I believe that the Lord is reminding His own as to the subject of gathering. A brother recently wrote to me, referring back to when he was ill in 1970 (a significant year for some readers). He wrote:
“I was crying out to the Lord in pain, when the Lord came back to me with the rebuke, ‘You don’t really love me! all you love is ‘the assembly’, I am secondary to all you do!’
By putting ‘the assembly’ in quotes, I am sure he was referring to a religious body, not the body of Christ. That challenged me: does my little round of meetings and the fellowship I enjoy mean more to me than the Lord Himself. Frederick Raven said he did not understand a ‘collective position’. Many resisted him then – maybe we would have been preserved from a lot of sorrow had we gotten the gain of his ministry since. Here are a few extracts (slightly edited for sense) from a reading on the parables of the mustard tree and the leaven in Matthew 13:31-46 (1901) – See Ministry of F E Raven Vol 15 p 359).
F E Raven
The mustard tree conveys the idea of imperialism, the hierarchical system of things, a great conspicuous figure, which affords shelter; the leaven hid in the three measures of meal represents a great inflated mass leavened by corrupted doctrine. When Christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin. The ruin has come in upon Christianity as a whole. I think everyone who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin. We must go on without any pretension, without any idea of what is called corporate witness, an ecclesiastical company in any sense. We are in danger of becoming a tree: well let us say, a small tree.
In reply to the remark ‘Our collective position is a witness to the ruin’. Raven answered. I do not understand a collective position. I think our position is essentially individual. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things. Find ‘those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart’ (2 Tim 2:22), I do not mind who: I am not recognising a company. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things. Scripture says, ‘Two are better than one’ (Eccl 4:9). If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together. I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, “To none”.
Abiding in Christ meets every difficulty. The sad thing to me is, that I see a great number today who do not seem to be abiding in Christ. I do not say that they are not Christians, but the only antidote to lawlessness is abiding in Christ.
We break bread in view of all Christians; we cannot compass all in fact, but in our mind we take in all saints. The moment we go out in thought to the whole church all is plain sailing. A Christian who isolates himself is lawless.
When asked, ’Is there any company that can act with authority?”. FER answered ‘No’. Then asked ‘How then can we deal with evil?’, ‘You do not go on with evil. We seek to act according to the truth. As to putting away, I am a bit afraid of the collective idea. The only thing that can act with the authority of Christ is the church. However, two or three acting in Christ’s name is not really the church, only they are guided by the principle of the church. ‘We being many are one body’ (Rom 12:5). I do not see any warrant for taking the place of a company; we stand apart from the organisation of Christendom.
Perhaps we all need to be with the Lord and do a bit of rethinking. I fear lest in leaving or rejecting the tenets of one company, we join or espouse the ideas of another. Occupation with Christ is the only antidote.
Full Text of Reading
Following some criticism for ‘selectively quoting’ from FER, I am reproducing the whole reading.
See Ministry of F E Raven Vol 15 p 359).
Obtainable from Kingston Bible Trust
I do not believe that my extracts detract in any way from the whole reading
READING ON MATTHEW
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Ques. In reference to the tree — is it the thought that the outward proportion is according to the inward corruption?
F.E.R. Yes; but I think you must distinguish between them. The leaven and the mustard tree are two different similitudes. One represents one thing, and the other represents another. The tree conveys the idea of imperialism, a great conspicuous figure, which affords shelter. On the other hand, the leaven hid in the three measures of meal represents a great inflated mass leavened by corrupted doctrine — they are two distinct figures.
Rem. The mustard tree represents the hierarchical system of things.
F.E.R. Yes, it becomes conspicuous in the world, ruling over the kings of the earth. The harlot will ride the beast. That is imperialism. The three measures of meal leavened represent a great inflated mass.
Rem. Permeating a given sphere.
Ques. Do you get the end of those two views in Revelation 17 and 18?
F.E.R. I should think what you get in Revelation is more the mustard tree. It is the great city Babylon that rules over the kings of the earth.
Ques. Does the apostle speak of leaven in 2 Timothy 3 where he gives a moral description of the last days? Does that give the idea of leaven?
F.E.R. Not quite to my mind. I think leaven is very much more what is human. It is the adaptation of christianity to man. Everything is humanised.
Rem. That is the point — christianity adapted to human ideas.
Ques. Is it what is spoken of in Colossians 2?
F.E.R. Yes, that is it. “After the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world”.
Rem. “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them”.
F.E.R. What is our place in regard of all these things? We have a perception of them, and are professedly apart from them, but I do not know whether we are apart from them morally, and I fear in many minds there is a kind of hankering after them. What was said at the beginning was that if you stand outside these things, as recognising the character of them, you are a witness to the ruin. It is a poor kind of thing to be a witness to the ruin, but that is pretty much where we are. I do not know how far it is understood.
Rem. That is what was before me, that we might see how far we are sensible of the ruin and outside of it. The mustard tree is the ruin.
Ques. This is a picture of the ruin of what?
Rem. It is the ruin of the kingdom of heaven that is spoken of here. The mustard tree is the ruin.
Ques. Do you distinguish between the church and the kingdom of heaven?
Rem. I do; but in bringing in the kingdom the church comes into view. The mustard tree is a great hierarchical system which Christ never intended the church to be.
Rem. It is the product of a false kingdom instead of the true. Babylon is a false system.
Rem. You get the beginning of it in 1 Corinthians. “Ye have reigned as kings without us”.
F.E.R. It is worth while to know what is in our minds when we speak about the ruin. When christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin. God never intended that there should be clergy and sacramentalism and all that sort of thing; but that is the form that christianity has taken to a very large extent.
Ques. When we speak of the ruin, do we not think rather more of it in connection with a house than a tree? You would say that the house has broken down.
F.E.R. I do not know that I should say that. I think christianity has.
Rem. Christianity was really intended to produce a moral witness for Christ here, and in that sense it has failed.
Ques. Does the failure embrace both the kingdom and the church phase of things?
F.E.R. I think the ruin has come in upon christianity as a whole. I think every one who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin.
Ques. Are you not a witness to what cannot be touched by ruin? Was not Paul?
F.E.R. You are not qualified to be a witness to the ruin if you are not up to the mark.
Rem. Our collective position is a witness to the ruin.
F.E.R. I do not understand a collective position.
Ques. “With those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”, does not that imply a company?
F.E.R. I do not mind who it is: it is anybody who calls on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Ques. What was in your mind when you said that you do not understand a collective position?
F.E.R. I think our position is essentially individual. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.
Rem. But Scripture says, “Two are better than one”.
F.E.R. I agree to that. I cannot see how we can be a witness to the ruin if we are lawless. A lawless man cannot be a witness to the ruin, he is in the ruin. If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together.
Rem. A good deal has been said about our fellowship.
Rem. I think that means christian fellowship.
Ques. I often hear the expression, ‘So-and-so is not in our fellowship’. If we use such terms, what is meant?
F.E.R. I should suppose that what is meant is that So-and-so is not walking in the truth. If a man is going on in Bethesda, I should not say that that man is really in the fellowship of the truth.
Rem. I have heard you say that the only warrant for our going on together in fellowship is in that passage in 2 Timothy: “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”.
F.E.R. Quite so. It is the only warrant I know for it.
Rem. Then we must go on without any pretension, or without any idea of what is called corporate witness.
Rem. What you mean is that we cannot claim to be an ecclesiastical company in any sense.
Rem. We are in danger of becoming a tree.
F.E.R. Well, a small tree.
Rem. I suppose we cannot help walking together if we are each walking in the truth.
F.E.R. I do not mind at all if the truth is the bond. There are, I fear, a great many in fellowship with us who look upon brethren as an association, or something of the kind, on scriptural lines, and they are borne along with it.
Rem. I suppose it is that you really stand aside and through grace wait for Christ, and if there are any others waiting they are glad to break bread with you; not forming anything.
F.E.R. Quite so.
Rem. I do not see in the seven churches that anything is under the eye of Christ but Romanism and Protestantism — Thyatira and Sardis; all the sects, and so on, are not anything under the eye of Christ, they are all part of Protestantism. It is Romanism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other.
Ques. What about Laodicea?
Rem. That is part of Protestantism.
Ques. What of Philadelphia?
Rem. That is also part of Protestantism.
Rem. Do you think these parables have any connection with the previous part of the gospel — the tree and the fruit — and the tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down? I thought of Christ as the green tree. He was removed. The trees of the earth were cut down because of the evil in them.
F.E.R. I think the fig tree has been cut down for good; but the fig tree represents man under culture, and it is cursed.
Rem. The tree that is spoken of here is not in connection with fruit good or bad. It is connected with shade and overshadowing.
Ques. When you speak of ‘individual’, is there not such a thing as the unity of the Spirit?
F.E.R. Yes; but if you are a witness to the ruin, you do everything right, else you are no witness. If you are lawless you are involved in the ruin. The mystery of lawlessness already works, and it is only as we are apart from it that we are a witness to the ruin.
Ques. Is there any company that can act with authority?
Ques. How then can we deal with evil?
F.E.R. You do not go on with it. There is no need to go on with evil.
Ques. Are we to look for “faithful men” today?
F.E.R. Yes, I think so. I think we seek to act according to the truth.
Rem. It has often been said that it is only the assembly that can put away.
F.E.R. I am a bit afraid of the collective idea. The meaning of putting away is to get apart from evil. I think the only thing that can act with the authority of Christ is the church. I do not think two or three acting in Christ’s name is really the church, only they are guided by the principle of the church.
Ques. If you went into a place you would try to find those who are calling on the Lord out of a pure heart?
F.E.R. Yes, certainly; but I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, To none.
Ques. Would you address a letter of commendation to the saints?
F.E.R. Yes; but it is not because I recognise a company, but because I know there are saints there who call upon the Lord with a pure heart; but those few saints are not the church.
Ques. What is it if it is not a company?
F.E.R. A sort of two or three held together by the truth. In acting we can only act in the light of the church.
Ques. Would the expression “Tell it to the assembly” hold good now?
F.E.R. The principle of it would, but I think we are in danger of getting into an organisation. We have lists of meetings or address books.
Ques. When you speak of a company you are using the word in a sense of an ecclesiastical company?
F.E.R. Yes. People do their best to force us into some ecclesiastical position. Brethren are not an addition to the system around us; it is the very thing we have to contend against. I do not see any warrant for standing apart from what is in christendom, but in seeing that it is not according to God, and this is individual.
Ques. How would leaven affect us now?
F.E.R. You will find in christendom that the precepts of christianity are very largely adapted to man as man. Men can take up an official position as men. For a clergyman it is not necessary that a man should be converted. I have no doubt that a great part of the world is largely affected by the precepts which you get in the epistles, but they are applied to man as man.
Ques. We have heard recently that many have taken the path without faith in it; is that what is in your mind to guard against?
F.E.R. Yes; if people take account of brethren as a company, and attach themselves to them as such, there is no faith for the path, and they are hanging on some one else. I do not know what the end of it will be. We are, I fear, dragging on a lot of unwilling people.
Ques. What about young people who desire to take their place to remember the Lord? May they not be instructed?
F.E.R. Yes; but they not only want instruction but faith for the path.
Rem. Abiding in Christ meets every difficulty.
F.E.R. The sad thing to me is, that I see a great number today who do not seem to be abiding in Christ. I do not say that they are not christians, but they are in measure lawless. The only antidote to lawlessness is abiding in Christ.
Ques. What is our warrant for breaking bread at all if you get rid of the company idea?
F.E.R. If you do not act in the light of the Lord, you are lawless. We want to walk in the light of the church. The moment we go out in thought to the whole church all is plain sailing. If a christian isolates himself he is lawless; but we want to keep ourselves and our own minds clear of the company idea.
Rem. There is a sense in which you can look at the company by taking in all saints.
F.E.R. Yes, you are on plain ground then.
Rem. You would have a great objection to a christian isolating himself.
F.E.R. Yes, I think he is lawless.
Ques. Does not breaking bread give the thought of a company?
F.E.R. I break bread in thinking of the entire company.
Rem. The one loaf takes in the whole of the saints.
F.E.R. Yes. In mind you take in all saints, and you break bread in view of all christians; we cannot compass all in fact, but in our mind we take in all saints.
Rem. You take in in your mind what is in God’s mind.
F.E.R. Yes, exactly. “We being many are one body”. I do not see any warrant for taking the place of a company; we stand apart from the organisation of christendom.
Rem. The use of the word ‘company’ involves in many minds the idea of some kind of corporation.
Rem. The brethren.
F.E.R. Yes. The great point is that we must each individually be in faith. I take myself as an example; if any one challenged me as to what I belong to in christendom I should say, ‘To nothing’. It would not be a quibble in my mind.
Rem. 2 Timothy is a great book for us now. It shews a clear path. Follow first righteousness, then faith, then love.
F.E.R. Yes; but it is with those who call, &c.
Rem. It would be unbecoming for any company of christians to claim that they were calling on the Lord out of a pure heart.
F.E.R. Yes, the individual does that.
Ques. When you speak of a company, would not that imply every one forming that company?
Rem. It is very difficult to convey an idea of what it is to others. It is inexplicable to people outside.
F.E.R. I am not considering what they think, but what is in my own mind. My point is as to where we are in regard of these things in our own minds. I believe the thought in a great many minds is that brethren are a company in christendom gathered together on scriptural ideas.
Rem. You would refuse their putting you in a false position.
F.E.R. I am anxious to be out of a false position in my own mind. I have no doubt the position is an exceedingly difficult one.
Ques. When we use the plural number, ‘we’ and ‘us’, ought we not to take in in our minds the whole church?
F.E.R. Yes, I think so. The point with regard to it all is the idea that people have in their minds of the position taken up, and of our relation to all that is going on.
Ques. Did not all this come out some years ago in Fragmentary Remarks?
F.E.R. I am quite sure all this was in Mr. Darby’s mind. No one was more averse to anything like organisation than he was. The very fact that any one of us is seeking to pursue the truth of necessity brings us together for the moment; but there can be no collective witness to the ruin; it is individual.
Rem. Mr. Darby maintained that we were only two or three, and if we were a witness to anything we were a witness to the ruin.
Rem. You are a witness to the ruin by abiding in Christ rather than by taking pains to let people know whom you are associated with.
F.E.R. I think so. I want to see an end of lawlessness amongst those with whom we are associated. If we were abiding in Christ we should stand clear of a great many things we are now associated with. I see many people in fellowship who assent to the truth, but who are not governed by the truth. Do you think if people were abiding in Christ, they would be found in picture galleries? Is that suitable to abiding in Christ? If you are not abiding in Christ, you are sure to be lawless.
Ques. How is this difficulty to be met with regard to those who seek for help?
F.E.R. The difficulty is, there are people who have not faith for the path.
Ques. What do you mean by faith for the path?
F.E.R. Take Moses. Moses had every opportunity in the world, but he had faith for a path. If people have faith for the path they will be prepared for self-abnegation. If they want to get the best of both worlds, to get the things of this world as well as the things of Christ, they will not be much good. It is not that we make a company, but our bond is the truth. What we want to know more of is living down here in relation to the One in heaven. I defy anybody to find any antidote at all to lawlessness excepting abiding in Christ. It certainly means the entire setting aside of our own will.
Ques. Do I get a right impression that the only thing for us is for the truth of God to be made good in our souls individually?
Ques. What would you say abiding in Christ is?
F.E.R. It is like the earth abiding in the sun. It is coming under the influence of Christ; you are held by attraction to Christ.
Rem. If we are walking in the Spirit, we shall be abiding in Christ.
F.E.R. I think the whole universe will abide in Christ, and that is how God intends to set lawlessness aside. In the meantime we abide in Christ and He in us. I do not think Christ will abide in you if you do not abide in Him. If Christ is your Head Christ is your intelligence, and you view everything according to Him. Christ in the gospels never viewed anything according to man. Man’s thoughts were continually presented to Him, but He never viewed anything according to man. We have the mind of Christ, and we view everything in relation to Christ and not to ourselves.
Rem. I remember a brother saying that practical christianity may be summed up in two expressions: the sum of the Spirit’s teaching is abide in Christ, and the sum of Christ’s teaching is “Love one another”.
Rem. I suppose if two persons were abiding in Christ they would be loving one another, and there would be unity?
F.E.R. I think so. The true principle is — “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another”. We cannot get out of that — “We have fellowship one with another”.