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Verse 5: “And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night, for upon all the glory shall be a defense.”

I have already remarked that the cleansing which the churches are to pass through, as described in verses 3 & 4, is a preparing of them for entering upon that happy state, which is to succeed the destruction of the man of sin. In this, and the following verse, some things relative to that purified state of the church are brought to view. In the intervening time, when the churches, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, are prepared for it, and before the man of sin is destroyed the Witnesses must be killed. The affliction consequent upon this event will be short – but three years and a half. Hence says the prophet, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite thee with the rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee after the manner of Egypt. For yet a little while and the indignation shall cease, and my anger in their destruction.” Isa.10:24 & 25. It would seem from this that the Assyrian is to smite the people of Zion, with the rod, the sign of civil authority, and to lift up the staff against them; the crosier, the sign of ecclesiastical authority, with the attempt to bring them into bondage to his ceremonies, as the Egyptian attempted to keep Israel in bondage.

The descriptive expressions used in the verse under consideration are, as I understand them, applicable to the church in all periods; the promise that of an increased blessing at the period in view.

I will notice the expressions having this general application. First, the dwelling places of Mount Zion. This has evidently a reference to the distinct branches of Zion. The expression dwelling places answers well to another figurative expression found in Jeremiah 31:1, “At the same time saith the Lord, will I be the God of all the families of Israel,” &c. As spiritual Israel or the Church of Christ is divided into these families, so each has its home or dwelling place. Thus the church is called a house, and is said to be builded, &c., in Jer.30:18 – the dwelling places are called tents.

As these figurative expressions are calculated to cast some light upon the relation of gospel churches, one to the other, I will offer a few reflections upon the term families of Israel, as well as that of dwelling places.

First. The families of Israel. This expression, whilst it shows the church divided into families or distinct branches, shows also a peculiar relation as existing between them. Though national Israel was divided into families, these families were not independent of each other. They were bound together by the ties of brotherhood, were one people, had one father, Abraham, lived under one covenant, under one set of laws, and bound to see that each other observed those laws. See for instance the law concerning idolatry, Deut.13:12 - 18, “If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, &c.”

The spiritual relation among the families of Zion, can be no less close than was the natural relation of the families of national Israel. These are members of the same one Body, profess the same salvation, faith, order, &c., own the same Lord, have the same father, {not as Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel,} but Christ the Everlasting Father of his people, being the Husband of his bride in all her branches, is the Head of each gospel family, and the immediate Father of all their true born children. The ties therefore of fellowship among these ought to be considered no less binding than were the ties of nature among the other. If when one of the families of Israel were reported to have gone into the idolatry of that dispensation, the other families to clear themselves from being accessories to the same crime and to vindicate the honor of God and his religion, were required to enquire diligently, &c., and finding the thing so, to destroy the idolatrous family, or city, with the edge of the sword, that is, so cut them off from their land of promise, and to cut off the natural relation that existed; can it be any less obligatory on the families of spiritual Israel when one of the families, or churches shall be reported to have gone into the idolatry of this dispensation, to enquire concerning it, and if found true, to cut off such family from the claims of relationship to them, by severing publicly the ties of church fellowship, and thus to wipe the stain of such crime from the religion of Christ, which they profess, and to clear themselves from the charge of holding fellowship with those who thus basely desert from the God of salvation.

Second. The dwelling places of Mount Zion. These, as already said, are the homes of spiritual Israel. This therefore brings to view the separate interest of each family. Here each family apart meets in its family circle, attends to its own affairs, partakes of the family repasts, if the Master is present, they are truly feasts of fat things. Here they retire from the storms that are abroad, and if the Father of the family is with them, feeling composed under his protecting wing, the raging without is like the storm against the wall; they hear the sound of the blast, but it only makes them feel the preciousness of their shelter. Here they talk over the incidents of the way, which each has met with, whether of joy, or of grief; where proper affection, or fellowship reigns in a family, with what heartfelt confidence do they unburden their minds one to the other, and listen to the advice of the older members of the family, especially to the words of their Father. Whilst their friends, who may be occasionally with them, participate in the repasts, the joys, sorrows, &c., in the family circle, there are certain circumstances connected with the family circle, and dwelling place, which it would be intrusion, in these friends, to intermeddle with, unless requested. I have here drawn, probably in too high colors, the happiness of these dwelling places to suit the experience of most of our churches at this day, but some of our brethren have in recollection pleasant scenes like these, in their church relations in times past, and such scenes will again be realized, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughter of Zion.

As a brother has recently, by letter, requested me to give my views, through the SIGNS, relative to the propriety of our Old School Brethren uniting with a mixed church, where the original constitution was sound; and it seems with some degree of propriety to come in, in this connection. I will offer some additional thoughts relative to that point.

First. When a person is received as an inmate into a family, it is usually under the impression that he comes in for peace, and with a disposition to submit to the order and regulations of the family. If however, disorderly members have been received, the order of the family is attempted to be subverted, and confusion is in the house, it appears to me not consistent with the gospel of grace, to become an inmate in this confusion. As I have already remarked, there is a common interest among the families of spiritual Israel, or ought to be, if therefore wickedness or disorder prevails in one family, others will feel the wound, and for the honor of the cause seek to correct the abuse, but if the disorder so prevails as not to be corrected by the counsel and admonition of brethren, and if the members of the church professedly adhering to the original constitution will not clear the church from the disorder by exercising gospel discipline, or themselves from it, by separation, they themselves become implicated in the disorder, and hence orderly churches should disown them, until they see their error and correct it.

Perhaps the typical law concerning leprosy in a house, may cast some light upon this subject, as being strictly applicable to it. For I think a little reflection will convince any one that the house in the type, built up of stones, &c., can only represent the spiritual house built up of lively stones, or those professedly so. This law is found in Lev.14:33-53. Verse 35, “And he that owneth the house shall come to the priest saying, &c.” The owner of the house is the Lord Jesus, the chief shepherd; but the elders of the church are pastors and shepherds, and they should not be hirelings, or take the oversight of the flock for filthy lucre, but being ensamples to the flock, and as having an interest in their welfare; and being watchman, it is their duty to watch and give warning at the approach of any evil or error. The owner was not to decide himself on the leprosy, but must go to the priest. The Lord Jesus is the high priest of our profession, but his people are made kings and priests unto God and the Lamb. We have in the New Testament the decision of our High Priest, through his apostles, upon all things belonging to his church; and it is the duty of the priests, the members of the church, to bring every difficulty to the test of the word. The house was first to be emptied of everything, &c. Does this not teach that the church cannot travel while she is in difficulty, owing to corruptions, errors, &c., and therefore ought to suspend the ordinances, and everything else religious, to attend to the removing of the plague. Must not the communion and worship of the church, if attended to whilst the minds of the brethren are fretted with the confusion and disorder among them, partake of the uncleanness of the plague? Verse 37. The signs of the leprosy. If the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, &c. All error, whether in doctrine, in order, or in discipline, is of an eating nature; it takes away from the foundation, the truth of the gospel, or from the liberty, the privileges, the consolation, &c., of the people of God, and leaves a hollow, an unevenness in the walls, in the harmony and fellowship of the church, and something wanting to form a consistency. These errors when introduced appear greenish, young, something new, which attract, by their novelty, are new gods that have come newly up. They also assume a reddish hue, in a little while they burn, in their votaries with anger against the truth and those who advocate it. It must be in the wall to occasion this attention, in those who are built into the church, and effect the plastering, the fellowship. Verse 38. The priest, after looking upon the plague, shuts up the house seven days for further observation. So the church, having taken this difficulty under investigation, it is proper she should not proceed too hastily, but give time for cool reflection to those who have imbibed the error, or are under the influence of the corruption. Seven days, that is from one regular meeting to the next, whether it be weekly or longer. Verses 39,40 & 41. If on the priest’s further examination, the plague be spread, &c. If these persons, instead of seeing the evil of their error and repenting, become more confirmed, and are trying to disseminate it, &c., as the stones of the wall in which the plague was, were to be taken out and thrown into an unclean place, so these members, being heretics, and having received the first and second admonition, should be rejected, cast out into the world. The walls of the house were to be scraped inside. What heart searchings do these difficulties in the church, produce in the people of God? How careful to clear themselves in this matter, should they be? And to cast away all the dust they find in themselves, and all the coldness and formality which had taken the place of true fellowship in the church, whilst this error or corruption was tolerated? See II Cor.7:11. Verse 42. They were to take other stones and put in the places of those removed, so the stations in the church of those removed, if officers, are to be filled with other members, and the church again to move on, and receive into fellowship such as the Lord may add unto them. They were also to take fresh mortar and plaster the house. Not untempered mortar, nor are they to daub the wall. And is it not the genuine effort of a church of Christ’s having passed through such heart searching difficulties, that the members which have stood fast, get fresh evidences of their own, and of each other’s gracious state, feel a fresh and increased fellowship for each other, and now move on with affection and harmony? Verse 43-45. The type goes on to say that if the plague come again after the stones have been removed, &c., the house is to be broken down, &c. In this, and all other simple types, there must be a deficiency to shadow forth the substance clearly. The one figure could not illustrate the course of procedure, where but a few members of a church are affected with a plague of error, &c., and at the same time, show the proper course, where the majority, or body of the church is effected with it, but by this supposition and regulation. But this addition I think sufficiently clear to be understood, shadows forth the case in distinction from the preceding, of an error or corruption prevailing in the church, so that in regular order, the sound part being the minority cannot deal with, and exclude the errorists. In this case the house is to be broken down, or in other words, the true, orderly members are to come out of the disordered body which will in effect be pulling it down as a Church of Christ, however firm it may continue to stand as an unclean anti-christian interest. Or there being none to come out, other orderly churches should disown it. Verses 46 & 47. Which speak of persons contracting uncleanness by going into the house, eating, or sleeping in it during its being shut up, teaches that those who extend tokens of fellowship to a church while in its manifested unclean, disordered state, participate in the sin of the corruption by countenancing it. In reference to the form of cleansing the house, Dr. Watt’s brief application of the type, though not properly an explanation must suffice at this time:

“No outward forms can make me clean;
The leprosy lies deep within.
No bleeding bird, nor bleeding beast,
Nor hyssop branch, nor sprinkling priest,
Nor running brook, nor flood, nor sea,
Can wash the dismal stain away.
Jesus, my God, thy blood alone,
Hath power sufficient to atone.”
So feels the child of grace under a sense of his various wanderings.

To return to my subject. The term assemblies as connected with the dwelling places, is I think used to show what I have tried to keep in view, that by the dwelling places are not to be understood any of those material places which the fashionable world call churches, but the assembly or the gathering together of the disciples in one place.

I will now defer the remainder of this subject to another letter; and here meet with a few remarks, an objection which I am aware will be made to my quoting so much from the Levitical law, to illustrate gospel order. 1st. An inspired apostle has authorized us to consider this law as having a shadow of good things to come. Heb.10:1. Being then shadows or types given by divine revelation, they must have been designed by infinite wisdom to teach the knowledge of the substance. And thus the apostle employs many of them in the epistle just quoted. See for instance, Hebrews, chapter 9. 2nd. We are told that, “all scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable, &c.” II Tim.3:16. 3rd. Paul says thus relative to his preaching, “Saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” Acts 26:22. With such an example, and such authority, I think I shall be sustained in these references to the Old Testament, providing always that I do not darken counsel with words without knowledge.

Yours, as ever.
Fairfax Court House, Va., April 26th, 1837.