawn or modified. I take the opportunity of avowing in the most distinct and emphatic way that I never had in my mind the thought of separating eternal life from the Person of the Son of God, or of asserting that eternal life, is, for a Christian, any other than Christ. I would add that I have not been nor am without exercise of heart or sorrow before the Lord in regard to the strained and painful state of feeling existing amongst us; and I regret, on my own part, the measure in which it has been contributed to by obscure or defective expressions of mine which have gone abroad, taken from letters to individuals, or reports of readings. I can only say I wrote or spoke according to the light I had, and I have since sought to make all the amends in my power, without sacrificing the truth, by rendering explanation, I trust in patience, to all who desired it, both publicly, privately and by letter. Believing that what I have sought to maintain is substantially the truth as to Christianity in its proper heavenly character, such as it has been brought before us by those most highly esteemed, I have confidence that the Lord will care for the simple who desire God’s will, and assure their hearts as to what is or is not of God.
(Signed) F. E. R.
The key to almost all that I have said lies in my objection to apply in an absolute way to the believer in his mixed condition down here statements in Scripture which refer to what he is, or what is true of him, viewed as in Christ. Such a practice results in the statements becoming mere dogmas, conveying little sense of reality. This may be seen in regard to divine righteousness as spoken of in 2Co_5:21. The believer is in Christ, and as there, is become God’s righteousness in Christ: but besides this, he still is in a condition here, in which the existence of sin and the flesh are taken account of (the Spirit lusts against the flesh), and this is wholly distinct from our state in Christ, to which divine righteousness in its fullest sense applies. Christ in glory is the full expression of divine righteousness, and to be there as he is, is that into which grace introduces us in Christ. Hence, Paul looked to be found in Him having the righteousness which is of God by faith. The above in no sense weakens or sets aside the reality of the believer’s present standing in Christ; it is his true position according to grace; but it needs to be borne in mind that it is the position of the believer before God, distinct from his actual condition here with the consciousness of the existence of the flesh in him.
I may add a word of explanation as to the use of the word “state.” I have commonly used it as indicating that which is true of us as new-created in Christ (as seen in the new man) apart from any question of the Christian’s walk here.
Next, as to eternal life. It was God’s purpose in Christ from eternity; it was, in essence, with the Father in eternity, but has now been manifested in the only begotten Son of God, who came here declaring the Father, in such wise as that the apostles could see it, and afterwards declare it by the Spirit-but I regard it of all importance to maintain, clear and distinct from any purpose of blessing for man, the true deity, the eternal Sonship of the Word. Eternal life is given to us of God, and is in God’s Son-for us it is the heavenly relationship and blessedness in which, in the Son, man is now placed and lives before the Father, the death of Christ having come in as the end before God of man’s state in the flesh. “He that has the Son has the life”; the testimony he has received concerning the Son is, by the Spirit, the power of life in the believer, he having been born of God to receive it. He has also eaten the flesh of the Son of man, and drunk His blood. But at the same time, the believer still has part in seen things here (which the Son has not) and all that is seen is temporal, and will come to an end. It has no part in eternal life, though it may be greatly influenced by it. As to eternal life being a technical term, it simply referred to the fact of its having been a term in common use among the Jews without any very definite meaning. They frequently came to the Lord with questions as to it, and thought they had it in the Scriptures…
I may add a few words in regard to new birth. It is an absolute necessity for man, if he has to do with God in blessing. It lies at the beginning of all-without it a man cannot see, much less receive any saving testimony. It is the sovereign act of the Spirit of God. Peter and John both recognize that those who were really in the faith of Christ were born again of the Word of God, or born of God-a seed of God has been implanted in them from the outset. None the less, new birth of itself does not conduct into heavenly relationship or blessing. For this, something more was needed, namely, redemption, which in its full power, sets man in Christ in glory, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which fits man for the new order of things. Of course, these are now, through grace, the portion of the believer.
(Signed) F. E. R.
The objection to this was that eternal life was made a state or condition-not a new life imparted. New birth, too, was in order to believe, not through believing. The more Mr. Raven labored to make his position clear, the more he seemed to involve it in obscurity. Finally, at a large convention in Greenwich, in 1890, there was open dissension over it and when some who sided with Mr. Raven went from Greenwich to Bexhill (where there was a very small assembly), their letter of commendation was refused. Bexhill and Ealing assemblies acted together and in June of that year definitely declared Greenwich out of fellowship. Messrs. J. H. Lowe, W. T. Whybrow, Major H. M. McCarthy and others insisted that Bexhill’s action be accepted as the judgment of the Lord. C. Stanley died just as the division was being pressed through. He stood with the opponents of Mr. Raven. C. H. Mackintosh on the other hand went with Park Street which exonerated F. E. R. and refused Bexhill’s action as schismatic. His stand is peculiar, inasmuch as he never taught in all his ministry the vagaries advocated by Mr. Raven. But it was a time of great confusion, and C H. M. was wearied out by constant bickerings and separations. He wrote J. A. Trench as follows:
Dublin, Ireland, November 29, 1890.
I feared that you would have to encounter a good deal of trial in consequence of the sad and humiliating condition of things amongst us. I have never known anything like it during the fifty years I have been on the ground. Only think of some who have walked for years in ostensible fellowship with us, now charging us with being identified with heresy, blasphemy and attacking the adorable Person of the Son of God; mark the bitterness of feeling, the diligent effort to gather up in all directions dirt to fling back upon their brethren; where is the spirit of Christ in all this? Where the broken heart and weeping eyes at the terrible thought of our being involved in such evil? Alas, there is what looks much more like a malignant effort to extract heresies out of papers, which if read with an unprejudiced mind would yield profit and edification. It is all most deplorable.
As to the charges brought against Mr. Raven of heresy, blasphemy, and attacking the Person of the Son of God, they are simply monstrous, there is no foundation for them. Some seem possessed with the idea that there is behind and underneath a regular system of doctrine subversive to Christianity. I ask such, what have we got to do with what is behind and underneath? We can judge what is before and above and they have utterly failed to produce adequate evidence to sustain their charge, but beloved C. ... I am persuaded that we needed all this terrible sifting, else the Lord would not have allowed it to come upon us, and further I believe that the Lord will bring rich blessing out of it all to individual souls, indeed I see it already in many; I see more earnestness; more reality; more knitting of hearts in true brotherly love, instead of cold, formal, nominal fellowship. For myself I am conscious of feeling a real spring in the inner man, a more profound sense of love of God; the preciousness of Christ and authority, majesty, fulness and loving depths of Holy Scripture, and I look for much more for myself and others through the infinite grace of Christ. I do trust that we may soon be done with this heart-sickening, soul-withering discussion and strife and be allowed to go on heart to heart in communion and worship shoulder to shoulder in service and testimony, that is what I long for, nothing else has any charm or interest for me. This is what I have been seeking for in my poor way to realize and promote for the last fifty years, and by the grace of Christ shall never accept anything else.
C. H. M.
His hopes, however, were vain, for trouble followed upon trouble as the years went on.
Shortly after the division was consummated, Mr. Raven came out with what savored of Apollinarianism, declaring of our Lord that in incarnation “He was not personally man. He was personally the Logos, in human condition.” It is this that C. H. M. refers to above. This aroused William Kelly, who after a minute examination of Raven’s doctrines, declared him to be “heterodox as to eternal life, but above all, as to Christ’s person.” F. W. Grant reviewed his teaching in a booklet entitled Re-tracings of Some Truths and concluded he had definitely departed from the teaching current among Brethren from the beginning. Many feel that it was the refusal of F. W. G.’s teaching as to eternal life and sealing of the Spirit that had opened the door to a great host of erroneous conceptions.
In 1902, the Raven party divided again over a question of how to treat simple believers when an assembly had been broken up by the ill-behavior of its guides. This resulted in the Glanton party as distinct from the London party. Nearly all the evangelical men that were left sided with Glanton assembly in the reception of the scattered ones at Alnwick, a nearby town. London actually put Glanton away for thus caring for Christ’s bewildered ones! Dr. W. T, Wolston tells the story in a trenchant manner in Hear the Right.
The Glanton Brethren shortly afterwards made certain confessions to the Stuart and Grant brethren (who on their part confessed haste and a low state resulting in division), which have resulted in the partial re-establishment of fellowship-;save that a few on both sides are still demanding fuller confessions of one another as to failures in the past.
The Bexhill party was also divided in 1906 over a question of the jurisdiction of an assembly in regard to silencing a teacher whose ministry was considered unprofitable in Tunbridge Wells and was enjoyed in Acton, England. The one assembly declared the man unfit either to minister or to break bread-the other endorsed him fully-and assemblies everywhere in the Bexhill fellowship were called to side with one or the other.
More recently the so-called Raven meetings have been divided over the teaching of an American leader who denied the truth of the Eternal Sonship of Christ. This most serious error caused many to take a definite stand against it and led to another separation. But sadly enough by far the greater majority saw nothing wrong in such views and have gone on with the promulgator of them. This puts these meetings entirely off the ground of the early Brethren who considered a true confession of Christ the very first consideration.
It has been an unpleasant task seeking to present in some measure of detail the grounds of these various divisions, yet I am persuaded the consideration of them will not be without profit, if other Christians learn thereby to avoid the snares and pit-falls which caused such grief and sorrow among the brethren whose cry was “Unity” but whose practices wrought such widespread schism among believers.
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him to go on with what was called the Taylor meeting. Shortly afterwards, as we have seen, Mr. Stuart’s peculiar views on propitiation were published and these Mr. Kelly not only refused but in his usual intense way violently attacked them as setting forth a “ghostly theory of the atonement.” In America, however, any Brethren coming commended from Kelly Meetings have always been received by the Grant Meetings. Mr. R. T. Grant was firmly convinced that had all American Brethren taken their stand definitely with Mr. Kelly against ecclesiastical pretension in 1881 it would have saved the Exclusives from a vast amount of trouble afterwards. He felt to the day of his death that the Ramsgate question was God’s controversy with the Brethren.
Pursuing the chain from which we were turned aside by this digression, we note that just as the Reading and Grant Meetings became one, so through Park Street’s endorsation of the Natural History Hall judgment at Montreal the two extreme companies of England and America were also one. Afterwards, the Park Street party divided over the Raven question, those who refused Mr. Raven’s teaching as unscriptural becoming known as the Lowe or Bexhill party and the others generally bearing the name of their principal teacher. The Raven branch again divided over the Alnwick question, those refusing London’s excommunication of the Glanton assembly for showing kindness to the distracted saints at Alnwick becoming known as the Glanton Brethren. These latter have, generally speaking, agreed to freely receive their formerly separated Brethren from the Grant and Reading Companies as they recognized when their own difficulties arose that they were the victims of the same high church ecclesiastical tyranny that had so ruthlessly cut off thousands of saints in Britain and America who could see no evil whatever in the teaching and principles of F. W. Grant and C. E. Stuart. It is only fair to say that some Glanton Brethren have not been prepared to go the whole length, and a number of the Reading Assemblies insist that the Glanton people have not fully judged the sin committed when Mr. Stuart was excommunicated for teaching what they believed to be precious truth. Therefore, there has been here and there division among the Reading Brethren over the question of the reception of those with Glanton. In America, too, a very few of the Grant Meetings refuse anything like the thought of amalgamation with the Glanton Brethren, while generally receiving individuals from them after making certain that they are not in any way identified with the vagaries of what is generally called Ravenism.
The Bexhill party also divided into the Tunbridge Wells and Acton branches, each of which still claims to have the only table of the Lord on earth and to be “the original company of Brethren.” Many of those in the Acton meetings individually repudiate such pretension, and individuals in many cases have sought fellowship in the Grant Meetings in America. But others refuse to recognize these Brethren as on divine ground until they confess what they call the sin of setting up another table when they went on with Mr. Grant after the Montreal judgment.
The following incident will give the conception of some of these, though it occurred before the Tunbridge Wells and Acton break. A Bexhill brother explaining the various divisions used the following simile: “The Brethren may be likened to a biscuit. A large piece was broken off. That represents the Open brethren. Other pieces also were broken off: namely, the Grant, Reading, Kelly and Raven Brethren; but, thank God,” he piously exclaimed, “we remain the middle of the biscuit.” Could conceit and self-complacent narrowness go farther? Yet in some degree each offshoot of the London party with the exception of the Glanton companies would take that very ground. With three different “middles of the biscuit,” though, it is a little difficult for simple souls to distinguish the original center from the broken pieces.
But now having seen how rigid Exclusivism has utterly failed to do the very thing it was supposed to effect; that is to enable believers to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, it may be well to ask: Has Open Brethrenism fared any better? The answer may be both Yes and No.
Yes-for no such worldwide divisions have taken place among these assemblies as among the Exclusive Brethren. No-because actual organic unity is as far from being manifested among the Open Meetings as among the Exclusives.
Starting with the idea of the independency of the local assembly and the rejection of the Exclusive view of the ground of the one body, the Open Meetings have become largely congregational in character. While this in itself militates against widespread schism and localizes division, it has really fostered the spirit of disunion and independency. Now, in using the latter word, I do not wish to be offensive, for I fully recognize that what Exclusives call independency, Open Brethren think of as immediate dependency on God, rather than the recognition of a union of meetings. Nevertheless, the fact remains that assemblies holding this principle break up into warring fragments very often on the slightest provocation; and where they do go on unitedly in happy fellowship and active gospel testimony, it is generally because of the individual spiritual energy of some leader or leaders in the local meetings whose influence over the rest is so strong that others yield to such leadership and so division is averted.
But it is no uncommon thing to find in one given locality several meetings, all recognized as Open, which have no real fellowship with each other; although if a conference is held in a distant city, representatives of all these meetings might be there who would break bread together at the time and share alike in the ministry and fellowship; but on returning home they would not in some instances so much as enter one another’s halls or meeting rooms. Illustrations of these unhappy conditions could be given, but it seems better simply to state the fact rather than to draw attention to particular places, for one realizes that the brethren in all such meetings doubtless mourn over the separations and misunderstandings; but the difficulty is how to rectify them. Nor do I mention such things here with the thought of advertising the failures of Brethren, but rather with the hope that a fair, plain statement of conditions might lead to the recognition of a Scriptural way out.
Often these divisions are simply the result of some one individual’s energy or eccentricity. Possibly some leader cannot get on with the rest; so he goes out, takes a certain number of followers with him, and rents a new hall beginning another meeting, not as hiving off from the older one and in full fellowship with it, but as advocating somewhat different principles, as a result of which the older meeting immediately closes the door on the new one and refuses to receive from it, unless persons returning utterly repudiate the more recent gathering. Or, it may be that some prefer an organ or other musical instrument to guide in the singing in the Sunday school or gospel meetings, and to legal Brethren this is ever taboo. So one company goes out and puts in an organ or piano, while the others go on without such help, but are equally content to go on without their Brethren too, even charging the latter with lack of conscience because in this matter they desire to become all things to all men if by any means they may save some. Singularly enough, those refusing to have any fellowship with their Brethren who use musical instruments in gospel work will perhaps have a piano or organ in their own homes; and while with amazing inconsistency they denounce their Brethren as going in the way of Cain (whose son invented the harp and organ) because they use music to aid in Christian testimony, yet these same Brethren will gladly avail themselves of many another product of Cain’s world such as modern inventions, like the automobile for instance, which is the result of Tubal-Cain’s inventive genius, for personal use; while perhaps, as I have known in some instances, bitterly protesting against so much as sending a Ford car to a missionary for use in his work, on the ground that it is an unapostolic method of reaching the masses, as there is clearly no Scripture that indicates the apostle Paul or any of his co-laborers ever toured the ancient world in an auto!
Again, some meetings are much freer in communion than others or in reception of ministry for other companies of believers. Gatherings where people are put through a rigid process of examination ere being allowed to break bread, and where it is insisted upon that they should separate from all denominations and possibly be baptized by immersion before they can sit at the Lord’s table are generally spoken of as “tight” meetings. Others having various degrees of fellowship with Christians not formally with them are spoken of contemptuously by their “tight” Brethren as “loose.” Yet it will generally be found that meetings so stigmatized seldom if ever receive believers of whose Christian character and soundness in the faith there is any reasonable doubt. It may be said of Brethren as a whole, taking in all shades and distinctions, that they stand for the reception of converted people sound in the faith at the table of the Lord, and of none others.
In regard to ministry, there are some Open meetings, and it has to be acknowledged some of the very best of them, who have a stated preacher, perhaps not exactly serving on a salary basis, but to whom regular monthly or weekly remittances are given that he may pursue his work without distraction; while other meetings would not even permit the arrangement beforehand as to who is to declare the gospel on a given night. They come together without any prepared program and wait upon the Lord after the meeting starts, looking to the Spirit to guide the right man to take the platform, if indeed a platform there be, for more than one meeting has been torn to pieces over the question as to whether the brother addressing the meeting should be raised a few inches above his fellows in order that all may see and hear better. The platform has been looked upon as a badge of clerisy, and the attempt to introduce it has marred the harmony of the meeting, if it has not led to actual division.
In certain quarters, the plan above mentioned of having no stated preacher but carrying on gospel testimony in dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit has worked out well when there were spiritually minded Brethren possessing evident gift and sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance. But in other cases, it has proven a dismal failure, the most illiterate and ignorant men often pushing to the front and insisting on being heard, while godlier and better instructed servants of Christ shrink into the background and keep in retirement. As a result of this fleshly activity it has come to pass that in most of the Brethrens’ conferences and other gatherings for public testimony, speakers are now selected beforehand in order to avoid confusion and waste of time. Even among the Exclusive Brethren this is generally the case as well as in the Open Meetings.
It will be seen from the above how very difficult it would be at the present time to get anything like unity in judgment upon any particular question among the assemblies of Open Brethren. This makes it exceedingly hard for Exclusives who are so accustomed to act organically to understand their Open Brethren who act locally. It also calls for a good deal of consideration when one remembers that thousands of these Open Meetings have been formed in complete independence of what may have transpired in past years. While Exclusives as a rule are fairly well read on questions of division, the Open Brethren generally avoid such questions and seek to act as local meetings before the Lord. Possibly Mr. William Shaw of Scotland who for years edited a little periodical called The Believers’ Pathway, puts the open position as clearly as anyone could. I quote from an article entitled, “Fellowship Among Saints,” which was published many years ago:
When we came out at first our path was simplicity itself. Our eyes had just been opened to the great beauty of the gathering name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the truth that we were one with every saint that loved His name... A great tide of joy arose in the hearts of the saints as they beheld that “goodly land” into which the Lord had brought them, and their union, not only with Christ the Head in heaven, but with every member of His body on earth! We had no call to found “a church.” We were in the church; we realized that we were bound up, with every believer, in the bundle of life with the Lord our God; and we found it blessed to be in the bundle. Neither had we any call to found a form of church-government. The Lord Himself had already furnished us with the New Testament pattern. Recognizing our oneness with all the people of God, we saw and rejoiced to see that the place we occupied was the birthright place of every believer. We perceived that the Lord’s table was for the Lord’s people, and that the qualification for sitting there was simply this, that you are a believer in Jesus and walking godly.
Many believers did not see that their true place was there; but that was their responsibility, not ours. What we were to see was simply that the principles on which we gather would include every child of God on the face of the earth who was sound in faith and practice. That is, that the constitution of the assembly would include all whom the Lord included, and exclude only those He excluded. We therefore acted on the Scriptural precept, “Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom_15:7). We found believers who had very little light upon “separation truth.” But that was no reason why they should be rejected. We felt that the measure of a brother’s light could not be made “a test of fellowship,” provided he was sound in the great fundamentals of the faith. Indeed, in those days many a believer in the earliest twilight of his “learning the ways which be in Christ” was wonderfully helped and established by being welcomed as a member of the great family of God.
Thousands of the believers who so gathered had never heard of Bethesda or Plymouth. The names of Darby, Kelly, Grant, Stuart, Raven, Cecil or Lowe would all have been strange to them. They, did not even know that there ever bfacl been any other meetings similarly gathered. Yet when such Christians presented themselves at meetings of the various Exclusive parties for reception, they were refused until taken over the entire ground of the Plymouth Bethesda controversy and forced to take sides. Of course, this was only true if they fell into the hands of legal or ignorant men. The more spiritually minded and better instructed of the Exclusives have always sought to receive such brethren in their simplicity without raising questions of which they knew nothing.
But as the years went on, among the Open Meetings themselves many questions arose that led to another type of Exclusivism, and Mr. Shaw refers to this in the following remarks, though he does not by any means seem to understand what was originally meant by the term Exclusivism:
Such was the divine simplicity of the principles on which we gathered at the first. The question then that comes here is simply this-Are these the principles on which we are gathered today? In many cases we fear the answer must be a decided “No!” While professing to be as “open” as ever, we cannot disguise the fact that in the course of the past twenty years a tightening process has been at work. We may not be able to explain how it has come to pass. But we have to do with the fact. It stares me in the face. The leaven of Exclusivism nas been at work among the assemblies-yea, among those who abjure Exclusivism and all its works.
This tightening process, as he calls it, at last led to the development in Great Britain of the Needed Truth Party, a company maintaining that only those gatherings that acted together upon questions of reception, recognition of elderhood, believers’ baptism, separation from all sects and denominations, including even other companies of Brethren, could be recognized as churches of God. Some of the statements of the Brethren who advocated these views are almost beyond belief. They took up the terms “within” and “without” used by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians, the fifth chapter, and made the “within” apply wholly and solely to their particular meetings while the “without” referred, so they say, not to the ungodly but to Christian people, members of the body of Christ, who were not in the Needed Truth meetings. As it may seem almost incredible that such teaching could ever have become current, I give a few quotations that will make it clear. J. A. Boswell, writing on the “Kingdom Present,” in Needed Truth, Volume 4, 147, says:
It seems to us that it has in great measure been lost sight of, that God has a purpose not only through the individual testimony of His children-by their lives or the gospel from their lips, but also by the collective testimony of His gathered together saints in accordance with His will. As we have already said, it is in the house of God, and in it we believe alone, that the government of God can be carried out in this age,- or in other words, the kingdom of God can be manifested. Let us not be misunderstood here. We do not say that Christians who are in the sects will not be eternally saved, as well as those gathered out, for the salvation of God reached to those who were outside the kingdom of Israel. The same today, but we do not believe that those ensnared by Satan in the many false systems of men are in the kingdom of God, or in the place where they can carry out the rule of God collectively on earth, that which Paul preached at Ephesus (Act_20:25).
At a meeting of what were known as the elders of Great Britain, the following six points were laid down to be accepted by all:
I. There is on earth a unique concrete thing (called in Act_2:42 “the Fellowship”) which consists of all those whom God has brought together in a visible unity; the being in this is conditional. It is quite distinct from the Body of Christ, the church of Matthew 16.
II. The Fellowship finds its expression in churches of God; and the churches are linked together in the Fellowship.
III. The existence of the present Fellowship does not admit of a church of God coming into existence except in connection with the already formed churches.
IV. It is the bounden duty of every man exercising oversight in the Fellowship to do his utmost to maintain the unity of the Fellowship.
V. Does the responsibility to receive into or put out from the circle of overseers reside in the circle of overseers in a town, or in that of a county or district?
VI. When overseers in a given circle have a difficulty in becoming of one mind in the Lord, the next larger circle of overseers should come in to assist in producing the desired oneness of mind. Because the leaders from Scotland refused to accept points five and six, they were all cut off, thus making two rival confederacies of “churches of God.” The Needed Truth division never got any real foothold on the American continent but similar teaching has been widely propagated, and there are, both in Canada and the United States many so-called Open Meetings that are in reality Needed Truth Meetings without the name. The following utterances from a Colonel W. Beers some years ago show what these meetings stand for:
According to 1Co_5:12-13 God has a within and a without. Those within it is the prerogative of the assembly to judge, and bye and bye they will “judge the world” (1Co_6:2). Those “without” God judges: “therefore,” says the apostle, “put away from among yourselves the wicked person,” and since the Epistle is addressed to the church of God at Corinth, it is to that divine organization this command is given. Nowhere in the Word of God do we read of God, in the present age, judging unbelievers; they are condemned already; their judgment is future, and coming swiftly; but God is now judging His people only. See 1Co_11:30-32; 1Pe_1:17. Therefore when we read in the passage before us “them without God judgeth” (1Co_5:13) it is His people that we are referred to, and not unbelievers.
This teaching has made its way in many places and often with very sad results. People have been cast out of assemblies, not for any wickedness in life or evil in doctrine, but because they could not conscientiously endorse such extravagances. Instances have been known where believers were actually excluded from fellowship on the ground of adultery or fornication, and when they indignantly protested against such abominable accusations, they were calmly told that the sin consisted in having attended some meeting held for Christian testimony apart from the “Assemblies of God” and that to go to such a meeting was to be guilty of spiritual adultery, which was in God’s sight worse than the carnal sin. I know of a specific instance where a godly brother was excommunicated as guilty of fornication because he preached, by invitation in a city mission. This, of course, is based upon the idea that all of Christendom has now gone into Babylon and these meetings of “gathered saints,” alone are the house of God being rebuilt at the place of the Name! It is surely a far cry from the beautiful simplicity of the early Brethrens’ meetings to such pretentiousness as this.
In beautiful contrast, as it seems to the present writer, are the Catholic views set forth by the late J. R. Caldwell in “The Gathering and Receiving of Children of God,” some extracts from which will help to clarify the questions under examination:
It has been fully proved in the past that God does not own “high church” claims. In the providence of God, that which assumes to be, or even to represent, “the church of God on earth,” has always been quickly proved to be wanting, and a very few years have sufficed to reduce it to fragments. So must it ever be, for God will never attach His power to that which assumes to be what it is not . . .
It has also been contended that the very mention of a “within” and a “without” (1Co_5:12) involves a corporate and formal receiving into the church; but when we turn to the last glimpse historically of the church found in Scripture, namely, in III John, and find there the apostle John and the more spiritual of the saints “without” and Diotrephes and his followers “within,” it is vain to assert now, when confusion has developed a thousandfold, that any circle of confederate assemblies forms a full and divinely recognized “within.” As a matter of fact, the assertion is a mere assumption, and is disproved by the experience and testimony of very many who, though regarded by some as “outsiders,” are really “inside,” and enjoying richly the fellowship of the Father and the Son. This does not at all imply that the command to “put away from among yourselves that wicked person” is not as binding as ever, or that God will fail to give effect to such action when it is according to His Word, and carried out in faith and in the Holy Spirit. This God is able to do, and faith may count upon His faithfulness even in the midst of the existing confusion.
Scriptural reception by the saints is personal and individual. It is on the ground of having been received already by God (see Rom_14:3), and because “Christ hath received him” (Rom_15:7). . .
While Scripture lays down no rule of procedure in receiving, it is asserted that the reception of Paul at Jerusalem is typical, an example to be followed throughout the dispensation in every case. But is it not evident that the case of Paul, so far from being typical, was altogether exceptional? He very naturally, drawn by love and desire for fellowship, assayed to join himself unto the disciples. Had it been an ordinary case of conversion, and no special circumstances known giving rise to suspicion, it seems clear that he would have had his place amongst them at once. But the saints were in fear of him: they supposed it was another ruse of the devil-they “believed not that he was a disciple.” Hence the procedure adopted. Barnabas, with special knowledge of what the grace of God had wrought in Paul, knowing what all the rest were in ignorance of, set him before the apostles, assured that if they, the guides, were satisfied, no further hindrance would stand in the way of his fellowship with the saints.
But to assert that this procedure is necessary in the case of one who is well known to many as a genuine child of God, and against whose character no suspicion exists in the minds of any, is an absurdity that could only be entertained because it fits in with some theory not found in Scripture . . .
An expression in common use requires to be examined, and its use tested, namely, “the saints gathered to the name of the Lord.” By this is meant a certain approved circle of assemblies to whom alone the title is applicable. Some claim it for one association of assemblies; others claim it for some other circle, but in each case it is an exclusive claim denied to all other saints or gatherings…
This use of the term “gathered to the name of the Lord” we have searched for in vain in Scripture. The expression betrays the thought that the object in view is a reconstruction of the church of God upon a new and narrow basis unknown to Scripture.
I may add that it should be remembered that many Exclusive Brethren have through the years become discouraged and even disgusted with the bewildering divisions among themselves and have sought a way out by going in among the Open Meetings. These have carried with them much that they had learned in their former associations and the result is that many Open Meetings are now much more like Exclusive Meetings than in past years. It will not, therefore, be cause for surprise that thousands of godly Brethren in all the various fellowships are looking longingly toward one another and crying to God to make plain some means whereby fellowship might be re-established between the different factions and that all together may present a united testimony in defense of the great fundamental truths for which all Brethren have stood from the beginning. With the various parties of Exclusives, this is comparatively an easy problem as, being more used to acting together, it is simply a matter of convincing leaders among them that there is no cause for further separation; but much more difficulty is experienced when it comes to negotiating with Open Brethren on account of their lack of organic union, and even if, in a given locality Open and Exclusive Brethren are able to come together and bury their differences, that does not necessarily affect Open Meetings in nearby places nor perhaps others in the same city.