Clerisy and Ecclesiasticism

There is no position that we can take, however right it may be, that will free us from dangers that, in a world which is Satan's world, yawn for us on every side. We have no sooner escaped them in one direction than we are made to realize that we have only thereby drawn nearer to them in another. The church is truly militant. To have learned our place in the ranks is a very different thing from being withdrawn from the battle. Nay, it is those who are with God who will be most of all the object of the enemy's attack; and God permits us to learn war, that thereby every spiritual sense may be compelled into activity, that we may "by reason of use have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil," and to make us learn thereby the value of what is our own, as men realize the value of what they have been in peril of losing.
In Israel's wilderness journey, all the people were in camp. The dangers by which they were surrounded were dangers for all alike. And in Christianity, in proportion as the warfare is more purely spiritual, so does it come nearer to us all. There is no non-combatant class. There are none by sex or in any other way exempted from the drill and disci-pline and actual encounter. Just as every Christian is a priest, and every Christian is a minister of Christ, so every Christian is a soldier of Christ, and must have the knowledge of his weapons, and the nerve and dexterity only to be acquired by practice, and must understand the tactics of the foe he faces.
There are leaders, of course. In Israel every one was ranged under his standard and his captain. But it is important that we should realize in this the great difference between the fleshly and the spiritual warfare. In the former, the responsibility assumed by the leader is correspondingly the acquittal from re-sponsibility of those that follow him. In this case you have nothing but admiration for the unhesitaing devotion of those that go forward, even to destruction, at the will of another; knowing full well, perhaps, that "Some one has blundered."
In the spiritual warfare one can have pity for such, but no admiration. The responsibility of the leader takes not one atom of responsibility from the follower. And if he is misled he is guilty for being misled. He has not only compromised himself, but the whole cause with which he is identified; and he is guilty: just because there is really One only and infallible Leader for His people, whose voice is to be heard every where amid all the din of the battle-field; and every lesser leader has only to make men listen to that Voice;-every one of these has to say, "Follow me, even as I also follow Christ."
If we value the welfare of God's people, we must press responsibility upon them to the full; and that none can save them from it, in any part of Christian practice. And yet this is what the great mass of even Christian men and women seek in some way or other, escape from. They believe largely in the practicability of substitution in almost every line of Christian activity; and in all that concerns the assembly especially, this principle avails to blind the eyes and lead astray the steps of God's people to an extent that calls for the most energetic and decisive repudiation of it on the part of every one whom the Lord has given any ability to influence the minds of his fellows. What does it proceed from but that state of spiritual sluggishness and torpor to which we may apply the words of the wise man, twice uttered in the book of Proverbs (vi. xxiv, 33): ''a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth, and thy want as an armed man."
Christian, whoever it may be that reads this, suffer none to stand between your soul and Christ. He alone is your Master; to Him alone you must give account. The vigour, the brightness, the faithfulness, of your life depend upon how you abide in the place of dependence on Him alone. Not, of course, that you are to refuse the help that He would give you through another: that would be mere pride and self-sufficiency of heart. God has given us each to the other for all the help that we can give each other. Let not that thought be weakened in the least. But oh, let us remember that we fall into one of the most subtle and successful snares of the enemy when we allow the esteem we have for another, the rightful confidence in his genuineness, wisdom, piet, or aught else, to make him the director of our consciences in the things of God. It is Romanism in principle: for Romanism, all through, is nothing less than giving Christ a human "vicar," a substitute to whom, as if He were far off from us, we give His place.
We must seek no substitute for ourselves, we must have no substitute for Christ. We must not falsify the blest relationship into which we have been brought with Him. We must be for Him wholly. We must be with Him wholly. We must have nothing secular in our lives. Least of all must we consecrate another to fill the offices that we have vacated.
But this is what clerisy means,- the official taking up by a class among Christians of what the rest, and these the mass, have given up to them. It means the unspiritualizing of the mass - the "laity"- who resign the duties for which they are unfitted into hands more capable:- give up, that is, so much of their relationship to Christ, to be correspondingly freer for the world,- for its demands upon them Not, of course, that people think it out in this way; the mass of us have grown up in such an atmosphere, and we are apt to know little of how it cleaves to us. Nay, if we have measurably escaped from it, let but our spiritual warmth be chilled a little, and almost insensibly, and perhaps quite informally, we drop into it again.
To take up one point,- in which, if anywhere, also it may seem to have some shadow of Scripture for it, but only that,- does not sex seem to have something to do with conscience among us still? is this not really considered more a masculine characteristic than a feminine? With regard, for instance, to the discipline carried out in an assembly, is it always a matter of course that the women are as much exercised about it as the men? Nay, are they always admitted, even, to have as much title to be exercised?
Yet they are responsible for every such act, and if they take part in it with a bad conscience, must feel the effect of this in their whole spiritual life; nay, if unexercised, they are making it a small matter whether that which they do is according to God or not, and must have a dull conscience, if not a bad one. Of those cases in which they have been taught that matters of this nature are outside their province, because of the apostle's word that they were not to speak in public assembly, I scarcely need to speak. It is as much as to say that they are either not part of the assembly, or that they are not moral beings.
But is it not true that women do very much incline to take the place that is here assigned to them; and whatever the motives, is it not a grave mistake? does it not induce a habit which is sure to cleave to them with regard to other things, and from them spread among the men also, until a large part of the assembly even merely confirm the judgment of their leaders, and the reign of clerisy is in this respect practically established? If questions graver than ordinary come now before them, their incapacity will only become the more apparent. The conscience habitually unexercised will not be found to possess the ability for judgment which can only come through exercise. The mere human motives which have always swayed them, will, for the most part, sway them still. They will be carried by arguments which derive their force mainly from the people that use them. Or they will drift, and perhaps break up, under the influence of family and social ties. Drifting is always favourable in the end to stranding and breaking up, simply because there is no intelligent guidance of the vessel. And this is only truer in spiritual than in natural things, because divine wisdom does not govern, is only, at the most, formally sought after all. In the divisions which have been among us, this has every where intensified the evil, as it was certain to do. Christian men and women, exercised before God, will necessarily walk together, act together; but the unintelligent followers of other leaders, when God permits the inevitable collision to test their state, fall asunder with these, if they do not break up into much smaller fragments. A spiritual state of the mass would, to a large extent, hold fast the leaders; who, just as that, naturally lead the divisions; who, sensibly or insensibly, have in fact formed them. The mass are responsible, just for that helpless leaning on them, which has helped their fall, just because they have lost the One Voice, which never can divide - never can be in contradiction to itself - amid the many voices so apt to be discordant. And this is clerisy,- a state of spiritual declension, first of all, from Christ,- and which can never be remedied, therefore, by any external application, but only by the return of souls to their allegiance. He must be Master and Lord of every one of His own, in every detail of individual and collective life, and we must allow no substitute,- no "vicar."
We must look beyond the actors in these divisions, then. There was a state of things which favoured, yea, necessitated them. Wherever you find a state of things in which there is an unspiritual, unexercised mass, who can be wheeled into line at the bidding of some trusted man, or men, with at best slight knowledge of the facts, perhaps also with knowledge as slight, of the principles which are concerned with them,- there is the state of things which is at the bottom of the trouble. There is clerisy, and there is ecclesiasticism: these two things are but the complements of one another; and they exist all around us among those who have a horror of them in their developments elsewhere, while they know not that they are cherishing the very thing which has produced them.
This is no imagination of my own: it is the saddest reality. You will hear intelligent Christians say something like this with regard to things in which they have taken definite sides with their party - and I let the word stand, offensive as it rightly is, because for those who can say so, it is but as with a party they have acted : "Well, we did not ourselves know much about these things: Mr. - looked into them, and we all had confidence in Mr.-," and so on. Sometimes - and not unfrequently indeed - and where widespread division has taken place, you may find that numbers of people have never known at all, even by the representation of another, what was in question, and every thing that would have enlightened them has been kept from getting into their hands! How can the commendation apply to such: "Thou hast kept My word," when they neither know, nor cared to know, to what, or in what way, His word applied?
Of course there are many decisions of an assembly, - nay, the mass of them - which, as with regard to local matters, must be reached there upon the spot, and ought never to be carried round. Of such things I do not speak. But these are not the matters that ordinarily cause any wide or lasting division. What does so is usually some question of truth or principle, as to which it seems not even yet to be understood by many, that the local assembly has no binding authority at all for others. Of course, if an errorist be in their midst, and they are satisfied that he subverts the foundations, their duty is simple: they must clear themselves. But appeal may be taken from their decision to the word of God; and the consciences of Christians every where are bound to consider the appeal. The judgment of an assembly in this case has no force whatever, except as they can produce the evidence of the evil which has necessitated their action. And with the doctrine before one clearly, such a decision has no binding power at all. The word of God is the charter under which the assembly acts, and is above all its actions. The Church does not teach, or define doctrine: that is, again, the heresy of Rome. And the very semblance of power in its hands to set forth what is to be received among Christians is to be refused by every one who would be loyal to Christ Himself. Here individual exercise is therefore necessitated and imperative. We cannot bide from it behind one another. "Thou hast kept My word -" My word "- rings in our ears.
The truth committed to Christians is the most important trust that they can have. If of Israel it could be said, "What advantage has the Jew? . . . chiefly, that unto them were committed the oracles of God,"
- what then, must be the value of such an inheritance as is ours in this respect? And, if God has suffered a few to return to something like the simplicity that obtained at the beginning, to recognize the common relationship of Christians to one another; if He has freed us in measure from the traditions of men, and from human inventions in the things of God, it is to enjoy and profit by the unadulterated word of Christ. It is all we have for blessing. The Spirit of God, whose presence with us and authority in the assembly it has taught us to realize, is characterized for us by the Lord Himself as the "Spirit of truth." His great work on earth is to take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us. If He be also the "Holy Spirit "- holiness is the "holiness of truth ;" sanctification is by the truth. If we are taught of God to love one another, this Philadelphian spirit is shown us by the very apostle of love to be "love in the truth" and "for the truth's sake." Men are learning to talk of the "unity of Christendom," and they are proving by many experiments, the practicability of bringing masses of Christians together, to associate and unite together for many good ends. But who can expect anything else than that by all this the truth as a whole must be set aside to maintain good fellowship? Differences must be avoided, even gross error condoned, and if "evil communications corrupt good manners" still, as they did of old, what must be the end of such association without even the guard imposed by the discipline- if there be yet a discipline-maintained in the churches?
On the other hand, if the Church is to maintain the truth, this can only be done by allowing full liberty for the truth to maintain itself, without sectarian restriction of any kind. Where the "doctrine of Christ" is held, and thus the gathering to His name is guarded, Scripture warrants no further restriction on the part of the assembly. It may, of course, always refuse for itself to listen to what is merely unprofitable and vain; but the truth only gains by being trusted as having full power to speak with its own authority to the heart and conscience of the saint. "Let the prophets speak, and let the rest judge," says the apostle: "prove all things; hold fast that which is good." The exercise of conscience thus is for blessing to all. Those who can go to sleep under the not to be disputed creed, are waked up by the discussion. The relations and consequences of truths are searched out and manifested. Have we not been too much afraid of that which, while it is reverent and brotherly in its character, tends ever to make the truth a present and living issue, and therefore to give it power? If God had seen the creed to be the better way of maintaining this, would He not have given it?