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UNION IN THE CHURCH.
“THAT there should be no schism in the body; but that the members
should have the same care one for another."-1 Cor. xii. 25.
The apostle in this chapter draws a parallel between the members of a Christian church and the members in the human body. He represents these as naturally connected for the use of the body, and the members of a church as morally connected for the benefit of that body. He beautifully describes the resemblance between these two bodies in various particulars. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say,
Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing ? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?
But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body ; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” The whole of this beautiful and instructive allegory, which is descriptive of the Church and its members, naturally leads us to consider,
I. How the members of a Christian church become united.
I. We are to consider how the members of a church become united. Though they are as firmly united together as the members in the body, yet their union is not natural, but moral. For,
1. Every Christian church is, or ought to be, composed of lively stones, or those persons who have passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, and become true believers. They are renewed and sanctified before they become members of any particular, visible church. This was the case of the first converts after the resurrection of Christ. The three thousand converted on one day, professed their faith in Christ, and were baptized, but not received into any particular church. may now be converted, profess religion, and be baptized, without joining with any particular body of professed Christians. It is by choice that the subjects of saving grace unite together, and form themselves into a Christian church. A church is a Christian society, composed of those who choose to belong to it. The first Christian church was a voluntary society. None were compelled to join with it. Every proper, regular, Christian church is a voluntary society, and composed of those only who freely and voluntarily unite together. Though individuals may suppose themselves to be subjects of special grace, and profess to be so; yet if they neglect or refuse to join with any organized body of Christians, they do not belong to any visible church: or if they desire to join to any particular church, and they refuse to admit them to Christian communion and fellowship, they are not members of that particular church. For every particular church is a voluntary society, to which none can belong who do not choose to belong to it, and who are not admitted into it by the choice of the society.
2. The members of a Christian church become united by affection, as well as choice. They not only choose to be together, but choose to be together because they love one another with complacency and delight. They love one another not merely with benevolence, as men; but with complacency, as good men, who bear the moral image of God. They love one another, like David and Jonathan, as their own souls; or as David loved saints, whom he esteemed the excellent of the earth, and in whom was all his delight. Thus the first Christian church were cordially and mutually united in Christian love. Then they that gladly received his word, were: baptized : and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand
souls. And all that believed were together. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” perfectly united in brotherly love. All who possess the spirit of Christ love one another with pure and permanent complacency, because they appear to one another as having the same mind in them that was also in Christ Jesus. The brotherly love of Christians is the strongest bond of union that can exist between them. It is that pure, disinterested love which is as strong as death, and which many waters cannot quench, neither can the floods drown. Such pure complacency and delight in each other, lead the members of a Christian church to form into a distinct society, and unite together in Christian fellowship and communion. The members of a Christian church are connected by stronger, firmer, and more indissoluble ties, than any other society on earth. They have one heart and one interest, which nothing in the universe can sever.
A Christian church is built on a firmer foundation than the rocks and the mountains, which may be broken or wear away. It is built on the Rock of Ages. “Now, therefore,” says the apostle to the church of Ephesus, "ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; 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.”
3. A Christian church is not only united by choice and affection, but also by a solemn mutual covenant. They mutu. ally covenant and engage to aid and assist one another in their Christian course; to watch over each other for their spiritual benefit; to attend the worship of God and the ordinances of the gospel together; and to submit to that government which Christ has instituted for the peace, purity, and edification of the whole Church collectively. Thus every Christian church is composed of members, who by choice, by affection, and by covenant, bind themselves to walk together in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord, blameless. Let us now consider,
II. Why the members of a church form themselves into such a distinct and confederated body. It must be supposed, that they act very deliberately and conscientiously in this solemn transaction, and under the influence of pious and weighty motives. And this will appear, if we consider the several purposes for which they associate together.
1. It is for the purpose of attending the public and stated preaching of the gospel. This is one of the duties of the Sabbath, and a branch of public worship, which as Christians they are required to observe. Christ preached on the Sabbath. The apostles preached on the Sabbath, and the primitive Christians did not forsake the assembling of themselves together on that day. The stated preaching of the gospel is one of the means of grace, which Christ instituted for the instruction and edification of the Church. Accordingly, the apostle tells us, “He gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
The men of the world were not pleased with the preaching of Christ, nor the preaching of the apostles, nor are they better pleased with it at the present day, though there are now some pleasing circumstances attending it, which frequently draw them together at the place of public worship. But still they all neglect or refuse to bind themselves to attend statedly and constantly. But real Christians desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby. They therefore solemnly bind themselves to attend the public worship of God, and statedly hear the instructions of his word together, in order to promote their mutual edification and growth in grace. They dare not trust their own hearts, but lay themselves under solemn vows to discharge this religious duty for their mutual benefit.
2. They associate together for the purpose of attending divine ordinances, which are appointed for them exclusively. The preaching of the gospel is a divine ordinance, but not appointed for Christians in particular. All men are allowed to attend it, if they please, and it is designed for their spiritual and eternal good. But baptism and the Lord's supper are sacred ordinances, designed to promote the union, peace, harmony, and edification of Christians in particular. They are to be administered in public, and to professors of religion only. They are properly social ordinances, and designed to promote social affections, or Christian communion. They are not generally to be administered in private, and in that manner only on extraordinary occasions. It is, therefore, of peculiar importance, that the members of a church should constantly attend the sacrament, to hold communion with one another, as well as with Christ. The ordinance is in its own nature social, and requires the communicants to exercise brotherly love and Christian communion. This is one weighty reason why they should lay themselves under the bonds of a covenant to meet together at the same place, to celebrate the memorials of Christ's death. By coming together in the exercise of brotherly love, they discharge a duty which they owe not only to Christ and to them. selves, but to one another.
3. They associate and confederate together, for the purpose of doing honor to the religion they profess. By coming out from the world, forming a society different from all other societies, and for promoting a cause infinitely more important than any other human societies are formed to promote, they bear a public testimony in favor of the truth and importance of Christianity. They show that they are not ashamed of the cross of Christ, nor to name his name, nor to follow his example, nor to obey his precepts and commands, in the face of a frowning world. They become the salt of the earth, and light of the world, and practically condemn the world for their impenitence and unbelief. They are free, voluntary, active instruments of diffusing religious knowledge and vital piety, and of carrying into execution the purposes of God in the gov. ernment and redemption of the world. They are the enlisted soldiers of Christ, and protectors of the church militant. They are an army with banners, and carry terror to the enemies of truth. They are the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” They are the repository of the Oracles of God. Had it not been for the visible church, the scriptures both of the Old and New Testament had long since been lost. The enemies of truth have always supposed, that if they could destroy the Church, they could destroy the Bible, and banish Christianity from the earth. But though the Church has often been a small body, yet by its indissoluble union, it has always been a very powerful and formidable body, and able to resist and overcome all opposition, and preserve itself. The members of a Christian church have always had in view great and glorious objects, and never failed of being more or less successful in attaining them, by their confederated union. There are good reasons, therefore,
III. Why they should maintain union of affections and exertions. For,
1. This is necessary to prevent any such thing as schism from rising up and producing its dire effects in a church. Though heresy and schism are nearly allied, and often prove the cause and effect of each other; yet very similar and perni.