The following is the edited text of an email I sent to another Christian who is a real help to me. I wanted to post on this topic, but I finally decided this email was the best articulation I've been able to come up with on the topic.
Just a note on terminology: "OB" means "open brethren", "EB" means "exclusive brethren", and "TOB" means "tight-open brethren".
I'm not sure what the Lord is trying to teach me, or what exactly I'm doing wrong in learning the lessons. Or maybe nothing, maybe this is just as tough as it is.
I identify completely with your quote about people who learn (or try to learn) intellectually. I personify that. I'm sitting here, with books by all these guys who have been dead 100 years or more, and more inbound (I just placed a pretty large order with Dover Bible Fund); and I have to say that I've learned the hard way, the answers aren't there. Not that they're without value, but what I was looking for (and what I suspect a lot of "brethren" types are looking for) isn't found in a lot of books.
I'm sure I shared with you before, the Lord has really had to work on me to show me that I made an idol of people like JND. About two years ago now, I stopped reading "ministry" and limited myself to Scripture. It was a good move.
At any rate, I spent most of my life looking for the Magic Bullet to make me spiritually mature. I tried legalism (for me it was Gothardism), ecclesiasticism (starting with OB, then TOB (only VERY briefly), then finally EB), knowledge (I've read over half of JND's ministry, and substantial parts of CHM, WK, etc.) and some mysticism (JBS, CAC, FER, and Watchman Nee). But in the end, it's all a waste of time as far as pursuing godliness. In the end, the God who loves us isn't to be found by shortcuts.
It's terrible to learn one's self. I've had some very Romans 7 experiences over the last few years, and more lately. There is a strange comfort in knowing it probably won't get better. But it's oh so hard to learn ( as JND puts it) that I am powerless over sin.
And as I find blogs and so forth of new believers online, I find myself pitying them the road ahead. It's tough.
I think I understand Peter "where else shall we go?" It's not the joy of the journey, but the realization that there's nothing else that keeps me plodding along. Or rather, that there's no One else. My life is hid with Christ in God, and while that's extremely comforting, it's terribly final. Sometimes I wish I could just throw it all away and let myself fall into apostasy. It just seems like it would be easier. Or at least, it wouldn't be harder, and it might be more fun.
The Lord Jesus, eternal God, eternal Son of God, came down here to live with wicked sinners; and He died for us too, and actually became sin for us. And now He's gone back---for us!---and invites us to come in as purged worshippers. This is an incredible thing, that God wants worthless trash like me to see Him face to face. It's really my only link with sanity sometimes.
I think that's really what it comes down to. My life alternates between extreme enthusiasm and bleak desparation: I make a fantastic living in a job I dislike, I live relatively comfortably in a city I hate; and I find myself wishing I could actually enjoy the assembly where we fellowship. And behind it all, there's God who loves me. But somehow I keep getting in the way of my enjoyment of it.
You told me last year that it's a mistake to NOT follow the Lord just because we can't see where He's leading. I really appreciate that bit of wisdom. I'm completely unsure whether He wants us to stay with the assembly here or not. I'm loathe to try and "fix it" myself: I've done that too many times, and it always makes things worse. So we're trying to be patient and honour Him where He's put us.