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2 Coe. xin. 14.
The correspondence of the text, my brethren, with that portion of the Apostles' Creed, in which we profess to believe in ' the Communion of Saints', has, doubtless, led t you to anticipate the subject of the present discourse. We design to consider the passage in this connexion, and shall examine first, the meaning of the word communion as thus applied; secondly, who are the saints that possess this communion; and thirdly, in what particulars their communion consists.
1. The term communion is derived from the word common, and, in its religious sense, signifies that property and those privileges which all the saints possess In Common, whjch none have a right to arrogate or claim to the exclusion of the rest, but which the Gospel assures alike to all, and which all alike enjoy as members of the same community. Hence, when we say, I believe in the communion of saints, we say, in effect, I believe that the saints have an equal and a common interest in all the promises of the everlasting covenant, in all the privileges of the Church on earth, and in all the blessings of the Church in heaven.
2. We are next to consider who are the saints that possess this communion. And, here, it is obviously intimated by the Creed that although the catholic or universal Church of Christ is holy, yet it does not follow that every individual contained within it is so. Whence the propriety of adding this article, lest it might be supposed that we believed all who belonged to the Church to be therefore saints, and entitled to the communion of the saints. Whereas it is certain, that the Church in general may be saved, while many outward members of it shall perish. And this distinction is suggested in the Creed by first stating the Holiness of the Catholic Church, or the Church in general, and immediately afterwards adding that the communion of her spiritual gifts and treasures is not for all who profess to be her children, but for the saints alone.
Now the word translated ' saints,' is the same which is elsewhere called holy ones; to be sanctified is to possess holiness, and to be a saint is to be holy, according to the expressive precept of God to the Israelites, containing at once the command and the motive to it, ' Be ye holy, for I am holy.' The first and lowest sense belonging to holiness signifies the being separated to the service of the Lord, and in this acceptation of the term it was applied both to things and to persons. Thus, as to holy things, we read in the Old Testament of the altar being holy, the anointing oil used for the priests, their garments, the vessels of the tabernacle, &c., all were called holy because they were dedicated to the service of God, and their sanctity consisted simply in their being separated from profane and common uses, to an exercise peculiar and sacred. So likewise all such persons as were called from the common condition of man.kind, to be engaged more especially in the work or service of the Deity, were therefore denominated holy in the same acceptation of the phrase, and became entitled, thus far, to the name of saints. In this sense we find the whole people of Israel frequently called a holy people unto the Lord, although in truth most of them seem to have been rebellious and disobedient, altogether defective in personal sanctity; yet inasmuch as they were chosen out of the world and separated from all other people for the service of God, they were called a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In accordance with the same interpertation of the term we find the Apostles writing to those who had professed to believe, and had been baptized in the faith of Christ, and to all such the name of saints is applied. For although with the majority of these converts the work of the Spirit was probably in its incipient stage, and many of them must have been far from personal holiness, yet they were separated from the rest of the world by their profession, received into the Church amongst the Israel of God by baptism, and therefore were thus far properly called holy.
This outward separation, however, this profession of faith in baptism, or in any other ordinance, is by no means sufficient to constitute the holiness required for the communion of saints. A far higher measure of Christian attainment is here necessary; an inward affection, a change of the heart, a consecration of the thoughts, a hallowing of the spirit, by which the things of God occupy the first and dearest place, and the best attractions of time and sense sink to nothing in the comparison—this state of the soul is - what constitutes the proper sanctity which the Gospel exhibits as characteristic of the followers of Christ. Such are they who are ' sanctified,' as saith St. Paul, 'in Christ Jesus,' whose hearts the Lord has purified by faith, who are sealed, after they believe, with the Holy Spirit of promise, who feel that love towards their brethren which proves that they are born again, and who constantly strive to perfect their holiness in the fear of the Lord, by adding ' to their faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity,' that they may be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such persons, therefore, as are not only called by a holy calling, but who gladly obey the call, who not only profess a holy faith, but who live according to their profession, who not only approve the holy principles of the Gospel, but who feel the influence of those principles upon their hearts, who not only admit the necessity of the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit, but who have humbly submitted to their power, and joyfully experienced a measure of their sacred efficacy, such as not only take Christ for their atoning sacrifice, but also for their ensample, and strive honestly to follow his blessed steps, these and these only are truly saints, and such alone can fully understand and justly estimate the communion of the faithful.
3. Having thus shown the meaning of the word communion, and the proper signification of the term saints, we proceed, in the third place, to consider in what particulars the peculiar privilege of their communion consists. And here we shall show that the saints have communion with the Almighty God with good angels, with the spirits of the just made perfect, and with the saints on earth, in the various ordinances and blessings of the Holy Catholic or universal Church, here and hereafter.
1. And first, the saints have communion with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 1 Our communion,' saith St. John, 'is with the Father and the Son.' 'He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.' 'If any man love me,' saith Christ, 'he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.' 'Know ye not,' saith St, Paul,' that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?' 'I pray not for the world,' saith our blessed Lord, 'but for those whom thou hast given me, and for all who 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 all may be one in us.' Thus the communion of the saints with each Person of the Divine Trinity is fully assured to them. With the Father it is most intimate, for it is the communion of the child with the parent. 'Behold,' saith St. John, 'what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the Sons of God.' With the Eternal Son, Jesus Christ, our communion is twofold, for he communicated jn our nature, he bore our sorrows, he took upon him the burden of our sins, and the curse due to them, that we might communicate in his righteousness, his holiness, and his glory. As the branch has communion with the vine, and the head with the body, as the first born has communion with the brethren, the bridegroom with his bride, and the friend with those for whom he is ready to die, even so endearing is the communion of the saints with Christ Jesus. 'God hath called us,' saith the Apostle, ' unto the fellowship of his Son, and of his fulness have we all received, even grace for grace.' He has promised that he will be with us alway, even to the end of the world, and that, where he is, there shall we be also. And lastly, in the Holy Spirit, the communion of the saints is most essential and precious. He is the Comforter whom Christ has sent that he may abide with us for ever. He is the Sanctifier, the Director, and the Companion of the soul. He is the blessed source of every good thought and holy feeling, and therefore the Apostle concludes his epistle to the Corinthian Church with the most affecting simplicity and propriety in the language of our text, by saying, 'The communion of the Holy Ghost be tvith you all. Amen.'