As WE PROCEED with the development of the subject that was before us last issue we come now to a consideration of details relating to certain Divine movements which occurred during the second quarter of the 19th century. And here we must ask the reader’s indulgence as we embark on what appears to be a digression but yet a line of thought so necessary to an appreciation of the subject.
It will be readily understood by those for whom these lines are written that in referring to the Church of God, we have before us not an ecclesiastical building or organization, but rather a “ called-out company “ comprised of every believer in our Lord Jesus from Pentecost until the return of the Lord – in its wholeness, oneness, and newness as the handiwork of God. Then again – the history of that Church may be regarded as twofold. Firstly – viewed as the object of Divine love, compassion, and care, as in Eph. 5. 25-27. Secondly – as a vessel of testimony, according to the Lord’s word in the messages to the seven churches outlined in Rev. 2 and 3. In the one case we note nothing lacking, while from the other point of view there is plenty to indicate failure and declension – progressively and obviously so.
LET US ILLUSTRATE
Mr. George Cutting, who wrote so helpfully more than a decade past, tells of a journey he took from Penzance to Land’s End. He sat on the box-seat with the driver, who drew his attention to a church in the distance. “ That church," said he, “ we shall presently pass, but between this point and our reaching it we shall lose sight of it nine times.” The explanation was simple – the journey took them over country of hills and valleys, and in the valleys they lost sight of the church. How often do you suppose the church went “ up and down “ in that three or four miles ? How ridiculous, you reply, it was the coach which went up and down, not the church !
Perfectly true, and in its application to our theme we are reminded that the Church of God, as the object and subject of Divine purpose, knows no change, while it is sadly true that, in her witness-bearing, men
” See her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed."
Yea, so often down as to be seemingly totally eclipsed. It is to this aspect of things some doubtless refer when they speak of the Church as being “ in ruins.” From the other point of view it is always above the “ ashes," and it is well to make the Divine viewpoint our objective, whilst we must also sadly acknowledge the “ things which are."
We now proceed to make brief reference to that evident movement of the Spirit of God by means of which there was brought up from under the rubble of Christendom, with its corrupt principles and practices, those precious truths which relate to the Church of God.
THIS RESTORATION BEGAN
in the winter of 1827, and the commencement was marked, as must be true of all revivals worthy of the name, by an unswerving allegiance to the Word of God. In order to avoid the possible pitfall of creating sectarianism by an over emphasis on the instruments God used, we shall refrain, as far as possible, from the mention of names. If the reader desires more detail we would refer him to that excellent volume, “ Short Papers on Church History “ by Andrew Miller, Vol. 8.
The movement really had its inception in the spiritual exercise of a small number of Christians who had long been stirred by the condition of the professing Church. Prayerfully they searched the Scriptures, they found it written, and – they obeyed. No mighty rushing wind, ostentation, or blare of trumpets, but a simple obedience to the Word of God, that, negatively, broke the fetters that bound them to religious tradition, and, positively, led them into the joy of doing the will of God.
Thus in 1827, after much time spent in prayer and the study of the Scriptures, four Christian men – J. N. Darby, J. G. Belief, Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Cronin, and Mr. Hutchinson – met in the home of the last named in Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, to “ break bread “ on Lord’s-day mornings, thus following New Testament precept and early Christian practice. Later, in 1829, Mr. J. Parnell (afterwards Lord Congleton) hired a large auction room in Dublin, and this was, probably, the first public meeting-place of an assembly. Strange place indeed for such
A NEW BEGINNING,
for it was necessary on Saturday evenings to clear away furniture, etc., in order to have the room ready for the Lord’s-day morning gathering. We cannot refrain from quoting the words of one of the brothers who thus helped, “ These were blessed seasons to my soul – J. Parnell, W. Stokes and others moving the furniture and laying the simple table with the bread and wine – and never to be forgotten, for surely we had the Master’s presence, smile and sanction in a movement such as this was.” About the same time similar gatherings were commenced in London and Plymouth, thus possibly giving occasion to speak of these pioneers as “ Plymouth Brethren “ – too often used even today ; by others at times in terms of derision, by ourselves in a way that helps toward our becoming known as “ The Brethren Denomination." “ One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye (all Christians) are brethren," reveals the mind of the Lord for all His people, as written in Matt. 23. 8.
And so there began in such simple manner the
TESTIMONY OF CHRISTIAN ASSEMBLIES
as we know them today in this and in many other lands. They bore, and still continue to bear by the enabling grace of God, some resemblance to the original pattern, whilst those who thus seek to honour God and His Word, reflect, in varying measures, the devotion and loyalty of first-century Christians. Conscious we must be of much failure for, in the words of another, “ spiritual principles can only be maintained by spiritual power.” It is only as assemblies continue in this spirit and in humble dependence upon God that they will justify their existence and function for the honour of His Name.
Thus far we have given very little concerning these rediscovered truths, but we look forward to being able to do so in next issue, D.V.