Fellowship in a Day of Outward Ruin
A Reply to a Proposition by Dennis L. Higgins
The Initial Proposition by a Reader
“That it is the right, duty and privilege of every child of God holding sound doctrine and walking in obedience to the word to sit at the Lord’s Table, and to shew forth His death as He appointed whenever and wherever there are gathered to His Name two or more of His saints, without any reference whatever to what ‘circle’ he or they belong or whether they belong to any.”
The Reply by Dennis L. Higgins
September 5th, 1910
Anything that drives one to scripture, if only there is sincerity in the criticism, is acceptable and useful, and one is bound, I think, to give a scriptural reason for one’s course as a Christian to any godly person who is seeking for his own feet a way pleasing to the Lord.
It may perhaps clear the field of controversy in some measure if I begin by saying that some of the strictures on so-called brethren are perfectly just — as, for example, on their attempts to make out that the Lord’s table is with such and such brethren, and nowhere else, and on their talk of “spreading the table,” “putting away from the table,” “receiving to the Lord’s table,” and so forth. I not only would not defend such statements, but would denounce them as pretentious and unwarrantable.
But to come to the proposition and the scripture teaching as to the Lord’s table. The only place where the expression occurs is in 1 Corinthians 10, and it should be noted that the saints are not viewed in that chapter as convened or assembled. In chapter 11 they are. It should also be observed that the cup is referred to before the loaf, and the analogy the apostle refers to is that of “Israel after the flesh” and the altar of which they partake. No doubt the allusion is to the peace offering of which all Israel partook. The cup before the bread is not the order of the supper, and I have long thought that the instruction is, that like as the whole nation of Israel stood identified with their altar, and were viewed as in the fellowship of that of which they ate, so the whole christian company were viewed as in the fellowship of the death of Christ (of His blood and of His body). The order is sacrificial rather than that of the supper, and I believe the analogy is complete save that our peace offering is never repeated, but the resulting table is ever spread. The moral application of the fellowship in which all Christians were as the result of partaking of the Lord’s table (the loaf being referred to in this expression, verse 21) is the point before the apostle in that chapter, and is seen in the exhortation that they must be true to their fellowship and not partake with the heathen in their idolatrous feasts. I have no doubt that the whole christian company to-day is still in view, and that the moral application of the Lord’s table now is in regard to association with what is incompatible with the fellowship of Christ’s death. The application was easy in Corinthian days, when the united christian company stood in sharp contrast to the heathen world; but it is not so easy now when the world is professedly christian, and when no particular company can be viewed as the church of God in such and such a place.
The point then in 1 Corinthians 10 is the moral application of the fellowship of Christ’s death, in which all true Christians are contemplated as participating. Instead of clamouring that “we” have spread the table (whoever the “we” may be), let us see to it that we refuse associations morally incompatible with the death of Christ. The principle of separation from evil is plainly found in 1 Corinthians 10, and this is the moral application of the Lord’s table. If we are in the truth of this, separation will characterise us, and not pretentious ecclesiastical assertions which are only a pitiable display of ignorance and the worst sectarianism.
I believe then that the thought of the “Lord’s table” in 1 Corinthians 10 embraces the whole christian company at all times, whether convened or not, the death of Christ being viewed in its peace-offering character. “The Lord’s supper” in chapter 11 was celebrated when the saints were together in one place, and no doubt normally supposes the presence of all true Christians.
But now comes a serious question arising out of the utter breakdown and ruin of the church as a responsible vessel on earth, namely, whether scripture gives light for the path of an individual member of the body of Christ who is exercised as to what is suitable to the Lord in view of the state of things. The ruin of the church cannot be ignored by one who professes to be distressed at the denominationalism in which the mass of true Christians undoubtedly are, and particularly at the sectarianism of brethren so-called. What is he to do in the face of the state of things?
The remedy put forward appears to be that brethren should give up their divisions, others their denominationalism, all returning to the beginning (Genesis 13: 3, 4), but, whether or no, that all Christians should be allowed to break bread without reference to their associations. (“Circle.”) Does the scripture speak so? No, indeed; its teaching as to the Lord’s table is at once in the teeth of at least the latter part of the proposal. The scriptural remedy, I have no doubt, is found in 2 Timothy 2. That chapter gives light to the individual believer that if it be no longer possible to purge out iniquity from the mass of the profession, he can at least purge himself from it. There is no thought here of making a new start, of “spreading the Lord’s table” in a clean place, of setting up the church in miniature, or of anything pretentious at all. The instruction is to the individual — to you and to me — that if “a man purge himself from these (vessels to dishonour), he shall be a vessel to honour,” &c. This is the only warrant I know for leaving iniquity in the circle of professed Christianity, be it evil doctrine, sectarianism (including that of brethren), or any other evil contrary to sound doctrine. It is essentially individual, an individual action, but it is blessed to note that it is immediately followed by a word shewing that a faithful person will find good company in such a path. “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” All is on moral rather than on ecclesiastical lines. These will surely find the reality of the Lord’s table in being true to the fellowship of the death of Christ while breaking bread in remembrance of Him; they can walk in the light of the one body, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. They will find the Lord’s help and support in a path which, like His own, may be one of much isolation and obloquy, but in which they can at least love and recognise God’s dear people wherever they may be, though constrained perhaps to separate from many who prefer to go on with iniquity, using the plea that they cannot separate from the other true Christians who still go on with it. Such separated saints, while not pretending to be the assembly, can in faith act in the light of it, seeking to recognise the holiness of the house of God, and the vitality (in love) of the body of Christ. They would therefore put away from among themselves a wicked person, if any one were proved to be such, and they would cultivate divine affections towards every member of Christ’s body, recognising the necessity of each one, however insignificant, as well as the gifts bestowed by the Head for the edification of the body. They would also decline to walk with such as are not following righteousness, faith, love and peace. There are many who thank the Lord for such a provision for this day of ruin, and who find that He supports them in seeking to walk according to it.
It is easy to mark the defects of so-called brethren. The materials for an indictment are to hand. There has been a great deal of pretension, and a great deal to demonstrate the folly and evil of the pretension. Wherever there has been an attempt to set up something, to claim something, or to be something, the Lord has blown upon it. I do not believe in “brethren” as a company at all, or as such figuring as witnesses to the “unity of the body” (which is not a scriptural expression), or to anything else. I believe, however, in “faithful men,” devoted and unworldly, some of whom have passed away, who have been in their day great gifts to the church at large, however little the church in general would listen to them. They have given their testimony, and many have thanked God for the light and example they have rendered.
Conflicts have arisen from time to time among such as have been affected by it, and who have sought to walk on scriptural lines. The principle of 2 Timothy 2 is one not only warranting the first step in purging oneself, but other steps should they be necessitated. The maintenance of what is due to the Lord will never be taken up by a crowd in a day of general corruption. It isolated no less a man than Paul, from whom, because of the testimony of the Lord, all in Asia turned away. The path indicated in 2 Timothy 2 is, as I have said, a very individual one, and if followed by comparatively few, it will not lead to their setting up to be the church. They would be glad to be let alone and to remain obscure. The day of the Lord’s approval of any faithful servants is at hand. They can afford to wait, conscious of His support meanwhile. “Brethren” as a public christian body I do not believe in, and have never done so, and the divisions that have taken place have made them the scorn of Christendom wherever such a character has been assumed. At the same time I have no doubt that all along faithful men have sought to please the Lord, and to learn, amid conflicts inevitable in such conditions as we are in, what He has had to say.
The cloud was commonly in movement in the wilderness to guide the whole of Israel, and though the tent of the testimony was unchanged, ever speaking of God’s purpose in Christ for the world to come, its location and situation did change. The Spirit now answers to the cloud, and where He is there is certain to be the movement of vitality, but it will occasion exercise, the pulling up of tents, and the marching after the ark. It is the Lord’s way with us, and so long as we are in this world there will be conflict.
Mutual Comfort, Volume 3 (1910), pp. 295 – 301