The Brethren
A Brief Sketch of their Origin, Progress and Testimony
by Andrew Miller.
(Edited and placed in pdf format by DJA March 2005)


Some have raised objections to the title "The Brethren," as giving the idea of a sect; others as arrogating to a particular community that which is equally true of all Christians. Such thoughts never occurred to me while writing the book, and were not suggested by those to whom I spoke of it. Expressions such as "the writings of Brethren," "the meetings of Brethren," etc., are in common use among themselves; which simply mean a convenient designation, and one which cannot be misunderstood. In no other sense is it used here. To be obliged to make use of a description instead of a name would greatly encumber the style and embarrass the writer. A. M.

It is always a relief to the mind, in studying the history of the church, to be able to trace with any measure of certainty the silver line of grace, and the operations of God's Spirit in those who have taken a prominent part in its affairs. This was a rare privilege during the long dark night of the middle ages; but with the dawn of the Reformation the working of the Holy Spirit became increasingly manifest. The word of God was appealed to as the only authority in matters of faith and salvation; and the great Christian doctrine of "Justification by faith alone" became the foundation and corner-stone of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. By means of this truth the power of popery was subverted, and the nations of Europe delivered from its tyranny.

Every right-minded Christian, who has studied the great revolution of that period, will certainly not fail in thankfulness to God for the mighty work which was then accomplished by His grace, through the faith and the endurance of the Reformers.  We must ever honour with admiring gratitude those faithful witnesses who laboured to spread the pure light of the gospel in opposition to papal superstition infidelity, and immorality, backed by the power of the civil sword, and in the face of imprisonment and death. The awakening and the agitation of mind were so general, and all in the direction of truth and holiness, that the most unbelieving must own that such a Reform could only have been produced by causes more than human, and of the most powerful efficacy.

But the leaders of that great movement overlooked many of the most important doctrines of the word of God. The vital truth of salvation through faith in the sacrifice of Christ, without the merit of good works, was so startling, so overwhelming, to those who had been educated in the superstitions of Romanism that they seemed to think no further truth was needed. They taught that the atoning work of Christ satisfied the justice of God, reconciling Him to rebellious man, and that all who had the full assurance of faith in this truth were saved. It does not appear that they ever laid hold of the precious truth that it was God's love to sinful man which led Him to send His Son to die in their stead, that they might be reconciled to Him. This is the grand foundation truth of all gospel testimony. Had there been no love, there would have been no Saviour-Jesus, no salvation, no glory. But "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son. that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3: 16.

God never was the enemy of man, and needed not to be reconciled, though He did need and did provide a propitiation for our sins. Many sweet thoughts flow from this blessed truth; the child of faith can fall back, not only on the work of the cross as his resting-place, but on the heart of God who loved him and sent His Son to die for him. In 2 Corinthians 5 we read, "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." The first word we hear from an offended God after man had sinned, is, "Adam, where art thou?" Man was lost — God was seeking him. This was the first action in the work of redemption; indeed, the grand feature of redeeming love.

We must now notice a very special work of God's Spirit in the early part of this century, and in our own country. It pleased God, in the riches of His grace, just about this time, to awaken in many minds and in different parts of the country a deep desire for the study of the sacred scriptures. By this means many of His children were led to a renewed examination of the "sure word of prophecy," and others were led to see the importance and blessedness of what He had revealed in His word respecting the church, the body of Christ. This was something entirely new in that day. To speak of the church as the body of Christ, of which He is the glorified Head in heaven, and of its being indwelt and governed by the Holy Ghost, were new truths in the ears of Christendom.

It would be difficult to find in the theology of the Fathers or the schoolmen, of the Reformers or the Puritans, the doctrine of the church as the Elect Bride of Christ, separated from the world to wait for His return from heaven as her only hope, and knowing the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as her only strength and joy.

From the end of the first, down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, no theological writer seems to have brought these precious truths before the church. Even the simple gospel was so completely overlaid and mixed up with human feelings and doings, that hardly anyone ever expected to know in this world the certainty of salvation. Hence we find some of the most holy living and spiritual teachers which have been in the church, praying on their death-beds that they "might not take their sins and iniquities to the judgment-seat." And this state of mind is by no means rare even in the present day, though the light and truth which have been spread abroad during the last fifty years have given many such a surer hope and a brighter prospect. The full efficacy of redemption, according to Hebrews 10, was, and is, comparatively little known. There we read, "Because the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." This does not mean — no more consciousness of sinning, but no more conscience of sins. The precious blood of Christ has cleared the conscience of the believer for ever. "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." There is no need of the Mass to perpetuate the sacrifice, nor of human feelings and doings to add to its value. When this truth is understood, the full forgiveness of sins, and acceptance in the beloved become the happy condition of the soul.

The difference between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of God was also one of the important truths recovered at this time. The question is fully discussed by the apostle in Philippians 3. Its ramifications, especially in Puritan theology, are so wide, that we will not attempt to follow them here, but only give the apostle's conclusion: — "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Every Christian ought to know that He who knew no sin was made sin for us, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." The feeblest believer in Christ stands before God in a righteousness absolutely complete, divine, and everlasting. Christ is our righteousness. In place of taking his sins and iniquities to the judgment-seat," the moment he is absent from the body, he is present with the Lord, and in all the completeness of Christ Himself.

It pleased the Lord to revive in many minds during the first quarter of the present century, a deep interest in the restoration of Israel to their own land, and the consequent glory of Messiah's reign. Several books were published on this subject between the years 1812-25. But the one which created the greatest interest is entitled "The coming of Messiah in glory and majesty," by a South American Roman Catholic priest, Emanuel Lacunza, who adopted the nom-de-plume of Ben-Ezra, a converted Jew. This work was originally written in Spanish, and first published in Spain in 1812. It was translated into English, and published in London in 1827, with a long preliminary discourse by the Rev. Edward Irving. His powerful eloquence was now employed to arouse his congregation, his brethren in the ministry, and the whole professing church, to the study of this great and comparatively new subject. The prophetic description of the glory of the millennial kingdom gave him ample material for his glowing orations. The circulation of these new books, and fresh papers constantly appearing in the magazines awakened a fresh interest in the subject, and many, both lay and clerical, became diligent students of prophecy.

These studies led to the establishment of what were called "The Prophetic Meetings," which for some years were held in Albury, Mr. H. Drummond's seat, Surrey, and at Powerscourt Castle, in Wicklow. Clergymen and private gentlemen came freely to those meetings at first; but after a while they were attended, at least in Ireland, chiefly by the Brethren. It was then, we believe, that the midnight cry was raised, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." And from that day until now, the number of those who preach the second coming of the Lord has been steadily increasing. The cry has been heard in every land throughout Christendom, and still it rolls on waxing louder and louder, and must do so until He come and call His bride away. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth, say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Rev. 22.

The first effect of discovering from the word of God what the calling, position, and hopes of the church are, must be a deep sense of the contrast between what man calls the church, and what the church really is in the light of the New Testament scriptures. So it was with a few Christian men in Dublin in the early part of this century. The Lord, we doubt not, had been dealing with their souls for some time, and preparing them for the reception of many truths which had been long lost to the children of God. They were, no doubt, worthy members of their different communities, sound in the faith, devoted, and unworldly; but they began to see, in the clear light of God's word, that to remain where they were would be a practical denial of what the church is. Thus were they led of God to separate themselves from the existing religious systems with which they had been severally connected, and bear witness to the heavenly relations of the Christian, and to the nature and unity of the church of God. Unlike the mere abstractions of the ascetics, it was a moral separation from the world and from the religion which it sanctioned. Even the confessors at an early period of the church's history, and the Reformers and Puritans at a later, had no wish to leave the communion of the Established Church, provided she had agreed to reform abuses. Most of them were excommunicated; but when a change of government brought religious liberty, they gladly returned to their pulpits and benefices.
But as many of those who took the place of separation are still alive, we can do little more than state the origin of the community, and give a brief outline of its progress. We must hold character to be sacred, and we know that prejudice is strong, and that the feelings of all must be respected. Therefore we shall endeavour to avoid as far as possible everything that might give offence to anyone. But of that which has appeared in print, and been written by themselves, we may freely speak, Their writings, in the form of books, tracts, and periodicals, are abundant, and widely spread over the face of Christendom, so that their views may be easily ascertained. We shall not quote, as many have done,
the opinions of their enemies as a fair estimate of their character, any more than we would accept the opinion of a bigoted Roman Catholic about the character of Luther.