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We are reminded of what Christ said to Nicodemus: "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." He had come to set up a commonwealth, and to gather subjects into it. Here, in his reply to the Jewish ruler, he states the condition of citizenship in this commonwealth. They who would enter into his kingdom must transfer their allegiance from Moses, or Confucius, or Zoroaster, or Plato, to him; and take upon themselves the obligations imposed by the constitution and laws of the new state. This done, they put on a new character in the act of doing it. They were no longer the disciples of Moses, or of some heathen philosopher, but of another and diviner teacher; no longer under law or philosophy, but under grace. We may illustrate it in this way We have emigrants to this country from Germany, Italy France, England, Scotland, Ireland. Just their coming here and living here does not change the relation they sustain to the kingdoms from which they have emigrated. They are still the subjects of William, or of Humbert, or of Victoria, and are not American citizens. Their political character and relations are not in the least changed by their crossing the ocean and coming here to live; but they are still Italians, and Germans, and Frenchmen, and Englishmen, and Scotchmen, and Irishmen.
How shall they become American citizens, entitled to all the rights and privileges of citizens?-how, but by an open and formal transfer of their allegiance, by a declaration of intention, and by taking an oath to support the constitution. and obey the laws of the land they have adopted. This done, they are no longer strangers and foreigners, no longer Englishmen, and Scotchmen, and Germans, and Italians, but newborn Americans. They have put on a new character- have put off the old man" and "put on the new man,” and now are our fellow citizens. At first they were born as Englishmen, or as Germans; but now, by the transfer of their allegiance, they are "born again," and this time as Americans. In face, and form, and mental and moral characteristics, they are what they were the moment before; but they have new
relations, new duties, new responsibilities, and they begin to live a new life. That they comprehend all that is involved in the change is scarcely possible. Of what it is to be an American citizen they may know very little. They are only children, newly born, and must grow in knowledge and comprehension as other children do, gradually putting away, in their progress toward manhood. childish things.
Like these were the Ephesian Christians, of whom St. Paul writes that they were "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens of the saints, and of the household of God."
Further down in the long sentence, through which the words hurry as in a race, the figure is changed; and after his abrupt manner the Apostle begins to write of a foundation, and a corner-stone, and of a rising edifice into which these Christians were built. It is still of the Church, however, that he is writing; and of it he goes on to say, that the men and women won to Christ, then, and in all ages, wrought as living material into this building, it shall grow, in its completed proportions, its architectural finish, from foundation to dome, from pillar to arch, from floor to ceiling, from threshold to altar, from crypt to cross, a holy temple.
The growth of the Church is thus likened to the process of building. The foundation is the prophets and apostles, with Christ for the principal corner-stone. This means the same as where he says: "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Away back in other times it had been spoken in prophecy: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation." We know very well to whom this prophecy is to be applied, and in whom it was fulfilled. "On this rock," said Christ, "I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." On what rock? Not on Peter, surely, but on the divinely inspired words of Peter: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
It is very often said that it matters very little what we believe about Christ, that is, what theory or doctrine we hold
concerning him,- if we only believe in him. But if we will stop and think for a moment, we will see that it does matter. For how can we believe in him in any just sense, or in a way to be helped and saved by our faith, when we have no right conceptions, or only low and unworthy views of the Person and Office of the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God.
The reply of Peter makes him to be more than John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or any one of the Old Testament prophets; not more, simply, in the measure of imparted inspiration, or of gifts of any kind, or of special prerogatives; but more in such an extent of meaning that God must reveal it or it could not be known-the mystery could not be brought into the light. And this that God revealed, so broad, and deep, and wonderful, with an almost infinite significance in it, should be the Rock upon which the Church Universal would be built.
Put, now, alongside this the statement, which expresses the average Liberal belief of to-day, that Christ" was a man exalted above his fellows, and endued with wisdom and power such as has been given to no other man on earth;" and how meagre and poor and altogether insufficient and unsatisfactory does the latter appear! It shrivels into almost insignificant dimensions in the contrast, and is emptied of all meaning. Had it been made in answer to the question, " But whom say ye that I am?" would Christ have met it with the approving and commending words: "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven?" It needed no revelation from God to inform the minds of the disciples that their Master 66 was a man exalted above his fellows, and endued with wisdom and power such as have been given to no other man on earth;" they could see that very plainly; but that he was the Christ, the Son of God, with all the wonderful meaning that attaches to these words, they could know only by special revelation. God must suggest the mystery of the Divine Incarnation to their minds ere they can think of it, or look upon their Lord as other than a great prophet, or “a man
exalted above his fellows." It has been truly and impressively said, that
"We have hardly turned the first page of the Bible until we feel that a new and marvellous element has been interjected into the history of man, which gives life and tone and purpose to the whole current of earthly affairs. The generations are centralized in one idea. From Abraham to David, from David to the carrying away into Babylon, and from Babylon until Herod reigned in Judea, there is a life far below the surface. From behind the prophetic veil, or through it, there glows the image of a man, stranger to everybody yet friendly to all. A marvellous image it is, so indistinct yet so positive: gentle, yet carrying awful power, as the summer cloud carries lightning; very near, yet distant as the unseen God. We feel this in coming along the Biblical line; feel that at any moment a man might stand up in the very likeness and majesty of God; and a strange, fascinating spell binds the reader, until having passed the prophecies he comes to the Star, and the Virgin, and the Child. That Child has been the mystery in all his reading; there, in infant life, lay the explanation, itself a mystery, of all the tumultuous events and hopeful promises which make up the sum of prophetic history. We cannot understand the Child without at least recognizing that it is alleged that he came up from unbeginning time to express, audibly and visibly, what otherwise could not be known of God." 1
To accept the view here set forth with respect to the person of Christ, which seems to be clearly that of the New Testament, (if its general tenor and certain specific facts be consulted,) is to ascribe all virtue and efficacy to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and to give to the world an all-sufficient Saviour. Any other, or the contrary view, discounts from the intent and merit of this sacrifice, if it does not rob it of all power as an availing means in the work of redemption. It is likening the atonement of Jesus to an attempt to light up the universe with a farthing candle, or to warm the earth with a brazier's furnace.
Built as so much living material upon Christ the eternal foundation, these fellow citizens of the saints and of the house
1 Ecce Deus.
hold of God, constitute, as St. Paul would teach, the Church, which, under the Divine Builder's care and hand, grows into a completed and holy temple. Of course we are to understand that he is not now speaking of minor Christian Confederacies, such as the churches in Corinth, and Galatia, and Philippi, and Rome; but of the one Church of Christ, the Church Universal, of which these were the branches so far as they were builded on the Rock. And he means to say that this Church, with such a foundation, was a confederacy of souls, bound together by a common faith and love and worship. Or we may say that the bond was one of heart-fellowship with the divine Lord.
"The root idea of the Church is that of a particular relation of man to man, originated by a common relation to Jesus Christ. When men are ardently attached to their native country, they are related to one another as compatriots, though they may differ upon every question in political science. It is the same in the Church; attachment to Christ is everything; the widest differences may exist, so far as theology is concerned, but no doctrinal heresy can break up the vital and eternal union of souls which is brought about by an absorbing love for the divine Master and Lord." 2
The importance of faith as a condition to membership in Christ's Kingdom, or adoption into God's Household or Family, is here seen. Not belief, simply, as we understand it, but faith, Christian faith, or belief in the New Testament sense, which is trust and inspiration and vision all in one. Undoubtedly Christ is not only the foundation but is also the door of the Church, and we must go in at the door; but that which helps us to an entrance, or opens the door, is faith, — trusting, inspiring, appropriating faith, and that passes from belief into sight, or from simple conviction into actual knowledge.
There are those who associate creedlessness with the Church, and think that the less a man believes the better Christian he is. We should say that that would depend upon the kind of belief he has, or what he holds of formulated faith. Creeds that wall men in or wall them out, that are set as barriers
2 Ecce Deus.