« AnteriorContinuar »
quently established in the churches planted by the apostles. (Mark ix. 1, 2 ; Luke ix. 27, 28.)
To encourage His disciples to meet by themselves for prayer and mutual edification, when He should be taken from them, Jesus said, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. xviii. 19, 20.) That the disciples understood their Lord's meaning, and carried out His design, is evident from the repeated instances in which He found them assem. bled in their social capacity, after His resurrection and before His ascension. The effusion of the Holy Ghost which took place on the day of Pentecost, was obtained in answer to joint supplications offered during a series of protracted meetings, extending over ten successive days, at which none but disciples were present. “And when they,” the disciples, “ were come in ” from Mount Olivet, “ they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphæus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and suppli. cation, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.” (Acts i. 13, 14.) “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.... And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts ii. 1-4.) Thus social prayer and Christian fellowship were instrumental in brivging down a blessing which not only enriched the church with miraculous gifts, avastincrease of power, purity, and light, together with a large accession of members, but which, in its results, changed the moral aspect of the world. In the case of Peter's liberation from prison by angelic agency, we are told that while he “ was kept in prison, prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” (Acts xii. 5.) Not only the elders and deacons, but the “ CHURCH,”—all its officers and members, rich and poor, young and old,-prayed. And it would appear that, on the night previous to the Apostle's intended execution, they, in order to give full expression to their intercessions, and at the same time escape the malignant vigilance of their enemies, divided themselves into bands; and concerning one of these we learn that they met in the house of Mary the mother of Mark, and continued in prayer far into the night; yea, until Peter appeared in their midst.
In the apostolic Epistles exhortations are given which plainly imply that social worship and Christian fellowship were practised in
the churches to which the Epistles are addressed. “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Gal. vi. 2.) " Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Rom. xii. 15.) “ Wberefore comfort yourselves together, and cdify one another, even as also ye do.” (1 Thess. v.11.) “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” (Verse 14.) “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works : not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is ; but exhorting one another : and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb. x. 24, 25.) “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” (James v.16) “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” (1 Peter iii. 8.) The obligation of a duty does not, indeed, depend on the frequency with wbich it is enjoined, but on the authority by which it is enforced. One clear command binds us to obey; but here we have a series of Divine injunctions addressed to us, not as isolated individuals, or as citizens of the world, but as members of Christian churches; and we do not see how they can be obeyed, if meetings for social worship and Christian fellowship be neglected. Not only so, but the apostles Peter and Jude expressly mention "feasts of charity," or love, as well-known social means of grace in the primitive churches; and ecclesiastical writers tell us that, for a long period, they were truly what their name imports. They were intended to promote brotherly love, and were often connected with the administration of the Lord's supper. Sometimes they were commenced with a sermon, but ordinarily only with singing and prayer. The rich provided the feast; and both rich and poor ate at the same table, in token of their equality in Christ. Tertullian, who flourished at the close of the second and the early part of the third century, speaking of these "feasts of love," says, “ We fill ourselves in such a manner, as that we remember still that we are to worship God by night. We discourse as in the presence of God, knowing that He hears us. Then, after water to wash our hands, and lights brought in, every one is moved to sing some hymn to God, either out of Scripture, cr, as he is able, of his own composing...... Prayer again concludes our feast ; after which we depart...... as men that have fed at a repast of philosophy and discipline, rather than a corporeal supper.”
The Apostle's Creed, whatever its date may be, makes the communion of saints an article of Christian belief; and though Popery proscribed social worship, just as it condemned free inquiry and liberty of conscience wherever its reign extended, yet in Piedmont, Bohemia, and our own country, the men who feared the Lord " spake often one to
TOL. XIV.-FIFTH SERIES.
another,” about the common salvation, read Wycliffe's books, and worshipped God as His word directed. The dawn of the Reformation in England and other lands was indicated by earnest men and women assembling in little groups by night, or in secluded places by day, to sing Psalms, offer up prayer, and read the Holy Scriptures. The opening of Wesley's evangelical commission in the last century, by the faithful preaching of the neglected doctrine of justification by faith, constituted a new era in the history of social worship; for the “United Societies” were formed on the assumption that it was part and parcel of every Christian man's duty to declare what God had done for his soul. Such an usage, in other words the class-meeting, is thus seen to be in effect both ancient and scriptural. .
2. This practice involves a principle which is sanctioned by the habits and conduct of men who are busied with the trade and commerce of the country.
Men of all trades and professions, from our merchant princes down to the humblest class of mechanics, find it necessary to meet together, and consult how to surmount the difficulties with which they have to grapple, counterwork the opponents with whom they have to contend, and secure success in their several callings. The necessity of these business and professional associations is felt by all, their propriety, when regulated by a due regard to the rights and interests of others, is admitted by all, and their advantages, when wisely managed, are shared by all. Now if it be wise and necessary for worldly men to take counsel how to carry out their schemes and projects, it cannot be considered less wise or necessary for Christians to do the same, in the prosecution of their heavenly calling. Or, if the principle of associating for mutual aid and encouragement be in any case justly chargeable with enthusiasm, the charge lies more directly, and with far greater force, against the men of the world, than against the people of God. The loftiest designs which the former can frame are mean, and the most herculean labours in which they can engage are childish, compared with the labours and designs of the true Christian. They scheme for time, he for eternity ; they labour for “ the bread which perisheth," he for that which “ endureth to everlasting life;" they are striving to gain the praise of men, he lives so as to secure the approbation of God; they are occupied about things temporal, which may be managed, relished, understood, and secured, without supernatural influence; whereas he aims at the things which are unseen and eternal,—which no man can relish, understand, or secure, without Divine teaching and Almighty aid. “The children of this world," our Saviour has said, “ are wiser in their generation than the children of light:" and if He deduced a lesson of prudent foresight from the conduct of the “unjust steward,” surely their judicious practice of taking mutual counsel about the affairs of this life, ought to admonish us of our obligation to help each other in making sure work for the life which is to come.
3. This practice is in perfect harmony with the character, design, and genius of Christianity.
In worldly associations, rival interests, selfish motives, and envious devices, are either covertly, or openly, brought into play. One man's successes are often based upon another man's misfortunes ; and the accumulations of one man's property often tends to the deepening of another's poverty. But in Christianity there are no rival interests, and no ground for the workings of jealousy or of envy. On the contrary, it condemns, and is designed to destroy, every feeling opposed to love. It declares mankind to be equally lost, and proclaims that they are equally redeemed; it offers life and salvation to every man on the same terms; teaches us to regard each man as our brother; and annexes a reward to the tears we shed over his misery, the gifts we bestow to relieve his penury, and the words we speak with a desire to promote his salvation. Christianity not only gives existence to “ brotherly love," but it sustains it in its Divine activity, and suggests motives of infinite weight why it should ever be diligently cultivated.
The Gospel, when cordially embraced, assures the believer of the pardon of his sins, and acceptance in the Beloved; it brings him into fellowship with God, fills him with love to God and man, gives him a taste for the sweets of sanctified friendship, and plants in his heart the hope of glory. Nothing, therefore, can be more in harmony with a religion so social, so characterized by love, and so full of enjoyment, than that those who enjoy its blessings and bow to its claims, should hold frequent and joyous fellowship with each other. Christians travel by the same road to the same heaven, serve the same Master, seast at the same table, have common joys and griefs, common encmies and interests, and are required to be ready to lay down their lives for their brethren. For them, therefore, not to take counsel together how to make their calling and election sure, would be unnatural, and altogether alien to the character of the Gospel which they profess to believe. The fellowship of saints has always been prized by the saintly, and by persons deeply convinced of sin. In all genuine revivals of religion, meetings for prayer and Christian intercourse are frequented and enjoyed by those who are subjects of a work of grace ; and the decay of piety, in churches, or the souls of individuals, is ever indicated by the neglect of such services. Those professors who are satisfied with a form of godliness, dislike everything in the discipline of the Church which goes to distinguish between the living” and “the dead." They are the "whole," of whom the Saviour speaks, who "have no need of a physician." Strangers alike to godly grief and bols joy, "rich and increased in goods," and needing nothing which
reu enjoyed by hurches, or the so those prof
the Atoning Saviour and the sanctifying Spirit have to give, they cannot relish meetings designed for the healing of the sick, the comforting of them that mourn, the enriching of the spiritually poor, and the exaltation of Him who is the “ Alpha and Omega” of the believer's salvation. The fact that such persons dislike Class-meetings ought to excite no surprise; it only proves the Gospel character of these social gatherings, and should raise them in our esteem. “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” (Prov. xxvii. 7.)
Christians are one body, actuated by one Spirit, united to one Head. They have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and throngh all, and in them all.” (Eph. iv. 5, 6.) It is the will, and loving design of God, that, “speaking the truth in love,” they should“ grow up into Him, in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Verses 15, 16.) Christians are fellow-labourers in the same vineyard, fellowsoldiers in the same army, and fellow-heirs of the same heavenly inheritance; they therefore act in harmony with the promptings of their new pature, their common relationship to each other, the genius of Christianity, and their joint union with Christ, when they meet to “comfort one another,” to “edify one another," and to "provoke unto love and to good works.” Whereas, those who“ forsake the assembling of themselves together" through the fear of man, the love of the world, or on the ground of some slight or offence, render their piety questionable, and their example a stumbling-block. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us : but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John ii. 19.)
II. THE PERSONS WHOM DAVID INVITED TO COME AND HEAR WHAT GOD HAD DONE FOR HIS SOUL, AND WHO IN THE DAYS OF MALACHI SPAKE OFTEN TOGETHER,—“THEY THAT FEARED THE LORD.”
To fear God, under the Old Testament dispensation was, in all lead. ing points, equivalent to loving Him under the New. As the love of God constitutes the sum of true religion now, so the filial fear of God was regarded as constituting its sum and substance then; and as love to God is the distinguishing mark of a good man now, so the fear of God was that which distinguished the righteous man then. When David therefore calls upon all that " fear God” to come and hear, he purposely excludes scoffers, unbelievers, triflers, and self-sufficient professors ; an n the days of Malachi, those only who evinced their fear