THERE is a great sameness in man. It has been said that history repeats itself. The nature of the human race is one and the same, and it betrays itself in a like way when in contact with similar circumstances. Surely every conscientious disciple knows well that in some particular tendency of his nature he is most in danger. True, he may have so learned his frailty, and so truly repented of it, that ate dreads to trust himself, and shrinks from it, as a burnt child from the fire; but he does so because it is fire to him, and he knows his safety is only in the Lord. It is not that it never recurs, for the thing that has been he finds is the thing that is; but he has learned the wretchedness of his flesh, and the security there is from it in the Lord; so that, when walking with Him, there is nothing he is so safe from as his peculiar snare, because he is in the light, where he not only sees it, but is in armour to preserve him from it.
Now what is true with the individual is, on the same principle, true of the people of God in their collective character on the earth. Thus we find the things that were written afore-time were written for our en-samples. Man collectively for God, as well as individually, is the same in every age; and when we know what has occurred, that is the very thing we may be assured will recur. The sins of Israel, God's nation, forecast the sins of the church, His house on earth. If the first sin with that nation was idolatry, the first with the church is idolatry, the first ever to be dreaded, as John says, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols". These last words forewarn of the greatest and most probable danger. The thing that has been is the thing that shall be. Individually or collectively, the most ready tendency of man, in a religious way, is to depart from God as He has been revealed, and substitute something of his own devising in His stead. If I hold to God, I must deny myself, and therefore the effort and the attempt is to quiet the conscience by asserting that God is acknowledged in form, or image, while the power of His word and name is lost, or diverted from the soul. This is the real object and effect of idolatry. Israel fell into the snare of the calf when they lost sight of the power and rule of God in their midst. The Corinthians, though so marvellously endowed by the Spirit of God, lost sight of the presence and power of our Lord Jesus Christ in their midst. They were corrupted by their evil associations. They had not apprehended that there could not be communion between light and darkness, nor concord between Christ and Belial. Their lack of divine sensibility in the house of God was evidence enough that they were corrupted by idolatry, or by independency, which better expresses man's attempts to maintain an orthodox religious form without God's word. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof"; and with this there is always an effort to appear powerful and influential in the eyes of the populace. How much we see of this in the present day in the public reports of works and progress!
Independency occurs when God is displaced, and thus it began in the garden of Eden. No one would question but that Cain was independent. It is not necessary that I should engage in something unhand-some or unamiable in order to be independent. I might be independent, although laboriously pursuing works apparently the most commendable. Anything that is not of God in that which refers to Himself is independency. If I am not subject to the word of God for the occasion, I am independent. Lot was an independent man, though he did not leave the promised land, because he did not abide there according to God's word. The independent consider for the present advantage; there is not faith. Abraham falls into independency in the matter of Ishmael. Very often it is in attempting to secure some divine benefit that one has recourse to one's own means; and this is pure independency. Jacob, led on by his mother to secure his father's blessing, was independent, seeking to obtain a right thing in a corrupt way. It is not so much the immorality of the act or the course which is independency, as the pretension to act for God when led by my own will, without any authority from Him or leading of His Spirit.
Now as in the law there was the duty towards God first, before the duty towards one's neighbour, so there is a double responsibility on the believer now to act in reference to and subjection to Christ, as well as to be right and good in one's relation to man. The first is, of course, the greatest; but as it is more outside natural comprehension, it is the more often overlooked, or independency is substituted for it; while the other is easily preserved according to a natural standard, because man is ready enough to exact and require of his fellow everything which contributes to his own comfort and advantage, which is the principle on which good society exists. A man might, in the mind of the sagest of men, be most moral and exemplary in daily life, and yet entirely independent in his course with regard to the Lord. The very propriety and good order in which one walks according to the judgement of man often hinders and prevents his independency from being detected and condemned. Conduct which relates to man is easily seen and soon judged of; but it requires a spiritual mind, one acquainted with the mind of the Lord, to detect the acts or course which, assuming to be for God, are quite obnoxious to Him, because they are a self-will offering, where one's own glory is sought, and not the Lord's. Thus an immoral, or a low moral man is detected at once, and denounced; while the independent man, who in the spirit of his mind is more alienated from God, is often approved of and applauded, at least by the unspiritual. The most effective, and therefore the most dangerous, independents are the most moral. Their external character lends weight to them. The immoral would have little influence with any sincere soul; but the independent might, except where there is spirituality enough to detect his aberration.
Independency, then, is that I act independently of the word of God, and therefore without the leading of the Spirit of God. No end will justify the means. Saul acted independently, however true or justifiable his reasons were, when he offered the sacrifice before the coming of Samuel. Better that all Israel should have been scattered, than that he should offer to God anything out of his own mind; for it must be out of my own mind, if not from God. And this is simply the source and origin of independency. I act for God, officiously and arrogantly, according as my mind suggests to me, and not as His word would suggest were I waiting upon Him. Our Lord, in the first temptation, would not consider for Himself, though He had the power, and His need was a true and proper one, because He had not the word of God for it; and still more, when He might have prayed for twelve legions of angels, He would not be independent, though He had the right, but with unreserved devotedness of heart, says, "not my will, but thine, be done". He could not act independently. The virtue of the act is gone when man attempts to subject God to anything of his dictating; as if man could, out of his own mind, fathom or grasp in the least particular what would suit God. Here Mary surpassed Martha; she could not dare to offer anything until she had learned something of His mind.
In this time, the church time distinctly, there is no place for the flesh. Whenever or however I act in the flesh with relation to God, I am independent; I am simply outside of faith, and am not led by the Spirit of God. When a believer walks in the flesh, he will soon betray himself even to his fellow. In the first days of the church men did walk in the flesh. That which has been is the thing that is. There were bad morals, and there were bad doctrines. I need hardly say the second was the more grievous, and in them the true character of independency transpired, because they were avowedly in reference to God, yet, while assuming to be for Him, were virtually dishonouring His name, and undermining the truth. Hence, as the church declined - as we see in 2Timothy, or Jude, or Revelation 2; Revelation 3; -- there was open and undisguised independency, man asserting and assuming to do things in the name of God for which there was no warrant or countenance in the word of God. Of the elders at Ephesus, the most fully enlightened assembly, should men arise, speaking perverse things; not doing immoral acts, though I doubt not that where there is independency, there is at best but a spurious and unwholesome observance of the relative duties. Saul of Tarsus was most moral, and yet he was the chief of sinners because of independency, choosing his own way to serve God. What does the history of the church reveal but that repeatedly men of zeal and piety, in endeavouring to correct patent abuses, instead of waiting on God to show what His mind was, separated from this thing or that, according as it was felt by their own consciences? They assuredly meant well, but they were independent, because they were prescribing what was suitable for God, instead of consulting His word, and adhering simply and solely to it; and if they had done so, there could not have been the numerous sects now in existence. Many of them seem to have done service and good to souls in their day, but the effect of their independency has in every instance survived their service, so that mischief and not good is now the record of their memories. What is a Wesleyan or a Quaker but a record of mischief, and the posterity of independency? No matter how good the character of the act done by the best of men for God, if it be not according to His word and Spirit, that act is not only an abomination to Him, but if it takes effect, and obtains followers, it becomes a weed in the church which will never be extirpated. Hence, in the last times, Paul's teaching and the Scriptures are our only guide.
The readiness of man to use his own mind with regard to the things of God renders it now more than ever necessary that there should be close and unvarying adherence to the word of God. If a man has not the authority of this for any action, or any course which he may adopt, however good he be personally, he is independent, dependent, he has travelled outside the mind of the Lord, and has laid the foundation of a lasting shame and a stumbling-block to the saints of God.