F E Raven: I am not a Member of any Company

Summary of a Reading on Matthew 13, Led by Frederick Raven


F E Raven

In Matt 13:31-46 we have two parables as to the kingdom of heaven, the mustard tree and the leaven.


The Mustard Tree

The mustard tree represents a conspicuous, hierarchical system. People shelter under it. It is a false kingdom, ruling over the kings of the earth, a religious system dominating the political, and its end is Babylon. Christ never intended the church to be like that, with clergy, sacramentalism and the like. When Christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin.


The Leaven

The Leaven represents a mass corrupted by wrong doctrine and the adaptation of Christianity to human ideas. It is what the Colossians were warned of: ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ’ (Col 2:8). It is also like the fig tree in Matthew 21:19. The fig tree has been cut down for good: it represents man’s culture, and it is cursed.


Where we stand

Raven felt that we are apt to hanker after both of these, but we are to be apart from them morally. Every one who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin, which has come upon Christianity as a whole. When asked whether our collective position is a witness to the ruin, Raven replied, ‘I do not understand a collective position. I do not mind who it is, it is anybody who calls on the Lord out of a pure heart… If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together.’ Somebody in ‘Bethesda’ (Open Brethrenism) cannot be said to be in the fellowship of the truth. A lawless man cannot be a witness to the ruin, he is in the ruin. The mystery of lawlessness already works, and it is only as we are apart from it that we can be a witness to the ruin.

People speak about ‘our fellowship’. Our fellowship can only be the whole Christian fellowship. We must go on without any pretension or any idea of a ‘corporate witness’. We cannot claim to be an ecclesiastical company in any sense. When someone said, ‘We are in danger of becoming a tree,’ FER’s reply was, ‘Well, a small tree!’ I am sure that produced some smiles!

The truth is our bond. We are not an association of like-minded Christians operating on scriptural lines. As we stand aside and, through grace, we find others who are waiting too, and we can break bread together, not forming anything.

When asked whether there was any company who could act with authority, Raven answered ‘No!’ We cannot put away, we can only depart from evil. We cannot act as the assembly, only according to the principle of it. Two or three acting in Christ’s name cannot claim to be the assembly.

FER said ‘I cannot recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, “To none”.’


Summary by Sosthenes

August 2015

The original reading is in ‘Ministry by F.E. Raven, Volume 15 – page 357’. This may be obtained from Kingston Bible trust or downloaded by clicking here.


Frederick Edward Raven

Frederick Edward Raven was born September 9, 1837 at Saffron Walden, Essex. His parents were active members of the Church of England. In 1865 when he was 28, FER left the Church of England and broke bread at the Priory meeting in north London, where J N Darby was also local.

Among other matters, FER’s valuable ministry opened up the truth as to eternal life and the Person of Christ – which made him the object of attack to this day.

He worked at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, becoming Secretary in 1873. It is understood that he was offered, but refused, a knighthood for services rendered to the British Admiralty.

Mr. Raven departed to be with Christ on Lord’s Day, August 16, 1903.


Source MyBrethren.org





J N Darby – French Letter No. 148 – God humbles the Brethren


J N Darby
John Nelson Darby48

Plymouth – 13th February 1846

To Mr B R

Beloved Brother

It should not be thought that God is shown to be against the brethren. Much the contrary. What is true is that there have been very great tests. But I have never been so convinced that God loves the brethren and that He desires to keep them. What is true is that the enemy had sought to turn all their principles upside down and to test them by a touchstone, in a way which the flesh would not know how to escape; but this has been shown well, in humbling us it is profoundly true, that our principles were of fine gold. God has recognised them in humbling those who professed them all. But division has only happened in two places and, in the second, it has only occurred last week; undoubtedly in my view, however the brothers work, I do not doubt, to make a party elsewhere. But I think that God laid His hand on the work of the opposers, and that they will hardly be able to do any more, because [the matter] is known now. God was over this, in spite of all the tricks which they used. Perhaps our patience will be exercised, and it will be for our good. But God has shown His goodness to us in a way which, for me, I have never seen the like. Never have we had meetings so happy, or in such a spirit of service, however poor we are. I think I can say (while being sure that what was already sown will still be reaped here) that the plague is stayed.

God has already answered, I dare not to say to faithfulness, but at least to the desire to be faithful.

This is what I think of the affairs here. If there had been more spirituality, the thing would have been – or would have been able to be – cured outright. God has acted according to the state of the church and in this, it seems to me, much more solidly in individual consciences. I have left the thing, I believe, according to the mind of God; and I am happy about it.

[See 148A}

I do not know how to say anything, dear brother, about the Jewish resurrection, but, whatever it may be, it is here in John 11; my thought, besides, is basically yours. I think that the action of Christ as the resurrection and the life[1] answers to its position. Being on earth, He quickened Lazarus with life, which left him on the earth. Now He is only present spiritually. When He returns, He will raise those who have believed, even though they may be dead (literally), and those who live and believe on Him will not die (literally). This is the only complete sense of the passage. I do not know why one would not apply this to the resurrection of the faithful. I do not doubt at all that the Jews were mistaken in verse 36 about the tears of Jesus. The Lord had on His heart the feeling of the power of death on these poor creatures.

The passage in 2 Peter 1: 10 has never more arrested me, because the Greek word βέβαιοςbabaios – has not only the sense of making firm, but the conviction a truth of which is affirmed, as for example, in verse 19: “We have the prophetic word made surer”, a perfectly similar case. The word – no more than election (at least if you want, as God has expressed Himself in the word – would be made no firmer, but the term means that it was confirmed, known by the transfiguration. For the consciousness (the intimate or inward feeling) of our election is affirmed to us, if we walk according to God, that is certain. The Holy Spirit, God, has His liberty in our hearts and is maintained there.

As to Hebrews 12: 22, 23, the use of the word “and” (have you noticed it?) tends to make the interpretation of the passage thus: “and to myriads of angels, the universal gathering; and …”. The use of the word myriad is known in the case of angels, as in Revelation 5: 11; on the other hand, the universal gathering is used for the assembly of Israel. The use of this word in other classics is too well known for one to have needed to speak of it. It seems to me that the thought of the myriads of angels suggests to the apostle this beautiful assembly, all solemn and joyous. I have thought for a long time, without seeking to impose my idea on others, that “the assembly of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” forms the church properly speaking, and that “the spirits of just men made perfect” are the saints of the Old Testament in a special way. The absence of the article must not be forgotten in this passage, which gives a characteristic and not objective force to the phrase, so: “to a mount Zion”, in contrast with “a mountain which could not be touched”.

I hope that our dear brother R does not lack anything. Greet all the brethren very affectionately.

Yours very affectionately


Really, I am very happy and blessed in my work; we are more than ever, but I am busy all the time. I am obliged sometimes to defer my replies to letters which demand careful study.


Letter originally written in French, translated by Sosthenes, 2013

Click here for original – If you have any comments on the translation, feel free to let me know.

[1] John 11: 25

Have the Brethren got Something Special?

Darby said ‘I do believe the Brethren have something special. But what is important is, not ‘the Brethren,’ but the truth they have. Darby says that God, though full of gracious patience, could set the Brethren aside – if they are not faithful – and spread His truth by others. Their place is to remain in obscurity and devotedness, not to think of ‘Brethren’ (it is always wrong to think of ourselves), but of souls, in Christ’s name and love, and of His glory and truth. Their place is not to press Brethrenism, but to deal with each soul according to its need for Christ’s sake.’

This is based on part of a letter written by JN Darby from America to a Mr J Leslie. The original is in his Collected Writings Volume 31 (Doctrinal 9) entitled Correspondence on recent matters. It is also in JND’s letters Vol. 51 page 339.

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby


Darby thought that Brethren were entering into a new phase of their existence, which increased their responsibility, bringing greater dangers to them. It arose from the general feeling that Brethren have something that other Christians have not got.

What they have is often refuted, hated and opposed. It may be also often be a matter of curiosity, or there may be genuine inquiry. May there be more!  But this feeling is real. Worldly people feel it, and would use it to show the inconsistency of the public profession, citing Scripture inaccurately. Other Christians, still clinging to the professing church with partial apprehension of the truth and holding much error, boast that they can have what the Brethren have, without leaving the systems they are in.

The Brethren probably do have something special. But what is important is, not ‘the Brethren,’ but the truth they have. Darby says that God, though full of gracious patience, could set the Brethren aside – if they are not faithful – and spread His truth by others. Their place is to remain in obscurity and devotedness, not to think of ‘Brethren’ (it is always wrong to think of ourselves), but of souls, in Christ’s name and love, and of His glory and truth. Their place is not to press Brethrenism, but to deal with each soul according to its need for Christ’s sake.

But if, through grace, they possess more of the truth, they have greater responsibility. Therefore, if they are not more devoted, they would be a stumbling-block to others. Unworldliness, nonconformity to the world, self-denial, and love to others, is called for: The end of what is enjoined is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith. (1 Tim 1:5). Let brethren walk in love, in the truth, humble, lowly, unworldly, holding all for Christ. May they be as little as when they began, and be content about it. Then God will bless them. If not, their candlestick may go – and, oh, after such grace, what sorrow and confusion of face that would be!

Let there be no mixing with the church-world. May the brethren show grace toward it, as beacon-lights, taking the precious from the vile. Then they will be as God’s mouth. May they be a testimony against it, with that earnest gospel of God’s free love to souls that Christ has for His own. May they do the work of evangelists, humble, lowly, devoted, and simple in ministry, devoted in heart and separated to Christ.

Brethren should rejoice in evangelical activity outside of themselves: it is one of the signs of the time. God is sovereign, and can work in love where and how He pleases, and they should rejoice in it.   But in general there is no separation from evil in many places. Indeed there is so much indifference to the truth, especially in America. They even exchange pulpits with infidels.   For a year or two, at the beginning, Darby and others would preached wherever they were invited. Though the trumpet was giving an uncertain sound, the gospel was fully preached and some were brought out. Now the testimony has to be clearer, but still the fullest preaching of the gospel and of the assurance of salvation must continue.

We should not be on the attack, but to be superior, in grace, for the truth. Peter never attacked the chief priests, but went on his own way. The high ground of the truth and a full gospel preached in grace should distinguish us.   The testimony against evil should be in our own walk and ways. Patience, truth, holiness, and love in the truth and for the truth’s sake, characterise Christ’s revelation of Himself. He influences us in the last days.

God has no need of us, but He does have need of a people who walk in the truth in love and holiness. In the Old Testament it says, ‘I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of Jehovah’ (Zeph 3:12).  The same spirit is in Jude, who speaks of the mixture which would bring on judgment: ‘But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.’ (v. 20-21) We may, and must, rejoice in the gospel. That only makes the testimony of Brethren outside the camp more necessary than ever – but the testimony must be real. May we be waiting and watching for Jesus, because we do so love Him!

      Original letter written by John Nelson Darby, New York, April 8th, 1875.

      Edited for easier reading by Sosthenes, September 2014.