By R.K. Francis.
PUBLISHING COMMITTEE OF
CHURCHES OF CHRIST,
Retyped 1996 by
1 Kenilworth Avenue
Prepared for use on the internet by church of Christ, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This material may be copied and distributed.
IN accordance with Resolution 42 of the GENERAL ANNUAL MEETING OF CHURCHES OF CHRIST, held at Liverpool in August, 1900, the Publishing Committee invited a number of well-known
writers to prepare pamphlets on selected topics. On the whole the response has been very encouraging. The writers are all busy workers, who, without fee or reward, have readily undertaken this extra task, in hope of advancing the glorious cause which has for its aim THE COMPLETE RESTORATION OF CHRISTIANITY AS PERFECTED BY CHRIST AND HIS HOLY APOSTLES. It is hoped the Churches and individual members will heartily do their part by purchasing and circulating these booklets.
The Committee has much pleasure in sending out the following pages from the pen
of Mr. R.K. FRANCIS, of London; and we feel certain it is calculated to impart to many a clearer vision of CHRIST'S BODY, THE CHURCH, as it existed in New Testament times, and thus to aid in restoring the ancient order of things.
May be ordered from Mr. J. NORTH,
Single Copies, post free, 1d.
Per hundred, carriage paid, 7/-.
Christ's Body, the Church.
By R.K. Francis.
THE CHURCH A CALLED-OUT BODY.
THERE is nothing on earth to be contemplated that is so sublime as the Church of Christ. Weak in power and few in numbers, as she may appear to the superficial observer, she is nevertheless of a grandeur transcending that of the kingdom of Alexander, or of the empire of the Caesars, or of the allied glory and greatness of all the dynasties of the earth. She, by no accident, or mere chain of human sequence, is an international body, bearing witness to all men of a supernatural life. The Church of Christ is the visible family of God on earth, having laws, ordinances, manners, and customs of its own. For centuries, kingdoms, and peoples, and tongues had been but as preparatory characters uttering or acting the prologue of the sublime drama of Redemption, "to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through THE CHURCH the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eph. iii. 9-11.
The Church is the Lamb's wife, and beautiful are all her adornments. All her garments are of celestial origin, and she follows her bridegroom with confidence and hope. She follows Him who came from Bozrah, whose garments were dipped in blood, and who trod alone the winepress of the wrath of God. She follows Him to the mountain, the grove, the garden, the cross, and the sepulchre; and while she hopes she weeps: yea, she follows Him with her faith up to the seat of the mediatorial glory, and she knows of a truth that her Redeemer lives.
Christ was the Founder of a religious community, the Head of a corporate body. In the gospels we find direct anticipation of such an institution. At Jerusalem the Christians at once realized the spirit of brotherhood in its fullest sense: They united in a Church. Christianity is essentially a social religion. The Christian is not a morose hermit vegetating in a mossy cell; he is a church member, enjoying fellowship with companions and diligently ministering to their welfare. The disciples of Christ, under apostolic teaching, formed a community of brethren, who were associated upon a broad basis of equality, all of them being illuminated and directed and united in the one Spirit.
In Matt. xvi. 18, the Lord points forward to the Church; in chap. xviii. 17, He refers to the moral relations among the members of the same. The principles He there lays down involve church discipline. But this ordered system, so anticipated, is one differing from Israel's of old. Our Lord's intention to found a new separate society is seen also in the institution of the Supper, an ordinance which secure that His disciples should hold religious fellowship as a distinct body. Then the command to immerse all disciples equally bears witness to the Saviour's wish to found a separate visible society. And as the secret of the Gospel lies in the Person of Christ, as unfolded in His life and death, so in a deep sense is He the seed of the Church. As was he in character and spirit, such must His society be. To understand this society, therefore, we must apprehend it in its essence and its end. This society is an organism consciously and voluntarily compacted by reasonable beings; an organism which is the result of choice not of necessity. We find the Church not merely a form, a vessel, an appendage, but a part of Christianity: she has the stewardship of grace and is revealed as one.
Concerning the term "church" it must be noted that the word "ekklesia," usually translated "church," is found in the New Testament some 115 times. It is derived from "ekkale o" to convoke; and is composed of two Greek words, "ek," a preposition meaning "out of," and "kale o," the verb "to call." Its literal meaning is a convened assembly. Parkhurst gives as its primary meaning, "An assembly of the people called out by the civil magistrate," and from this derives its other usages. But the ordinary classical sense of the word does not necessarily throw light on the nature of the institution called in the New Testament the Church of Christ. The word does not, by virtue of its inherent meaning, carry with it the idea of any particular church. The student of the New Covenant Scriptures will know that for a church to be a Church of God in Christ depends upon its foundation, polity, and character. The term "church" is used throughout the New Testament with reference to a body of people called out - separated from the mass of mankind through their having believed in Christ as the Son of the Living God, and obeyed from the heart the conditions upon which He promised salvation, or in the language of the Apostles, the remission of sins. This institution is no mere continuation or modification of the Mosaic economy. This Church proceeds from Christ as a stream flows from its fountain: we owe this institution to Him and to none other. It is not man's creation. Christ thought of it, He purposed it, He created it. It did not exist before Him. It cannot exist without Him. He made it and sustains it.
In the Divine purpose the Church is, certainly, logically coeval with the fall of man; but in its actual, chronological manifestation, not only to the inhabitants of the earth, but to "the principalities and powers in the heavenly places," it dates from the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Anno Domini 33.
It was then a new institution, not merely so in point of time, but sui generis. Nothing of the kind had ever before been known. The Saviour in Matt. xvi. 18, puts His name upon this society, saying, "My church"; and Paul, in Eph. i. 23, calls it "Christ's body;" so that ownership is once and for ever settled.
The constitutional creed-truth of them Church is the shortest and yet the most comprehensive that anyone ever read. As declared by Peter and accepted by Christ it is, that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. Those who accept this organic truth are admitted into the Church through the initiatory rite of Christian baptism, commanded by Christ. "On this rock," said the Messiah, "I will build my Church." Here the Lord implies that He was founding an organized society, not merely preaching a doctrine. The publication of that great truth, declared by Peter, won its trophies from the centre of Jerusalem to the waters of the Tiber; from the publicans and sinners of Galilee to the members of Caesars household.
The disciples welded into an organized community are Christ's machinery for executing the work he began in His own Person. It is, therefore, obviously a mistake to talk of the "invisible church," or the "universal church," for the word "church" is a word of bounded and limited meaning. As well speak of the invisible city of London, or the universal city of Glasgow. The fact is, believers in Christ form a community apart from all who obey not the gospel. They are the "ekklesia" - the called out of God and of Christ - God's peculiar and separated people. As such they are strictly charged to maintain inviolate their convocational separation from the world and from false professors. As the ecclesia of God, they are the only true, acceptable, and divinely authorised worshipping assembly. Christian service and worship are theirs alone. On Pentecost, in response to the heralds of salvation, three thousand came out from the greater mass, not as a temporary assembly, but for permanent session as that entirely New institution of the New covenant known as the Church of Christ. Were this but understood, churches based in part upon the Old Covenant and upon flesh would be abandoned as adverse to the letter and spirit of Christianity.
THE BODY AND ITS HEAD.
THE Church is a true body with a clear, visible, well-defined outline as well as with a differentiation of its parts, and an organic bond between them. In the description of the Church as Christ's body, we have something more than merely a metaphor; it is not a case of analogy only. The Church stands to the Lord Christ in the same relation that a man's body stands to his personal self: the connection is as close and vital as in the case of the natural body. Hence the true and full preaching of CHRIST must include the preaching of the Church of Christ, unless the figure in Eph. iv. 15, 16, is altogether fanciful. This body is the representative power among men of the only true and rightful Sovereign of heaven and earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords; Who sitteth on the right hand of the Majesty on high, where He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. When the last enemy, Death, shall have been destroyed, then will he deliver up the Kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all.
The Church has no personal life apart from Christ; it is His own life which animates her, and which forms the bond between her various members. As the power, wisdom, and goodness of God are seen in the organization of the human frame, so are they manifest in the constitution of the Church. And by God's appointment this Church is one and not many. Though the New Testament often speaks of "the churches," yet the word is never used of different sects or denominations of Christians: the New Testament applies the term to congregations of the same body in different places. The churches of the New Testament are often described by their geographical position, never by any particular doctrines which they held, nor any form of government or discipline which they preferred.
The Church - Christ's body - is always represented as God's building, never as founded by man, or a body of men: you cannot, therefore, confound it with man-made institutions. Christ's body must be distinguished from that society which has greater faith in the visible headship of the Russian Czar, than in Christ: and from Rome which exhibits her Pope as the vicar of Christ. She must not be confounded with that church whose nominal head is the sovereign of these realms; nor yet with that society which owns Wesley as its "venerable founder"; neither with those which trace their origin to Robert Brown, or to William O. Bryan; though these workers for God were giants in faith and power. The Church is Christ's body, and so distinctly such that it is "ONE BODY" - not two nor two hundred. With Paul, in Eph. iv. 5, 6, the "one body" is a fundamental principle - as fundamental as the "one Spirit," the "one Lord," or the "one God and Father of all;" he mentioned all these in the same breath - the oneness of the Church is to him as certain and as essential as the oneness of the Godhead. The Christian body then is one, and its characteristics are all stated in the apostolic writings: but it is not an invisible body (for it is the essence of a body to be visible and tangible): it consists of living men and women united together in the bonds of the Gospel. Their conduct and character show what they are. The disbelieving world of today needs to see this one body, animated by the one Spirit, gladdened by the one hope, submissive to the one Lord, defending the one faith, practising the one baptism, worshipping the one God and Father, and then shall the knowledge of the Lord soon cover the earth as the waters overflow the channels of the deep.
It being proved that Christ has established a Church, that it has some organization become self-evident. She can be seen and heard, and every man can, if he will, distinguish her worship and ordinances from the cults of other religions. Unfortunately the witness of the Church has been splintered by sectarianism, but that error should not, and need not, and will not be permanent. As the prophetic word foretold, the Church of Christ has been overridden by the apostasy, and the work of today is to rescue the Church from the dominion of sects. As Protestants we must understand our position. Having triumphed over the Papacy, we must now triumph over ourselves; having redeemed Christianity from the apostate, we must now redeem it from the partisan. Christ's society on earth is an organized community, united in common interests, in harmonious concert, and conservative of its own integrity and prosperity. A Church realizing unity and efficiency, having power through the combined effect of faithfulness and grace. A Church abounding in work. For the Messiah's body, like the body of a man, can only be in a healthful and prosperous state when all the members of that body are actively performing their parts.
Concerning the Headship of this body, the divine records show that what the head is to the human body, Christ is to the Church. He who exalted the Saviour and put all things under His feet, "gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." Eph. i. 22, 23. It is common enough for Christians to regard the life of Christ on earth from the time of Herod the Great to the time of Pontius Pilate as a reality; and for them to dwell upon the various incidents thereof with feelings of intense interest. Also to dilate with reasonable joy and enthusiasm upon His second coming. But why are these topics more common generally among His disciples, than what He is now? How often do the assembled worshippers realize the present power and blessing of Him who no longer needs to offer sacrifice, but stands ready to bless? It is a sad fact that the present power of the Head of the Church is lost sight of in matters ecclesiastical. But the Headship of the Church of Christ is in Christ, purely, really, now and for ever. He has not, nor will He ever abdicate His throne, nor delegate His functions, otherwise than as His written word directs. The decisions of General Councils, the Canons of "the Church," or the Decretals of Popes avail not against this Headship. Convocations sit in vain; Assemblies of "Divines" and Conferences may attempt great things, but after all what remains, - the wood, hay, straw, and stubble of their inventions are soon burned up when they come in contact with the focused light of heaven. How many of these great gatherings has time seen! Mountains in labour were they; and lo! little mice came forth! Let is be ours to regard the headship of Christ as a glorious reality.
Head of His body, not bodies, as apologists for sectarianism would have us believe. The glorified Head of the Church of God owns but one Church. He is the One Lord of the One body, which body has but One Head. A church with a head other than this One Lord, or claiming dual headship is of the apostasy. The Church authorized from Heaven has One Head, everliving and unchangeable - "The image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell." Col. i. 15-19. By virtue of this indwelling fulness He is made pre-eminent over all, so that, as Head, His wisdom, will, and authority may govern the body in all things, and so that instant, constant submission to Him is the one invariable duty of every member of His Church. Supreme in position and power over the human body, is placed the head - the seat of intelligence, will, and authority. So is it with the Church. For instruction and for government, as well as for the bestowal and sustenance of life, spiritual and eternal, Christ is the sole head of the Church. Christ the Head of the body and His obedient followers, severally, members thereof: but though many members they are but one body. There can be no spiritual monstrosity which results in this body having two heads, or which makes the Lord Head of more than one body. God's will supreme was the principle of the first creation. God's will restored in Christ Jesus to supremacy is the principle of the new creation; and the Church exists to exemplify the working of this principle. Concerning the congregation of ancient Israel it was said, "Whatsoever thing I commanded you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." Not the very smallest allowance was made then for either addition or diminution in the case of the Divine laws and institutions. Nor is it otherwise under the New Covenant. There is a similar and equivalent rule for the Church of Christ - "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (the consummation of the age)." Matt. xxviii. 20. today needs this revelation of the Christ upon His throne in the Church, lovingly requiring absolute submission to Himself, and to His methods and institutions.
That He is head of the Church is a fact above all exaltation. We have no higher idea of government than the imperial, and there is no loftier conception possible of imperial rule than the Divine. Such is the rule of the Lord Christ. It overrules every other existing power; for the government is upon His shoulders, and His name is Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Father of the everlasting age, the Prince of Peace. The Divine royalty, government, or administration being thus vested in Him, it is to be observed that God has now no commands for men but through Christ. "This is my Son, the Beloved in whom I delight; hear ye Him." Yet we are to remember "the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your Apostles" (2 Peter iii. 2); and also that of them, and to them, the Lord said, "As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you" (John xx. 21). The abiding authority of the Apostles is recognised in the New Testament and accepted. But this lends no colour to what the church of Rome calls "Apostolical Constitutions;" for certain it is that these hierarchical regulations did not come from Peter and his companions. Nor does it countenance the ecclesiastical myth of apostolic succession. The reign of grace as the Divine imperiality, claims an implicit submission to Christ. And while this grace appeals to the understanding of man as the faculty which God Himself has implanted for the discerning of good and evil, yet it does not subordinate its decisions to the determinations of human reason. Under much of the teaching of the present the positive enactments of the Lord Jesus are held to carry no more sanction than do those of a past and powerless dynasty. They are slighted as much in professedly Christian churches as they are in Jewish synagogues, or infidel clubs. These things ought not so to be. The laws of the Lord and Saviour are absolute.
THE FORM AND SYMMETRY OF THIS BODY.
NOTHING could more forcibly "declare the glory of God," than the form and symmetry of such a body. It is not a thing of spontaneous earthly growth or birth, though formed in part of earth's materials. Like the primitive man it is a new original creation from the plastic hand of God. Should we search all nature, we could not find a better type of union and sympathy than a human body: one head, one heart, one soul, innumerable members joined to one another, and the head, by "bands and ligaments" of "cunning workmanship" that none on earth can imitate. To this the Church of Christ has been compared by one who knew its constitution, character and spirit, when as yet no "schism" marred its beauty. To identify "this body" in this age of many churches is no easy task. A hundred counterfeits or imitations are laying claim, and saying, "Lo! here it is." In respect to creation we find God "made man of the dust of the earth," forming him in His own "image." When organized, God breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Possessed of intellect and heart, and taught of God, he loved, admired, and adored the Author of his being. Thus "God made man upright." So in regard to the Christian body - the Church of Christ - it is recorded as the Divine intention, that now unto the "principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." And in the beginning that one Divine body was competent to all the work for which God in His manifold wisdom designed it. Gloriously did it accomplish His benevolent purposes. But Christian concord, and the purity and unity of the Church are an impossibility with denominationalism. There is the same power of growth in the united Church of Christ as in the forest tree. New accessions take place every year, and these improve the older timber of the Church, diminish the hollowness and increase reality. The Church of the Living God, the pillar and support of the truth, unaided by kings or governments, princes or nationalities, yea, with hell and the world in combination against it, carried the all conquering Gospel to every creature under heaven, overturned the direst and darkest of empires, despotisms and priestcrafts; and brought in from every clime multitudes of trophies to the Messiah.
It was by the light and power of the Divine Sun of Righteousness this new body was organized: that Sun arose ushering in the day of a "new creation," that was to make of "twain one new man." Jesus, during His personal ministry, called out those whom he chose to be His disciples; and having blessed them, left them, and ascended to the Father. Inert, lifeless, powerless, this body stood, religiously it moved not, spoke out, neither did it grow. It had the mandate of its Maker, "Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high." Luke xxiv. 49. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, the members of this new body being "of one accord in one place," suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and filled all the house where they were sitting; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Thus God breathed into that body the breath of spiritual life. On that day God brought into existence a new body, separate and distinct from others. It lived and moved and had its being, not as a branch of some other previously existing: its words and actions were peculiar - spiritual; and of such a character that they bore conviction to thousands of hearts that its spirit was divine. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit the body of Christ could have no life, nor power, to exercise its functions, nor could it be recognised and distinctly and formally established in the world. Hence the command, "Tarry ye in Jerusalem till ye be endued with power," and then proceed to preach the Gospel beginning at Jerusalem. This wad in accordance with the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, that out of Zion should go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. So that we have thus distinctively fixed both the place and time at which the Christian institution should commence. Time and place constitute the two eyes of history.
On Pentecost at Jerusalem the Gospel was first preached. It was there and then dew descended upon Zion, even life for evermore. It was there the King sent down His message from the throne by His Witness and Advocate - the Holy Spirit.
In the healthy physical body there is natural and continuous growth from childhood to prime: so in the Church of Christ. By the use of the means duly provided, the Church in its individual members must "grow up in all things unto Him, which is the head, even Christ, from whom all the body fitly framed, and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love." Eph. iv. 15, 16. The energising power and uniting bond of the body is the one Spirit. By the power of the word of Truth each member of the body has been begotten to a life divine, and by His gracious indwelling power, the development of that life is secured, growth in grace maintained, and sanctification realized. The organization of this body was of Divine wisdom, and the head rules the body through the indwelling Spirit; and insubordinate members are cast out as useless limbs. The immediateness with which the members of the human body obey the nervous impulse thereof, truly illustrates obedience to Christ. As the power, wisdom, and goodness of God are seen in the organization and symmetry of the human form, so are they manifest in the constitution of the Church. And as in the human body the fit joining together of the various members is in order to joint service, and this joint service is in order to the increase of the body; so in the Church, the body of Christ, the fitting together of the whole is in order to the due service of every member, and that service in order to the increase of the body. This is the Divine arrangement for growth and development. Nor can this increase be attained by the work of merely a few members of the body: "the edifying of itself in love" is the upbuilding of the whole by the effectual contribution of every part. This Divine law of development cannot be broken with impunity in the reign of grace, any more than in the kingdom of nature; priestly and ministerial pretensions notwithstanding. In 1 Cor. xii., we have an argument drawn from the human body and applied to the Church of God. Verse 27 shows its application. The argument commences in v. 12, and in v. 14, we read, "For the body is not one member but many," and then Paul proceeds to show the necessity for every member to belong to the body, and of every member filling his place in the body. Then applying his reasoning to the Church, the Apostle says in v. 28, how God hath set in the Church the various members and ministries. All humanly established ministries, therefore, are out of place. This body is not formed to be governed by instinct nor by impulse. There can be no warring of the parts for the supremacy. The thumbs and toes cannot philosophize on the bodily action, for all ideas in self-government depend on the head.
Now it is evident that the above Scripture (1 Cor. xii.) cannot be applied to the present condition of the religious world; we must, therefore, come to one of two conclusions - either that the existence of various bodies with different members and ministries and conflicting policies, is wrong, and therefore, sinful; or, that it is right, and that the Lord and His Apostles were wrong. Which can it be? Whatever power or opinion guides the study of those who are learners in the school of Christian doctrine and practice, will impress its own nature and tendency upon all its pupils to a greater or lesser degree. Long experience teaches this. It, therefore, becomes us, upon whom the ends of the world are come, to look into this subject with true impartiality.
HOW WE BECOME MEMBERS OF THIS BODY.
THERE is a question which must be considered ere we proceed any further. How do we enter this body? How do we become members of it? All true, intelligent disciples of the Christ must be Church members, for such is the Lord's design. They must be members of His body, because He is the Head, and there must be union with the Head. No man can fully follow Christ, or obey His commands and hold aloof from His Church. The Church is a part of Christ's plan. He gave Himself for the Church. But how are we to enter it? If this body is a human institution, then, no doubt, men can appoint the way to enter it: but if it is a Divine institution, a society founded and governed by CHRIST, then the Lord must and will Himself have prescribed the form of admission. And until that form or rite of initiation, whatever it may be, is observed, no one is legally admitted. Further, men can only be admitted into a visible society, by a visible rite, form, or ceremony. In the growth or increase of all bodies with which we are acquainted, the principle of assimilation (converting foreign substances to its own nature by laws under which God has placed it), stands conspicuous; thus showing that God "maketh increase of the body." It is so with the body of Christ, the Church. She is gifted with laws and functions for converting foreign subjects to herself. To convert means to change. All changes are conversions. But the conversion of which we now proceed to speak is a change of mind and heart, a change from sin to holiness. Now it is motive that gives character to action. We also know that the power applied to effect any change must always correspond to the nature of the change that is to be effected. So MOTIVE is the only power known to us capable of influencing, changing, or converting mind and heart, or altering their desires, affections, or purposes. When this body of Christ came first into existence, the question was asked by certain, "What shall we do?" Acts ii. 37. Remember! this question was called forth by the declaration of the most amazing and important truths that ever escaped human lips. There is nothing in the whole range of ancient oratory to be compared with the theme which was the burden of Peter's speech on that first Pentecost after the Crucifixion. His was the greatest effort of speech ever made. What a storm of mighty eloquence was then poured from his lips! What an array of testimony and argument, of illustration and logic, of reason and persuasion! He spoke of a Conqueror who had conquered death and hell by a power which was holy and divine. Reaching back to the time of the prophet Joel, he commenced his oration by referring to the wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath; he showed also the gospel truths contained in the utterances of the Psalmist in reference to the Captain of our salvation. With facts which they could not question, Peter charged home upon his hearers the murder of our Lord; and showed that Him whom they had killed God had raised up to be a Prince and Saviour. Then the listeners stood self-convicted - smitten with a sense of the sin they had committed. They were "pricked in their hearts." Here we see the influence of truth, the power of motives.
The truth in relation to God and to man, as a creature of God dependent upon Him, in all its connections and bearings, furnishes the motives by which the sinner is converted to God. And thus we read, "Of His own will He brought us forth by the WORD OF TRUTH." Jas. i. 18. The result of Peter's discourse was, that the hearers were compelled to believe by the authenticated testimony so forcibly presented by the preacher; and believing, they exclaimed, in the bitterness of their souls, "Brethren what shall we do?" The answer was, Repent ye and be immersed every one of you in the NAME OF JESUS CHRIST unto the remission of your sins: and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc." Acts ii. 38. The subject matter of Peter's discourse was precisely in keeping with the true method of the inductive system of philosophy. He saw the wants of the people, he knew their precise condition, and prescribed the only means of relief. They believed him. Faith is the result of testimony received. It is a grand induction from the premises furnished in the word of God. Faith is the channel through which the love of God enters the soul of man, and the blood of Christ reaches the conscience of the sinner. All things indeed, are promised to him who obediently believes. Our faith should incorporate itself with our feelings, and quicken us to obedience, and keep the soul healthy in all its dispositions and hopes.
These Pentecostians received the Gospel as a divine message upon its proper testimony; and instead of faith being the immediate gift of the Spirit, as some have assumed, the Spirit is promised as a gift to the believer - the obedient believer. Every spirit is to be found in its own body. How then do we get into the body of Christ, and partake of His Spirit? "For in one Spirit were we all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Cor. xii. 13. We see, then, how on Pentecost converts to Jesus were translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Hearing, they believed and were immersed. Not baptism disposing to faith, but faith expressed in baptism. For it is one of the distinctive qualities of a true faith in Christ that it needs expression. We can show no one our faith without our works. When, therefore, faith is demanded as the very condition of salvation it is appropriate that there should be an outward and visible sign by which it is expressed. Consent is the essential element in the transfer of land by sale or purchase, but until that consent is expressed visibly in the signature and seal to the document it is not deemed sufficient. The "I will" of the marriage ceremony is a necessity, for it gives voice to the inward resolve for union, but words do not abide, and it is felt desirable to add the registration and the ring as the witness to the vow. Many methods of expressing the great decision have been devised by man - the penitent form, the uplifted hand, the written pledge - all of which are avowedly for the purpose of declaring openly the unseen faith of the heart, but the only Scriptural method of so doing is the ordinance of immersion; and it is the privilege as well as the duty of all who trust in the Lord Christ for salvation, to make known that trust in the way he has ordered in His Commission, sanctioned by His own example, and confirmed by His bestowal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. And as a matter of fact, it was always thus that members were added to Christ's Church in New Testament times. It was so with the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, Lydia, the Corinthians, and all the members of the apostolic Churches. Men have adopted whatever plan they have seen fit, for the introduction of persons into what they have termed the church or body of Christ.
But men can have no power, whatever their assumptions, to legislate their fellows into Christ. Men become members of Christ's body when they "put on Christ" - as it is said, "Ye are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were immersed into Christ did put on Christ." Gal. iii. 26, 27. The phrase "immersed into Christ," found in Rom. vi. and Gal. iii, fully implies that the believer is introduced into the body of Christ by baptism. Would we be certain that this is so? Paul explains the matter in Eph. v. 25, 26; "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the WASHING OF WATER with the word." If the Church then, as a whole, was to be cleansed with a washing of water by the word," none can belong to that Church, but by submitting to that washing of water or baptism. For if the Church which had its origin nineteen hundred years ago, is still in being, then, as the Church was to be thus cleansed, every one who will now belong to it must submit to this washing of water. And this is all in perfect agreement with the rule given by the Lord to His Apostles, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Matt. xxviii. 19. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." Mark xvi. 15, 16.
From a careful reading of out earliest Church history - the only authentic Church history - the Acts of Apostles, we find that emotions, experiences, "religious consciousness,* "attending class," never made a man, woman, or child a member of Christ's body, the Church. It cannot do so now, human practices notwithstanding.
THE MINISTRATIONS AND FELLOWSHIPS OF THE BODY.
TO establish a church is to organize a community. No generation has shown more of the organization mania than the present one: yet with it all what an ignoring of the Divine constitution of the Church! The vast number of supplementary organizations which modern churchism has called into existence is a striking contrast to the simplicity of the New Testament times and body. These modern supplements are standing testimonies to the weakness and error of sectarian churches. All such schemes, though flattering to human pride, flattering to the wise and the mighty, are derogatory to Him to whom salvation belongeth, and Who has sworn that His own right hand and holy arm shall achieve the victory; Whose pre-eminent wisdom has organized the Church for instructing the ignorant, reclaiming the wayward, and giving a unity of purpose and of action to the benevolence of His people, for the promotion of His own glory and the regeneration of the world. The Church of Christ is the divinely-appointed institution for blessing the nations in all their interests. It has the promise of this life, and of that which is to come. And it were to libel the wisdom and power of the Supreme to doubt its all-sufficiency for the accomplishment of that to which He has appointed it. Being a Divine creation the Church is perfect and complete in conception, polity, and adaptation.
All Divine creations are organical structures. A self-preserving and conservative principle is essential to all bodies, and that is the reason of all organizations. In Eph. iv. 11-13, we read, concerning the Church, "And He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." God has arranged, therefore, in the Church for the administration of its affairs and its growth to the stature of the fulness of Christ. The Church has her officers and her servants. There are wide differences of opinion amongst religious people as to the particular kind of ministers, as to their place and powers, functions and appointments, but none whatever as to the necessity of a ministry. As no body corporate can exist, so no Christian body attempts to exist, without its office-bearers.
Remember also that no single question has so rent the church as that of ministry; and never can there be union otherwise than by a return - unqualified return - to that ministry which the word of God shows the Head of the Church has ordained for the growth of the body. Humanly established ministries will never secure the union or growth of the body of Christ, for they are confessedly sectarian. The student of the New Testament Church will note, that in the full and gracious provision divinely made for its administration and growth, there is no division into "clergy and laity;" there is no such person as "THE minister" of the modern dissenting churches. There is no prelacy, no caste in the ecclesia of God. Every Christian is a priest to God; he that is not Christian priest is not a Christian. Under the New Covenant the one High Priest (Christ Jesus) of the Christian profession has entered with His own blood into the true holy of holies. "For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." "Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us (all Christians, not a caste) draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water; let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised." Heb. x. 19-23. Nor can we find a trace in the New Testament of such a personage as "our Minister." The "Rev." gentlemen of modern days are unknown in the apostolic Church. Turning again to Eph. iv. we notice God did not give Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers, that they might monopolize the ministry among themselves, but expressly that they might perfect and adapt the saints for the work.
The gifts of Apostles and Prophets were bestowed supernaturally - by special personal
revelation, endowment, and commission. The Apostles of Christ are the ambassadors of the King of kings. They held the same commission from the Lord that he did from the Father. And in the nature of things, successors they had none, nor could they have. The Scriptures say nothing of any such succession. The Apostles were witnesses, and witnesses can have no successors. The Apostles were ambassadors; ambassadors of a king are not self-appointed, nor appointed by their predecessors in office, but by the sovereign: ambassadors are not only appointed and commissioned by the sovereign, but they serve until recalled by the authority which appoints them. To the Twelve the Lord said, "Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." A Prophet is one who speaks as he is moved by the Holy Spirit. Whenever he prophesies he is inspired. No uninspired teacher, however competent to edify, is a prophet; the prophets of the early church were all teachers, but all the teachers were not prophets. These miraculously endowed brethren were given until the Church should attain the unity or completeness of the faith. Apostles and Prophets in Eph. ii. 20, are embraced with Christ Himself in the foundation of the Church. But there were officers without, as well as with, miraculous endowments. The standing ministry of the Church of Christ consists of Elders, Deacons, and Evangelists. The chief work of an Evangelist is of an initial character. He is not "the Minister" or "pastor" of any one church. His work is to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, form believers into churches, and set in order things wanting; and till such time as that can be done, teach, exhort, train, and execute the laws of Christ in the churches planted by him. Such will always be needed so long as there are sinners to be saved. The qualifications requisite for such work are neither classical or collegiate attainments.
But the Elders, who and what are they? They are the bishops, presbyters, overseers, or shepherds of the flock. That the bishops of the New Testament were also called presbyters or elders is readily granted by those writers who have most thoroughly discussed the subject. For example, Dr. Lightfoot, bishop of Durham, in his essay on "The Christian Ministry," and Mr. Hatch, in his Bampton lectures on "The Organization of the Early Christian Churches," both clearly demonstrate the identity of the bishop and the presbyter. These elders were not novices (new converts) says Paul in 1 Tim. iii. 6. They are those duly qualified members of the body; who, by appointment, have had committed unto them oversight in all matters pertaining to teaching, guiding and ruling. Preaching was not the chief work of these men in the early Church. Such men are not lords over God's heritage; neither do they need great oratorical power or much learning. Even the aptness to teach, spoken of in this connection, implies neither public oratory, nor scholastic lore. There is nothing of the trammels and trappings of mere clerical or ministerial officialism about the New Testament shepherds. Coming to the Deacons, the term in its generic sense represents a servant without regard to rank or quality of service. This order of officers was the second in rank, but the first in institution, if we are right in assuming that "the Seven" who were appointed to the care of the Hellenist widows at Jerusalem may be called "deacons." The name is not given to them. But what we know from the earliest accounts of the office inclines us to class them with those who subsequently bore the name. The functions of a deacon are nowhere clearly defined in the New Testament. There are portions referring to his character. From Acts vi. 1-6, we have come to regard them more particularly as waiting upon the secular affairs of the Church; nothing of preaching or teaching appertaining to their office. The attendance to the secular affairs of the Church, however, is, by no means, an unimportant business; it involves labour, and thought, and needs sympathy. The body of Christ, then, under Him as its Head, animated and led by the Spirit, is the fountain and spring of all official power and privilege: this body needs for its growth and perpetuity and perfection, these organs or officers by which to perform its many services. The edification of the body of Christ, the standard of Christian character, the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, the stability of sound doctrine, are all deeply involved in these officers and their services. But let us not forget, either in theory or in practice, that the body may be ever so perfect, its machinery ever so complete, yet, "as the body without the spirit is dead," so the Church without the Spirit in it is dead also. The broad, black, cold shadows of an external priesthood have hidden, and still hide the life of God and the sunshine of Heaven from millions of our fellow-beings. But under the God-given ministry the primitive brethren were all alive in the cause of God and His Christ. Then, attention deep and agonizing was awakened among the multitudes of all lands.
There can be no primitive life and power without the ancient order of things, both in doctrine and institute; and our antiquity must be as old as Christ and His Apostles. In great and glorious contra-distinction to all merely human associations is the Christian fellowship; for this fellowship is specified as being with the Father, and with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit. The term "fellowship" is by Walker thus explained; companionship, association, equality, partnership. What an uplifting thought, that man should be called into companionship with God! The highest fellowships of earth sink into utter insignificance when contrasted with this. All the associations of literature and philosophy, and of earth's great ones, are not to be mentioned along with the fellowship of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, His Apostles and Prophets. And this divine communion is participated in by all the disciples. It is common to them. They are called into it by God through the gospel. Where do we find the claims of a privileged order in the Church of Christ? John, in his first epistle, writes in the name of all the other Apostles to all the sons of God, and informs them his design is that they may have companionship and association with the Apostles, that they may be exalted with him into an equality of privileges, thus being partners with the Apostles. He then exclaims that truly our partnership is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Paul's expression is, "heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ." John also says, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John i. 7. Walking in the light then of the pure truth of God, we have companionship, association with each other. The ordinances of the Church of Christ are the channels through which the grace of God acts upon human nature. These ordinances are fellowships, communions, or joint participations.
Let us now, however, confine our thoughts to the First-day feast, called the communion of the body and blood of Christ, remembering at the same time that it is a mistake to limit the word "communion" to the Lord' Supper. Concerning this ordinance we note here, that, the clerical sacrament and the apostolic institution of "breaking the loaf," are two ordinances, as different one from the other, as the Apostle Peter and his pretended successor and rival, the Pope. The sacred institution was given to the disciples by their Lord. It consists of eating bread and drinking wine in grateful recollection of the slain body and shed blood of God's own Son, man's Saviour. Now did the Lord, when originating this ordinance, institute a feast or a sacrifice? In the apostolic institution did they place the bread and wine on an altar, or upon a table? Did they ever worship these emblems as God? The Lord did not stand at an altar and institute a sacrifice, but abiding at the table he instituted a memorial feast. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion (participation in) of the blood of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh; have not they which eat the sacrifices were joint partakers with the altar; so the partakers of the Christian feast realize in it their full fellowship, communion, or joint participation in the body and blood of Jesus. But do Christians need for the bread and the wine any eucharistical consecration? Can anyone consecrate anew the bread and wine sanctified to them by the Lord? Popes and their successors have pretended so to do. The power and authority of the Episcopate have tended also in that direction. Even in Dissent it is deemed necessary that the "ordained Minister" dispense these emblems. The practices of the primitive church, however, warrant none of these things.
Putting ourselves under the simple tuition of the only Divinely called and sent ambassadors of Christ - THE APOSTLES - we find their converts (Acts ii. 42) continuing steadfastly in the breaking of the loaf as appointed by them. The frequency with which this was done, or in other words the meaning of the phrase "continued steadfastly," is explained by the sacred historian in Acts xx. 7. It was attended to every first day of the week, when the disciples met together for the worship of God through His divine appointments. See also 1 Cor. xvi. 2. The reason for their attending to the feast thus often is stated by the Apostle Paul - that they might publish openly the death of the Lord: and this all Christians were to continue to do steadfastly, not during the lives of the Apostles only, but until the Lord should come. 1 Cor. xi. 26. As a matter of fact the Lord's Day and the Lord's Table go together: these two evangelists proclaim to all men through the ages the love of God and the facts of the gospel. This feast is a monumental testimony to the gospel. When the primitive Christians came together on the first day of the week to break bread, it was to commemorate the most wonderful transaction which the records of history, whether human or divine, could furnish. Their own supposed worthiness, opinions, and conscience, too, were left out of the question. They lost sight of themselves and their own invention. Their sins had all been freely forgiven them; their conscience purified by obeying the truth. They met together to celebrate the achievements of Him by whom they had been redeemed. Their conduct was founded on Divine example and Divine testimony, and not on their own conceits. As there was one body, so also there was one table furnished every week with these emblems, which formed a constituent part of the worship, and by which the disciples showed forth the Lord's death. The Apostle in 1 Cor. x. 16, 17, shows that the one loaf upon the table is not only, representatively, that body of the Saviour in which he lived and worked the will of His Father during His sojourn on earth; but it is also a symbol of that body by which he now works - His body, the Church. It is her business to repeat His words and works; to exhibit again those deeds of love and goodness. How needful then when partaking of the Lord's supper, to discern not merely a dead body which has been offered a sacrifice for us, but the living, loving body of our Lord in which he fulfilled His Father's will; and at the same time to remember, that, as that body is no longer on earth, the Great Head calls upon His body, the Church, to manifest and multiply the deeds of love, which, were He still here in the body of His flesh, He would display to the healing and saving of men. From all the New Testament teaching on this act of worship, this institution, the breaking of bread, we gather that it was a Church act. The Church, as distinct from the world, took part in this Feast; it was a corporate act. It was a great act of fellowship, or communion; a great fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ. A great act of communion with the risen Lord.
The Church cannot receive the world into its embraces without being polluted. The holiness of the body depends on the purity of its members, and the keeping entire and pure, the ordinances. The restriction of worship to "those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart," is essential to the purity of the people who worship, as well as to the purity of the worship offered. True worship is possible only to the true worshipper; acceptable worship is rendered only by those who are acceptable in the Beloved. The association which subsisted between God and man in virtue of creation was ruptured by sin; this calling again into fellowship is effected by the gospel, and consists in an introduction into the fellowship arising from those relationships which are peculiar to the gospel revelation. And as Christ's sufferings preceded His glorification, so is it with His body, the Church; it suffers now in anticipation of future glory. Its members have a present fellowship with the head even in suffering; they are called to suffer as Christians. The afflictions of Christ remaining after His own personal deliverance from them are filled up in His members. They suffer with Him now, that ultimately they may be glorified together. The confessor's cross precedes the martyr's crown. This is one aspect of the Christian communion.
Oh, when will Christianity be appreciated with its deep and heaven-born principles! The motives presented by the Christian religion are the most powerful that could have been offered to man. The clear and certain hope of eternal; life to those who walk in the ways of the Lord, and the assurance of "eternal judgment," introduced by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to those who disobey His will, certainly transcend all other motives and inducements ever set before men. The obligation of all disciples is to wait upon God in the order and ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ.
CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES OF THE BODY.
WE have not entered upon the consideration of this important subject with the thought of parleying; we wish to make it a practical question. It is one about which we ought to be fully persuaded in own minds. It is one about which we should be able to give an intelligent and scriptural reason for the hope that is within us. To identify the body of Christ in this age of many churches is not an easy task; but be that as it may, the duty is laid upon us. The Messiah having a royal cause in contest on the earth, there is, there can be, no neutral ground. "He that is not with Me," said Jesus, "is against Me." Adherents of religious parties bearing human names, doctrines, and practices are guilty of rending the body of Christ; or, at least of perpetuating divisions therein. The one duty of all, and the one guarantee of Christian union is the reception of and submission to Christ. There is no command in the Scriptures to attempt to reform man-made churches. SEPARATION is the word concerning such. All churches not founded and maintained expressly and alone on the facts, precepts, and examples of the Scripture are of the apostasy. It is at our peril that we follow other than Christ, but Him we must follow. Therefore we cannot agree with a prominent "Free Church Minister" who, in giving it as a reason for not discussing this question of the Church, that men are so divided on it, is reported to have said, "I would never dare to discuss the Church in this congregation. We should be at sixes and sevens directly. .... If I were to ask you for your definition of 'the Church,' we should have as many definitions as there are people here." This appears to us an imperative reason why we must face the question. Peace at such a price is not worth having; it is disloyalty to the Great Head of the Church.
In our search today for the Church of Christ, we should be acquainted with the characteristic features of the same as delineated in the New Testament. We must go to these records for this photograph, and for this reason; Christianity, as a system, is unfolded in the New Covenant Scriptures. The Christian institution has its facts, its precepts, its promises, its ordinances, and their meaning or teaching. These are not matters of policy, of expediency, and arrangement, but of divine and immutable ordination and continuance. No man nor community can touch these and be innocent. These rest upon the wisdom and authority of Jehovah.
We should learn to distinguish between things that differ. It is important that we understand the boundaries and limits of human reason in relation to all subjects claiming our religious belief. God has endowed man with reason. It is his highest gift, his chief excellence. Yet the history of the past, and the experience of the world, show that unassisted reason cannot attain to a certain knowledge on these great matters. The knowledge of God and His will, in all ages, has been derived from revelation, or tradition; to this it owes its origin, and not to the mere exercise of human reason.
"The world by wisdom knows not God." Nothing is more unreasonable than to divorce reason from revelation; inasmuch as they were co-existent, and had it not been for the one, we never should have had the other. The birds of the air and the beasts of the fields have no religion, because they have no reason.
It is within the province of human reason to distinguish between truth and error, darkness and light, between things that differ. It is the province of human reason to distinguish between a false and a true revelation, but it is not her province to sit in judgment upon the impossibility of a divine revelation, inasmuch as we do not know how great may be the resources of infinite wisdom. Now the FACTS of the true religion are the substratum of all our spiritual knowledge; and the principle which exercises a pervading influence in things spiritual is faith. Faith consists in such a firm persuasion of the things which God has declared and promised, that it clothes them with an evidence equal to that of sense. There is no law of our nature better understood or more certain in its operation, than that which leads us to credit testimony; not even those governing sensation or reflection, memory or consciousness. Let us therefore make use of these faculties and powers which God has given us. Let us have facts not speculations, truths and not opinions. A cold, hypocritical, and lifeless sectarianism has marked our religious history for full fifteen hundred years, changing only with changing time, with here and there an exception, sufficient only to prove the truth, "that the gates of hell have not prevailed against the Church." But the old illustration of the many regiments and the one army is out of date; and the cry now is for "Christian Unionists." We urge, however, a return to the one, original Church.
Now from what authoritative source can anything be learned, touching the features of the body of Christ, more full and explicit than from the Christian Scriptures? The Church of Christ is the issue of the divine life in the world as recorded in the Bible. There is also the relation of the personal Christ to the Scriptures. One has said, "The Babe of Bethlehem is wrapped up in the swathing bands of both Testaments." But do we hear an objector say, that the Christian Scriptures alone do not disclose these features. It has been said: "We have no reason to believe that the apostles elaborated and left behind them any definite scheme of Church government which subsequent ages were bound to follow in obedience to apostolic authority." But if these Scriptures alone do not furnish data enough from which to construct a complete system of church order and polity, the question arises, do they afford a complete and perfect system of Christian doctrine and morals? If we need go outside the New Testament to find Christian organization; we need also go outside the New Testament to learn Christian doctrine and morals. Yet these Scriptures, themselves, declare they are able to make men wise unto salvation by faith in Christ Jesus, and to build up the believer, and give him an inheritance among all those that are sanctified. To these Scriptures, therefore, let us go, as honest men, and apply the inductive method of investigation, and see the result.
The history of the church, the body of Christ, is given us in the Acts of Apostles and the Epistles; there we find that Church had certain, common, characteristic features. We will note some of these in a succinct manner.
Firstly, the constitution, so to speak, of that Church consisted of two articles.
1. Unfeigned faith in Jesus Christ as God's Son, the Word who became flesh.
2. Hearty and implicit obedience to all His commandments.
Everything is here. The man who believes on Jesus Christ in His divine character has power to become a son of God: under the influence of this faith the soul lays hold of the arm of Omnipotence; the heart becomes steady and firm. The exaltation of that intelligent faith exclaims "My Lord and My God." But the mere act of "believing" does not make the believer a son; it gives him the power to become such. See John i. 12. Those who receive this privilege to become sons of God must be born, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The Christian creed is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. To believe on Him is to receive him in this His personal, and official relation and standing. In the primitive Church candidates for membership needed no theological screws or press-boards applied to their heads. From the time of their confessing Christ, the Church judged of their faith by their submission to Christ, and love to Christians. As early as other tests were applied to new converts, so early were division, dissension, and sectarian hatred consequent upon it. It has continued so ever since. The man who under the influence of this simple but living faith does the will of Christ - obeys His commandments - is in fact a son of God. Agreement in this faith and in this obedience was the basis of affiliation in the primitive Church. This is the only basis that Heaven recognises now. Nothing else will stand the test when Jesus comes. Christ has undergone no change. He requires now just what he required then. The Church now, to be the Church of Christ, needs just what the Church needed nineteen hundred years ago - the same deep love, the same holy harmony.
Secondly, all converts in New testament times were taught to regard themselves as belonging to the one body. And the principle of "one body" is classed by Paul along with that of "one God and Father," "one faith," "one baptism," and "one Spirit." There was then, and is now, but one party of which Christ is the only head; the congregations of which are not the "Church of England" sometimes found in Scotland - not the "Scotch Church" which is found in London - not the "Church of Rome" situated in Ireland. The "one body" of Paul was not composed of "evangelical denominations," but THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST, congregations of the one body, with the one name only. This union of New Testament converts in the one body was maintained through union with a common head. That head was Christ. That body was the Church of Christ. It is only by being found in Christ, that one can be a member in His body the Church, and it is by what is derived from Him through that union, that one's place and functions in the body are determined.
Thirdly, each local community or church is a complete body in itself. It has, if fully set in order, all the organs, or officers, necessary to build itself up in the new life, and to enlist others in the good work for which it mainly exists. There are no lordly prelates, no diocesans, no suffragans in Churches of Christ. "Primates," "Archbishops," "Prelates," "Deans," "Prebendaries," "Canons," "Popes," "Pontiffs," "Cardinals," or "Reverends" have no rule in New Testament Churches. The jurisdiction of those who do rule there and those who minister is alike limited to the local community. And of every such local body Jesus is the Head. There is no exception.
Fourthly, the conditions of general and local affiliation were precisely the same. One received into fellowship in Jerusalem or Samaria was promptly and cheerfully recognised in Rome or in Corinth, anywhere, everywhere. This gives true catholicity. The community of interests, of labours, of sacrifices, of sufferings; the affiliation in a common cause, upon a common basis is universally felt, and universally confessed. This constituted them one body.
The distinctions then between the Church of Christ and "Christian Sects" is now obvious. The tie of affiliation, the test of fellowship, the basis of membership are not the same. The members of the sects may indeed all claim to believe in Christ and obey Him; that does not alter the case. This is not their bond of union. This is not their basis of fellowship. They have added dogmata of their own. To believe in Christ and obey Him is no longer enough. You must also believe the denominational creed. This is what makes the sect. A number of such sects may even get the length of uniting to publish a "Free Church Catechism," and join in a "United Mission;" yet at the best such are the results of negation and compromise, and the apparent charity is more in name than in fact. Such moves can never transform sectarian bodies into the Church of Christ. A religious community having any other basis of ecclesiastical fellowship than faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to Him is a sect. The community that stands by Christ, that believes in Him, that obeys Him, and make this the basis of its organization is a Church of Christ.
There are those who contend that the body of Christ has actually been destroyed. That the apostasy has been so great that the Church has absolutely failed; or that "she is in ruins." This erroneous notion that the body has rotted off from the Head, and that a new body has been formed, or will be formed, to take the place of the old one, can find no favour with those who study their New Testaments. Had Jesus, who has all power in heaven and on earth, not power to keep His bride alive, from the time of the espousal until the marriage supper of the Lamb when she shall be taken home to His own residence? Has the Messiah been a widower fifteen hundred years or more? The Church which is to be presented to the Lord at His coming is the Church for which he died. And He has not been offered the second time, or died for more than one Church. The Church of Christ is that Church to which Christ gave the Divine charter, by which that body politic was incorporated. And while the world stands Christ will have that Church in it, in which His truths and ordinances shall be owned and attended to, in spite of all the opposition of the powers of darkness. Our prayer today needs to be, "Send out Thy light and Thy truth; let them lead me; let them guide me to Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacle."
IT is a common observation among us that "Re-union is in the air." It is said to be one of the signs of the times. Within the last year or two we have been invited to pray for it, and sermons have been preached on this subject. We have been told: "Christ has no favourite denomination. The National Council of Free Churches is in its unity more precious in the sight of Christ than any one of the several denominations of which it is composed; and when all His churches, blood-redeemed and sanctified, are truly free - a dream only as harvest is the dream of seedtime - and are all inter-ruled by the spirit of love the world will see in the light of that long-watched-for morning something of the innermost and uttermost meaning of Calvary." We do not know that any fusion of all the different denominations into one body has anywhere taken place, or even been proposed, but in some instances religious bodies of the same order have of late coalesced. But there were no sects in the apostolic church; there are no sects in heaven; there will be none in the millenial age; therefore, we want no union of sects today. That would be the sum total of sectarianism. WHAT WE NEED IS A UNION OF CHRISTIANS. We are glad that men everywhere are fast awakening to the sinfulness and shamefulness of our divisions; that they are beginning to see that all division is in itself an evil; that the endless sects and denominations are a reproach to our religion and a barrier to its progress. We thank God for this altered attitude. Notwithstanding the present drawbacks, we are thankful that so much attention is being drawn to the fact that our Lord requires His people to be one visibly; and that this great truth is set forth and so far advocated by men of great influence. If, however, this much talked of "Re-union" came at this very hour it might be but a dubious blessing; for all we could do along the present lines would be but to patch up a hollow and a temporary peace. True Christian union can alone be secured on the basis of Christian truth.
The prayer of the Saviour, in John xvii., is that those who "believe on Me may be one as thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us." Not one in a humanly federated ecclesiastical body, but "one in us." Christ prays that His followers may be one, precisely as He and His Father are one - not that they form a union, but constitute a unity. The prayer contemplates that believers attain a oneness of mind in the faith, and not merely a oneness of feeling - a oneness of heart in the obedience which they offer, and a oneness of effort in the work which they do. This Christian unity is measured by the standard of the divine nature. "ONE AS WE ARE ONE." If Christian Union consists in mere heart-kindness, there is no visible appositeness in the prayer. The Father and the Son are one in feeling, action, counsel and name. So completely are the Father and the Son one, that the same acts are ascribed to both, and the same purposes are formed by both. Such is their identity in these respects that the eye of the keenest archangel cannot see a shade of variation.
And this is the real picture of Christian unity as the Saviour hung it in the Supper-chamber. Perfect identify must subsist among the people of God, and their unity must consist in agreeing, just like the unity of the Father and the Son, and not in agreeing to differ. We are to hold the same affections, the same faith, and the same ordinances, and we are to hold them as Jesus held them, or else our union is a counterfeit and a pretension. Who can suppose that the Father holds one form of truth, and the Son another, but that for the sake of peace they "agree to differ" - that is they mutually agree to suppress the varying expression of their minds, and that they call this being at one? The very thought is offensive. Christian unity must be scriptural, or it is unreal; it is nothing. God desired that His people might be one. Christ prayed that they might be one. The Church was Divinely constituted with reference to this oneness. But the Divine will has to an extent been defeated, and defeated by a departure from the divine constitution. Our Lord's prayer can never be realized without a return to original ground. Christian union is possible only on this basis; and to this foundation the conscientious of all sects and parties, and of no sect nor party are invited to come. God has given "once for all" a divine system of government - a system all sufficient for man's present and future happiness - capable of realizing, and the only one that can realize, the designs of infinite wisdom and goodness. Man has wandered from that system, constructed others, and failed. His only deliverance is Restoration. Let him seek the "Old Paths" wherein is the good way, and walk therein, and he shall find rest for his soul.
"Let names, and sects, and parties fall,
And Jesus Christ be all in all."
Let the prayer of the Redeemer be fully answered and all who believe become one, in order that the world may believe. We must recognise the one body. We are to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all the through all and in all." Eph. iv. 3-6.
Denominational union is a fallacy, for the Church of Christ is one body, not a composition of denominations. During our Lord's sojourn on the earth, the church was only prospectively alluded to: it was planted on the Pentecost following His resurrection. His Apostles entered that day on the work of legislating for the Church; they were kept in the world and from its evils till that legislation was complete - that is, till the perfect had come. The Church, therefore, was absolutely perfect before the death of the last of the Apostles, not in the number or character of its members, but in organization, faith, and polity. So thoroughly were men united by the instrumentality of the gospel during the personal labours of the Apostle to the Gentiles, that in addressing those who are walking in the truth, he does not need to teach them to become united, but it is only necessary to exhort them to keep the unity already possessed and enjoyed. See Eph. iv. 3. Mark it in memory and in heart: converted men in the days of original purity did not require to learn unity nor to be taught to change from a condition of schism to a condition of oneness; but the inspired teaching sought to maintain them in the like union that the gospel carried them to in its first principles. Benevolent and noble-minded men of today are seeking to invent a plan of union. They will never find it; for it is not to be found. There can be no union upon any plan discoverable by man. Heaven has put in the Church, the Body of Christ, the grace of unity, as well as purity through the gospel. The fact is, no man understands the Church of God in its fullness and perfection who attempts to get up a scheme of union.
"Denominations" talk of "development;" and true enough the institution made known to us as the Church of Christ reached its perfection by a gradual unfolding. That development, however, was of God and by inspired men. When the last apostle departed, he might have said on this point, "It is finished." From the day of Pentecost to that day development of the faith and order of the Church was possible. After that, development becomes perversion and apostasy. The earliest Church was the purest and most effective Church the world has ever seen. And when we have ceased to choose our own ways, and are willing to learn of Him, we shall find that much of the doubt and darkness, with which men envelop the true order of His Church, will vanish before the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. We shall then see that the true Church which Christ has built upon the rock was not a mere heap of stones and timber to be fashioned in any form which human fancy and caprice might dictate; but that it is a "building fitly framed together," which "groweth into an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God in the Spirit." Eph. ii. 21, 22.
In conclusion note, the Lord Christ did not come into this world to suffer and die merely to introduce an insufficient law. Those who contend that the laws of Jesus and His Apostles are not sufficient for the safe protection and guidance of the Church throw contempt on Christ, as though they knew better what was necessary than he did. The Church of Christ being that city set on a hill, which is destined to enlighten every land; she should be first engaged in rectifying everything within, not only theoretically, but practically, according to the law and testimony given, that her light may break forth fully on the nations. The grand design of Christianity is the purification of human nature. Its facts and promises have such moral power that they awaken human hearts, and bring men into new relations with God and with each other. A Church of Christ should be composed of regenerated persons, walking in all the ordinances blameless, the fire of devotion burning in each heart, for ever burning upward to the heaven of heavens. The adoption of infant baptism destroyed this blessed condition of things. It was a flood which the Dragon poured forth out of his mouth, by which the dykes were overthrown, the wall of partition between the Church and the world broken down, the lines of demarcation obliterated, and the Church completely secularized.
The fogs of surrounding traditions have obscured the fair face of the Sun of Divine revelation. But the sky grows clearer; the sun shines brighter; and we are discovering that the Lord has a right way. We are seeing more clearly the beauty and glory of the Church. We perceive her magnificent, upright proportions, still bearing her turrets to the sky, still throwing her radiance of gospel light along the restless sea. And still the glorious structure rises. Its capstone shall glitter for ever with the reflected radiance from the throne of God.
"On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake her sure repose?
With salvation's walls surrounded,
She can smile at all her foes."
What are the cold formalities of sectarianism compared to the things of Zion? The moral world is a dark subject for the mind to contemplate. Its every-changing tides are the ebbings and flowings of death; its music is the song of melancholy; its votaries are slaves; its kingdoms are passing away; its literature is but a reflex of its degradation and wretchedness. Its very commerce is too much affixed to the blood-stained chariot of war. Its press is burdened with insanity, crime, and suicide. The world is indeed dark. But the Church is light. The approving eye of God ever rests upon her.
The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ; the food of the Church is the bread of life; the drink of the Church is the water of life; the members of the Church are pilgrims; and the music of the Church is the incense of praise. Her weapons are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Her light is the word of God; and her life is faith. Where is there a feast equal to that which is spread every Lord's Day at the foot of the Cross? Where are there symbols so significant? Where are there prospects so bright? Where are there feelings so hallowed? And where are there hearts so full of love?
Reader! Are you anxious to obey? Do you ask, What shall I do? Abandon every party name and creed, be called after CHRIST, and subscribe THE BIBLE only - exchange for the dialects of Babylon THE PURE LANGUAGE OF JERUSALEM - disregard human legislation and tradition, and hold as supreme THE POSITIVE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD - substitute for partizan zeal A HOLY LIFE - contend not for opinions, but for THE FAITH, and the approbation of God will be secured.
From the 1901 edition.
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