A Letter To Mr Leigh – February 14th, 1862
My dear Friend and Brother in one Common Hope, Mr. Leigh,
I would be very glad if I could give you any counsel upon the point concerning which you have written to me; but I have no doubt that you have long proved, as I have had to do, that in all matters connected with the things of God, “vain is the help of man.” Nor do I know, for the most part, a more difficult point as regards acting in the fear and love of the Lord, than how and when to join one’s self to the visible church of Christ. Not that I mean that to my mind there is any difficulty as to what a church of Christ is, for according to my view, that is clearly laid down in the New Testament; the difficulty is in forming a personal connection with a church. For there are so many things to consider, even when the question is fully settled in one’s own mind as to what a Gospel church is.
There is, first, the consideration whether it be the will of God that I should join a church at all. Some of the best Christians whom I ever knew either did not see the ordinance of baptism, or did not see their way to be baptized. Then, secondly, one has to consider the church which presents itself to our view, upon which the question arises—do I feel a spiritual union and communion with the members of it? Then, thirdly, there is the ministry in that church, which might not altogether be commended to my conscience, or be made a blessing to my soul. Then, fourthly, there is the question whether I am of such a natural temper and disposition, or whether grace has so subdued my carnal mind, that I am fit to be a member of a Gospel church.
I know at this present moment, several people, both male and female, undoubtedly partakers of grace, and some of them well taught in the things of God, who from infirmity of temper or a contentious spirit, are not fit to be members of any church. I once saw a church torn to pieces and almost broken up by one member, but in a remarkable way the Lord appeared, and the member resigned. Since then they have had peace, and it is a church as much favoured with the power and presence of God as any that I know. Now all these things have to be well considered, to be spread before the Lord, and not taken up except as He is pleased to guide and lead. The privilege of being a member of a Gospel church is great indeed. It is a high honour to make a public profession of the name of Christ, to sit down at His table, and to be joined in fellowship with those who fear God and walk before Him in the light of His countenance. But in proportion to the greatness of the privilege is the necessity of being led every step by the Lord Himself. Nothing is more easy than to be baptized and join a church. It is done by hundreds, the whole of whose religion stands in the flesh. But a spiritual man cannot move forward in such a carnal way, for if he does, he will find afterwards nothing but bondage and condemnation.
You will think, and that justly, that I have given you very little help in this matter. And the reason is, because I wish you to be led by the Lord alone. From what I have said in the former part of this letter, some might think that I consider it a matter of indifference what a church of Christ is, or whether it be right in a Christian to become a member of it. But to think so would be a great misapprehension of my meaning. Indeed it lies just the other way. It is because I have such a view of what a church is, and of the blessedness of being a member of it under divine teaching, that I have written as I have done. It is not from indifference, but from seeing the spiritual character of the whole matter, that so many difficulties arise in my mind. As a proof of this, in my ministry I scarcely ever touch upon baptism or a Gospel church; not that I do not hold both with as firm a hand as those ministers who are always bringing it forward, but because I wish for the Lord Himself to lead His people to see it for themselves, and to be persuaded by His own sweet and invincible power. . . .
The Gospel Standard is not what I could wish it to be. Like its editor, it falls very short of his own standard of real vital godliness. But his desire and aim are the glory of God and the good of His people, and that the sweet and sacred unction of the Holy Spirit may spread itself through what is written and what is inserted. It is quite a fight of faith, for there are many adversaries, but the Lord still holds up my hands. . . . It is a mercy that the Lord did not allow your foes to triumph. The Lord will fight for His redeemed. I was reading this morning 2 Kings 9, and could not but see from it what a dreadful thing it is to sin against God.
I am pretty well, through mercy, in health, but not likely again to visit Liverpool. I thank you however for your kind invitation.
Yours affectionately in the Lord,
J. C. P.