Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

government, laws, &c., of the Christian church. The Scriptures, especially those of the New Testament, contain the statutes of our King. We are bound to examine these statutes ; and, if the principle of subjection to him be enthroned in the heart, this will be done. All professions of regard to the Master's authority, are hypocritical and base, where the Master's voice is not listened to ; where the Master's written directions are not studied with deep reverence and profound attention.

Finally. The church owes to its Head, incessant care to preserve His laws in a state of practical efficiency. While it is allowed that they exist in the statute-book, they may fall into practical abeyance. The execution of many of those laws will often require great self-denial, and firmness, and strength of determination to resist the influence of friendship and relationship, and a simplicity of aim to promote the honour of the Saviour, not to be

expected, perhaps, in every member of the Christian ·body. And the inertia of the less enlightened and devoted, arresting the progress of the rest, the machine of Christian discipline is impeded in its march. The rod of discipline is permitted to rest in its slumbers ; evil-doers are unreproved; individuals, having entered the body, and finding no vigilant eye upon them, act as they choose, make their exit as they please, when and where they please, while no one is aware of their departure. Such churches are a disgrace to the name they assume ; and, what is a subject of much deeper regret, they inflict dishonour upon the Saviour. His laws must be studied, they must be loved, they must be obeyed by every Christian community, or its members grossly violate the duties they owe to their exalted Head.

II. There are especial duties which the members of a Christian church owe to each other.

First. They owe to one another fervent brotherly love, Eph. v. 2; 1 John ii. 9–11, iii. 10–12; Thess. iv. 9, 10. We have seen, indeed, that love is the sacred cement which binds the stones of this spiritual building

together : it is more than this; it is the attractive principle by which they are brought together; it is the cause of the union of believers in Christian fellowship; it is also the effect of it. For there is a special love which grows out of the relation when formed, as well as a com·mon love which led to its formation. While Christians are commanded to love all who love the Saviour, they are pre-eminently bound to love those who form constituent parts of the same Christian body with themselves. If it should be doubted whether they ought to love them with more intense affection than others, there can be no question that they are under a special obligation to let the fruits of their love abound towards them. It is no doubt true, that, when they have the power and the opportunity, they should scatter these fruits of love far beyond the boundaries of their respective enclosures: but it will be well to remember that none within these enclosures should be overlooked. The first objects of attention, and sympathy, and kindness, and prayer, are those within the enclosure; the second, those who are without. And it is of importance to remember that, by a practical attention to these directions, the welfare of the whole body of believers is more effectually secured than if the love of each individual had had no particular direction given to it, and were allowed to expatiate indiscriminately. In the latter case, there could not be an equal division of the cares, and sympathies, and general fruits of love. An ocean might flow to one, and scarcely a rill to another. God has wisely ordered it otherwise. The members of each church are especially bound to love and watch over each other; and thus the wants of the whole family of the faithful are more certainly supplied, and their welfare more certainly secured.

Secondly. They owe to one another mutual watchfulness. The pastor is to watch for the souls of his flock, but the duty is not confined to him, as there is reason to fear it is in too many cases imagined ; all the members are to watch over one another. “Looking diligently,"

says the apostle, “ lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness, springing up, trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” Heb. xii. 15. The individuals who compose a Christian church, are a band of travellers passing through the lands of an alien, and an enemy. The utmost vigilance is of course required, to secure them against the dangers which encompass them. Should not each regard himself as in part, at least, his brother's keeper, and in some measure responsible for his brother's safety? While the leader of the band frequently throws his eye over the entire company, to see that none fall into snares, none stray from the path, none lag behind ; should not this be done also by every member of the body? Where holy love and eminent spirituality exist, it will be done. Each will be anxious that his brethren should hold fast the truth, should display its lovely spirit, and act under its direction. He will feel that the prosperity of others, adding as it does to the amount of holy influence which is to bear upon the world, and to promote his Master's glory, is a gain to him; while their coldness and inactivity are a positive loss. He will, therefore, look diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God : but his vigilance will be that of love; it will not be watchfulness for the halting of a brother, but anxiety to prevent it; not a prying and impertinent intrusion of himself where he has no right to enter, with the hope of detecting something amiss, (of all impertinences the most abominable,) but an unobtrusive observance of what falls under his notice; that if there should be any departure, on the part of those with whom he mingles, from the spirit of the Gospel, a word of faithfulness and affection may prevent further aberration, and recover his brethren altogether from the snare of the destroyer.

Such watchfulness ought not to be offensive, cannot, indeed, be so to a spiritually-minded man. I am not, indeed, unaware that there are members of Christian

churches who would resent as an insult the gentlest word of expostulation, especially when it proceeded from an inferior ; but these persons have not the spirit of Christ. The Gospel has failed to bring down their lofty looks, and to lay the native pride of their hearts in the dust. How do I bear reproof, or warning, is an excellent test of spiritual state. The Christian who desires to be preserved from sin, (and none are Christians who do not,) will bl ss the faithful word of caution which prevents, perhaps, his return to the world and his destruction with it.

Thirdly. They owe to one another great faithfulness of reproof when sin has been actually committed. The first effort is to keep from sin, the next to recover from it. “Thou shalt not,” was the ancient command, “hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” Lev. xix. 17. “If thy brother,” says our Lord, “ trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” &c., Matt. xviii. 15. The faithful administration of rebuke is, no doubt, a very self-denying duty. It is painful to flesh and blood. Numbers shrink from the discharge of it. It might subject them to misrepresentation and calumny; it might injure their business, or expose them to ill-will and hatred. Why should they encounter such inconvenience and injury? I answer, and the answer will be sufficient for a Christian, “Because your Master enjoins it—because Christian love demands it.” Can you suffer sin upon your brother? Will you expose him to the danger of repeating his transgression, and searing his conscience, and confirming himself in impenitence, and ruining his body, and damning his soul, rather than suffer the momentary pain which the discharge of an unpleasant duty would cost you? Call not yourself a Christian if you can permit yourself to act thus; for your conduct indicates the vilest selfishness. It prefers a few moments, or it may be hours, of your own ease, to the eternal happiness of

your brother. Can we wonder that he who thus leaves him to perish is declared to be a hater and murderer of his brother; or at the peremptory injunction, “ Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him ?”

Rebuke, it should be added, must be administered with great wisdom and affection, as well as faithfulness. “ Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Gal. vi. 1. The motive thus urged to enforce this specific mode of tendering rebuke must come home to the feelings of every Christian. How can a high and lofty tone-a tone which savours of infallibility and impeccability, which seems to say, I could not have offended as you have donebe congruous with the circumstances and character of one who is compassed about with the same infirmity, and may fall as deplorably as the transgressor himself ?

Besides, nothing but a mingling of affection with faithfulness will accomplish the object of rebuke. Sin hardens the heart, and mere rebuke will not soften it; but love breaks it at once, and, consequently, there issues from it the full stream of penitence, recovering for the offender the confidence of his brother and the favour of his Lord. It is of vast importance to invite penitence, and to render it, so to speak, easy, by manifesting a placable temper. In the presence of meekness and gentleness, a proud heart will often humble itself, while the habitually lowly spirit has been sometimes known to gather itself up into sullenness and impenitence, when treated with severity.

Fourthly. They owe to one another prompt and full forgiveness of trespasses and injuries, on satisfactory evidence of repentance. Observe the language of our Lord; “For, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father

« AnteriorContinuar »