« PreviousContinue »
(Heb. ii. 11, 12). "Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto thee."
It is very evident that these texts refer mainly to a oneness, which God alone can recognise, the unity of the whole body of the saints, who, when their number is accomplished, shall be gathered together in one glorious company, the general assembly and Church of the firstborn which are written in heaven," where is already the muster-roll as it were of this mighty army, that "great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," whom John saw in vision standing "before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and crying with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb!"
The Church is compared to a temple, built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. Its bond of union is indissoluble and eternal, for we read, further, "in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Out of this Church is no salvation; and exclusion from its pale would involve the most direful of all calamities.
The church, in this sense, is therefore not inaptly described in the communion service of the Establishment, as the "members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people."
The members of this "mystical body" on earth, may be unknown, in measure, to each other, and to their fellow-men; but they are all known to God, whose eyes behold its every portion, yet being imperfect; and in his book all its members are written, "which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." There may be no visible unity among them; but their external condition may be that of "strangers scattered abroad," or they may even be wandering about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. The world knoweth them not, even as it knew him not.
We have seen the character of the Church as it is in the sight of God, but let us contemplate another class of passages, in which that which is visible to man is spoken of. We shall still find unity a charac
Acts 2:47. The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be
5:11. Fear came upon all the Church.
12: 1. Herod the King stretched forth his hands to vex certain of
20:28. To feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
1 Cor.10:32. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God.
11:22. Despise ye the Church of God?
12:28. God hath set some in the Church, first Apostles, secondarily Prophets, &c.
15: 9. Persecuted the Church of God.
Gal. 1:13. I persecuted the Church of God.
Phil. 3: 6. Persecuting the Church.
1Tim. 3: 5. For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God? Ver. 15. That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God.
We then look through the remainder of the passages in which the word occurs, and find it very frequently applied to individual assemblies of the Saints, as also to such assemblies scattered through a country, as the Churches of Galatia, the Churches of Macedonia, the Churches of Judæa; but wherever there was a possibility of the Christians coming together in one place, even if the number were as inconveniently large as must have been the case at Jerusalem (consisting as it did at the first of at least 5000 persons) we always find the singular number used, as, for instance, "the Church which was at Jerusalem," the Church of the Laodiceans, the Church of the Thessalonians, the Church of Ephesus, the Church in Smyrna, the Church in Pergamos, the Church in Thyatira, the Church in Sardis, the Church in Philadelphia. There is still a studied oneness (if we may so speak) in the inspired language of the New Testament; and where individual Churches are mentioned, they are spoken of not as having an isolated independent character, but as portions of the mighty whole, just as one wave is not independent of the ocean, but owes its existence simply to locality, and by change of place is immediately merged in its fellow-waves. We consequently never read of national Churches in Scripture, but rather of the Churches of the Gentiles, the Churches of Galatia, the Churches of Asia, the Churches of Judæa, &c. i. e. congregations isolated simply by geographical position.
We next inquire "Is this oneness an essential quality of the Church of God? or is it something merely accidental and extraneous, existing at its first origin but not destined to continue? Is it like the key-stone of the arch, which being removed, the structure falls into irremediable ruin? or is it a mere pinnacle of the temple, ornamental indeed, but such as may be taken away without destroying the usefulness of the building,
We turn first to the xviith chapter of John, and there, listening with holy awe, mingled with sweet and adoring confidence, to those accents of love which flow from the lips of Jesus, we hear him pour forth the desires of his heart to the Father of mercies for his church:-" I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine...And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be ONE, as we are."
We must then acknowledge that the object which could call forth such fervent petitions from our blessed Saviour, and that too at a time when the hour of his deepest agony drew nigh, could not be of subordinate importance. We find, on reading further, that a result no less blessed, nor less extensive than the conversion of the world, was dependent on the manifestation of this oneness. Union in heart, in social intercourse, and benevolent effort, even if attainable (which it is not), is far from being the oneness spoken of here. The world takes cognisance only of that which is evident and visible, rather than spiritual. Such is the union which our Lord desired, when he said, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word ; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me."
The christian church was, at the first, ONE the temple in which God dwelt by his Spirit-the witness for God upon earth. It was placed as a light-house amid the darkness and desolation of man's lost estate, to guide the poor wandering mariner, tempest-tossed on this world's troubled ocean, into the port and haven of everlasting rest. It was a green spot in this world's wilderness-an oasis in the desert, in which all the lovely fruits of the Spirit were produced in abundance, in delightful contrast to the sterility around. Christian love rendered these pastures ever verdant, inviting the weary pilgrim to rest in them, and to bless the Shepherd who had led him to the still waters or salvation. Being risen with Christ, the early christians were made joint participants in a new spiritual life, and that a life entirely opposed and alien to the course of this world—a life dependent on their having
died with Christ the Lord of life, and risen together with Him-a life hid with Christ in God. The precious ointment upon the head of the High-priest over the House of God had gone down to the skirts of his garments; and, as the anointed family of an anointed Saviour, his brethren dwelt together in unity, daily deriving fresh supplies of grace from their exalted Head, and holding the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Thus, while the world accounted their hope of forgiveness and of glory through the death of One who suffered as a common malefactor, and their expectation of seeing this same Jesus return in the clouds of heaven, to be extreme foolishness, they could yet recognise something extraordinary in their bond of union; they could see that they were held together by no tie connected with this world's interests, and were forced to confess, "See how these christians love one another!"
But, alas, for man's frailty! we find this beautiful Paradise soon marred, through the roots of bitterness springing up and troubling the church. While under the superintending care of the Apostles, who watched over the infant churches with the zeal and care of those who knew that when the chief Shepherd should appear they should receive a crown of glory, which fadeth not away, the enemy sowed tares among the wheat, which soon bore poisonous fruit in abundance. In glancing through the Acts and the Epistles, we find ample acknowledgment that the mystery of iniquity did already work; that from among the rulers of the church should men soon arise to draw away disciples after them; that there must be heresies among them—that there were some who separated themselves," sensual, having not the Spirit ;" and that one of the brightest churches, though still in the faith, was beginning to lose this characteristic mark of unity, by splitting up into sects, and saying, "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ."
Under these circumstances the inspired Apostles instructed, and warned, and taught every one of their converts with many tears, that they should walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called; and especially do we find them labouring to impress on the churches the sin of heresy and schism. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, who were most evidently falling into the sin of division, says, chap. iii., "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" and he proceeds to that solemn warning in the 16th and 17th verses, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile (40ɛípɛ) the temple of God, him shall God destroy (40ɛpɛĩ), for the temple of God is holy,
which temple ye are." While, to warnings of this solemn character, he adds the most persuasive entreaties:-" Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions (schisms) among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." To the Romans the same Apostle writes in terms of similar import :"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them;" while, throughout his Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians he labours to impress the duty of endeavouring to keep the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that ye stand fast in one Spirit...with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel." "If there be therefore, any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
We see, from these very brief examples, how fully the Apostle of the Gentiles was led by the Spirit into the understanding of the essential character of the unity of the church, how much he laboured to promote it, and how blessed were the effects wherever manifested.
But we have no need to consult the melancholy story of the church's declension and apostasy, as written in the pages of her historians; we have but to look around us, and perceive in the mournful aspect of a mostly unconverted world, and a secularised church rent into innumerable fragments, the appalling truth, that the beautiful fabric of the one Church, subsisting in life and order and loveliness-bearing testimony every where to the grace of God, and the power of divine agape to bind men together, notwithstanding their jarring interests and prejudices, and opposing tempers, and to deliver them from their miserable selfishness, and to make the circle of their charity co-extensive with the family of God-is gone-alas! is it for ever?
When "the virgin of Israel" had forgotten the Lord and had forsaken "the ancient paths, to walk in a way not cast up," we find the weeping prophet directed to take a potter's earthen vessel, and go forth with the ancients of the people, and the ancients of the priests into the valley of the son of Hinnom, and there to break the bottle in the sight of the men that went with him, and to say unto them, "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again. Surely it were a more hopeful attempt to reunite the scattered frag