Microsoft Word - Acting in Fellowship.doc
ACTING IN FELLOWSHIP
IN MATTERS
OF
DISCIPLINE


By H. F. Witherby

With Additional Scriptural References









Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to
dwell together in unity!

Ps. 133:1


When a local assembly acts, it will do so, if it acts rightly, as in the presence of God, by the authority of the Lord,
and being guided by the Holy Ghost. If it does so act we may justly assume two things: first, that there has
been subjection to the Word of God for the formation of the decision upon which the character of the action is
taken; secondly, that the consciences of the individuals forming the assembly have been in direct contact with
and have been governed by the Word of God as to the matter in question. The act of the assembly thus
wrought will be that of one mind, and will be done in fellowship.
“Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be
done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteemother better than themselves.”(Php
2:2, 3)
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my
absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will
and to do of his good pleasure.” (Php 2:12, 13)
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a
godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation
not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye
sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what
indignation, yea, what fear, yea what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea what revenge! In all things ye have
approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2Cor 7:9-11)
In an assembly gathered to the name of the Lord, which is being frequently enlarged by the accession of fresh
units, it is obviously all important that the Word of God should be referred to when a given action is necessary;
or, at all events, that the consciences of the fresh comers should be drawn out in exercise by the Word of God,
lest they, ignorant of the Scriptures concerning the question which is before the assembly, should take part in
and be bound by an action which, though right in itself, does not command their consciences as that which God
has bidden should be done.
“Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occcupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at
thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?” (1Cor 14:16)
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in
those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come
in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of
his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in
(amongst) you of a truth.” (1Cor 14: 23-25)
If this care be not constantly exercised, the result will be---supposing years to roll on---that in some units of the
assembly a spirit of following a leader or a majority will ensue, and thus that in a certain number of the
individuals composing the assembly practical subjection of conscience, as relating to assembly action, will be
imperilled. And when such a state of things occurs in a given assembly, on a wide scale, the rule of leaders,
and not acting in fellowship, will surely result; and the very ground of the assembly, as gathered to the name of
the Lord Jesus, will be endangered. It will not be practically gathering to the name of the Lord, and seeking the
guidance of the Spirit, in relation to the point before the assembly, and, in consequence, saints acting as one,
but it will be practically the authority of A or B, and the guidance of this or that brother. In a word, it will be man,
not God.


“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal, and
walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is
Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? … For we
are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. … Know ye not that ye are the
temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? And again the Lord knoweth the thoughts of the
wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s; And ye are Christ’s and
Christ is God’s.” (1Cor 3:3, 4, 5, 9, 16, 20, 21, 23)
The judgement of the leader or the majority may be right, but more is requisite that the right thing should be
done. It is of moral importance that the conscience of each individual of the assembly should have the sense of
responsibility to God, and that all should act together as in the sight of God. When, either from ignorance or
inertness, the units of an assembly take to following a leader or to falling in with the majority, there is a very
great weakening, if not a giving up, in their soul of the principle of the individual responsibility of each saint
towards God, and also of the reality of the presence of the Holy Ghost in an assembly. They are merely
accepting a state of things which pertains to their assembly, and are not acting as led by the Spirit. Also,
though the action be passed, as we may say, by the whole assembly, and thus outwardly all be smooth, and
though the action be right in itself, still there is spiritual decay as to fellowship and subjection to God.
When consciences are not in exercise, and the Word of God is not enquired into, seeds are surely growing up
which will develop into ministerialism and surrender of judgment and conscience to ministers. The Holy Ghost,
in His work in an assembly, is thus practically set aside; and when this state is complete only the name of an
assembly of God will remain. Godly individuals may indeed be united together professedly on the ground of the
assembly, but the vitality of their gathering together will no longer subsist, for it will be man, not God, who holds
things together.
“Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a
new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us:” (1Cor 5:6, 7)
“But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan ... took of the accursed thing:
and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. ... And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee
up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant
which I commanded them for they have taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also,
and they have put it even among their own stuff.” (Jos 7:1, 10, 11)
“And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the
assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things
which should not be done, and are guilty; When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the
congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation. …
And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the
priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them. And he shall carry forth the bullock
without the camp, and burn him as he burned the first bullock: it is a sin offering for the congregation.” (Lev
4:13, 14, 20, 21)
”Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and
spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. … For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though
I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.” (2Cor
7:1, 8)


The true idea of acting in fellowship is lost in souls who follow a leader or a majority, or, if we will, a minority, for
it is not with them the Holy Spirit guiding the assembly’s judgment into obedience of the Word of God, but the
judgment of A or B, or the influential part of the assembly. This is exceedingly sad work, and utterly unworthy of
the grace of God, Who has opened our eyes to the fact that it is our privilege and duty to endeavour to keep the
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The dictum of a man is not the unity of the Spirit, and following it is
retrogression, even to the state of things all around us, where from Rome downwards, men hand over their
consciences to their leaders as to matters of discipline. And we have only to consider the present divided state
of Christendom in order to have a just view of the result of the principle of following a leader or going with a
majority or a minority; yes, and to be warned of our certain end if we do as Christendom at large does.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself;
but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for
he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” (Joh 16:13)
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
(Rev 2:29; 3:6, 13, 22)
Those whom God has set in an assembly as leaders or guides are especially responsible to Him, to direct the
minds of His people towards Himself in these matters. It is of deep importance that faith be in exercise as to the
fact of the presence of the Holy Ghost in an assembly, and that He can, and does, lead God’s people to
oneness of judgment. We say faith should be in exercise as to this, for if the doctrine merely be accepted, and
the practical results of the truth of God the Holy Ghost being with us be ignored, we are simply laying ourselves
open to Satan, by holding a truth intellectually, and yet practically denying it. If there be faith in the presence of
the Holy Spirit guiding our minds, there will necessarily be also dependence on God and patience. Also in
proportion to our degree of actual faith in God will our own fleshly ways and energies be utterly rejected.
Efforts to obtain a majority or to force the will of a minority, or to carry the special views of a leader, are
sure marks of independence of the Holy Spirit.
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as
ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is
above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of
the gift of Christ.” Eph 4:3-7
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the
measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and
carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait
to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to
the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in
love. This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the
vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the
ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:” (Eph 4:13-18)


“… and being renewed in the spirit of your mind; and your having put on the new man, which according to God
is created in truthful righteousness and holiness. Wherefore, having put off falsehood, speak truth every one
with his neighbour, because we are members one of another.” (Eph 4:23-25 JND)
If the responsibility of the leaders in an assembly is great as to directing minds to the reality of the presence of
God the Holy Ghost, so also is their responsibility great as to the state of their own spirits when a matter of
discipline is before an assembly. “Ye which are spiritual” are recognised by God, and alas for the assembly,
which regards as spiritual, such an act contrary to the “spirit of meekness,” or to resort to means, which accord
not with the holiness and truth of Him who is the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Truth. Acts done professedly in the
Spirit, but which deny the character of the Spirit of God, are a wrong upon Him and the Lord.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness;
considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
(Gal 6:1, 2)
As a matter of fact, acts of discipline, or, shall we say, attempts at discipline, ever test a body of Christians.
Even at this moment more than one large religious body is trembling over the probable results which attempts
at discipline threaten to bring upon it. And we ourselves know, that if a case of discipline be present in one of
our own assemblies, the state of such an assembly will be revealed by its presence. At such a time voices will
be heard which are seldom, if ever, heard in the prayer or the reading meeting, and individuals will be active
whose public spiritual activity does not usually go beyond attending the meeting for worship on the Sunday
morning. These active persons, too, will, generally speaking, occasion difficulty by their activity.
“For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.” (2Cor
2:9)
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much
assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us,
and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:” (1Th 1:5, 6)
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and
to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the
circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought
not, for filthy lucre’s sake. … Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; ...” (Tit 1:9,
10, 11, 13)
Discipline is the most difficult thing with which an assembly has to do, and even though the man’s judgment
who takes a prominent part in it be absolutely right, yet if his soul is not in communion with God he will not carry
moral weight, which inspires confidence. His words will lack power and he will be a hindrance; for it must ever
be borne in mind that the affairs of the assembly are the concern of Christ, and that His eyes are as a flame of
fire penetrating the thoughts and intents of all hearts, and that real discipline cannot be carried out in our own
strength.
However weak we may be, if we put ourselves in the Lord’s hand and honestly seek the guidance of the Spirit,
there will be, if not to say judgment, at least instinct to detect who is in communion with God and who is right
and also a very strong sense of the difference between right and might. We need, in a very special way, to be
near to God when acting for the glory of the Lord in matters of discipline, to feel the evil as if it were our own,
otherwise dealing with evil has the effect of unhinging the spirit, and injuriously affecting the moral sense.


Satan is active where evil is present, and discipline relates to evil; hence it is a conflict, and victory can only be
gained by obedience to the Word of God and in subjection to the Holy Ghost. And, more, there is always a
defiling tendency when we take up evil, even though it be to judge it and put it away; hence the absolute need
of self-judgment at such times. As a matter of fact, when we are judging evil in others we are apt to be drawn
aside by the enemy into a state of pride ourselves.
And, because of this, it is not unfrequently the case that there is a crisis in an assembly occasioned by a double
working of wrong in it. On the one hand, the specific evil to which the assembly has addressed its thoughts,
with the object of dealing with it; on the other hand, the evil of those who would act for God in the matter, acting
in their own strength and by human means and not in the Spirit, seeking to put things in order for God with
unhallowed hands. And hence God, who never denies Himself, has a controversy with the assembly; not only
on account of the evil it would judge, but also on account of the way men are trying to judge it.
Discipline ever lays bare the condition of those who form an assembly, and at such times men’s motives, as
well as their judgments become manifest. Suppose a man, ostensibly righteously indignant with evil, but angry
on personal grounds with the one whom has done the wrong; do we think that God, who tries the hearts and
reins and weighs actions, will pass by such sin as this? There is but one way in which any safety is possible
when dealing with or seeking to deal with evil, and that is, acting in the light. If we regard iniquity in our hearts
the Lord will not hear us, and to use the Lord’s name as a cloak to cover our own feelings is iniquity. Holiness
becomes His house for ever.
“Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever.” (Psa 93:5)
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and
spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Cor 7:1)
Another thing which is apparent when discipline is before an assembly is this; that the detection of one evil very
frequently leads to that of another. It is oftentimes that in the first instance it is like having attention drawn to the
spouting of a tiny leaf out of the ground, but whether there is one small fibre, or many large roots, spreading
under the surface we know not. God allows things to come to light, and opens the eyes of His people to what
they were previously blind, and His way would seem to be to bring the hidden things of darkness to light by
degrees. Hence there is all the more need that there should be earnest waiting upon Him who knows all things.
How many a long story of sorrow in an assembly might never have been written, if the first indications of evil
had been met by prayer and fasting!
“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of
mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing
shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.“ (Mat 17:20, 21)
“O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou
understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all
my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.” (Psa 139:1-4)
If evil be present in an assembly, the first consideration should be the Lord’s honour. This must be cleared at
all costs, but the most intense desire should fill each heart that it is the Lord’s honour pure and true, which is
called the Lord’s honour. It is an awful delusion when Christians start with calling the Lord’s honour that which
is their own. There have been many conflicts in various ages in the Church in Christian bodies waged
ostensibly for the Lord’s honour, but really for wrong motives, and what has been, not only will be, but is. But
the Lord’s honour being dear to the assembly above all else, it must be considered that each unit of the


assembly is a living part of the whole, and that, therefore, in each unit there must be a clearing itself according
to Scripture, and a conscience exercised before God as to the evil. This will assuredly create a humbled and
self-judged state in the whole assembly.
The next consideration should be the recovery of the transgressor or transgressors. If we are in the light we
shall certainly have real desire, that he who has done the wrong may be led by God to see the wrong and to
repent. When this is the case the transgressor will not find it hard to acknowledge to the assembly the sin he
has confessed to God. He who has confessed his sin to God and whom God has forgiven and cleansed from
all unrighteousness would be the first to vindicate God against himself. A restored soul---one who has been in
the light and has been forgiven ---would not require pressure to be put upon him in order that he may own his
wrong doing. And where there is true repentance---sorrow for the sin, and turning from it---the way is clear for
the assembly to set its seal upon the work which the Holy Spirit has wrought in the soul of the individual. Where
God has restored, His assembly can receive.
God is just, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. The assembly is simply acting for Christ. It is clearing
itself from evil in the Lord’s name; hence, when there is not absolute holiness, there will be certain trouble
following; for with what measure we mete it will be measured to us again. We must also remember that a calm,
judicial spirit is rare in an assembly which is troubled with a question of discipline. For it is a crucial hour for
men’s souls, and unless at rest in God’s presence, and thus in the spirit above the evil which is at work, and
which has to be judged, holy calmness will be lacking. Also, unless truly in the light, such is man, that there will
not be freedom from partiality, and without this the holy unbiassed spirit which should mark our actions in the
Lord’s name cannot exist.
It is usually the case, that if an assembly is at the first lax to judge evil, when it does begin to deal with it, it will
be over hard with the transgressor. It will sway from one extreme to the other. But God requires His Word be
obeyed, and we have patiently to follow in His Word. Neither laxity nor unrighteousness are of Him, and neither
would exist in souls if we were in communion with Him. There cannot be too great abhorrence of evil in our
souls, but there may be a reprehensible severity against the transgressor. Men still “away from the Table”
might have been restored if the very hand which smote---and necessarily smote---had been guided by an eye of
sorrow. If a parent have to smite a child with the rod of correction, more than half the value of that act will be
lost to his child if the parent loses his temper. The child will get its punishment, but the parent will forfeit his
influence. The Lord would not have His people do a work of discipline for Him in His assembly, save as
directed by Him. Neither would a right thing be done in a wrong way if there were subjection to His Spirit. And
when there is severity, not of act, for discipline must be severe, but of heart, we shall usually find that it arises
either from those whose souls are not free from the very kind of evil with which they are so angry in the person
of the transgressor, or from those who have not judged themselves before God. And it is only necessary to
observe the history of those whose undignified severity against the transgressor savours of vindictiveness, to
learn, as time goes on, that the very men whose hard spirits---hard, not towards the evil, but the transgressor---
so afflicted their brethren, have had in their hearts the seeds of the very same kind of error which they
denounced in others. The reaping times come round, and as men sow they will surely reap.
This is one of the remarkable symptoms of the perversity and deceitfulness of the human heart. And it is an
injustice with which the Lord will surely deal. We need, when dealing with evil, to remember the Lord’s words
about the beam in our own eye, otherwise how can we obtain His light to judge righteous judgment? Indeed,
view this subject from whatever point we may, we are forced constantly to return to the state of soul of those
who judge, and to the sense of the utter inability of an assembly to act in fellowship unless there is the guidance
of God the Holy Ghost.


Practical fellowship, one-mindedness, gained in the presence of God, as to discipline, resulting in the action of
local assemblies, is not so common as it should be. And we would not shrink from putting this assertion in the
form of responsibility, for we should be more together in prayer and in reading the Scriptures, as to the
principles of discipline arising in the given local assembly of which we may form part. It is easier to conquer a
country than to govern it.
It is not sufficient, that a given number of men have been separated from the religious systems to which they
once adhered, and that they are vanquished by the truth into taking the ground of the expression of the unity of
the Spirit; it is also necessary that each and all of them should live under the rule and guidance of the Word and
the Lord. In former days, these truths relating to the Church of God had to be won; now men come into a state
of things where these truths are accepted; but where this and that is taken for granted as known, it is seldom
really learned, for the conscience is not then in exercise. The great question for our souls when any matter
arises in a local assembly is, “What saith the Scriptures?” And we are in a low state of conscience as to God, if
to get the answer we are content to enquire, “What does A or B say?”
“… if they speak not according to this word (God’s) it is because there is no light in them”. (Isa 8:20)
“Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, (mans) and it shall not stand: for God is
with us.” (Isa 8:10)
There will be seemliness in the younger men as to taking part in deliberation on questions of discipline, but the
consciences of all should be in exercise. And it is a sorrowful day for an assembly when its leaders, instead of
waiting on the consciences of their brethren, take the law into their own hands, and without consultation thrust
their sentence upon the assembly. This is ministerialism and neglect of the consciences of others, and under
whatever name it may pass muster, it is certainly not acting in fellowship as guided by the Spirit.
“Not a novice ...” (1Tim 3:6)
“These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in
word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1Tim 4:11, 12)
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and
also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the
oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords
over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall
receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1Pet 5:1, 2, 3)
“Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: ...” (2Cor 1:24)
That which may be termed the collective conscience of an assembly ought first to be considered; and as there
should be a common judgment, so there should be in every given assembly, such oneness of conscience that it
is not visionary to speak of it in its God-fearing character as having a common conscience; and if one assembly
be thus before God and in the light, so may two be, or any number. Unless an assembly, as such, is in the
presence of God and subject to His Word, what may be termed its consciences is in an unsatisfactory state.
“… we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” (2Cor 5:11)
“But when ye sin so against your brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1Cor 8:12)
“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God


deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of
God.” (2Cor 4:2)
We cannot hurry a man’s conscience, and there may be in godly men a want of knowledge of the Scriptures,
which accounts for their indecision. We not unfrequently find an assembly utterly perplexed by a question of
discipline, through some composing it having conscientious difficulties as to a line of action desired by others.
What is to unite the consciences of all in such a case? That which alone can bind them---the authority of God’s
Word.
“Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: ... and their conscience being weak is defiled.” “And through
thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died” (1Cor 8:7, 11)
If a man has a conscience about a day or meats we are to respect his conscience (Rom 14; 1Cor 8:13), though
he may be weak in the faith. Surely, too, we should respect the conscience of an assembly, if it be weak in the
faith, and should seek patience to walk in grace and unity with it. However, it is not the belief of an assembly
that is has been guided by the Holy Ghost, but its obedience to the Word of God, which is real power, and
which must eventually bind the consciences of other assemblies. An assembly may transgress, as an individual
may, in announcing that it has been guided by God the Holy Ghost, but it is a far more serious evil for an
assembly to do this than a private individual.
“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (1Cor 11:16)
“What? came the Word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” If any man think himself to be a
prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the
Lord.” (1Cor 14:36, 37)
If an assembly be weak and a case too hard for it be before it, or if the assembly be divided in its judgment,
then counsel is frequently sought from a “brother,” or “brothers” of another assembly. And it is most simple that
a brother having wisdom, or being disinterested should impart what God has given him to others; but a very
careful distinction must be jealously maintained between counsel being graciously given and consciences being
overridden. A “brother” not of the local assembly where the question perplexes, is under the advantage of
coming to the subject dispassionately; he is also under the disadvantage of hearing one side of the subject from
those with whom he may be at first immediately in contact. But woe to the brother who seeks to settle things in
his own wisdom, however wise he may be, or in his own might, however strong he may be, or if the collective
conscience of the local assembly be not considered, God is ignored.
“If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment ... being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt
thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;” (Deu 17:8)
“If one be found slain in the land … and it be not known who hath slain him: then thy elders and thy judges shall
come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: … And the priests
the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen” … And all the elders of that city that
are next unto the slain man, … shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, … So shalt thou put
away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the
Lord.” (Deu 21:1-9)
“… I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into
remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.” (1Cor 4:17)


“Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear:” (1Cor 16:10)
“That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.” (1Cor 16:16)
Where a brother goes to a local assembly with self-invested power and imagined inward ability to set things
right, his mission will end in sorrow. He defies men’s consciences on the one hand and the Spirit’s action on
the other. Even the apostle first acted upon the consciences of the saints at Corinth---though using his
apostolic power to set things right amongst them---while in our days of no apostolic power and of professed
weakness, the principle of endeavouring to thrust a line of action, which perhaps may be wrong, and not
apostolic in wisdom, upon an assembly, is simply contradictory to what we accept to be the principle of the
Scriptures. No wonder, then, that where such things are done or attempted the results are so miserable. And
such must be also the state of any assembly which, when evil is before it, is content idly to let conscience sleep
and ministerialism manage its affairs. Ministerialism ends in division.
“But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter toe me: God accepteth
no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:” (Gal 2:6)
“If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his
own work ...” (Gal 6:3, 4)
“Also of your own selves shall men arise … to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30)
Let the evil be faced in the presence of God, and if there be not oneness of judgment let prayer be made, and if
all are honest, God will give oneness of judgment. There is but one Spirit, and when all are simple-hearted the
one Spirit will give oneness of mind. And then will ensue acting in fellowship. The great consideration must
ever be to set the conscience of a sluggish assembly in action. If an assembly will not deal with evil it loses its
character as an assembly of God; but usually there will be found a large proportion of honest men in each
assembly, though some may be sleepy and others ignorant; hence patience is needed.
“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in ...” (Gal 2:4)
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after
the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and
disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to
Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they
passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto
all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles
and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of
the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep
the law of Moses. …
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to
Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the
brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain
which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised,
and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with
one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their
lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the


same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us … “(Acts 15:1-5, 22-28)
When one local assembly tries to take up the affairs of another local assembly the result is confusion, for God
does not own such interference. It is much the same as an individual brother coming to set things to rights in an
assembly, on a larger scale. Matters are made worse, for the vital principle---that the assembly itself must act
before God---is ignored. It surely is right to appeal to a hesitating assembly to act, thus stirring up to enter
God's presence, but for another assembly, or for an individual to lay down the law, is simply ignoring the state
that the assembly should be in before God, and is taking the question out of God's hands.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of
His good pleasure.”(Php 2:12, 13)
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; … repent ...” (Rev 2:1, 5)
“Unto the Angel of the church in Pergamos write; … Repent ...” (Rev 2:12, 16)
“Unto the Angel of the church in Thyatira write; … I gave her space to repent ...” (Rev 2:18, 21)
“Unto the Angel of the church in Sardis write; … repent. ...” (Rev 3:1, 3)
“Unto the Angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; … repent ...” (Rev 3:14, 5)
(Each assembly is seen as its own responsible entity before the Lord.) added
When one local assembly tries to take up the affairs of another local assembly the result is confusion, for God
does not own such interference. It is much the same as an individual brother coming to set things to rights in an
assembly, on a larger scale. Matters are made worse, for the vital principle---that the assembly itself must act
before God---is ignored. It surely is right to appeal to a hesitating assembly to act, thus stirring up to enter
God’s presence, but for another assembly, or for an individual to lay down the law, is simply ignoring the state
that the assembly should be in before God, and is taking the question out of God’s hands.
Patience, also, is necessary, for, as a rule, the judgment of an assembly upon any kind of evil is but an
expression of the moral state of that assembly. There are, for example, bodies of Christians who look very
lightly upon doctrines which are really subversive of the very honour of Christ. Why is this? Because their
members, generally, are indifferent to the evil of the doctrines. Every few years we hear of secessions from
organized Christian bodies because some Christian man or other cannot tolerate an evil thing to which the body
of which he is a member is indifferent; but the mass goes on as before, and we find also a gradual leavening
process goes on in the mass, and thus Christians generally becoming painfully more and more indifferent as to
the most grievous of doctrines being taught by members of their denominations. So when an evil doctrine of a
covered kind expresses itself in a local assembly, we seldom find that everyone, at the first, perceives its
gravity, and this shows what the low state of the local assembly is, and indicates that each unit is not alive to
the importance of the evil which is manifested.
Doctrine is in some respects easier to deal with than practice. And here again the state of the soul and
character of conscience of the assembly is tested by evil practice occurring in one composing part of it. The
learned and gifted Corinthians were blind and indifferent to their divided state, and also boastful of the presence
of a horrible crime in their assembly, and thus we see what was their actual moral condition. We may be sure
that the way in which we view sin is really the way in which we practically are in, or are not in the light. If there
be honesty before God, there will be simplicity as to right and wrong. If thine eye be single thy whole body shall
be full of light. No underhand procedure will commend itself to honesty, nor will party feeling in order to shield


the transgressor approve itself to him who is in the presence of God. And what is earnestly to be desired is;
that the whole of each assembly should be so in the light that there may not be any will, save that which would
do the will of God. But it must be insisted on, that to this end it is all important that each individual should be
before God with a clear and honest conscience.
We know that there must be heresies amongst us so that the approved may be made manifest (1Cor 11:19),
and whether we look at Ephesus (Rev. 2) or Corinth, or read the later Epistles, we find, alas, that even in
apostolic times, and from the earliest days, God’s saints were exposed to this danger. Sifting and testing must
be our portion. The way to glory is not lined with roses; happy are they who overcome.
Neither in these days can we send up our difficulties to “Jerusalem” by the hand of one or two “unto the
apostles and elders about the question”.
There is no divinely appointed council for God’s saints to refer to. Apostles are not, and where are the elders?
We do not say that they, as the apostles, are not; for surely they exist, but where are they? There is now no
apostle to commission with divinely given authority and wisdom, a Titus, to “set in order the things that are
wanting and ordain elders in every city” (Tit 1:5). Neither is there an united assembly composed of all the
believers in any city over which to appoint the elders. While as to the elders themselves in reference to our
assemblies, there is many a city and village where our local assemblies exist, in which the elders are not
gathered with us to the name of the lord Jesus, but are still in churches or chapels! We are living in the days
when Christendom is in a state of disorder and confusion, and when Christendom’s organization is human;
hence we, who as a little remnant, as a poor, weak few, are gathered to our Lord’s name, must be humble and
find our strength in our very weakness. Elders or no elder, all will be well if we depend upon the Lord and obey
His word, and even if we had lived in apostolic days and had had elders in every city, we should not have got on
at all had we depended on elders. We must not rely on man, but on God.
And of what value is a man in office unless be himself is a reality? There may be in a local assembly both
elders and rulers, but perhaps in it there are none. As there are with us teachers, pastors, and evangelists, so
are there elders and rulers, but we cannot say that such are in each assembly, and an elder or ruler can no
more be made by man than a teacher, pastor or evangelist. Hence we, with no organization in the eyes of men,
are in the position, as an ecclesiastical body, of being real and honest before God in the day of confusion and
weakness. What can be better than this in our day? Provided we are honest and real, and in the place of
weakness and dependence upon God. If the state of weakness arising out of the disordered condition of
Christendom be allowed, and the attitude of honest weakness be remained in before God, He will guide by His
Spirit as to every anxious question. Let the brethren of the local assembly deliberate over God’s Word on the
questions in the midst of them and seek His guidance. What saith the Scriptures? is the all important question,
and which answered binds the conscience. When an assembly, however weak, is faithfully before the Lord,
and waiting on Him, He will stand by it, and it will be eventually guided by the Holy Spirit according to the Word
of God. Then the action of the assembly will be in fellowship, even fellowship effected by the Spirit of God, and
what they bind on earth in government will be ratified in heaven.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any
virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and
received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Php 4:8-9)
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love
serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.


But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk
in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit
against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But
if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” (Gal 5:13-18)
“Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the
Father, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a
commandment from the Father.” (2Joh 3, 4)