We have seen that no monarchical government has any right to enforce or require any religious observance; and that when any such power does so, the right of individuality in religion is supreme, and the monarch’s word must change.
We have found also that no government in which the law is supreme has any right to put into the law of the realm any statute, decree, or provision touching religion; and that when such a thing is done, the right of individuality in religion remains supreme, and innocency before God, and perfect harmlessness before the government, the law, and society, is found in him who disregards such law.
We have found that the church has no right to control the civil power for the execution of her will or the furtherance of her aims; and that when she does so a connection of crowning iniquity is formed, only a Satanic gift is in the possession of such church, and the right of individuality in religion is still supreme and to be freely exercised.
There is yet another combination by means of which domination of man in religion has been sought: this is the church itself, within itself—the church as relates to the membership of the church. And upon this, whether in principle, or in facts of remarkable experience, the Scripture is no less explicit than in any other of the examples given on this subject.
It has been already related how that Israel when delivered from Egypt was first “the church in the wilderness” and afterward in the land of Canaan; and that this same Israel in the days of Christ on earth, though in spirit and substance far short of God’s ideal for them: yet in fact was still the church in direct descent.
The official organization of this church was also still in fact the same in direct descent. The priesthood—the chief priests, and the high priest—in order and in succession, were the direct continuance in succession of the order established by the Lord through Moses in the wilderness. The official council of the church—the Sanhedrim—was also in its idea and form descended from the seventy elders appointed by the Lord through Moses in the wilderness. Thus in the days of Christ on earth, the whole order of Israel,—the priesthood and the great council,—was in form and in fact directly descended from the divine order established by the Lord through Moses in the wilderness; and was just as truly the church in descent from the church in the wilderness.
And the apostles of the Lord and the original disciples of Jesus were all, without exception, members of that church. They took part equally with others in the services and worship of that church. They went to the temple and into the temple, with all the others to worship at the regular hours; and they taught in the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12). And the people were glad to have it so, and the approval of God in great power was upon them all.
But those apostles and disciples had learned something and knew divine truth that the high ones of the church did not know and would not recognize: and knowing this they would tell it. Therefore they preached Jesus and the resurrection, and salvation through Him, and that there is no other way—that very Jesus of whom the official order and organization of the church had “now been the betrayers and murderers.” Therefore this official order and organization of the church assumed the office and prerogative of deciding that those private church-members should neither preach nor teach this truth that they knew to be the truth.
Accordingly the priests and the temple authorities arrested Peter and John and put them in prison, when they had gone up to the temple at the hour of prayer, and the lame man had been healed through faith in the name of Jesus, and Peter had preached to the assembled wondering people. Then the next morning all the official order and organization of the church—the rulers, the seventy elders, the scribes, the priests, and the high priest—gathered together and had Peter and John brought and set in the midst, and demanded of them what authority they had to be preaching: “By what power, and by what name, have you done this?”
Then Peter “filled with the Holy Ghost” made answer. The whole assembly “marveled” at the boldness of these two only common and illiterate members of the church in the presence of that official and august body; “and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” Peter and John were remanded outside the council, while the council “conferred among themselves.”
In their conference they decided, “Let us straitly threaten them that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” Then they called in again Peter and John “and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” But Peter and John answered immediately, “whether it be right in the sight of God, to harken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.” In that answer so promptly given, it seemed to that assembly that these mere common men and private and illiterate members of the church would actually convey the impression that it was possible for such as they to be taught of God, and to know from God, things that this whole assembly of the highest officials and most learned ones of the church did not know; and that they would pay no attention whatever to the command of the council, but would go right ahead regardless of all that the council might say or do or be. Plainly enough in the view of the council such a course could mean only every one for himself, in individual independence that “would overthrow all order and authority.”
Such an answer as that from such persons as those, to such an official and dignified body as this: such an answer from mere common persons to this august assembly: from mere private members of the church to the regular assemblage of that which for ages had been the highest official and divinely appointed order in the organization of the church: could not be considered by those officials as anything less than arrant presumption, and the destruction of all order and organization in the church.
However, the council let them go with further charge under heavy threat that they should so teach no more.
Peter and John being let go went to the company of the other disciples and “reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” And all the others, instead of being in the least awed or made afraid by it, not only decidedly approved what Peter and John had done, but were so glad of it that “with one accord” they thanked and praised God, asked Him to “behold the threatenings of the church officials and grant to all of the disciples boldness that they may speak thy word.” And God witnessed to their Christian steadfastness, “and the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.”
This open disobedience to the “authority” of the church, this bold “disregard for established order and organization” could not be allowed to go on. Therefore all the apostles were next arrested and imprisoned: for “then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, and were filled with indignation, and laid hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.”
But, lo! “The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning and taught.”
That same morning the high priest and they that were with him “called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison” to have the apostles brought before them to answer for all this “insubordination,” “apostasy” and “opposition to the organized work” of the church. The messengers returned and reported that they found the prison securely closed and the keepers on guard, but there were no prisoners. But while those of the council were wondering what this could mean, there came one saying that the men were “standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
Officers were sent who arrested them all anew and brought them before the council. The high priest demanded of them, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.”
The apostles answered as before: “We ought to obey God rather than man. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel with forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.”
At this bold persistence in the forbidden course the council “took counsel to slay them.” From actually murdering the apostles the council was dissuaded by Gamaliel. Nevertheless, the council called in the apostles again, and “had them flogged” and then again “commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”
The apostles departed from the presence of the council. But instead of being either awed or subdued by the council or by what it had done, they were all only glad again to be counted worthy to suffer stripes and whatever other disgrace from the official organization of the church for teaching what they saw and knew to be the truth. And notwithstanding that it was “all the senate of the children of Israel,” that is, all those who composed the official organization of the church that had so treated them and had repeatedly commanded them not to preach at all nor teach the things which they were both preaching and teaching, “never for a single day, either in the temple or in the private houses, did they discontinue teaching or telling the good news of Jesus the Christ.”
Thus by plain facts of remarkable experiences under God it is demonstrated that above all officialdom of priesthood, council and senate of any church, the right of individuality in religion, in faith, and in teaching, stands supreme. By this unquestionable Scripture account it is demonstrated that no church assembly or council or senate has any authority or any right to command or call in question any man of even the church’s own membership concerning what he shall teach or preach. [Footnote: “As relates to conduct, in matters of ‘trespass’ or ‘fault’ of any member, divine instruction and direction are given to the church precisely how to proceed: and this word is to be faithfully followed in letter and in spirit and in the spirit of meekness to ‘gain’ and to ‘restore’ such an one, never to judge, to condemn, or to cast off. But as relates to faith the church has no divine instruction and therefore no right of procedure—‘not for that we would have dominion over your faith;’ ‘Hast thou faith? have it to thyself’ ‘before God;’ ‘Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of Faith.’”]
By the inspired record in this case, it is demonstrated that—
1. Just as certainly as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar and the three Hebrews it is divinely shown that no monarch can ever of right command anything pertaining to religion;
2. Just as certainly as in the case of the law and government of Media and Persia, it is divinely shown that no government can ever of right make any law touching religion;
3. Just as certainly as in the case of the church of Israel against Christ it is divinely shown that no church officialdom can ever of right use the civil power to make effective her will or to further her aims;
4. Just so certainly in this case of the church of Israel against the apostles and disciples of the Lord, it is also divinely shown that no church, no council, senate or other collection or association of officials or others, can ever of right command any member even of her own communion in anything pertaining to what he shall believe or not believe, or what he shall teach or not teach.
The four cases presented in the Scriptures are perfectly parallel: in every case the power that attempted domination in religion was directly opposed and exposed by the God of Heaven, and was thus divinely shown to be absolutely in the wrong; and in each case the right of individuality in religion was divinely demonstrated to be eternally right.
In each of the four cases a distinct principle is involved and illustrated: in the fourth no whit less than in each of the preceding three. As certainly as Nebu- chadnezzar was wrong in commanding worship; as certainly as the law of Media and Persia was wrong in prohibiting worship; as certainly as the church of Israel was wrong in using the civil power to execute her will against the Lord Jesus; so certainly that same church was wrong in prohibiting any member of the church from teaching or preaching the truth which he knew from the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God.
And as in the case of Nebuchadnez- zar the principle is that no monarch may ever of right do as that monarch did; as in the case of the law of the Medes and Persians the principle is that no law may ever of right be similar to that law; as in the case of the church organization using the civil power against Christ, the principle is that no church and no church order or organization or officialdom may ever of right use the civil power in any way whatever; just so in the case of the church of Israel against the apostles, the principle is that no church, and no church order, or organization or officialdom, may ever of right do in any way similar to what in its officialdom that church did.
No; Gamaliel’s counsel to that church-senate that day was right then and is right forever, and it is divine instruction to every church assembly, council, and senate, forever: “Let them alone.” If the preaching or the work be only of man or of human origin it will come to naught of itself. And if it be of God you cannot overthrow it whatever you do: and in that case, in whatever you do to overthrow it you will be found to be only fighting against God. This thing is in the realm of God. It is subject to His jurisdiction alone. Leave it there, and trust Him and serve Him for yourselves; and let others alone to do the same themselves.
This is also plain enough in the plain truth itself. For the Holy Spirit is given to each individual to guide him “into all truth.” The truth of God is infinite and eternal. Therefore it will always be true that there is still an infinity and eternity of truth into which the Christian is to be guided. In the nature of things it is impossible for any other than the infinite and eternal Spirit to guide any one into or in the truth of God. Therefore every soul must be infinitely and eternally free to be guided by the infinite and eternal Spirit into this infinity and eternity of truth.
To say anything else than this is only to limit the truth of God, and limit the mind’s advancement in the knowledge of truth and of God; and is to put an effectual estoppel upon all possibility of progress. Imagine the condition of mankind and the world today, if the principle espoused by that church of Israel had been recognized and her commands obeyed by the apostles and disciples of the Lord! But the crowning iniquity of saying anything else than this, is that it recognizes, sanctions, and establishes a mere human tribunal in the place of the eternal Spirit, and clothes a clique of sinful men with the prerogative of that infinite and eternal Spirit, as the guide into and in all truth.
Yet as plain as all this is in the simple manifestness of the truth of it, it is deplorably true that from the close of the apostolic period unto this hour, there has not been, and there is not now, a single church “organization” or denomination in the world that has not espoused the identical principle, taken the same position, and done the like thing, as did that Jewish church in the case of the apostles. And today there is not a denomination in the world, even to the very latest one that has risen, in which there is in any way recognized the right and the freedom of each individual member of the denomination to be led of the Spirit of God into truth and to the teaching and preaching of truth that the denominational officialdom does not know or chooses not to countenance. And when any member is so led and does teach and preach the truth that he knows by the Spirit and Word of God, immediately the denominational officialdom is awake, and its machinery in motion, and in the very spirit, and in the very way, of the officialdom and machinery of the Jewish church, he is forbidden to teach or preach any more in that name. And if, as did the apostles, he disregards such action and command, and ceases not to teach and to preach Jesus in the truth and the way that he knows, then he, as were the apostles, is persecuted and driven out.
And this is precisely and alone the cause of there being three hundred and sixty-five or more denominations in the world.
But is there never to be any end to this wicked thing? Will the time ever come, or must it never come, when there will be among Christians the recognition of the fundamental Christian principle of the right of individuality and liberty in faith and in guidance into divine truth? Will the time ever come, or must it never come, when there will be a company of Christians in the world who will recognize that the Holy Spirit is the Guide into all truth, that will recognize the right and the liberty of that Spirit to guide, that will recognize the right and the liberty of each Christian to be guided into all truth by that Spirit of truth, and that will recognize the liberty of each Christian to hold, to teach, and to preach any and all truth into which by the Spirit of truth he may be guided?
Isn’t it time that such a thing should be? Isn’t it time that the Christian principle should be recognized, that such a condition should prevail among Christians? Even the world has learned the principle that the monarch and the autocrat must recognize the full and perfect right of individuality and liberty in religion. Even the world has learned that the law must recognize the full and perfect right of individuality and liberty in religion. Even the world has learned that the church must not control the civil power to cause her will to prevail, but must recognize the full and perfect right in the field of persuasion, and therefore must recognize the free and perfect right of individuality and liberty. And now must it be that the Church herself will never learn that she must recognize the free and perfect right of individuality and liberty in faith, in the Spirit, and in the truth? Isn’t it high time that the Christian church should be learning to recognize in its perfect genuineness the fundamental principle of her own origin and very existence? And if it must be so that no denomination will ever learn or recognize this fundamental principle of her own origin and existence, then is it not doubly high time that individual Christians shall everywhere recognize and practice constantly this fundamental principle of their own origin and existence as Christians, as well as the fundamental principle of the origin and existence of the Christian church?
And so it shall be and will be. The God of individuality and of liberty will not allow that the divine principle and right of individuality and liberty in faith and in truth which He has wrought so wonderfully and so constantly through all these ages to make plain and to maintain shall be forever beaten back and pressed down, unrecognized and misrepresented by the Christian church and by Christian people. No; this truth, this splendid truth, that is the fundamental and the crowning truth in and to the very existence of the Christian church and of Christianity itself—this divine truth will yet win and hold forever its own divine place before the world and in the church. For those who espouse this divine and fundamental truth of the Christian religion and church will themselves be now and forever, as in the beginning they were, the true Christian church in the world, and will compose that “glorious Church” which Christ, who gave Himself for the Church, will “sanctify and cleanse with the washing of water by the word,” in order that at His glorious appearing “He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.”
For upon this whole story of the church of Israel against the apostles, there stands out with transcendent meaning a truth that is worthy of the most solemn consideration by every Christian: this truth is,—
That which until that time had been the true church, called and preserved by the Lord, then and there ceased to be the true church at all; and that which this church despised, and forbade, and persecuted, and cast out,became itself the true church.
And so it is forever. John 9:34-38.
00- Individuality in Religion – Book Contents and Introduction
01 – Individuality in Religion – As Related to Autocracy
02 – Individuality in Religion – As Related to the Supremacy of Law
03 – Individuality in Religion – As Relates to Church and State
04 – Individuality in Religion – As Related to the Church itself
05 – Individuality in Religion – As Between Individuals
06 – Individuality in Religion – God and Caesar
07 – Individuality in Religion – Recapitulation
08 – Individuality in Religion – Individuality the Supreme Gift
09 – Individuality in Religion – Sunday Legislation