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“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.".
."-Rev. i. 8.
What saith the Scripture ?-Rom. iv. 3.
Next in order and in importance to the question of personal interest in Christ, is the inquiry “how we ought to walk, and to please God.” When a man, being justified by faith, knows that he has peace with God, and that he is created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, the desires of the new nature will evidently tend to conformity to the revealed will of God, not only in those things which simply concern individual conduct, but also in duties which require for their fulfilment association with others who walk by the same rule and mind the same things.
An individual thus circumstanced, in reading the first Epistle of John, finds the declaration, “ 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." The enquiry naturally presents itself, who are these “having fellowship one with another?” especially when meditating further on the epistle it is seen, that “every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him ;” and that so great importance is attached to this love of the children of the same family, that it is made the very
test of our own sonship and adoption —“ We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." The child of God, taught of Him, could not hesitate long in concluding from these and similar passages, that the bond of fraternal affection must take in all the redeemed family, all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, whatever their difference in nation, colour, rank or station amongst men, whatever the variation of their sentiments on minor topics.
But when this truth is clearly seen, other considerations remain of most interesting import and most critical solution, since it is evident that this spring of fraternal unity should not be kept shut up in the breast, nor manifested only by giving a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of Christ, but that it should lead to such mutual recognition and association as may be evident to all the world. The solemn injunction
66 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is," appears to be the only direct and express command on the subject of attending public worship: but it is abundantly explicit and clear. Not that this duty is passed over without being plainly implied in many portions of the New Testament, for we find the duty of 6 assembling ourselves together, and exhorting one another," connected with a most impressive and beautiful representation of the oneness of such assembled believers.
“ The cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the hody of Christ? FOR WE BEING MANY ARE ONE BREAD, AND ONE BODY, FOR WE ARE ALL PARTAKERS OF THAT ONE BREAD.'
It is quite within the bounds of probability that an individual may have arrived at this stage of scriptural conviction, while the association in which the circumstances of birth and education have placed him, in no degree meets the requirements of the word of God, and the desires awakened in his own bosom. Must he then continue without obedience to the Lord? God forbid ! for he reads, “ This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous. He must then look around for those with whom he can unite in keeping these commandments. For the first time, perhaps, the state of religious association, amongst professing christians, strikes him as singularly inconsistent with the standard of truth, to which all whom he loves in the bonds of the gospel profess to appeal. In the pages of inspiration he finds all division among christians reprobated in the strongest terms -described as sin—those who cause divisions spoken of as serving not
We learn, from the history of the early church that, in the midst of much superstition, the christians of those days yet retained the idea of the connection of the
one bread" with the communion of christians “ coming together in one place," as one body. “All these several places that were converted to the faith, by the assistance of the Preshyters of the city, did all make but one church with the city ; whereof we have this two-fold evidence :—First, from the eulogiæ, which were, at first, parcels of the bread consecrated for the Lord's Supper, which were sent by the deacons or Acoluthi to those that were absent, in token of their communion with the same church. Justin Martyr is the first who acquaints us with this custom of the church ; ' After,' saith he, 'the president of the assembly hath consecrated the bread and wine, the deacons stand ready to distribute it to every one present, kai toiS oú napovoiv anopepovoi, and carry it to those that are absent." Damasus attributes the beginning of this custom to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, * * whereby it appears to have been the custom at Rome, and other places, to send from the cathedral church the bread consecrated to the several parish churches, to note their joint communion in the faith of the gospel. Neither was it sent only to the several tituli in the city, but to the villages round about, as appears by the question propounded by Decentius; although at Rome, it seems, they sent it only to the churches within the city, as appears by the answer of Samocentius, but Albaspinus takes it for granted, as a general custom, upon some set days, to send these eulogiæ through the whole diocese,” &c.-Stillingfleet's Irenicum, p.370.
It is, perhaps, necessary to add, that we do not in the least defend this superstitious usage, we only refer to it, as shewing the meaning still attached to the words, we being many are one body and one bread, for we are all partakers of that one bread.”
the Lord Jesus Christ, but such as should be marked and avoided. He finds the great apostle of the Gentiles expressing himself under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, as though it were a thing almost incredible that there should be divisions among the Corinthians (“ I partly believe it,” 1 Cor. xi. 18), and beseeching them, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that there be no schisms among them; and, finally, that the Holy Ghost stamps this mark of reprobation on such a state of things. “ Ye are yet carnal : for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” At the present time he finds, on the contrary, that instead of christians " coming together into one place,” as one family, there are, it may be in his own neighbourhood, ten or twelve " sections of the church,” to any of which he may unite himself, if he can be satisfied not only to make public confession of the christian faith, but also to walk with them in those things in which they differ from their brethren. He will find these divisions in the church defended by some as leading to mutual emulation and increased usefulness—lamented by others as weakening the ranks of the divided christian army, but acknowledged on all sides; while union“ in heart, in brotherly intercourse, and in christian effort,”* is the highest point of present attainment, which those most filled with christian liberality venture to propose to these contending factions in the city of peace.
Where, then, he will ask solicitously, is christian fellowship, according to the will of God, to be found? What are the characteristics of the christian church? On this inquiry we propose now to enter :
It is an excellent general rule to fix precisely the meaning of the words we use ; especially, when considering any abstract or difficult subject. It is not less important, surely, to understand the import of terms used by those who spoke, “not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” using definite language to convey
definite ideas to our minds. The word church is of common occurrence in the New Testament, as the translation of ékkinoia (ecclesia). This Greek word we find one hundred and fifteen times in the New Testament, in one hundred and twelve of which we have it rendered church ; in the remaining three (Acts xix. 32, 39, 41) assembly. In the Septuagint it is habitually used, as the version of that Hebrew word which we translate congregation. In one text in the Hebrews, which is a quotation from the book of Psalms, that which is rendered “in the midst of the congregation," is given us in the New “in the midst of the church.” We thus find three English words, church, assembly, congregation, answering to this one Greek word; and consequently having the same meaning. *
* See Noel's Unity of the Church, &c. &c.
We have, then, simply and clearly before us, the use of the word church in scripture, and find that its primary signification is that of an assembly, a visibly congregated body of any description; thus a church of Israelites at Mount Sinai is mentioned (Acts vii. 38); and a church of heathen idolaters, constituted by rushing together, with one accord, into the theatre at Ephesus.
But what are the characteristics of the Christian Church.
Still appealing simply to the Scriptures, we find the Christian Church spoken of as one in the following passages :
(Mat. xvi. 18). “Upon this rock I will build my Church.”
(Eph. i. 3, 22, 23). “ The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, .. gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
(Eph. iii. 10). “ To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
(Eph. v. 23–32). “ For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church : for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”
(Col. i. 18). “And he (Christ) is the head of the body the Church.” Ver. 24. “ The afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church.”
(Eph. iii. 21). “ Unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
* Ecclesia, Church, never signifies the place of meeting, in the way which custom has rendered familiar to us; “robbers of Churches" (iepootlovs) is another word, meaning robbers of heathen temples.