John 11: 49-52
GJR We have been considering the truth of fellowship and how the scriptures present that privilege to us. For the first three readings we sought to exclude from our minds the practical hindrances to fellowship and sought to see the glory of the truth as presented from the divine side beginning with the call of God into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and reaching its climax in the expression of fellowship in the Lord’s supper. We then recognised that we would have in our enquiry eventually to face the practical working out of that in conditions which are a practical denial of it. For this we looked at the Old Testament and learned from the action of Moses who found the need to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, and how God in His dealings with Israel preserved a remnant in Judah; and we saw that those that subjected themselves to the government of God found blessing. We looked at the New Testament, Hebrews and 2 Timothy, and reflected on how the first epistle of Timothy could be likened to the vision Moses saw of the tabernacle, and how the second epistle could be likened to Moses’s intelligent action as governed by the truth of God in conditions of ruin. We also noted Paul’s comment as to persons in Asia who had turned away from him and how that perhaps was the fruit of what Jesus spoke of as the leaving of first love. We noted how Paul never saw recovery, but John did in Revelation, Jesus conveying to him something very precious: “the Spirit and the bride say, Come”, Rev 22: 17. That is assembly truth recovered. Then there were those who have a little power and were told to “hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy crown”, Rev 3: 11.
I wondered if we could look again at Hebrews because in the last reading I missed the vital point of that section and would like to recover that at any rate for myself. I think we are well grounded in the truth (and it is something that we hold precious) that there is one body, and that we should resent anything that is a practical denial of that. We hold dear the truth that unity is in the mind of God for His people. We are well taught that God’s principle of unity is separation from evil. In passing, it would be good to remind ourselves that there is a unity that is not of God. That is illustrated in the history of Babel: we see a unity there that is remarkable, but it is a unity that had not God as its centre and constituted blatant rebellion against God, Gen 11. I suggest we should remember too that Satan’s great aim with men, including the people of God, is not division, but unity - in error. I think he will reach that when the church is gone. As Paul says, “the mystery of lawlessness already works” (2 Thess 2: 7); there is such a thing as “systematized error” (Eph 4: 14), and we would do well to be constantly reminded that we are called to a separate path.
I would suggest that tonight we dwell on the truth that has also been unfolded to us that the ground of our gathering is not only separation from evil. This is where last week I think I missed the point of the scripture in Hebrews; going out of the camp is not an end in itself.
MJC You mean it is going forth to Him?
GJR It is going forth to Him; I would like to grasp that truly.
MJC We have the great matter of the Lord’s own suffering being “without the gate”; that is set as the pattern. And then the exhortation is to “go forth to him without the camp”. It is not simply leaving the camp; it is to Him. That is what we get in Exodus as to the tent, it was not that being outside the camp was an end in itself - the tent was the focal point.
GJR This is knowledge we have been brought up with and, thankfully so. Among many others, Mr Darby wrote two tracts, one is entitled, ‘Separation From Evil God’s Principle of Unity’. Some years later he re-read the article in a publication, and he reflected (Collected Writings vol 1 p366) on how, if carelessly read, that tract could give one side of the truth, and so he wrote another, ‘Grace, the Power of Unity and of Gathering’. I wondered whether we might be refreshed on that this evening. It would be good if we were so led that we could conclude these readings with the passage in John 11, remembering that it was written long after the epistles and after the book of Revelation was written - John, this old man, (decades after the church had left its first love, and persons had turned away from Paul and what he represented), when the truth had been largely given up, recalled and wrote those words. Paul described persons, outwardly Christians, who are enemies, not of Christ but of the cross of Christ, Phil 3: 19. This was the background against which this old man writes his gospel and he tells us this which his readers did not know before. He tells us something in this prophecy of Caiaphas which goes beyond Old Testament prophecy. The fact that Jesus should suffer for the nation was widely foretold in the Old Testament: “after the sixty-two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing” (Dan 9: 26) is just one example. Mr Darby makes the allusion (see Collected Writings, vol 1 p139) that before Jesus’s coming (and going into death) the salvation of the elect of Israel was assured. John 11 highlights an additional reason for Jesus dying, and that is “that he should also gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad”. Let us remember the era in which this was written. It was written in what is in character our day; the house of God in all its glory having become publicly the great house years before, and this man is led of the Spirit to quote what the Spirit had led Caiaphas to say. This is a major reason why Jesus died, “that he should also gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad”. So we go forth to Him.
GR The fulfilment of that is yet future, but is it your thought, that while we are thinking of the fellowship we are looking at the completeness of it as it is in God’s mind? I had not connected them before. It takes us back to the beginning of our consideration, God’s thoughts, so much greater than ours.
RDP-r In Hebrews it says: “let us go forth to him”. I wonder whether the purpose of gathering the saints together is in view of the service of God. It is not an end in itself, it is not just a matter of gathering saints together, but there is a purpose in our gathering: that we might be available for the service of God.
GJR That is explicitly stated in Hebrews, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually to God”, chap 13: 15.
RDP-r We need to get into our hearts that that is what God’s purpose is in taking us up. It is not just for our blessing, but it is for His praise. That is why He sets us together because then the richness of our praise is fuller, as each one has his part.
GJR Could we grasp in our affections that every one of the Lord’s people is required for the service of God? I remember there was a brother in Malvern who had been under assembly discipline for years, quite rightly so. A local brother went to see him and he said, ‘You are needed in the service of God. The Lord can do without us for our preaching and our ministry, but He needs you in the service of God’.
RDP-r We had yesterday in Worcester as to our place in the body. It is a place that only we can fill. It is important to see that, that we are all needed in relation to this great response.
GR The question you left us last week was, ‘Why did Mr Darby not join the dissenters?’
GJR In his time - the nineteenth century - there was an array of dissenting, non-conformist churches. Some asked him why he did not join with them; for a long time I was genuinely puzzled why he did not.
JAT He had the truth of the one body clearly before him: the Head in heaven and the body here, and he looked and looked for an expression of the church; he kept looking. I think the Spirit of God led him as subject to the Spirit, with others as well (but he in a distinctive way), and we can thank God today. We owe it to the Lord, for the Lord has His servants who have helped us. Such were not satisfied short of the true answer, or with a partial answer. My dissent might be on one point and yours on another: it is not a question of dissent it is rather a question of assenting to Christ in glory and the body here.
GJR I am glad that you remind me not to make too much of Mr Darby; I mention him because his is a name we all know, but we must be careful not to make too much of Mr Darby.
JAT Anyone who serves the Lord rightly would not look for followers for themselves, and yet the more we read his writings and his hymns and poems the more we value what the Lord had in that vessel.
GR Do you think that if he had found other individuals who carried the same exercise and took up the path set out in 2 Timothy 2 that he would have been with them? I would not say ‘join them’ but he would have found himself in fellowship with them? It is not a matter of joining a company.
GJR That sounds very much like what did happen.
RDP-r One element of it was to do with the liberty of the Spirit. Many of the dissenting churches modelled their ways on the church they had left, the clergy and so on, which Mr Darby refers to as dispensationally the sin against the Holy Spirit. It is really the liberty of the Spirit amongst the saints that is key to this matter of liberty in fellowship and in being able to enjoy the relationships with divine Persons and Christ as Head of the assembly.
GJR I am sure that is so.
RDP-r I think we need to be assured today that that is the basis for our gathering.
GR We do not want to make things difficult; the truth is not complicated. The scripture we have read, 2 Timothy 2, and the other scriptures we have been reading, are not complicated; they do not involve a lot of doctrine, but really movement towards Christ.
JAT The presence of God is the whole point. Moses, an outstanding servant, expressed as his greatest wish that God would be with His people. If He was not with them, His people, the journey would not be worth it, and if God was not going to be here tonight by the Spirit (although it might be nice to meet one another) it would not have the same purpose. Is not the presence of God the great criterion?
GJR It is and a leading characteristic of that is the presence of the Spirit and the liberty of the Spirit that we have been speaking of, a divine Person here on earth. If we think of the presence of God, perhaps we first think of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter said, “Thou has not lied to men, but to God” (Acts 5: 4), and then “Why is that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?”, v 9. It is that divine Person who is here indwelling the assembly. To know the liberty of the Spirit must be a very precious thing.
We seek to follow that quality of exercise which was found in persons who have gone before as to finding an expression of the one body. There must be many gatherings of Christians in Malvern among whom the Lord has His own. Someone might come and say, ’We are all in one body; so I could go to one company today, another tomorrow; to one for the reading meeting and for the preaching to another, on the basis of us all being of the one body’. Would that be the confession of one body or would it be a practical denial?
JAT It is a privilege, and it is by divine operation that we are members of that body, but it is a responsibility which has to be followed through in the present climate and conditions. We would all confess that we do not know everything, but the present condition, what has come in, has made the difference. We cannot limit the presence of divine Persons, but there is a way that is right before the Lord which He would have His own to take and I think that is the submission of my will. There are certain conditions that are needed, certain requirements at the present time. I think what our brother said earlier was helpful, that Mr Darby and others did not have a formula. They sought the Lord in the presence of God and they did not think ahead; rather they were dependent and that is how things have unfolded.
GJR In Acts we read of assemblies, and we know that all those assemblies were a local representation of the one assembly. The thought of an independent church, an independent assembly, is nowhere to be found in the scriptures. The very notion of an independent church is a denial of the one body. But what a beautiful thing is the thought of persons gathering together to the Name of the Lord Jesus in happy communion and fellowship with one another in many different places; and they are in the enjoyment of the one body.
RDP-r In view of the current conditions no company can say that we are the one body, but we must acknowledge the one body. No company can claim to be the one body.
GJR I think we have been delivered from any such notion of that.
RDP-r It is difficult to understand the present conditions unless we are subject and accept the humbling.
GJR Scripture shows us, and in some measure experience confirms to us, that there is blessing in accepting the humbling and in making no claims. We have often noted that those in Laodicea have much to say about themselves, but those in Philadelphia had nothing to say about themselves, Rev 3: 7-22.
RDP-r It is not a matter of persons joining us: we recognise those that are of like mind with whom we can walk.
GJR We know that the only ground on which we can walk together is divine grace.
PD It is important to keep the truth before us in spite of the many denominations around us and to keep in mind and heart the matter of divine principle. We would like to break bread with all believers in Malvern, but we cannot. In relation to your enquiry, it is not because any brethren are better than other companies, that is not the reason. Why are we where we are? Why are we not looking or seeking to join another company? I am sure other companies could be less worldly than us.
GJR To answer your question directly as to why I am where I am, in the ordering of God I was born into a household where these truths were valued, but I am distinctly conscious of having to wrestle with the question as to whether that was really to be my life. Firstly I had to learn that was not enough to save me eternally before God: I needed the Lord Jesus to shelter me under His blood personally. I have asked Him to do that and He has done that. Trials which the Lord has allowed us to go through have also led me to question whether this is the company to be with and there have been times when I have doubted that, to the extent that there was a time when I was minded to leave - not because there was anywhere else that I thought I should go - but I know this, had I done so, I would not have gone forth to Him outside the camp. I would have gone forth to myself, and would have perished in the wilderness.
GR Which many have done.
GJR Brethren, I do hope that we can be refreshed in this that the ground of our gathering is not only separation from evil, it is grace. That is the ground on which we gather; the means to that end and the obligation on us is to separate from evil. If there are persons who deny the deity of Christ or who are not clear as to cardinal truths, we cannot have fellowship with them. If there are companies who have turned a blind eye to blatant blasphemy in the assembly we cannot have fellowship with them. If there are persons who are mixed up with the politics of this world we cannot have fellowship with them, but the act of our separating is not the ground of our gathering.
JAT It seems to me that the writer of this letter to the Hebrews, and Peter, coalesce in this as Peter, when the Lord was on the water, said, “Lord, if it be thou”, Matt 14: 28. I think we have to say, “If it be thou. command me to come to thee upon the waters”. Peter made that his clear objective, to go to the Lord, but then he doubted, he looked away and he began to sink; but he did not, he could not sink, because he cried, “Lord, save me”, v 30. That was a real experience.
GR He did for a time walk on the water - that is a wonderful positive thing - before his faith failed. He had the Lord before him in what he did. The others remained where they were. We are not going to reflect on them but we are going to value Peter for what he did at that time. We can speak of Peter’s failures, but that was a very attractive moment. There is plenty of evidence to try and prevent us doing what is right, even within ourselves, but all that was overcome by faith.
JAT The exhortation is “let us go forth to him without the camp”; that is the appeal. I cannot think of a greater lever to the heart of a believer. I could be an isolationist, but fellowship involves that I am not, we share these things.
GJR The Lord Jesus in Hebrews is presented as outside the camp, but before that He is presented as inside the veil. We have an anchor for the soul, entering in where Jesus is, chap 6: 19. Where is He? He is inside the veil. He has gone in, (He is going to come out as the High Priest, He will come out and bless Israel) but now He has gone in. Publicly He is outside the camp, but what corresponds with being outside the camp is our privilege within the veil. I would like to know the reality of that.
RDP-r I was thinking of, “Be ye holy, for I am holy”, 1 Peter 1: 16. It is not separation for separation’s sake; it is separation because we are having to do with the divine presence and the glory of the One who is a representation of the Father. These things, by necessity, require me to separate from evil because you cannot contemplate evil in the presence of God.
GJR What is the lever in my soul for holiness?
RDP-r Holiness is by love?
GJR That is very much like our ground of gathering.
RDP-r It is love and grace. What a power to the soul that is!
GJR I do not know anything else that would bring about holiness.
MJR We do not have a name, we do not call ourselves any church or group, what can we say as to that? We may receive a letter from another locality as an invitation ‘to the saints gathered to the Name of the Lord in Malvern’, etc. We do not have a name, and we would not seek to limit or exclude others, would we?
GJR Do you think that when we speak of the one body we have to make the effort, and seek the Spirit’s help, to grasp in our minds that we are speaking of all the saints. We do not know the majority of them, but when we speak of that we are holding in our affections every one of the Lord’s people who has the Spirit. When it comes to the working out of that it involves painful experience. There is a small chapel on the hills here; I might go there, there are some good preachers there, some of whom have preached in this room, and I might say, I will go along and listen and support that, for it is a good work. But I cannot enjoy fellowship with them; I cannot break bread with them because I do not know what they are mixed up with. Were I to go along there I would be practically denying the truth of the one body. I think the principles of the fellowship that we have been enquiring into would forbid me to go there.
GR Do you mean that there are persons there who are the Lord’s but their position does not acknowledge what we have been talking about tonight. We have departed from that; so to join them would be a denial of the one body.
GJR It is a church on its own, an independent church. There may be people of God there, but they are independent and I read nowhere in scripture of an independent church. I read of assemblies.
JAT What do they meet in the light of? Or what do we meet in the light of? The truth that there is one body and every true believer belongs to that. That does not work out practically in fellowship with every believer. I think we should get God’s view. That truth is a most wonderful thing and one we should give thanks for continually, and hold to.
GJR We think of those who meet there, of those who meet in the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Churches and the Roman Catholic Church; we are thinking of the children of God there and we are thinking about the fact that Jesus died so that they should be gathered together into one.
PD When would that take place?
GJR Something immense had to be overcome for it to be so, and Jesus had to die for that.
GR Do you think it would be at the rapture?
PD Would we connect that with the rapture?
GJR We should. Paul speaks of “our gathering together to him”, 2 Thess 2: 1. We hold that in our affections, and we are looking for it. We are hoping for it at any minute, because it will eventually usher in the day of Jesus Christ, the display of His glory here. But I would love to have the energy of faith and the energy of affection to hold actively in my thoughts and affections the normality that we should all be together, then to think that we are going forth to Him, outside the camp.
PD We would not try to get it through our own thoughts; that is the wrong principle. The Lord would be able to do it.
GJR We read in the scripture of shepherds. The Shepherd goes after the lost sheep. We read of teachers, we read of evangelists, and these are given for the perfecting of the saints. But if any one of us is acting in any way towards another, whether it is teaching among ourselves, in the gospel, or in recovery work, all that can be appealed to is the work of God Himself.
JAT So published ministry goes out beyond the company in which it it was given, and that is something that is expanding. We can pray about that. I think we should pray that others may get increased light which would lead them and guide them. There are some of our brethren who are in churches, or other gatherings, who would know in their consciences that they should not be there. There are those who do not have the courage to move. I am sure there are those who would know certain truths, and yet they would remain in the company knowing that they really should not be there.
GR I was thinking of the ministry that goes out that is appreciated by many souls, and there must be many who sigh and cry in Jerusalem as the scripture says, Ezek 9: 4. If we apply the ‘gathering together’ in the full sense to the rapture it is a wonderful contemplation that secretly on the earth for a little while there will be the whole of the church. The whole of the fruit of the death of Christ will be gathered at that time.
GJR A tremendous thought!
GR There will be other saints secured afterwards, but at the rapture there will be a tremendous gathering together of the fruit of the death of the Christ.
We are speaking of the truth of the one body, but what we experience also in the service of God is one Spirit. Would that have any bearing on what we are speaking of as gathering together into one?
GJR “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit”, 1 Cor 6: 17.
JAT That must involve union. We do experience union. Mr Stoney says (vol 6 p424) that we experience it individually with the Lord, being united to Him, but there is nothing like the union of Christ and the assembly. That would confirm one Spirit, one heart. If we are responding to Christ as the assembly, it would not be intelligent to speak of hearts, it would be one heart, one voice, one Spirit.
MJC In Hebrews it says, “for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek the coming one”. Does that have any application to what we are speaking of? Naturally we might like an abiding city now, but here the writer is saying that that is not what we have. In one sense one’s energies spent in realising that are fruitless, “but we seek the coming one”; that is future. The praise in the next verse does not wait for the coming city; that is what can be enjoyed now, but there is what is coming and seeking that seems to be what we should be occupied with.
GJR The thought of the “abiding city” was a distinct one in God’s dealings with Israel. In numerous places it is alluded to, such as “my place … where I caused my name to dwell”, Jer 7: 12. It was a major question: it was not Shiloh (other than for a while), it was Mount Zion, where David offered up the sacrifice at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, 2 Chron 3: 1. That was the place that Jehovah chose. I think the thought of an abiding city was rooted in the consciousness of these people. Now the writer is saying we have not that.
GR And yet we have come to it morally, “but ye have come to mount Zion; and to the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem”, Heb 12: 22. That is a moral matter.
GJR We have gone outside the camp; “let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach: for we have not here an abiding city”. It is an overturning of all that they held dear, “but we seek the coming one”. Meanwhile we have Jesus.
GR So the Jews were looking for an abiding city here on earth; we have a heavenly one.
GJR We do not have an entry in any list of local churches. This meeting room is not the testimony, it is a provision. Our gathering point is the Lord Jesus Himself, His love and His grace.
I would like to pass on something that arrested me from Mr Darby, in his reflections on what he had written as to separation from evil, God’s principle of unity, true as it is, what he also added on reflection is that the act of separating, in a measure, distinguishes those persons, Collected Writings Vol 1 p369. Our poor treacherous hearts are likely to take pride in that. How simple it becomes that the act of separation, as essential as this is, is not alone our ground of gathering’, but it is the Person of the Lord Jesus in His present grace.
JAT I think it is very helpful to state that. Moses’s action was a humble action in the light of idolatry. Idolatry would not make you feel proud, certainly not Moses, and the situation today does not make us feel proud; we have to be humble. I think 2 Timothy 2 is not taking high ground: I think it is taking the only ground that is right.
RDP-r It is on account of holiness. That is what was essential in Moses’s day, it was the holiness of the One with whom we have to do. It means that separation from evil has to take place if we are going to enjoy the liberty that God wants us to enjoy in His presence.
JAT That is not stressed in any wrong sense; we need it. We were speaking of praise in Witney on Lord’s day, and we have spoken of the service of God, and at the extreme point, Psalm 22 commences, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, v 1. I think that Psalm gives the foundation for response to God. He says, “And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel”, v 3. And if Israel is to be recovered it will be on the basis of what is in keeping with God.
31st July 2008