Although with this issue of this little paper we commence its forty-fifth year, this year marks a particular point in our history. With last month we completed forty years since we moved into what has been known as The Christian Fellowship Centre, Honor Oak. It was a real move of faith, but with such evident tokens following that it was truly of the Lord. In the years immediately preceding that step the Lord had been doing a wonderful work of reconstitution on spiritual principles, making very real the meaning of the Cross, revealing the true nature of the Church, and leading into an apprehension of the fullness of Christ. This meant that a company of His people was being prepared to serve Him in a much greater way than that of a local community. A vision was given of the three greatnesses of Divine revelation - the Greatness of Christ: the Greatness of the Cross: and the Greatness of the Church. In this way the Lord, who saw further ahead than we did, prepared for the big step which would have to be taken. So it was that in December 1926 we occupied the premises which were to see the development of a worldwide spiritual ministry, not unlike that of the church in Thessalonica: "From you sounded forth the word... everywhere..." (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
The details of that transition and occupation make a story of Divine grace, wisdom, and sovereignty, which lead us to bow in worship when we "Remember". I have been reading through the records of that work during those early years. The gathering of ever-increasing numbers of the Lord's people and servants from ever-extending distances: the steadily expanding ministries in many places: the goings out of younger brothers and others both to near and far places to preach the Gospel and minister to believers: the strength and vitality of the local fellowship in prayer and the Word: and (for this is also a very real mark of anything that counts for God) the growing opposition from without, and more than a little suffering within, by which the believers were ever kept on strong outreach to the Lord. It is no small battle against the power of Satan that things should be maintained in essentially spiritual purity. Yes, there is something to remember in those Forty Years.
But only heaven and eternity will show the true measure of values which have to be hidden from our eyes for safety's sake. That was certainly something that the Lord wanted in order to serve a purpose. Through and by the medium of a company constituted on the principles of the Body of Christ a ministry has gone spontaneously from Far East to Far West. A door was opened to the nations. We know from the case of New Testament churches that, for a time, they were lights and vessels to the nations. The churches are no more, but what God gave and did lives on. The spiritual values live for ever. We trust that it will be like that from these past years. That ministry continues in and through those who have gone to other spheres, some to far places, and what God has done in His people can never be undone. Also in this little paper and the related printed books the ministry continues in life and is ever expanding. Of course, in the period of forty years many have gone from our midst into the presence of the Lord, where "His servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face".
A new generation is fast replacing that passing one. Some of us who have been in from the beginning may not have much farther to go. But - and this has always been our position and testimony - time and natural features are not the criterion. It is the God of resurrection and Divine life who is "our life and the length of our days". This is where we stand today, and what He wants He is able to perform. There have been many times in the forty years when appearances were that the end had come, but "God who raises the dead" had other thoughts. It might be thought that after so much battering and toiling a period of respite would be given, but the fact is that this ministry is being more fiercely assailed today than at any time before. By printed and radio opposition, falsehood and calumny are being disseminated against us. No effort is made to ascertain the truth or "prove all things". Perhaps, in this, we have to accept what we have so often said - that the battle will be fiercest as the end draws near. It does truly seem that all those who have stood most utterly for "the testimony of Jesus" are having fierce and relentless pressure and trial today. Many who do not know of our own pressure write from far places telling us of the intensifying trial of faith and spiritual pressure. There is consolation to be drawn from the fact that we know without any doubt in our conscience that we have stood - and are standing - only for the greatness and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not for anything that we 'hold dear to ourselves' as of this world.
What this new year may hold we do not know, but what we do know is that "He abideth faithful, for he cannot deny himself". There may be more in the foreknowledge of God in our being led to make the motto for this year what it is. How often in the forty years has the motto just fitted into the year's need!
Let me repeat what I have said more than once before. We only look upon this ministry as an auxiliary or complementary ministry. We thank God for all that which is of Him and for Him. We know our calling. It is not the thing and superior to other ministries, but just to supplement them. It is for the "building up of the body of Christ". How we love to preach the Gospel to the unsaved, and love to hear it truly so preached! But the Lord has held this ministry to the purpose of maturing those who are being saved. This is perhaps a more difficult function, for several reasons. Deepening is something which is peculiarly costly, and means that the vessels have to be taken into deep places. Then evangelism so often has quicker and more apparent results, and is therefore much more popular; it gives so much more exhilaration and pleasure for such reasons. The realm of 'teaching' is fraught with so many more perils, and is therefore watched so closely for any ground of controversy and suspicion. Perhaps the devil has a particular fear and hatred for the increase of Christ. I think that the New Testament bears witness to that.
Now, in closing this preface to another year, I just must thank those many faithful, loyal, and appreciative friends who have given, and still do keep our hands held up, by prayer, helpful letters, and other means. It is impossible to send letters to all who write, but our thoughts go out to you - even to the remote places far off - with thankfulness to God for your encouragement. May this year with a seven in it - 1967 - be a year of spiritual fullness for you, for seven is the symbol of that.
Yours in His grace,