IN CONCLUDING THIS SERIES of articles dealing with that stirring movement of the Spirit of God which restored to the people of God, some 130 years past, a semblance of first love, with a commendable adherence to scriptural teachings regarding the Christian assembly in its faith, principles, and practices, we would point out some of the main truths which gave impulse and direction to the new beginning.
For the help of the reader, and with a view to the economy of space, we group these facts under various headings, commencing with –
I. THEAUTHORITYANDSUFFICIENCYOF THEHOLYSCRIPTURES
It is always easy to drift. This regrettable fact is underlined in the experience of us all. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives a very suggestive warning of this possibility in one of the many pen pictures dotted on the pages of that wonderful letter. In chap. 2. 1, he exhorts us to “ give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip “. The thought is evidently that of gliding, or slipping away, much in the same way as a vessel may slip away from its anchorage, or moorings.
We venture to quote the apt comment of Westcott: “ The idea is not that of simple forgetfulness, but of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach. The image is singularly expressive. We are all continuously exposed to the action of currents of opinion, habit, action, which tend to carry us .away insensibly from the position which we ought to maintain."
Just so. There is too frequently found a form of acceptance of the Word of God in so far as it relates to personal salvation : yet not fully submitting to the teachings of that Word as they outline principles for the collective and individual walk of the believer.
The movement of which we write had not for its object the creation of a new “ism”, but rather a call to give practical recognition to the authority of “ all scripture “.
Of those who were associated with this new beginning it could be said that they “ found it written “ and they obeyed. Such a course of action must always honour the Lord, whilst reacting in blessing upon those who thus express their loyalty.
The use of such similar terms must not be regarded as ambiguous. When our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead He sat down at the right hand of the Father on high, becoming Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, see Eph. i. 10-22. As a body normally receives impulse and direction from its head, the analogy would lead us to suppose that the believer should be under subjection to Christ. This administration of the Headship of Christ is referred to in Ephesians 4 as giving “ increase" to the mystical body, as believers (the “ joints “) function for the well-being of the whole, v. 16. From another aspect it suggests a “fullness" dwelling in the Head to meet the need of every believer member, Col. 1. 18, 19.
He is also made both “ Lord and Christ “, Acts 2. 36. He has the right to command as well as control.If it is true that the Church has but one Head, it is also true that there can only be one body. The creation of another body demands that we must find another head ; otherwise we are faced with the strange anomaly of many bodies with one head, or, perhaps worse, many heads with one body !
We judge that the little company of believers who commenced the new testimony in 1827 (or thereabouts) acted in such a manner that in all things the Lord Jesus Christ should have the pre-eminence. This is good and acceptable.
A body must of necessity be indivisible. No member should normally be amputated, or even segregated. The classic of all teaching concerning this vital truth is found in John 17, where the Lord, in so many sentences, prays that His own “ may be one “. The believer in Christ has been taken up by the grace of God, out from a world of iniquity, to be brought into a unity that is eternal. We are given to Christ, His entirely and eternally. Not only so – we are linked for ever with all of like precious faith. “ Thy people shall be my people “, should be the model for our spiritual associations.
The exemplification of this precious truth was an outstanding feature of the early days of the new witness. Believers expressed their loyalty to Christ and their love for one another in the complete renunciation of party names, sectarian labels, and all other impediments of common usage, and human tradition.
We are ever prone to specious forms of clerisy. It seems native to us to create inner circles to whom must be given spiritual privileges above others. Certainly we recognize that the risen Lord has given various gifts to the Church, and room should be made for their exercise, but on the plane of priesthood all believers find common ground.If it were otherwise we could not approach our God in prayer, or offer to Him the sacrifice of praise, Heb. 13. 15.
The believer-priest also stretches out his hand of benevolence to his fellows. Indeed the preaching of the Gospel is regarded as priestly service, see Rom. 1. 9. The word “ serve “, referring to the ministry of the Gospel, is elsewhere rendered “ worship “.
Both aspects of the believer’s priestly privileges are seen in exercise, in strange surroundings, in Acts 16. 25 - “ Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God : and the prisoners heard them “ – the witness to men. May we ask readers to compare these soul-liberating truths with what is commonly accepted in the professing Church today ?
V.THE PERSONALRETURN OFCHRIST
The movement that gave re-birth to assemblies as we know them today was marked by a wealth of written and oral testimony to the Lord’s return. How opportune it was ! The torch of prophetic interpretation had well-nigh gone out. Yet God graciously gave the breath of revival. There went forth that clarion call, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh ; go ye out to meet Him “. With clarity and power the believers bore their witness to the imminent, personal, and premillennial return of the Lord.
In more recent days we have seen this truth clouded and shadowed by extraneous matter and specious distortion. Yet how refreshing to contemplate those days when believers lived in the light, the warmth, and the glow of such a truth !
” Surely I come quickly “ is the last word of the crucified Lord to His people. May our response be, “ Even so, come. Lord Jesus “ ! Rev. 22. 20.
Thus briefly have we sketched the main features of a movement that was distinctly of God, features which are still held by many companies of Christians, world-wide.
Such divine patterns are not intended to be religious play-toys ; they call for loving loyalty and whole-hearted allegiance. May this be the response of both writer and reader, for the honour of His name.