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28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the holy spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the ecclesia of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
The church [ecclesia] was associated with the apostles in the ministry of reconciliation. By "the church" [ecclesia] , I mean, not that multiform thing called "the church" by the world in these times; but that one, undivided body of disciples, collected together by the personal labours of the apostles and evangelists; and all through subsequent generations, who should believe and practise the same truth.
To this "one body", (Eph 4:4) energized by the "one spirit", (Eph 4:4) and "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment", (1 Cor. 1:10; Acts 4:32) and styled "THE BRIDE" -- is committed the work of making known "the manifold wisdom of God", (Eph. 3:10) as contained in the word; and of inviting the world to be reconciled to God. (Rev. 22:17)
No member of this body is exempt from the obligation of co-operating in this work. It is the duty and privilege of every one in his own sphere to endeavour to turn men to righteousness; for there is no distinction of "clergy" and "laity" in the family of God.
In the days of the apostles, things were very different to what they are now. There were many congregations, or churches [ecclesias] , but they were all one flock, or "denomination", and men endowed with spiritual gifts were their rulers. But even these were not distinguished from their brethren as " clergy", or priests; but as ministers, or servants.
Well knowing the presumption, pride, and arrogance of the flesh, the Spirit commanded them especially to feed the flock, and not to fleece it; to oversee it willingly and of a ready mind, but not for the sake of compensation; and to be examples to the flock, and not to lord it over the heritages. (1 Pet 5:2,3)
Elpis Israel 1.5.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock.
We see a different spectacle from what was presented to view in the first century, when the friends of Christ were organised into loving and enlightened communities, under the fostering care and guidance of shepherdly men, "feeding the flock of God, over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers" (Acts xx. 28).
It is a day of devastation and downtreading for divine affairs, both in the national fold and the individual fold. It would be a beautiful and a glorious thing if God were to permit a clearing out and renovation and revival of the fold in which real and healthy sheep might multiply and dwell in safety. The prophetic word does not justify any hope of this sort, till the Great Shepherd of the sheep himself arrive, for, to the last, it speaks of darkness prevailing till the coming of Christ, and the prosperous ascendancy of ante-diluvian indifference till the very hour of his manifestation.
The most to be done with present agency is for believers, in the spirit of loving co-operation, to approximate, as nearly as they can, to the primitive assemblies, doing all things decently and in order, and all things for the edification of all, in the spirit of mutual and affectionate submission in the fear of the Lord.
By this co-operation, the one fold in little sections may be planted here and there, in which a little may be done in this evil day for the keeping alive of the testimony in the earth, and the development and preservation of a people controlled by the knowledge, love, and obedience of the truth.
Nazareth Revisited Ch 29.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
The word "clergy," as the title of an order, is assumed by men who have no right to it. It is a word which comes from the Greek a lot or portion; and is applied by the apostle in the text quoted to a single congregation of disciples; so that when he speaks of all the congregations of the flock, he styles them "the heritages".
But, in after years, the ministers of the heritages, or clergies, disregarded the commandment, and set themselves up as lords of the heritages, which they fleeced, and oppressed for lucre's sake. They even made the clergies of God believe that they were nothing more than mere commoners; while they themselves, the usurpers of the believers' rights, were God's peculiar lot, or portion, as the tribe of Levi were among the Israelites; and the distinction was then set up of "clergy" and "laity", from the multitude!
But the distinction belongs to the apostasy, and not to God's oppressed and scattered sheep. When "clergy" get in among them, it is "as grievous wolves, not sparing the flock, but speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them" for their own worldly gain. (Acts 20:29,30) They have nothing to do with the word of reconciliation except to pervert it, and to bring it into disrepute.
The principles of the apostasy, and indeed of all false religion, are such as result from the thinking of the flesh when left to its own communings.
Elpis Israel 1.5.
31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
Why the tears? Paul realised the incomparable value of the truth. He knew that for his brethren to abandon the doctrines that he had delivered to them meant their non-approval at the judgment seat. He knew, too, the all too willing ear which human nature has for the seducer and corruptor.,
For this Paul was in continual heaviness-he ceased not to warn (Phil. iii. 18; 1 Thes. iii.5-6; 2 Cor. ii. 4; xi. 28). Is there less reason for sorrow, anxiety, and warning to-day than in the first century? Are the dangers to those in the truth less? Is man more prone to walk in wisdom's ways?
To these questions Christ's words form an answer-
"When the Son of Man cometh shall he find the faith on the earth?"
Then let us not be indifferent and callous to each other's standing in the truth. Let us continually think of Paul's example, and cease not to provoke one another unto love and good works. ATJ
The Christadelphian, Aug 1887
33 I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.
34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.
'...whenever he was in a city as a preacher of the gospel, he would not accept financial support - as did teachers of every other kind - from those to whom he was actually preaching it at the time. If, later, they chose to send him voluntary offerings to assist him while preaching elsewhere, that was quite another matter. At all costs he wanted to avoid being confused with the itinerant philosophers of the day who peddled their worthless intellectual wares from city to city (1 Thess. 2: 9; 2 Thess. 3: 8 ; Acts 20: 34; Phil. 4: 14-17).
Letters to Corinth Ch 9.
38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.
I could not say I would see their face no more, but I could say that for over 30 years I had laboured among them with one object only in view, however much unfriendly minds might doubt it, namely, to uphold the honour of God, and promote the well-being of man. If I was going, it was not by my choice: it was through the compulsion of circumstances that had got beyond my control.
And if I was going, it was not to new work, but to the same class in another country - a class not much reckoned of by current methods of regarding people, but people of great estimation when reckoned according to God's standard, which the world did not recognise - the sort of people described by God himself when He said that for them- "that feared the Lord and thought upon His Name, " "A book of remembrance was written before Him: and they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels. "
This class had been created on the other side of the globe by the agency that had created them here - the agency that had developed them in all ages of the world - the exposition and agitation of the things testified in the Word of His Truth. This exposition and agitation differed with the differing circumstances of the nineteenth century, but the result was in measure the same - the establishment of that conviction in good and honest hearts, which produced the faith that worked by love, and affected the mainsprings of human action, with the result of producing "the fruits of the spirit," and "a new man in Christ Jesus."
In our age, this result was almost exclusively confined to the English-speaking parts of the human race. The literature of the Truth in our day was chiefly an English literature. God had not given the gift of tongues in our day, nor had He started any promising activities in other languages than the English.
There was religious activity enough among foreign nations, but it was not the activity of the Truth, but of superstition garnished with scripture names.
The Truth had been revived in the nineteenth century by the instrumentality of Dr. Thomas; the results of its agitation had been meagre both as regards the number who had come under its influence and the intensity of their assimilation of its power, as compared with the harvest of the apostolic age: but as compared with the darkness and the sterility that prevailed in the ecclesiastical communions for centuries, there was something to be thankful for in the green sprouting that had followed the modern sowing of the good seed.
There might yet be a great improvement in this respect.
ALL DEPENDED UPON THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE SCRIPTURES WERE PRIVATELY READ. THE SCRIPTURES WERE THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF ALL SPIRITUAL POWER.
The Scriptures had lost none of the power which Paul ascribed to them, when he said in his farewell speech delivered at Miletus, that they were "able to build up and give men an inheritance among all them that were sanctified."
Bro Roberts - Second Voyage to Australia