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10 PERSONS OF WHOM A CHURCH SHOULD CONSIST.
lays especial duties upon us; and, consequently, till we possess the power of fulfilling those which arise out of any contemplated relation, we ought not to enter upon it. Certain obligations and duties are inseparably connected with Christian fellowship. Unrenewed men are morally incapable of discharging them, because destitute of the principle from which alone their acceptable performance can flow. This principle is holy love, emanating from the heart of the Saviour, and circulating through all the members of his mystical body. Mutual watchfulness, forbearance, and forgiveness, &c., practised by the members of a Christian church, are, in fact, holy love carried out into vigorous and habitual action : nothing, indeed, is enjoined which is not a development of this high and sacred principle. Why, then, should an unconverted man seek fellowship with a church of Christ? How can such a church open its doors to admit him ?
THE PRINCIPLES WHICH ARE DEVELOPED IN AND LEAD
TO THE FORMATION OF A CHURCH.
The attention of the reader will be confined, on this part of the subject, to the two following points, viz : the manner in which that union among its members, by which they are constituted a church, is or ought to be effected ; and the causes which awaken the desire thus to unite and walk in Christian fellowship.
First. The manner in which the union of members in · a church is effected. It will be sufficient to say, on this
point, that it is formed by their own voluntary act. They come together by free and deliberate choice. They give themselves to one another according to the will of God, and are not given to each other by the state, or by any other power in existence. Must it not have been so in the first ages of Christianity? The civil powers then in existence, inimical as they were to the new religion, would not, of course, force their subjects into the holy fraternity ; they persecuted and destroyed them, on the contrary, for entering it; and the church had no power to compel them to come in: all who joined it must, therefore, have done it voluntarily; and our history assures us that this was in fact the case. The three thousand converts, on the day of Pentecost, were added to the church by their own voluntary act; for it is testified of them that “ they gladly received the words of Peter, and were baptized.” After the death of Ananias and Sapphira, fear prevented this voluntary act on the part of many ;-" of the rest durst no man join himself
THE PRINCIPLES WHICH ARE DEVELOPED IN,
to them ;”—but not on the part of real converts, for “believers,” we are told, “were the more added to the Lord,” or to the church. The connexion, then, of any individual with a church of Christ is a voluntary connexion. He enters it voluntarily,—he remains in it voluntarily. No power can righteously oblige him (though such power has often been put forth) to do either the one or the other. We must not, however, be misunderstood here. We do not mean to affirm that a Christian is under no obligation to join the Christian body. We believe, on the contrary, that the command of his Lord to come out from amongst the men of the world, and to be separate, renders the act imperative upon him; still his uniting himself with it is, on his part, a voluntary act, though commanded. The injunction to perform it does not deprive it of its voluntary character, or it would follow that, in every thing enjoined, a Christian is involuntary. And if that were the case, what room would there be for voluntary obedience? i. e., what room would there be for obedience at all, since nothing that is not voluntary can be obedience. It is, however, to be especially remembered that, though bound by the authority of Christ to connect himself with his people, no person is bound in any other sense, or to any other being. The government cannot lawfully bind him. He is, and must be left perfectly free; — responsible, indeed, to God, but to no one else. When, therefore, the strong arm of secular power, acting not on scriptural but on geographical principles, connects together a number of individuals who have no especial interest in one another, -erects them into parishes, and assigns a minister to each, (as in the establishment of this country,) there is a direct violation of the principle on which such societies should be formed. Their individual members do not come together according to the will of God, but are given to each other by the state ; and thus the whole system is unsound to the very core.
Secondly. The causes which induce this desire of uniting in Christian fellowship. These are, first, love to Christ, whose glory is promoted by the withdrawment of his disciples from the avowed and visible enemies of their Lord. The whole world is the kingdom of Christ by right, but the church is his kingdom de facto as well as de jure. Its members are visibly subject to his authority; others visibly reject it. Hence the Apostle Paul gave thanks to God, on behalf of the Colossian believers, that he had delivered them from the power of darkness, and had translated them into the kingdom of his dear Son. Hence, also, he enjoined that the fornicator in the church at Corinth should be “ delivered unto Satan,” i. e., re-translated, by visible standing at least, into the kingdom of the god of this world, “for the destruction of the flesh.” In our Lord's own directions, also, in regard to private offences, Matthew xviii. 17, we find it enjoined, that if the transgressor refuse to hear the church, he is to be to his former brethren as a heathen man, &c.; i. e., to be separated from their fellowship, and treated as one who manifestly belongs to a radically different community. . Now love to Christ cannot fail to prompt its possessor to connect himself visibly with his kingdom. Ardent affection is not to be satisfied with the existence of love merely ; it seeks to display and prove it. Yet how can this be done by an individual who suffers himself to remain visibly among the body of his Lord's enemies ? How can the Saviour's honour be advanced by a man who continues in the camp of his foes ? While allowances are made for the influence of mistake, prejudice, and circumstances, it is impossible to believe that ardent love to Christ will be found, generally at least, to exist in those cases in which it does not lead an individual to connect himself visibly with the disciples. · Secondly. Love to one another, the certain result of love to Christ. The object we have now in view forbids enlargement upon the spring of this mutual affection. We have rather to prove that it exists amongst the disciples of Christ, and to show that it must prompt 14 THE PRINCIPLES WHICH ARE DEVELOPED IN, them to seek mutual fellowship. “He that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” Recollecting these words, which contain a general statement, true in every separate case, we feel no surprise at the strong language of Christ, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another ;” since fraternal love is manifestly not an accidental or arbitrary criterion of discipleship: it is a necessary, and an infallible criterion. No man can love the disciples who does not love their Master : nor, on the other hand, can any one love Him who does not love them; for he himself loves them, and is gone to prepare mansions for them, that they may all dwell in his presence for ever. Now can it be conceived that mutual love will not lead to mutual fellowship? Though two cannot walk together unless they be agreed, will they not walk in union when they are thus agreed? Of old, they who feared the Lord spake often one to another ; and, in the present day, those who love the Redeemer, and one another for his sake, will assuredly seek that intercourse on earth which is to be perpetuated and perfected in heaven.
Thirdly. Union in the faith of the distinguishing principles of the Gospel. Among the body of Christ, there is one faith as well as one baptism,-radical identity of belief, with partial and unimportant diversity. The truth of God, in relation to the deep degradation and ruin of man by sin,-his redemption by Jesus Christ,
-his renewal by the Holy Ghost, is enthroned in the understanding and conscience of all the members of the body; and their hearts are bound to one another on that account. “ The elder,” writes the venerable Apostle John, “ unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth ; and not I only, but all they that have known the truth; for the truth's sake which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever,” 2 John 1, 2. Is it surprising, then, that they who love the truth, and each other for the truth's sake, influenced by a strong desire