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The Year 1846

Letter to the Saints Meeting in Ebrington Street on the Circumstances which have Recently Occurred there

by J.N. Darby

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My brethren,

Though I felt reluctant to print anything as to what is passing, still now that all have stated (I suppose) what they think right, the excitement of it being somewhat passed, I shall, without returning to matters already discussed, give you my judgment on what interests us all here - I trust in meekness and grace. Several brethren having come down here subsequent to my leaving Ebrington Street to inquire into the facts, I felt I owed it to them, however fully convinced I might be in my own mind, to give full time and opportunity to them to satisfy themselves as to everything that had passed. This opportunity has been given, and I have felt free to act on my own convictions before God. During the latter part of their stay here, three of these brethren, Lord C., P-r, and C., having proposed to bring before the brethren at large certain charges which had mixed themselves up with the question, asked me if I would seek to remove the impression my previous statement to the brethren had made. I stated to them that I was perfectly ready to press upon the brethren not to receive any impression from me on the subject, and that they were bound to judge for themselves (these brethren having ascertained the facts, at least as to what I had stated, so that it could be put before the brethren at large); and, farther, that I was ready, if the facts as thus admitted by them were plainly set before the brethren, to abide by their judgment as to any intention or motive involved in these facts, inasmuch as the conscience of the body would then be clear as to them, though there might be other points which demanded inquiry. I left Plymouth for a fortnight, other motives also concurring, so as to give them time to arrange this while I worked elsewhere.

Nothing resulted. As to myself, all know that I have been at all times ready to meet the brethren as to any thing that concerned myself. Here I shall say nothing. I am conscious of nothing wrong in this matter, however imperfect in my ways: the judgment of man is of little moment, and I prefer committing myself to Him that judges righteously. I can bless and thank God heartily and unfeignedly for everything as to myself, and trust Him in it all.

To pursue the subsequent facts. You have all seen the letter of Sir A.C., and the way in which the judgment of the brethren was utterly rejected in principle. I need not repeat here his plain statement. Mr. C. on another occasion alleged the passage in Matthew 18. "Tell it to the church," and not only tell it to the church but "if he neglect to hear  the church." This also was rejected. If told to the church, it was said they could not act on it as a body, though individuals might come and state their judgment. To Mr. W. the same principle was maintained, by another who acts as teacher and ruler, on the occasion of taking up the chapel in Raleigh Street. Mr. W. stated that if there could be any appeal to any from the alleged evil which had driven away many long-known brethren, he would seek still to go through with the matter in Ebrington Street. He was told there was none, he had only to submit if those who held the place of rulers were concerned and did not act, and this even if it were a crime they were charged with themselves. Since then it has been taught openly that it is wrong for the church to act judicially, and that it could call no one to its bar; and the other two, not included in the previous statements, who have assumed the place of teachers or rulers, or both, confirm the principle that it must be left to the rulers, and that the church must judge by its representatives. Such is the way godly conscientious persons have been met. At any rate it is notorious that, in whatever terms it may have been expressed, the principle has been deliberately and systematically acted upon, when there was evil enough judged to be there by many godly brethren to drive them away. There was no remedy. Here then I get at the broad principle of the congregation meeting in Ebrington Street: - the church cannot judge evil.

Another has been brought clearly out by the presence of these brethren. They were not allowed to interfere because they were strangers and not of the congregation in Ebrington Street. This was distinctly asserted and maintained: - the unity of the body is denied.

There is a third point which has been brought out by the visit of these brethren. Mr. Newton has declared, in substance, that he would pursue what would produce everywhere united hostility in every gathering to the teaching of the brethren whose doctrines he disapproved of. Now with this I can have no fellowship, nor sustain it by public association with those who seek it. Until it be openly and distinctly judged by the assembly, they are parties to it now that it is avowed either acquiescing in it under the plea of preserving unity, or at least helping it on unconsciously. I could be no party to their doing either.

But while party sectarianism is avowed, and for this alone I should feel bound (separate from evil, and identifying myself in heart with its low estate) to take my place in the unity of God's true church and away from what I believe to be thus avowedly sectarian, still I would not dwell farther on this now. There are other principles in the facts I have mentioned which I present to the consciences of brethren. The fact that these brethren known to all, who came from elsewhere, were not allowed to meddle with the affair here, because they were not of Plymouth or of the gathering in Ebrington Street, is a direct denial of the unity of the body of Christ.

It is not a question of deference for those habitually here: I never heard the brethren who came accused of want of that. It is a question of principle. From the outset their interference was rejected on this ground. The unity of the body is therefore denied, and any gift or wisdom which other brethren who do not reside here possess cannot be exercised freely in the body. The gathering in Ebrington Street is a sectarian party everywhere, or an independent church, and the true unity of the body of Christ is denied there. It is useless to say that all saints are admitted to communion. So they would be in any other independent church in the kingdom. The real unity of the body as a whole is denied.

Secondly, the judgment of evil is positively refused to the church in defiance of direct plain scriptures. "Do ye not judge them that are within?" "If he neglect to hear the church." "Put out from among yourselves that wicked person."

And here comes out another principle. The teacher and his authority are set above the written word. The word says "judge." The rulers say you must not judge, and the fact is no judgment takes place. Perhaps, if the rulers bring a member before the body, the body may be suffered to excommunicate him; they have, that is, an executive and not a deliberative capacity. That is, when the rulers have deliberated and resolved (for I suppose there is to be some deliberation), the body is to execute; but the exercise of conscience or spiritual judgment by the Holy Ghost working in the body is not for them at all. This is what in principle has actually taken place. If those who have assumed the place of rulers commit even a crime, there is no remedy but to leave it to the Lord - none in any way. The body cannot judge: and if brethren, ever so gifted, come from elsewhere, they cannot be allowed to interfere, for they are strangers. There is an absolutely irresponsible body of rulers who have assumed the place to themselves (for who placed them there?) who can sin as they think fit till God is pleased to interfere. The gathering in Ebrington Street, besides being sectarian is really an independent church which has no power to judge evil, with irresponsible rulers who have assumed this place, and cannot be judged by anybody for anything they do.

For these two reasons, my brethren, I cannot own a table in Ebrington Street in any way. I look for two things especially as constituting distinctively the table of the Lord. First, the unity of the body of Christ - we are one body as partakers of one bread; secondly, that it should be a holy table. Both are denied in Ebrington Street. I do not mean that there are not individuals who believe in the unity of the body, and who are holy persons and desire holiness; I do not the least doubt it. I speak of the principle for which they are responsible there.

Hence further, I fear nothing of the charge of a second table. There are many tables in Plymouth, and where dear saints too go conscientiously: but they do not, I judge, rightly own (in terms they would admit it as much as Ebrington Street) the unity of the body. Now I doubt that in any of them the friendly and gracious intervention of known brethren to help them through a trying case would have been rejected, as it has been in the gathering here; and certainly none would hold that there was no remedy at all for evil in their rulers but to leave it to the Lord. But I do not judge, we do not judge, they are what we seek for at the Lord's table; and I do not go there, and you do not go there. I act then as I acted seventeen years ago, believing that, where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, there He is. I do not speak of a second table as regards Ebrington Street, more than I should say a fifth or sixth, if I began to break bread where there were four or five other dissenting bodies already established in a place.

I have given, in principle, my reasons why I do not own Ebrington Street at all, though I love, and look to God for grace to continue to love, the saints who go there. God forbid I should not: for I count them members of Christ's body, however they may divide it. I appeal now  to their judgment as saints. But while the unity of the body is denied in fact, and the judgment of any evil doers is refused to the body, I cannot recognize their way nor them as the body of Christ at all as to their actual position. Do you really think, beloved brethren, that absolute irresponsibility as to evil for all who can assume the place of rulers is the principle of the church of God, being neither remediable within, nor others allowed to interfere? "I speak as unto wise men; judge ye what I say." You will find, and it is worthy of note, that in the first to the Corinthians, where directions are given as to these things, they are addressed to all saints, and no rulers or elders are mentioned in the matter. The point was to have the conscience of the body clear.

I believe then, that the two great principles of the church of God - unity and holiness - have been denied at Ebrington Street; not as to individuals, I mean nothing of that, but I speak of that on which the table spread there is based as a principle. I cannot therefore own it. I do not recur to what made me leave it, but to the judgment which what has passed since leads me to form of it. Till judgment of evil and unity were rejected I could be in suspense. Now they are rejected. But I shall say what I judge as to the whole matter, and as to the brethren who came here. As regards those who came here or who acted when here in a determined party spirit - to them I say that all I desire is, that, if their consciences do ever recognize this, they may be assured that they have my full and hearty forgiveness, as I do not doubt that they will then have the Lord's: but as to the brethren in general who came - there are several whom I love and value very highly, and whose judgment in ordinary cases I should be most thankful to have and generally would rather have had than my own; but I judge that with one or two exceptions, which of course I do not name, their faith* was not equal to the emergency in which they found themselves. They might have confined themselves to obtaining information for the guidance of their own conduct, or they might, as members of the body of Christ, have identified themselves with the body here, and strengthened and acted in and with it according to their gift and grace. They did neither; they went beyond one, and they failed to do the other. They will forgive my putting this my judgment plainly before them and the brethren. Still the Lord ordered all for good, however painfully. Their coming has made the state of things and principles quite plain to every heedful conscience. The Lord is always faithful and cannot leave His people, however miserable they are. I believe He never shewed Himself so much in favour of the brethren and their principles as His, as in this matter, but it will decidedly sift all and elsewhere too in a great measure as well as here.

{* It is possible that I might have acted more in faith myself by leaving in April. But the Lord (I trust) has overruled all.}

I feel bound to add another point. Indeed but for this I do not know that I should have written this. I am fully persuaded that there is a spirit of delusion from the enemy at work. I have feared it long. I have not myself the least doubt of it whatever now. Terrible as such a thing no doubt is, it is a comfort in one point of view that it accounts for otherwise unaccountable things, and it relieves the mind as to them, because one is sure that the power of the Deliverer is above it. wilful rejection of anything would evidently be a more hopeless case. The quiet rejection of the Gadarenes was far worse than the "what have I to do with thee?" of Legion himself. It may be comparatively in slight and less perceivable things, but I have the unhesitating conviction that it is at work. I do not say in all, though its effects may reach far, but over many. Finally, I recognise that many dear saints of God are in that which I have left. That they do not, many of them, see their way out I fully believe. They cannot of course act beyond whatever light they have in their consciences. All I ask them is to look earnestly to God their Father, through Jesus, that He may enlighten their consciences, and by the power of His Spirit give them power to act on His light; for that we need too. And we know that, if their eye be single in this, they will find light and power too, and be in the presence of God, where everything gets its true place. I commend them with all my heart to Him and to the word of His grace in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Finally I admit that it is a very serious thing to quit any body of Christians; but it is equally serious to remain where the table is based on principles which make it not the Lord's in truth. Moreover unity with Ebrington Street is not unity with the body of Christ; nay, it is the contrary now to me. And the insisting on the doctrine of unity to prevent the judging of evil, and that by the consciences of the saints, and assuming it into the hands of the rulers, is one of the very worst forms of evil, if not the very worst form which exists. Unity is insisted on by Rome, and on that account evil within is not allowed to be judged by the consciences of the saints. The representatives and rulers have that in their hands, though they may and do associate to themselves the body in doing it.

It may be alleged that young saints are unfit to judge such things. I believe there are many things a young saint would, in these days, judge better than many an old one. But that is not the question. Individuals are not called on to judge as such. The objection brings out a further point - the denial of the Holy Ghost acting in the body so as to guide it in a common act. And this is the real root of the whole matter.

One word more. The question may be and has been raised of returning to Ebrington Street. My answer is here simple. There is nothing there now for me to return to. If the saints who are there are delivered from what I believe to be evil, I boast of no superiority because I have been so before them. We are at once all one on common ground. It would be my most hearty joy. But there is nothing there for me to return to.

I take this opportunity to say, as others seem very anxious it should be said more publicly than it has, that I think the absence of the last two letters of the five of manuscript copy has been probably accounted for.

As to the appendix I shall state what was stated to me, as far as I can remember it. I attach not the smallest importance to it one way or other whatever; but as others do, here it is. I had remonstrated with Mr. Newton some five or six years ago as to these letters. He had been then, and it has been going on since, employing certain sisters in copying them, and the copies were sent to India, Canada, Ireland, etc. I wrote in a letter after the remonstrance certain objections to Mr. N. One of those sisters applied to Mr. Newton for any answer he might have to certain difficulties I presented on the subject, which she had heard at a meeting held at her sister's house. Mr. Newton gave her my letter to copy, desiring her not to copy a certain part which referred to personal matters, and, at the same time, his answers to the objections contained therein. This was introduced at the end of letter three as an appendix to letter one, under the title, "Appendix to letter 1. Some difficulties suggested to the interpretation in this letter with Mr. Newton's answer." The sister in question says, if I understand right, that Mr. Newton is not answerable for its being there. I have no remark to offer on this, because I attach no sort of importance to it; but as others do, I take this opportunity of giving additional publicity to this also. Any importance I attach to the appendix, which is more as a proof of the letters being still circulated after remonstrance than anything else, is scarcely in the smallest degree affected by it.

This has nothing whatever to do with the question of the printed documents to which the charges so often spoken of related, and on which I do not touch now at all in any way.






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