PRINTED BY HERALD AND WALKER, 7, POLICE STREET.
The following discourse is an extension of two lectures delivered to the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society connected with Coupland Street United Presbyterian Church, Manchester, in the beginning of 1867. Some friends who heard the lectures desired that they should be published. Whilst considering the propriety of the step, it was made apparent, after the Synod held in Edinburgh in May last, that the aspect of the question was to be very much changed. So far the “Organ Question” was a matter by itself. It has since been left comparatively in the background, while the discussions on “Union” are made, to some extent, to involve and be involved in it. Our Organ friends are now trying to damage the reputation of Scotchmen in England by affirming that they are resolved to govern England from Scottish views. England receives a prominency in these discussions far beyond its merits. To gain or lose England seems to be the gain or loss of Christian success. I do not doubt that England will be gained by the power of the Bible, but I would sacrifice no Bible principle to gain England. Perish England, and Scotland too, rather than God’s Word. “Heaven and earth” (and what are England and Scotland in comparison?) “may pass away, but my word shall not pass away.” God’s word knows no National boundary. At a time when, if ever, the idea of nationality might have been invoked, the servants of the Redeemer withheld the claim to nationalize the churches they established. Surely in these days we need union, not division; we have too long suffered the sad consequences of separation, now to be parted by the Solway, the Cheviots, and the Tweed. Is not God, in His providence, saying to the dividing deeps, Be dry! And may not His servants now say to the dividing mountain, “What art thou, O mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.” Our Organ friends ask us, “What then about Australia?” If we cannot throw two bridges, one across the Atlantic and another across the Pacific, we certainly have bridged the Tweed and Solway and carried railways through the Cheviots. May we not plead for the greatest possible union, if even we may not embrace in one fraternal grasp, the whole Presbyterian family? Because I cannot stretch my arm 12,000 miles, and grasp with affection my brother in Australia, must I, for that, give up my frequent and sweet intercourse with my relatives and friends in the shires of Lanark or Renfrew? These geographical difficulties reveal a speciality of purpose not admirable. And why not yet an Australian union? God may reveal even this unto us. Let us stretch our love a little. God will give to the expanded heart yet greater powers of expansion. “He that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.”
Why should Christian men be troubled about their difficulties in England? Is England not God’s land? Does He not love that land so as to give efficacy there to the word and power of His grace? Why then despond now? I sometimes fear for the men who would help God to manage His church,—not by working together with Him, but by putting forth, like Uzzah, impious hands to keep the Ark of the Covenant from shaking. These men fancy that if God’s church does not loll upon cushions and is not the admiration of the world, if the oxen on whose shoulders it is carried should stumble, they must stretch out their national hands to steady it. Hands off, Uzzah! Leave God’s Ark to God’s care! your steadying hands hide the power of God’s purposes of grace and mercy to His people, to His chosen. Let the oxen stumble and the ark be shaken if such is His holy will. Think not thou, O vain man, that God needs thy help, or will reward, thy meddling interference. His Church may be tossed on the heaving, billows of adverse or caressing nationalities, but God does not therefore leave her. Let the Uzzahs both in Scotland and England beware lest they should meet with Uzzah’s doom. Must the Church of God be Scottish because there are many Scotchmen in it? Must it be prominently and formally English, that Englishmen may be induced to join it? Must a man carry his patriotism into the house of God, in which God has levelled all distinctions? Have those processes of nationalizing in the past produced such beautiful fruits that Christian men should seek to perpetuate them? Surely shall one say “In the Lord alone have I righteousness and strength; in the Lord alone shall all the seed of Israel rejoice.”
What has the Free Church gained by the severance of the English Presbyterian Church? Is she not more confined in her operations, more selfish, so to speak, in her aims? And how much has the English Presbyterian Church lost by the severance? And for what? That the Free Church may be Scottish while the other is English. Is this a Christian condition of things? Are the agitations by which the English Presbyterian Church is at present troubled, not in some degree chargeable to the account of the Free Church body? They made twain of one; they disjoined that God had joined together, and the fruits of the schism are apparent.
Not only does the severance injure the Free and English Presbyterian Churches, it has had a malignant effect upon the United Presbyterian body also. It is even now embittering the discussions on Union, and introducing elements into the strife unwarranted by the word of God, not alone in the Union Committee, but in our English United Presbyterian Synod and in the Presbyteries of the South. The Free Church by setting up the English Presbyterian Church has hewn out a Cave of Adullam into which the discontented may flee. They are largely an experimental body, and the experiment does not seem to possess the element of success. They are too rich to move humbly, they are too poor to progress uniformly. At one time they are Independent,—anon seeking collections;—at one time they are the heirs of old Puritanism, a centre of Presbyterian light and purity in England,—anon they elect elders who do not, and perhaps will not, sign the Confession; and in their magazines they set forth that this class of elders are very suitable for England. May God, in His great mercy, save us from an isolated English Presbyterian Church!
If the Free Church would gather in her scattered sons, square their accounts temporal and spiritual, she would lay the Church in these lands under an eternal obligation. She would shake off the clog of nationality which now troubles herself. She would be fitted to go into the councils for union, with no foes behind or in front to introduce disturbance in her camp, and without joining the United Presbyterian Church at all, she would double that Church’s consistency. The English Presbyterian Cave she has formed has become the threatened refuge of the malcontents of the United Presbyterian body, and men whose crotchets would neither deserve nor receive attention, have, by the refuge of their Cave, acquired a force quite disproportionate to their importance.
May God grant the Free Church grace to do her duty in this grave crisis, help her to close the English Presbyterian Cave, and so give solidity both to herself and her neighbours!
17, Queen’s Chambers, Market Street,
Manchester, March 1st, 1867.
THE ORGAN QUESTION.
The Christian Church, instituted by the Redeemer and his Apostles, has often had to pass through troublous times. Sometimes she has been able to throw off the burden attempted to be imposed upon her; at others, she has succumbed, and has arrayed herself in the robes, or adopted the gestures, or incorporated the maxims of the world attacking her. But her foes have not always been of foreign households. She has suffered more from her friends indeed, than she has ever done at the hands of her enemies; from friends whose friendship few would dare to challenge,—men who not only seemed to love the Redeemer, but really did so. Some of them in this respect have even been preeminent. We cannot regard the heresy of these men as other than a mistake. They did not intend to wound the Redeemer or to obstruct his cause, but somehow they have done so.
It constitutes no part of the purpose we have in view to say a word against the qualities of mind or heart of those who oppose, what we humbly conceive to be, the truth of God. Our opponents may be better men than we,—may love the Redeemer more,—would perhaps be more scandalized by certain forms of offence than we should,—and they might be prepared to sacrifice more for our Heavenly Master’s cause than we should. Still, their goodness of heart, their clearness of mind, their prominent love to the Redeemer, are in no sense guides to us in matters of opinion. For these, both they and we must stand on some common ground. Their qualities are not common to both; we cannot upon these found either our resistance to, or approval of anything; there must be some rule or standard of authority, to which it becomes necessary that each of us should submit. And the question to be settled may be formulated thus: Given, certain opinions and a certain standard of opinion—Do the opinions agree with the standard? This formula has the effect of at once excluding all questions respecting character, and permits us at once to come to the matters in dispute. As it is important, however, we may put the matter still more clearly, especially as there is no small tendency to say, “You see how these good men take sides against you, can it be wrong to introduce anything of which these good men approve? You must set yourselves up as great people indeed when you cannot follow the leading of these good men.” If the correctness of opinions were to be tested by the goodness, or apparent goodness, or recognised goodness of their supporters, I fear we should have very unsatisfactory results oftentimes. We need a higher standard, one altogether independent of character, which may, in such circumstances, be used as a means and appliance not of correctness but of quite the reverse. As an illustration, take a common carpenter’s rule, which may be marked either correctly or incorrectly, either in accurate correspondence with that kept as a standard in the House of Commons, or according to the fancy or notion of the maker. Carpenters using rules may also be either honest or dishonest. The honest man may buy a wrong rule and perform his work according to it; while the dishonest may buy a correct rule, and work according to that. Let a dispute now arise regarding work done, and appeal be made to a judge in such matters to decide, and what would the result be? Simply that an honest man may be doing wrong all his life by carrying about with him as a standard of practice a rule not in accordance with the standard; while a bad man may do what is right because he is guided by a rule which harmonises with the standard. Apply the illustration to the case before us; the character of neither disputant affects the accordance or discordance of the matter in dispute with the standard of final appeal. In what follows we try, however we may succeed, to avoid resting anything on human character or resisting anything on such ground. Our appeal is entirely, solely, to the Divine Word, to which we hope every true man and good endeavours to make the rule of conscience which he carries in his bosom thoroughly to correspond, by a diligent study of its sacred contents, and prayer for the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the understanding and to impress the heart. “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.” This Word of God is the standard of faith and worship, that standard which God has set up to reveal Himself and to teach us how, when, and where to worship Him. How thankful should we all be that it is so accessible; with how much readiness should we be willing to consult its sacred pages, and to submit without reservation to its decisions? May God enable us to “see light in His light clearly,” to follow it fully and faithfully even to the end!
It is said that this, and all matters like this, should be made matters of liberty; that difference of sentiment, so moderate in itself, should be tolerated, and difference of practice permitted. Liberty is a dangerous thing to meddle with. It is entirely a matter of standards. If any thing accords with the standard, it is matter of liberty;—or it is assured by submission counterordered. But a claim may be made not under the standard—and where there is no claim for countersubmission. None dare oppose standard rights. No brave man will tolerate irregular demands. To say that this is a matter of liberty is precisely to state our case. Liberty depends on law; when there is no law there is no liberty. Presumption may presume, and impudence may assume; but without law, the courageous will take care of their presumptions and assumptions. We do not accept the dictates of either the aesthetical or the rhetorical, far less the followers of majorities, as definitions of our spiritual liberties.
But the principles on which the demand for the Organ is made rest upon certain foregone conclusions. Certain opinions are held or professed concerning the powers and prerogatives of our various ecclesiastical bodies, and accordingly to that body in which each reposes confidence, expectation is directed for the desired issue of discussion.
1. There is a party which may be named first in order, who conceive that Synods and Assemblies are bodies possessing plenary powers; that they may not only determine finally all subjects properly falling to them to adjudicate upon, but they conceive that there is no subject, whether of doctrine or practice, which may not be submitted to them; and that they can vote not only on the question, “whether the matter submitted is in harmony with or in opposition to the Divine Word,” but that they may decide “whether they think it ought to be adopted—the Word notwithstanding.” There is not a little encouragement given to this view; it is agreeable to human nature to conceive itself raised by learning and popular election above all standards—to be in short the standard of the standard; and hence we find some men claiming their right to take into account arguments which would be valid enough for ministers of the Old Testament, or ministers preaching to please Englishmen or Scotchmen—not declaring God’s truth to them whether they will hear or forbear—whilst they forget or overlook the only qualification by which they are ministers or members of Synod or Assembly, viz.,—that “God hath made them ministers of the New Testament.” That book alone is the basis of their powers and prerogatives. But for it we should have priests—not ministers; a Sanhedrim instead of an eldership; and no Christian people; or, perhaps, a Queen and Parliament dispensing both civil and ecclesiastical laws.
2. A second party having an impression that the plenary powers claimed for the high courts might not work smoothly, suggest that the question submitted to the high assemblies should be “shall congregations and their sessions be empowered to decide on this matter?” These have an equally indistinct notion of the relationship of the church courts to the Bible; but they have a very satisfactory opinion of the value of peace coming after a struggle, of contentment of mind after a furious debate, of order out of chaos. They, if ever the idea cross their mind that God has anything to do with the matter, overlook the plain teaching of their Bibles, and conceive that we have such a number of good men amongst us that they may safely be trusted. Some compliment the members of their congregations and poll them to decide, even before synodal discussion has taken place, whether, in their judgment, the time has come to add certain mechanical adjuncts to the service. They tell us that no organ or equivalent instrument is mentioned in the New Testament, but “their people are for it and so are they.” This view of matters involves the conception that not synods and assemblies alone, but congregations, and, ex gratia, each member thereof, in matters of worship and the doctrine on which they rest, are a law unto themselves, being under no Christian obligation whatever in such matters.
3. A third party in matters of worship claim for the Old Testament a right to override the decisions of the New; and, literally rendering some of its declarations, would transfer its arrangements regarding worship into the New Testament church. Such a view rests on the doctrine that the New Testament is not the revealer of the light by which the Old is read, but the New must be read by the Old. But of this we shall see further in the sequel.
4. A fourth party are springing up who have certain ideas of human nature. They ground their views of worship on national tastes and habits, which it pleases them to regard as inflexible. They think that certain large and ultimately important matters may be left to a General Synod to decide, but that national or local Synods should be constituted of materials so elastic as to decide, regarding matters of worship, without troubling themselves about God’s Word—it being sufficient for them to study the likings and practices of the districts in which they are located. The favourite question of this party is, must we have absolute identity? May not North please itself, while South does likewise, on minor matters? May not Englishmen get worship their own way without troubling themselves about Scotch prejudices? These parties evidently consider that matters of worship are matters of country and race, not of the New Testament;—they are prepared to rend the church into nationalities, to perpetuate the political boundaries and social distinctions of nations, not seldom the products of war and wicked violence;—but they resist that absolute identity which would naturally flow from following honestly the leadings of an intelligible standard of faith and worship. How differently do Presbyterian ministers and Prelatic ones comport themselves in regard to this matter. Transfer an eminent Presbyterian minister to London, and in course of a few short years he returns to Synod to claim for nationalities the right to have God’s worship modified to suit their taste. Transfer, now, a Dr. Wordsworth to St. Andrew’s, and he lectures Scotchmen on their not being within the fold of the true church, because they do not submit to a true Apostolical Succession. The one overlooks the standard, the other oversteps it; the course of both would be rectified by closer study of, and genuine hearty accordance therewith. Would our nationality men exhort the Irish Assembly to trim their doctrines and worship in Connaught and Munster to the provincial taste for Catholic ceremonies? or the Presbyterian church courts in Canada in like manner to do in Montreal and Quebec? Are our missionaries in China or India to see themselves to trim their faith and worship to the tastes of the heathen, and, like the devotees of Rome, to baptise the gods and make them Christian saints, altering not the character but the name of the worshipped? Why should our ministers in London or Lancashire try to Presbyterianize Episcopacy, or Prelatize Presbyterianism? Is it not enough of labour to any minister to be a faithful minister of Christ—rightly to divide the word of truth—to hold forth the word of life—to be followers of God so clearly and so faithfully that the people may feel that in following them they shall reach at last an eternal crown? Ts such a course not infinitely more dignified than polling their people and following, not leading them?
5. There is another party, who look on every form of worship as a manner of aesthetics, of dress, comfort, or taste, e.g. the editors of the ‘Glasgow Herald’ and kindred newspapers. The views entertained by this party respecting human nature are quite the converse of the last named. Our fourth party attribute to nationalities broad features of distinction permanently exhibited. With them the English nation always liked organs, and of course always will. Scotchmen have never cared for organs and never will. This fifth party, however, look on this view as a mistake—a form of worship is no greater distinction than a Highlander’s kilt, or a Saxon’s trousers; and when a man once knows the warmth and comfort of the trousers he will never expose himself in the kilt. So, the Scotchman, feeling the coldness of his ritual, will instantly forget his nation, and embrace the English methods. The only noticeable peculiarity in this opinion is its onesidedness. Scotchmen’s worship is like the kilt, to be put off; Englishmen’s worship, like the trousers, to be put on; it cannot be changed. The ‘Glasgow Herald’s’ editor, like a true patriot, loves his next door neighbour better than himself—another’s country better than his own—has only jeers for the church courts of his own country, whilst a country which has no church courts, and no appeal in ecclesiastical matters, save to civil courts, has all his commendation. Such patriotism may be useful; it can scarcely be gratifying, even to the patriot himself, and is always justly suspected of selfishness.
6. A sixth hold in special admiration the rapt musician and poet, whose eye
“In a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth,
From earth to heaven; and as
Imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown,
The poet’s pen turns them to shape,
And gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
And when the poet has done his part then the musical doctor takes up his parable, and wedding immortal song to immortal verse, their joint contributions to progress assure them a niche in the temple of fame. So the enthusiastic pietist, not content to worship God as His word directs, chooses out a path for himself never trod before, and bodies forth new forms of religious devotion, presenting a picture so grandly enchanting as to captivate some London ministers, and many others, and approve itself so worthy of being copied, that Synods are asked to judge whether, if they approve the patriot musician, they can disapprove the worship of the enthusiastic pietist? The questioner forgets his Bible—the musical pietist has no model to follow—his admirer no prescription by which to be guided in his approbation. In God’s book no frenzy is depicted, no eye rolling,—but the calm repose of the man whose heart and understanding being equally engaged, worshippeth God in spirit and in truth. Will worship never yet pleased God. To all, whether learned or unlearned, God said and saith “Read this.” (Isa. xxix).
7. Finally we are exhorted not to have too many laws; obedience is always grudgingly offered to laws regarding trifling matters. The authority of the New Testament in regard to all matters which, resting on his own private opinion, the Christian may think to be of little value, is thus set aside; the Redeemer’s own sentiment ignored, that he that is unfaithful in little will be unfaithful also in much. And we venture to think that not those who disapprove of, but those who introduce services and peculiarities which are trifling and insignificant, are the guilty parties here. Surely they are not guilty of petty legislation who desire to drink of the unadulterated stream from the living fountain of God’s Word, and to distribute that alone for the healing and refreshment of the nations; but those unquestionably are who would pollute that pure stream, by introducing the muddy waters of the outside world to mingle them with its crystal flood, how infinitesimal soever the mixture may be, and desire to inveigle Synods and Assemblies by belittling pretences, to approve by solemn deed of their pettifogging efforts. “Secretary Walpole,” said one, “could not keep London people out of their own parks;” therefore, we should not be hindered from having organs in all our churches; inferring, no doubt, we can put them in whether you will or not.
By all this variety of pretense we are induced to part with the precious privilege of appealing in all things to the Divine Word. One cries, trust the Synod: the learned and pious will be sure to do right;—a second, let the Synod give up this trust to the congregation: the pious unlearned will most safely settle this matter;—a third, trust the Old Testament, it is far clearer than the New;—a fourth, trust the nationalities, they are sure to decide aright;—a fifth, don’t trust the nationalities, at least the Scotch one; do that which is most comfortable, nations are easily changed,—let the Highlander don trousers, the Scotchman copy the Englishman, and play the organ;—a sixth points to the patriot bard and the enthusiastic pietist as congregational models;—a seventh presses the inconvenience of petty legislation, but demands power to deafen non-progressive minorities with the strains of organ music. We appeal on the whole subject to the ever living Word of the ever living God, and make the following inquiries therein.
DIVISION OF THE SUBJECT.
I. AS TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. 1st. When was it introduced? 2nd. In what manner was it introduced? 3rd. For what end was it introduced? These three inquiries being so conducted as to guide us in determining this farther inquiry pertinent to our present purpose, viz.:—4th. Was the Christian Church left in any sense, other than a numerical one, in a condition of progressive development?
II. AS TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST: we inquire 1st. As to their birth. 2nd. Their growth and manhood. 3rd. Their special distinction. 4th. Their rights. 5th. Their powers. 6th. Their responsibilities. These six inquiries so conducted as to guide us in determining this further inquiry, viz.:—7th. Were the members of the church of Christ vested prospectively with any power of progressively improving the forms or constitution of the church and its worship?
III. AS TO THE SERVICES OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST: we inquire What they were and how to be conducted, and for what end conducted? so as to enable us to answer the further inquiry, viz.:—Are we at liberty to decide what is proper or improper in the service of the church? or, are we at liberty to introduce novelties under the name or style of improved or progressive tastes?
(FIRST PREMISE.)—Is the word “Church” a sacred term of itself?
Before proceeding to the discussion of the subject in the method indicated, it may be useful to premise a few observations on the word Church, as not a little has been made of it, as if any meeting so designated possessed a certain degree of sanctity and authority. We hear, for example, ministers pray for the church and congregation, as if the former had a sacredness not attachable to the latter. That there is nothing in the bare word as used in the New Testament to indicate this sanctity may easily be seen. For example, we find in the 19th chapter of Acts, where Paul’s visit to, and residence in, Ephesus are related, certain disturbances are set forth as having arisen on his account through the agency and interference of Demetrius the silversmith. We find the word used in this chapter without any thing to indicate sanctity, Thus we read:
Verse 29. And the whole city was filled with confusion, and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
30. And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
32. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly (i.e. church) was confused.
39. But if ye inquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly (i.e. church).
40. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause why we may give an account of this concourse.
41. And when he had thus spoken he dismissed the assembly (i.e. church.)
In these verses notice the word assembly occurs three times. In each case in the original the word is the same as is elsewhere translated “church” (ἐκκλησία). It is used here as equivalent of the “people” (δῆμος); the “multitude” (ὄχλος); this “concourse” (συστροφὴ). It is applied to describe either a lawful or an unlawful assembly. In short it is an assembly simpliciter, indicating no conjoint idea whatsoever. If any idea is attachable to it, it seems to be this—that it could only be lawful when properly called and presided over by the magistracy. Of course what is not in the New Testament cannot be imported into it, and yet this word may be illustrated by its common use and signification. Xenophon relates that Clearchus, the commander of the Greeks in the army of Cyrus, having endeavoured on one occasion to force his soldiers to proceed, and finding them more inclined to pelt him and his beasts of burden with stones than to commence the desired march, he called a meeting (church) of his soldiers (συνήγαγεν ἐκκλησίαν τῶν αὐτοῦ στρατιωτῶν) Xen. Ana. I, 14.
On the whole then, a word which is equally applied to a gathering of soldiers,—to a crowd rushing to a theatre,—to a lawful assembly,—to an unlawful assembly,—to a riotous concourse (συστροφὴ),—must have no small difficulty in establishing its right to a special sacred use.
(SECOND PREMISE.)—The word Church is rendered sacred by conjoined expletives.
But the word ἐκκλησία (a church) which as we have seen possesses no sanctity in itself, is yet made the medium of describing a sacred and most distinguished body—thus, “The church of the living God,”—“The church of God,”—“The church of Christ.” But all the value lies with the expletives with which it is conjoined—which express at once its dignity and its servitude.
(THIRD PREMISE.)—The word Church indicates a governed body.
Another idea connected with this word in the New Testament when applied to the church of God is, that it is always a governed, never a governing body. (Acts xx, 28) “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church, of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” The word here translated “feed” is, in this connection, properly govern. Thus in the book of Revelations, ii, 26-27, “He shall rule (feed) them with a rod of iron.” The same word in the same sense occurs in Revelations xii, 5, and in Revelations xix, 15. The church had no governing powers per se; it was subject to the decisions of governors appointed over it in the Lord. Thus in Hebrews xiii, 7, “Remember them that have the rule over you;” verse 17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls as they that must give account.”
But these premises are in part an anticipation of the argument and illustration to follow, and hence we proceed formally to inquire under our first head:
I. When was the Church of Christ instituted? Was it established before his coming, during his life, or not until after his death?
It is common amongst us to speak, and very properly so, of the Old Testament Church. The expression is scriptural, (Acts vii, 38) “This is he that was in the church in the wilderness.” The context of this passage shows that the Saviour is the personage referred to, and we hence not unnaturally conclude that the church of Christ must have subsisted in some form from the day on which the promise was given, that “The seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent.” But this church of Christ which has subsisted since the promise of a Redeemer, and will subsist until the redeemed are gathered into heaven, has often subsisted unseen and unrecognized; as in the days of Elijah when God reserved to himself “seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal,”—which subsists now under every church organization where the Saviour is loved, and trusted, and adored. But when we speak of the Church of Christ instituted to bear witness, to the truth, to hand down from age to age the knowledge of his salvation through the ordinances he has appointed, we speak of an organized body having been called into existence at a certain time, for a specific purpose, by certain accredited agents. The time of such an organization being introduced was foreshown by the Saviour when he said, (Luke xxiv, 49) “But tarry ye in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” And while waiting in prayer and supplication, (Acts ii, 2) “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing wind, (ver. 4) and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” And when men from all the nations surrounding Judea, or from which it was accessible, came to hear, they hoard “Every man in their own tongue in which they were born;” and when after Peter preached, there were added together (προσετεθησαν) three thousand souls. (The words to them in our translation are not in the original, and materially affect the sense. Without them the word indicates that on the first day of its institution or inauguration, by the endowment with the Spirit, and the preaching of Peter, the church summed up three thousand adherents; whereas with them it supposes a previous body to whom three thousand were added on the day of Pentecost.) This was the first of the last days long before predicted in the Old Testament—(Joel ii, 28) “And it shall come to pass afterward,” rendered by Peter “in the last days.” This was the commencement of “the world to come” (Hebrews ii, 5) “which was not put in subjection to angels.” This was that “fulness of time” (Galatians iv, 4) when “God sent forth his son (iii, 1) manifestly crucified amongst them.” For these times the world had been predestined by God, as declared by the prophet Daniel. Here prophecy found its converging point,—when its dreams came true, its glorious vaticinations were realized. Here types were lost in their antitypes,—(Hebrews x, 5) “Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.” (ver. 6) “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.” (ver. 9) “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second.”
Two things were thus apparent at this time; first, God then did a new thing. The things which could be shaken were removed, that a new kingdom might be established, not a continuation of an old one. (Hebrews xii, 27) “This word, yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are (may be) shaken, as of those things that are made, that those things which cannot lie shaken may remain.” The new kingdom was the church of Christ. Secondly, God then did a thing for the bringing in of which he had prepared the world. The time of the church’s establishment was time prepared by God for this very end; a model time for the days to come; a fulness of time for the days gone by. The cross, midway in history, terminated the world past,—epitomize the world to come.
2. We come now to our second inquiry under the first head—In what manner was the Church introduced? As already set forth, the Saviour enjoined upon the Apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high. We have also seen that on the day of Pentecost the Spirit descended upon them, enabled them to preach the Gospel in every needful tongue, and by one sermon of Peter drew together three thousand souls. Now at the 41st verse of the 2nd chapter of Acts we have the beginning of church organization and worship described. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.” (ver. 42) “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” Here notice an important distinction; they did these things I have just quoted under the guidance and by the direction of the Apostles. Those who gladly heard the word and received the injunctions of Peter were baptized. They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer. Notice, on the other hand that no mention of apostolic guidance or authority is prefixed or added to verse 47th. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common.” Another point we notice here. They met both in the temple and at home. They were still Jews—although the at home seems to indicate a new and special feature, even in Jewish religious life. But the church of Christ was not established for Jews only. It was to begin at Jerusalem, but the joyous cry was one day to be heard, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.” Steps were to be taken to this great end,—a preacher was to be selected, an audience to be collected, a place of meeting provided,—from which everything Jewish should be eliminated. We have the history related in the 10th chapter of Acts, from which we gather that Cornelius was taught by the Spirit of God to send for Peter. Peter was taught by the Spirit that no man was unclean, that two messengers were waiting for him, and that he was to go with them, nothing doubting. We learn this further singular thing, that when he went, Peter asked them what they wanted, and they told him they wanted God’s message; on which Peter explained his Jewish position, God’s repudiation thereof, and then preached the gospel to them. In this Gentile meeting also we find the same results as on Pentecost,—the outpouring of the Spirit the baptism of the believers, and the grant of repentance unto life, the germ of the heavenly inheritance.
Here we have, firstly, a preacher having strong Jewish prejudices, so to speak, disenchanted of his prepossessions, and prepared to mingle with, and preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
Secondly, we have a church of Gentile men prepared to hear the gospel.
Thirdly, we have the gospel sermon preached.
Fourthly, we have the formation of a Gentile congregation on the people receiving the influences and manifesting the effects produced upon believers by the Spirit of God.
Fifthly, we have ABSOLUTE IDENTITY. 1st, of the efficient cause, that is, the Spirit of God;—2nd, of the proximate cause, the sermon of Peter;—3rd, of the effects produced on the hearers, (Acts xi, 15) “As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, as on us at the beginning.”
Sixthly, we have the fact that these effects induced the self-same Apostle to administer to them Christian rites, and admit them into the Christian Church. (Acts xi, 17) “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gifts as he did unto us who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I that I could withstand God.” (Acts x, 47) “Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized.”
It is of special value to remember that in establishing churches among men of different habits and characters, the Spirit of God himself employed the same means, used the same men, and produced absolutely identical results, and in such manner formed the churches both of the Jews and the Gentiles.
3. We come now to the third inquiry under the first head—For what end was the Church introduced? The Apostle Peter thus set it forth, (1 Peter, ii, 9) “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar (purchased) people, that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath carried you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Can any man amplify such a passage as this, and leave himself, or, the church of which ho is a member, any primary legislative function? His family connection is selected for him,—for the church is “a chosen generation;” he is of “royal priesthood,” possessing not powers to originate rites, but faithfully to observe them. The duties of the priesthood were not of an initiatory character, but solely consisted in observing to do all the words of the law. Hebrews v, 1-4, clearly sets forth that the priesthood was made by law; as also does Hebrews vii, 28, “For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity.” Again, Hebrews viii, 5, “See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee.” The priesthood then do not possess an originating faculty; their office is “to serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things;” to “make all things according to the pattern.” Again in Hebrews ix, 10, you find these striking words on this subject, “Carnal ordinances imposed on them till the time of reformation.” The priesthood was thus relative—it was perfect when in perfect accordance with the law, imperfect when that law was not observed or set carelessly aside or forgotten. The examples of defective priests are also exceedingly instructive. Look at the case of the priest-prophet Balaam willing to bless or curse for money, without reference to divine command. Witness the case of Corah, Dathan, and Abiram, and then judge, if the churches of Christ are a royal priesthood, whether they wear this title best when, as in the next clause, they “show forth the virtues of Him who calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light,” or when they press the introduction of their own extravagances. Surely, if this mean anything, we are not to exhibit our own virtues, but the virtues of our Great Model High Priest; to copy, not invent; to study carefully and act according to the pattern set us in the new covenant. Still further, to show that the end of the Church’s institution, even in little matters, was the Redeemer’s glory—not to display her own virtues—give attention to another passage (1st Timothy iii, 13-15) “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Here then, most assuredly, we have an apostle teaching the very singular doctrine that there is a kind of behaviour becoming the Church; which, as an assembly called by and in the name of God, to display his truth and be a ground or stay thereof, must be considered as an assembly not possessed of legislative, but simply of executive functions. Thus it is called to display, not its own notions or conceptions, but “the truth” whatever that may be. And assuredly it was then a known quantity; they spake that they knew; they testified that they had seen. You observe also that the apostle is speaking of matters not vital, as we are accustomed to reckon them. The election of elders and deacons, and their qualifications, and those of their wives and families, we are certainly not in this country accustomed to reckon among “the essentials.” And yet it is regarding these very trifling matters that the apostle wrote, and regarding which he said he had written that Timothy might know how to behave in the house of God.
Let me now draw your attention to another passage—(Ephesians i, 22, 23) “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all,”
Here the Church is presented in a new light,—as the body of Christ, as the fulness of Him who filleth all in all. Thus the Church is not a primary, but a secondary corporation,—it is subject to the control of Christ as the body to the control and government of the soul; it is permeated by the presence and power of Christ, as the body is moved by the volitions of the determining mind. The apostle Paul amplifies this idea in the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians. There, at verse 12, we read, “For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Verse 27, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” But does this imply that we are to have absolute identity? Does the difference between a Scotch and English race warrant no divergence in custom? Is no material national liking to be incorporated, either by authority or toleration, into the character of our church services? What saith this chapter? Verse 18, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (ver. 14) “For the body is not one member, but many.” Is it possible to contrive expressions which shall more directly answer this question? WE HAVE ONE SPIRIT, WE CONSTITUTE ONE BODY. Every religious manifestation, or manifestation of religious life, is produced and directed by the one Spirit. The various ecclesiastical characteristics, differing from each other as the hand, foot, eye, ear, or sense of smell, are all harmoniously governed by the one master mind, “that there may be no schism in the body.” Absolute identity, however it may be regarded now, was most assuredly then, no object of doubtful desire or difficult attainment. And with reference to those manifestations of spiritual life, can anything be said more solemn in itself, more pertinent to the subject of our present inquiry, than the 27th verse, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Your whole being as a Church, and every motion and appendage thereof, is determined for, not by, you. You are not the soul, but the body; not the vital part, but the part vitalized; and can no more originate worship or forms of worship, or improvements or differences therein, than human bodies can produce ideas, suggest motions, or design appendages to themselves.
Christ Jesus, not yourselves, is the end of your institution.
4. But this brings us to the last inquiry under this head, viz.:—“Was the Church of Christ left in any sense, except a numerical one, in a position of progressive development?”
Having seen that the Church was called up at a period prepared by God—in that “fulness of time” when the world was prepared for it, and it for the world;—that it was introduced by an agency specially prepared, amongst peoples who were prepared for its reception;—that amongst races the most widely divergent in character and habits the Church received the same characteristics, from the same preachers, employed to introduce it to all classes of men;—that the great end of its introduction was that the souls gathered into church fellowship might be governed and animated by the Redeemer, by His Word and Spirit, even as their bodies are governed and controlled by their souls;—that the whole character, work, and services should be indicated by the character, work, and word of Christ, and be inwrought by the Spirit of Christ;—that in our primitive church character we are not to invent services, but to perform them, not to embellish them by adventitious ornaments, but to display in all things that fulness of Christ which is at once our glory, and the description of our perfect state;—to illustrate the 4th head, we continue the symbolism of the apostle, and observe that the Church was not left partially, but was wholly developed. THE BODY OF CHRIST WAS COMPLETE. (1st Corinthians, xii, 12) “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” And this apostle, to show that he did not anticipate any one stepping beyond the arrangements then subsisting, or that any man would adventure into a province so peculiarly the province of God, affirms, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular;” and goes on to say, “And God hath set some in the church, apostles, prophets, &c.,” enumerating all the orders of men and of gifts which God had designed for the display of the truth, and for supporting and maintaining, or for being a ground to, that truth in the world. Coming down, in chapter 14, to minute matters, as for instance the manner and power of prayer, the language of prayer, the style and manner and matter of preaching; then, still lower, to the manner of singing and the order of services; he winds up the whole with that appeal to gifted men—“For ye may all prophesy one by one, that ye may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
Is it not most evident from these passages, not only that church officers and services were completed, but also, that God was the author of the whole, and his Spirit so worked in the whole of the complicated arrangements, that the result from their perfect exercise was perfect peace! The apostle’s description of the outcome of the whole is intensely interesting. The man of the most prominent gifts having no right to lordship over a less prominently gifted neighbour, whilst the fiery impetuosity of no one was ever permitted to gain precedence of the calm methodicity of the man of more sober gifts. No man insisted on giving unrestrained expression to his views, however laudable or just, but holding his spirit in subjection bided his time, waited his opportunity, and took his turn. The prayers, the preaching, the singing were all under regulation; and, in like manner, the men who exercised the various, functions corresponding to these exercises. Even the women are subject to rule. In looking back over the whole, we contemplate not a valley of dry bones, but an army prepared and fully equipped to do battle for the Lord of Hosts. But if we are now to cast away all this,—if our eminent men are to set themselves to organize insurrection,—to nationalize our churches, rather than Christianize the nations,—if there is to be schism in the body, and unrestrained insisting on the introduction of non-Christian novelties,—then would the spirit in the Church be not the Spirit of Christ, but that Spirit of Python, which did not suffer its votary to be in quietness; not that Spirit which is the author, not of confusion, but of peace in all the churches of the saints. That these were not general arrangements, but adapted to the regulation of the most minute, as well as the most important of church matters, let us turn to the 11th chapter of the 1st Corinthians. Paul commences this chapter with this injunction, “Be ye followers (μιμηταί, i.e. imitators) of me as I also am of Christ.” And our Organ friends say, “Certainly, Paul, in all truly important matters; but you must not proceed to demand the exercise of a coerced conformity in regard to little matters, with reference to which we demand the most ample elbow room.” But Paul had no such intention. To choke out the spirit of schism, which invariably boasts of the littleness of its differences, as if little differences were not differences as well as great ones; he proceeds to relate, and to discuss a case which, whether real or imaginary, belongs to the class of little differences. The case of the man or woman engaging in public prayer, with or without a covered head, is surely a matter which, according to our Organ friends’ rule, we should leave to God and conscience. If a man or woman worship in spirit and in truth, what does it matter whether the head is covered or no? The Apostle says it does matter, and he winds up the discussion with these decisive words, “But if any man be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”
Have the men who are founding their practice on the basis of national tastes ever pondered these words of the Apostle, “We have no such custom, neither the churches of God?” Is it really so that the great Apostle to the Gentiles appealed to custom, to the custom of the churches then constituted? Is it so that the apostolic office was exercised in directing and establishing customs regarding worship in the early churches,—in establishing a coerced conformity in respect to such trivial matters? Could not Paul, with the English Synod (1866) of the United Presbyterian Church, have left these things to the tastes of congregational sessions? In direct opposition to such a view he says, (1st Corinthians iv, 15-17) “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of MY WAYS which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.”
Paul then was anxious that the primitive Christians should be, not originators of harmless forms and fancies, but followers—mimics—of himself; copyists of his ways, as he taught in every church.
Listen to him again, speaking to the church of the Thessalonians, ii, 14, “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches which in Judea are in Christ Jesus.” [1st Epistle.] Here again we have this apostle affirming that Greeks on the continent of Europe, having western minds, tastes, and habits, copied the churches of Judea. The gospel—the services of the gospel—are fitted to all parties of men, to all nations of men, without exception and WITHOUT MODIFICATION. Church order was so complete that nothing could be added to it, so delicately adjusted that nothing could be taken from it.
But let us contemplate this matter in another light. Difficulties and divisions arose in the first churches; it is instructive to consider how they were disposed of. Attention has already been called to 1st Corinthians xi, 8 to 16, in which it is related that the difficulty of inducing men to worship with their heads uncovered was settled by a reference to the customs of the churches, and the recusants were warned to take themselves, and the contentions respecting worship which they were inclined to raise, outside the church. Let us now give attention to another. We are informed in the 15th chapter of Acts, that certain men came down from Judea, and taught the brethren in Antioch, that, “Except they were circumcised after the manner of Moses they could not be saved.” The church in Antioch do not seem to have had, or to have been permitted to entertain such lofty opinions of their ability to settle questions of disputable matter, as some of our modern churches do. They, instead of settling the matter themselves (although they possessed some of the finest minds in the Christian Church), commissioned faithful men to a foreign church, to submit the difficulty to them for adjudication. And whilst this is, it seems to me, a matter of no small importance to young churches, with many advisers who are anxious that THEIR views should be carried into practice, not to trust ourselves with the settling of our own matters, as our eyes may too easily be warped by the contemplation of subjects from our own stand points, whilst those who are free from our incitements are more likely to consider with faithfulness the meaning and bearing of God’s Word with reference to any matters of difficulty than we ourselves can possibly be. But I have drawn attention to this matter for another principle, which is advanced in the 15th of Acts, viz., the principle upon which the apostles and elders settled the question when they had come together to consider it. After considerable discussion, Peter rose and drew attention to the first introduction of the gospel by himself amongst the Gentiles (verses 7 to 12).
There is, perhaps, nothing in this speech of Peter so utterly outré [unusual] as his notion of liberty. If you listen to an organ discussion, or read a ritualistic paper, you cannot fail to discover that “liberty” is identified with additions to common notions. The people who seek to hold men to unadorned notions, instead of being accounted friends of liberty, are held up to execration as bigots, tyrants, men of contracted notions and shallow minds; with whom to identify liberty, is held to be as absurd as would have been for Gordon, of Jamaica, to have expected justice from a court martial of aristocratic cadets and martinets. But the truth is that the ways which are now old-fashioned, were then new. Men had had a long trial of rites and ceremonies,—of trumpets, and psalteries, and harps,—and they were now “MAKING THE EXPERIMENT OF CHANGE.” Shall we put it so? Is it so as Peter puts it? Let us recall his words, “Now, therefore, why tempt ye God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Peter thus looked upon the changes effected amongst these churches,—amongst which we must reckon trumpets, psalteries, and harps, of solemn sound and grave sweet melody,—as effected by God to promote the liberty and welfare of the human race; and he blames the restorists, as tempters of God and enemies of liberty, as putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples, which neither their fathers nor they were able to bear. “Not able to bear!” Peter, what do you mean? Why, is there not a deputation before you from the Church of Antioch, reporting a desire for the restoration of these very things? True, but people often want what they can’t bear. They shout lustily and make great mouths of the tyranny they are subjected to, in not being permitted to carry the loads they suggest; but Peter testifies that God, who understands human liberty, and has defined human liberty, and has embodied human liberty in the forms of the Church is “tempted” by the clamour of the restorists. Tempted to what? What has he done to the restorists? He has left them to their yoke; left them to bear, with a coerced conformity, the burden they chose; to see with hatred, and sneer with malice, at the liberty from the enjoyment of which, by Heaven’s confirmation of their choice, they have been cut off. “Ephraim is joined to his idols; let him alone.” Rome’s infallibility is God’s curse. I think, with Peter, that freedom from instrumental service is a more God-like liberty than freedom to use it, when God does not want it.
But to return to the things done and the resolutions passed by this assembly. When the disputants had exhausted themselves, or been stilled by the clear and pertinent observations of Peter, they permitted Barnabas and Paul to declare what God had done among the Gentiles by their instrumentality. And then James summed up, as we read in verse 18 et seq., and gave forth the decree of Synod.
Let me ask you to notice the principle of this decree. “Known unto God are all his works, from the foundation of the world.” Our guide (that is, the Synod’s) in this matter is not our own notion, or desire, or opinion; we simply ask what hath God wrought?—in what manner hath God effected it?—by what agency hath He accomplished it? Here the point to which inquiry was directed was, “What ceremonies, were to be laid on the believers among the Gentiles?” And the guidance they followed in their answer was precisely that which God, by his providence and grace, had pointed out in the cases of Peter, and Paul, and Barnabas. God prepared the meeting in Cornelius’s house,—the circumstances of the meeting,—the preacher’s mind for the meeting,—and prearranged the success of the meeting,—and gave, as a manifestation of his satisfaction with and approbation of the whole, a rich and abundant blessing. In short, all the results desirable from the influence and action of the Christian Church flowed from this meeting; all the spiritual manifestations which God had given to his chosen people were here displayed; and the conclusion drawn by the Synod is,—This is the true heaven directed and appointed Church of the Gentiles. We can lay upon them no other, no greater burden, than God has in this divinely arranged model imposed. You observe the Synod do not reason that “because the imposition of these ceremonies was not unscriptural, therefore we might observe them without sin, and that those congregations who desired them. might have liberty therein,” but rather that since God had, in this special instance, taken upon himself, by his Holy Spirit, to arrange and prepare both the people, the minister, and the good fruits, we cannot but be safe in following to the letter tits good model. They do not go back to Old Testament times and precedents—although, like the English United Presbyterian Synod, 1866, they were free to do so—to determine whether, in the proclamation of the gospel, all the adventitious matter of the Jewish ceremonies, or any portion thereof, might be associated therewith. They refer indeed to Old Testament prophecy to show that the Gentiles should eventually turn to the Lord, but do not use it either to override or run current in authority with, the clear arrangements made by the Spirit of God in the latter days for the conversion of them and the Gentiles. They do not, on the ground of progress, look forward to a time when believers should be free from coerced conformity to God’s simple plan; when advancing humanity, having risen superior to all littlenesses and weaknesses, would be at liberty unquestioned to settle all their difficulties according to their own notions, so long as they held the great doctrines of the faith. They do not send down to sessions and congregations a complimentary letter which should give them to understand with how much confidence they respected their judgment, and felt that whatever they did would only reflect credit on their Christian profession; nor do they advise their young men to rise in insurrection for freedom of opinion. Neither do they, because the Gentiles of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia were a different race, spake a different patois [dialect], resided at a great distance, and under a different government, refuse to consider their case and give a decision upon it. They put on one side the ceremonies proposed to be laid upon them, but imposed upon them certain restrictions, one of which is so trifling that, put into modern language, it would have the effect of preventing the people of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, by the decree of the Synod of Jerusalem from eating black [i.e., blood] puddings.
But notice the clear answer given by this Synod to our fourth inquiry under our first head—“Was the Church left in any sense, except a numerical one, in a condition of progressive development?” Surely, in a Synod in which were present Peter, James, Paul, and Barnabas, there ought to have been no lack of ability or learning to have given a progressive impulse to Christian thought, an expansion to Christian doctrine, an expression to the liberty of embodying the refinements of taste, the inventions of sanctified science in the service of God. But there is no mention of anything arising therefrom which can, by any moral twisting, give countenance to these, or any such progressive notions; and there is an expressed resolution to fall back upon the developments of church privilege and practice by the Spirit of God in the establishment of the first Gentile churches. The Synod says, God knew what he wanted,—God knew what he intended,—God arranged the minds of the agents he employed,—God prepared the minds of those he intended to influence,—God chose the circumstances in which the whole was to take place, so as thoroughly to serve its purpose and promote to the fullest extent his own glory. And the Synod’s clear deduction from the whole is, That the Christian Church is in every sense God’s agent, for God’s glory, and in no sense or degree is or can be subject to the phases of human purpose or the variations of human notions. He, and therefore it, is complete, and is “the same yesterday, to day, and for ever.”
We have, in the first head of inquiry, looked at the Church as a corporation, and have found that, as a corporation, the Church has no-power to add to her ceremonies or introduce customs not designed or sanctioned by God’s Holy Spirit. We have seen that, corporately, the Church of Christ was separated from the Old Testament Church, so that in her synods, while the Old Testament might be quoted with authority in predictions respecting her position, it afforded no guidance in matters of church institutes and services to the new body. We have seen that in her corporate capacity she followed the direct guidance of the Divine Spirit, as that Spirit directly arranged and constituted certain Christian churches. We have traced the lineaments of the churches established by this Holy Spirit in different countries, speaking different patois [dialect], governed by different rulers, on different principles of jurisprudence, and have found that amongst what race soever established the churches were founded on a common model, so that new churches amongst the Greeks were constituted heirs of the customs of the “churches which in Judea are in Christ Jesus.” We have found the simplicity of Christian worship defended by an apostle on the ground of liberty, and the permission sought from the Synod to impose ceremonies, characterized as “putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples.” We have likewise seen this claimed permission characterized as a “tempting of God.” And finally we have seen the Synod come to a deliverance on the ground that the churches founded by God’s direct agency were so formed by him with the fullest knowledge, purpose, and intention; that they secured the salvation of believers, their establishment in all the graces of the Christian life, and sufficed for their endowment with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and were thus the ne plus ultra [perfect example] of church associations. To touch God’s work was not to embellish but disfigure it. To add a new ceremony, however valuable in the opinion of its proposer or restorer, was not to add to the Church’s interest or to increase its usefulness, but would assuredly have the effect of hiding the excellencies of the divine arrangement, and of disfiguring the symmetry of the divine plan. We have also seen that the trumpets, cymbals, psalteries, and harps, which had been, with certain dances, characteristic of the last dispensation, were not incorporated in the new Church’s services,—but of this we shall see more particularly under our last head.
II. We come now to the second head of inquiry, viz., respecting the Members of the Church of Christ.
As members of the Church of Christ they were “members of Christ, and also members one of another.” Their distinctive peculiarities, both by nature and grace, were very marked, and each, according to his peculiar qualifications, was required to devote himself to some special work. The various classes of work are set forth in the 12th, 13th, 14th, and part of the 15th chapters of Romans. This is also done in the 12th and 14th chapters of 1st Corinthians. But we find this large variety and distribution of work was to be undertaken by a very few orders of men; any single order of believers being charged with a great variety of services. In the Synod of Jerusalem, we read that the apostles, and elders, and the whole church, came together to consider the reference from the church of Antioch. We know that this church had previously elected deacons, who must have been present amongst the “whole church,” but we conclude, from their not being distinguished in Synod, that the deacons, as such, did not take part in church government. In the city of Ephesus, where a Christian church had been planted, Paul returning to Jerusalem desired to have a conference with these leaders of Christian opinion and governors of Christian morals. “When he came to Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.” Here again we find no mention of Deacons, because the matters enforced are matters of pure government, with which we nowhere read it was the province of the deacons to intermeddle. We find the Epistle to the Philippians addressed to all “the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” The epistle refers to such matters as embrace the entire range of duty of the various orders in the Church, specially to money matters, and was directed accordingly. There are thus, in the permanently formed Church, three orders of believers,—first, believing Elders; second, believing Deacons; third, the Faithful in Christ Jesus. The Apostles, although they were both believers and elders, were yet distinct from the other orders, in that they had no settled resting place, they had all seen the Lord after his resurrection, and were eye witnesses of his majesty. Whilst Elders properly so called belonged to certain localities, the Apostles belonged to the human race,—they began at Jerusalem, but their wanderings were limited only by their health and life, or the arrangements of divine Providence. The Apostles, under Christ’s spirit, commissioned an order of men called Evangelists. They, the Evangelists, set in order things which were wanting,—“ordained Elders in every city as they were appointed.” They seem to have been in a certain sense the supplements of the Apostles. They waited in certain localities for a season, to complete begun arrangements, to confirm the faith, and superintend the appointments of the churches to whom they were sent. They exercised apostolic authority and functions in newly formed congregations, and had control over certain districts, being commissioned thereto by the Apostles, to whom they were subject. It is doubtful whether they ever imparted spiritual gifts. They were not sent to all districts, but only when such agents were specially required. The Apostles were also accustomed to have with them, on their journeys, certain men of this order, who, while they could take part in the labours of the gospel, were in all things guided by the inspiration of apostolic men. Of these we find such men as Mark, Luke, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus. But we notice that believers in Christ had—1st, a common birth,—2nd, a common growth and manhood;—and under each of these states they had—3rd, a common distinction,—4th, they had certain rights, 5th, they had certain powers,—6th, they had certain responsibilities. And we inquire into these several properties that we may determine this further point respecting them, viz.:—7th, Were they vested prospectively with any power of progressively improving the forms or constitution of the Church of Christ?
1. We have then to speak, first, of the Common Birth of believers of all classes. Here Scripture again must guide us. (John i, 12-18), “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John iii, 5-6), “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water, and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (1st Corinthians, iv, 15), “For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (Galatians i, 15), “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me.” (James i, 18), “Of his own will begat he us, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
They are thus all of noble birth,—members of heaven’s aristocracy. But none born of free will, or to do their own will, but all conceived and brought forth of God, to be like him, to be one with him, to show forth his virtues.
2. We notice “The Growth and Manhood of the members of the Church of Christ.” (1st Peter, ii, 2), “As new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” (Hebrews v, 12-13-14), “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age (that is are perfect) even those who by reason of use (or habitude) have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Ephesians iv, 11, et seq.), “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but, speaking the truth (or being sincere) in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly join 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.” (Colossians ii, 18-19), “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind; and not holding the head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”
The members of the Church of Christ are thus fed on the most aristocratic food, have the noblest fellowship, the highest aims, and the greatest perfection. They zealously avoid voluntaries in humility or worship, and have no confidence in anything not springing from, or nourished by, connection with the Head. They each, in their several orders, vocations, and circumstances, contribute to the glory of the common Lord of all, and promote the welfare and mental, stability of their associates. In childhood they drink in the milk of the word, and as they advance from childhood they hold more tenaciously to the word of life, not being unskilful therein like the babes in Christ, but capable of using the strongest food, and, by its healthy assimilation, being capable of putting forth the most vigorous efforts in the service of the Master.
3. They have a special Distinction. This distinction is that they are in Christ Jesus. They are babes in Christ; they grow up in all things unto Him who is their Head, even Christ; they are perfect men in Christ Jesus. If we are true members of the Church of Christ, we are in Christ Jesus; our wills, our thoughts, our purposes, our resolutions, our services of whatever kind, are in Christ Jesus. (1st Corinthians i, 30-31), “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. That, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” Out of Christ Jesus, they are nothing; in Christ Jesus, He is their all in all.
4. But, fourthly, as members of the Church of Christ they have certain Rights,—rights which vary according to their position and standing in the Church.
First, the members of the Church have certain rights; amongst these we notice, from Acts vi, that they had the right of open grumbling. The grumbling recorded in this chapter led to the appointment of deacons. How thoroughly God held the Church and its interests under his control, is shown, in that at a period so early after its primitive formation its various offices and officers were rendered necessary and completed, and their position and usefulness manifested.
Secondly, the members of the Church had the right of looking out suitable men to fill the various offices of the Church. (Acts vi, 3), “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men,” &c. There are some people who think that the election of office bearers is best done by selection committees. They fancy that as they thoroughly understand the work, and know the men, that they therefore possess all the qualifications required to make the appointment. Nothing can be more opposed to the christian model. If any one thing has been entrusted to God’s people, most assuredly they may exercise their common sense respecting the election of their office bearers. It not unfrequently happens, however, that the men who think that they have all the wisdom necessary to elect office bearers, are very clamorous that the people should be allowed to exercise their common sense on subjects with the settlement of which they have nothing to do. Thus in the Church of Scotland, though they do not allow the people to choose freely their overseers in the Lord, they do permit them, and encourage them, to decide respecting the higher matters of faith and worship. To all such we say, first, permit the common sense of the people its appropriate exercise. Let them, as members of the Church, elect their proper officers, and feel that in doing so they are performing a scriptural duty, and there is little fear that they will seek to meddle in matters respecting which they have no right to interfere. On the other hand, once let them have the idea that no faith is valid, no practice sound, but as they vote for it, and at once you open up a way for a state of things even more lamentable than is exhibited in the English Establishment. Our second members’ right is this,—The fullest and freest exercise by the people of their common sense in electing their office bearers, that being the scriptural mode of election. There can be no exercise of common sense respecting matters of revelation, or christian doctrine, or worship: thorough submission thereto is the will of God. But having looked, out their men, it is their privilege to elect them. (Acts vi, 5), “The saying pleased the multitude, and they chose Stephen,” &c.
Thirdly, it is the right of the Christian people to be present in Church courts. This is evident from Acts xv.
Fourthly, it is the privilege of the Christian people to join in the decisions of the Church courts, though there is no evidence that they had any right to influence those decisions. This is evident by the comparison of Acts xv, 6 and 22, “The Apostles and Elders came together for to consider of this matter.” “Then pleased it the Apostles and Elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men,” &c. To the business of the Synod and its authoritative discussions, only the Apostles and Elders were necessary. But the whole people joined with them in their decisions.
Fifthly, they had an open Bible. (Acts xvii, 11), “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.”
We come, Secondly to the Rights of believing Elders. The believing Elders had, firstly, the right of calling the people together. (Acts xv, 30), “So when they were dismissed they came to Antioch, and when they had gathered the multitude together.”
Secondly, they had the right of meeting without the disciples’ presence, although with the disciples’ knowledge. This I think is obvious, from Paul’s summons to the Elders of Ephesus to meet him, related in the 20th chapter of Acts.
Thirdly, when so met they were called a Presbytery. (1st Timothy, iv, 14), “The hands of the presbytery.”
Fourthly, as a Presbytery they had the right of appointing to office those selected by the people. (Acts vi, 8), “Look ye out seven men, whom we may appoint over this business.”
Fifthly, as a Presbytery they superintended and governed the people, both as regards their moral and spiritual condition and advancement. (Acts xx, 28), “Take heed, therefore, to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed (that is, govern) the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.”
Sixthly, as a Presbytery they overlooked one another. (Acts xx, 28), “Take heed to yourselves.”
Seventhly, as a Presbytery they decided respecting errors in doctrine and practice. (Acts xx, 28-29-30), “Take heed, &c., to govern the Church of God. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch.” (1st Peter v, 1-2), “The Presbytery among you I exhort, who am a co-presbyter, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Govern the flock that is among you, taking the oversight thereof.”
Eighthly, they constituted in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1st Corinthians, v, 4), “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together.”
These, I think, are a very fair, if not a full specimen of the rights of the Governed People, and their Governing Elders.
5. We come now to notice their Powers, and, firstly, the powers of the believing people. The dissatisfied believing people always had the power to come with their complaints to the ears of their governors (Acts vi, 1). In their regularly called meetings or churches they exercised the powers of free speech and open voting. Fully to bring this out would take up too much time. The χειροτονία, or voting by holding up the hand, was certainly openly conceded them, as in Acts xiv, 28, “When they had ordained them elders in every church;” the word “ordained,” is ordained by holding up the hands and involves both the power of the people and the office of the Apostles, as travelling Elders. The powers intrusted to the people certainly bear that no man whom they have not chosen has any rights whatever amongst them.
Secondly, the powers of the believing Elders. The passages above quoted clearly show that the believing Elders had powers to summon the members together; to meet in presbytery; to summon delinquents; to try causes; to come to findings; to issue decrees; to send messengers or commissioners; to excommunicate the refractory, in which, they were joined by the people; and in general perform such acts with powers, as were necessary, to maintain the purity and the simplicity of gospel worship.
6. We now notice the Responsibilities of the Members of the Church of Christ. All the members were responsible. First, to give themselves wholly to the Lord. They were purchased in the blood of Christ, and their first duty was to recognize that purchase, so to live as to give glory, to the Redeemer and prove that they had homologated his purchase by giving themselves up to him without any reservation. (1st Peter, i, 18; et seq.), “Forasmuch as ye know,” &c. What was due to the Redeemer was more than loyalty or common affection. “He that forsaketh not father and mother, wife and children, for my sake, is not worthy of me.”
Secondly, personal consecration involved consecration of means and faculties. The private members of the Church bore expenses, gave their prayers, time, and influence to the promotion of the cause; while the Elders governed, spoke, wrote, and laboured, in and out of season, for the same great end. No man counted any thing his own. All were filled with love to Christ, and devotion to his name. Each lost his own identity, and felt as if the soul of the Redeemer were in his own soul’s stead, and as if his members were the members of the body of the Redeemer, and they were all one as the Saviour had prayed they should be.
7. We come now to the farther question which connects the subject of our present inquiry with the preceding observations. Were the members of the Church of Christ vested prospectively with any power of Progressively Improving the forms or constitution of the Church of Christ?
Believers, whether governors or governed, regarded the Church as Christ’s, not their own. They were bought with a price, and they glorified God in their body and spirit, which were God’s. God had bought them, had bought each of them in all their faculties, members, and possessions, with the vast price of the precious blood of the Lamb, and they judged that the Lord that bought them ought to enjoy his purchase. The Church, which when assembled they constituted, was purchased by God with his own blood, and only he who had purchased had the right of interference therewith. Farther, as we have seen in the 11th chapter of 1st Corinthians, verse 16, every individual who did not conform to the customs of the churches, who did not submit to constituted authorities, were thrust on one side. (Galatians v, 12), “I would they were even cut off that trouble you.” Where matters were so defined, and powers so limited, we should expect revelations to be exceedingly clear; and hence we find that every doctrine and duty, every privilege and responsibility, was illustrated by example or pattern furnished. And in respect to no matter of doctrine, discipline, or worship has the Divine Spirit been so explicit as respecting the Ritual of the Christian Church. Nothing, for example, can be plainer than the teaching and illustration respecting the Lord’s Supper. It is clear that the Bread and the Cup represent the Body and the Blood of the Lord; whilst the Water of Baptism is spoken of no less clearly, as in 1st Peter, iii, 21, “The like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Nor are we left in doubt of the manner of administration of the bread, the cup, and the water, which elements were constituted representative of Christ, and spiritual blessings to his saved ones. So clear and pointed indeed is the information respecting these, that, even if we were not guarded as we are by special Scripture from adding to them, one would have imagined that the guide was sufficiently explicit to have conducted God’s people past guilt or confusion regarding these matters. But we are not only positively instructed regarding these subjects, we have also the word of warning imparted so fully and directly to us regarding them, that no shadow of doubt which is not criminal can possibly remain. Thus, in the Epistle to the Galatians, iv, 9-10-11, “But now, after ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye (back) again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” Thus, converted heathen adopting the practices of the Jews are solemnly warned that in turning to them they are turning back to the weak and beggarly elements of the world, to be addicted to worshipping through which brings the soul into inevitable bondage,
And, farther, we are authorized to resist the introduction of these elements by the weighty example of the apostle Paul, and those who were with him. (Galatians ii, 4-5), “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” How true does the description of the class of men who press the introduction of their silly trifles into the service of the church continue even till this day? Is it not their custom to steal in their little matters unawares, and, when they can do so successfully, to push them little by little upon the christian people? And how valuable is still the apostles’ example, to the members of the christian church, and church courts, “to give place by subjection to them, no, not for an hour.” But here again, also, we are struck down by authority. The example of the learned and pious doctors and ministers, who originate and promote the introduction of these trifles, is paraded against us, and we need more of the comfort and encouragement of the Word, firmly to resist and repel them. (Galatians iv, 6), “But of those who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person; for they who seemed to be somewhat, in conference added nothing to me.” Here, while we are warned that prominent men may be deceived by plausibilities, may lend the weight of their great names to propagate a liberty which is bondage, and denounce as bondage the liberty of the gospel, still great names cannot shroud the glory of the Redeemer, or weaken or set aside his just authority; so neither can their names or virtues give validity to their foibles, that they should be able to impose them as solidities upon the christian people. God accepteth no man’s person. Peter himself must be withstood to the face. Jewish ceremonies, neither in whole nor in part, must be restored—neither on greater nor lesser authority. The prominence of the name does in no sense give sanction to the thing. The thing God has condemned and disapproved, and a prominent delinquent is only a conspicuous offender. No man has any right to alter or improve what God has established, and illustrated in his Word. For “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ; now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are,” “And ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
Thus we have seen, under our second head, that the member’s of the Church of Christ, in their birth, growth, and manhood, are distinctively in Christ; that he has separated them into orders, and given them certain rights, powers, and responsibilities; but has conferred upon none of them any power of altering, or improving, or embellishing, according to taste (his own or others), the services of the gospel church; and he has also given into the hands of his people full powers to resist such encroachment on their liberty, even if attempted by men of greatest name, and held otherwise deservedly in the highest esteem.
III. We come now to the third head—The Services of the Church of Christ. And here we inquire, 1st, What these Services were? 2nd, How they were performed? 3rd, By whom they were performed? 4th, For what end they were performed? And these questions so considered as to enable us to answer this inquiry pertinent to our present discussion—Are we at liberty to decide as to what is proper or improper in the Service of Christ?
1. Then in reference to the subject of this, our last inquiry, we proceed as before, to interrogate the Standard as to what are the Services of the Church of Christ? And here we must distinguish between the life-long service required of every Christian, springing from and demonstrative of his faith, and those helps to the performance of christian service which God introduced by his apostles; or readapted from the Old Testament dispensation. The great work and service, λογικὴν λατρείαν, of every christian man and woman was entire self-consecration (Romans xii, 1). Only thus could men worship in spirit and in truth,—only thus could faith in the Lord Jesus Christ be perfect and sincere,—only thus could that repentance (μετάνοια) have its perfect work, which changed the heart and regenerated the whole man. This great service, itself the effect and exponent of conversion, impossible on any but the ground of the appropriation of Christ’s atonement, was produced, aided, and improved by certain anticipatory and accompanying services, frequently referred to and fully described in the divine Word. These subsidiary services are preaching or exhortation; prayer or supplication; reading and study of God’s Word and hearing it preached; and singing praises. It is evident regarding each of them, that it may either be considered as producing, being, or helping communion with God. By the faithful performance of them we receive grace from God, both for performing the duties of life and for the higher duties of God’s special services. Under such feelings as they engender and cultivate we honour the Lord with the first fruits of all our increase, our minds become attempered to the principles of his holy law, and our wills habituated to the practice thereof with obedient readiness; whilst, by the reaction of this habitude of mind and will, we engage in these exercises themselves with greater fervour and devotion, are more thoroughly fitted to comprehend duty, and more intelligently commune with God. But the question arises, Were not these aids to service themselves accompanied by certain correlates, more or less bodily, by which they obtained greater power over the mind, and were, so to speak, rendered more absorbing? For example, did not the posture of the body, the architecture and comfort of the building, the mannerism of the preacher, his dress and surroundings, the attachment of a certain sanctity to his person, as vicar of Christ, combine to help faith and edification? Were the prayers simple, as coming at once from the heart, or elaborated by cultivated minds from the divine Word and the christian consciousness, and uttered by congregation and ministers as antiphonarii [sung in response]? Was the singing of the most simple kind, or ornamented with the arts of the theatre or concert room? Was it accompanied with instrumental aids?
These questions, both general and particular, are fully and most satisfactorily answered for us in the divine Word. And here we notice, first, that the Saviour lays down the principle of christian worship. The principle of christian worship is very clearly put for us by the Redeemer, in his conversation with the woman at the well of Samaria. (John iv, 21), “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” (ver. 23), “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” (ver. 24), “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
In these words the Redeemer intimated the abolition of Jewish worship and ceremonies as a means of approaching the Father. Neither by the superstitions of the Samaritans, nor by the divinely appointed ceremonies of the Jews, was the Father to be any longer worshipped. The days of nonage were now terminated, the days of personal spiritual religion, unaccompanied with ceremonies, was to begin, or had already begun. The Saviour does not say that spiritual religion may not be, or had not been, accompanied with ceremonies, but he distinctly states that it should be so no longer. By this declaration at the well of Sychar, he regaled the entire Jewish ritual, and no portion thereof can be restored without his sanction. To say that, as they are contained in the Old Testament Scriptures, such ceremonies cannot be absolutely displeasing to God, and may be observed without sin by men, may be a true saying; but it is not a saying which can have reference to the Church of Christ. The Saviour, here presenting himself in the plentitude of his power and prerogative, declares the entire circle of ceremony defunct, the Old Testament notwithstanding. The very inspiration and divine authority of the Old Testament thus become an illustration of the meaning of the Saviour’s words. Had the Old Testament been abolished, we should have been left in comparative ignorance of the extent and meaning of His declaration; but by His preserving it to us in its entirety and authority as a revelation of God’s will to men, accompanied with this rider, “neither in this mountain nor Jerusalem,” we understand the full extent and nature of the abolition he effected much more perfectly.
2. This principle was enunciated and entrusted to the keeping of a simple woman. Is there not something very significant in the Saviour making this declaration to a simple-minded woman? Does not this argue that this great principle of christian worship was entrusted to the common heart and understanding of men? That whilst it might be argued on by the learned, it might also by them especially be resisted,—whilst it might be maintained by the rich, it might by them also be resisted,—but to the poor and the simple, it would always be matter of interest to conserve the simplicity of gospel rights, as entailing least expense, and hence permitting the maintenance of christian equality amongst the members of the Church with greater success.
3. The actual services, introduced were of the most simple kind. The spirit of Christ also, in introducing and extending the Church of Christ, established the same principles. The Disciples went everywhere preaching the Word. No mention is made of any peculiarity of dress or corporeal furniture being taken with them. No house in which they ministered is described as previously fitted for the performance of christian ceremony. On the contrary, as in the case of Cornelius, there could be no accessories of any kind but such as were to be found in the house of a Roman Centurion. And the Synod of Jerusalem refused to lay on the converted Gentiles any other burden than God in his providence had imposed on them, in arranging and determining for them the circumstances of their conversion and salvation. With respect to the special matter before us, the words of Hebrews xiii, 15, are most conclusive—“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips (confessing), giving thanks to His name.” Can any one say in plainer terms that christian praise is not accompanied by any instrument, than to say it is the “fruit of lips?”
The word τουτέστιν, (that is), has an office so well known that it seems idle to point it out more fully. And yet a few passages may be noted which will show its value here. (Hebrews ii, 14), “Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews vii, 5), “The people according to the law, that is, of their brethren.” (Hebrews ix, 11), “A greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this building” (or creation). (Hebrews x, 20), “Through the vail, that is, His flesh.” (Hebrews xi, 16), “They desire a better, that is, an heavenly.” (Acts xix, 4), “On Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (Philemon, 12), “Thou, therefore, receive him, that is, mine own bowels.” (1st Peter, iii, 20), “Few, that is, eight souls.” (Acts i, 19), “Akeldama, that is, the field of blood.” (Romans vii, 18), “In me, that is, in my flesh.” (Romans ix, 7-8), “Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” The word in question (τουτέστιν) coming between two members of a sentence shows that the obscurity of the former is to be explained by the clearness of the latter. And in the connection before us, “By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips confessing to His name,” it is worthy of notice that the pronoun in italics in our version, our, is not in this passage, although it seems to be in the LXX [Septuagint] Version of Hosea, xiv, 2, from which it has been supposed to be derived. The absence of this pronoun is of special value, as it plainly puts the case in the abstract form, as if the Apostle had said in so many apposite words, Praise is a God-confessing lip service. This passage, occurring in the Epistle to the Hebrews, receives special importance, inasmuch as this Epistle, which sets aside the Levitical priesthood and administration as a whole, here most clearly does not; restore the use of instruments of music in the christian service of praise. How easily might the Apostle in this place have settled with a word all this angry controversy in the sense of the use of instruments, by quoting one of the Psalms, now considered so apposite to the purpose. Was it more difficult for Paul to quote the Old Testament than for us? He has no difficulty in doing so in connection with other subjects; his silence on this, taken in conjunction with the above expression, is surely most impressive, most decisive.
4. Notice the Simplicity of the Services imposed to preserve faith and purity. The protective exercises of the members of the Church are also slated in a form, and surrounded with circumstances which are exceedingly instructive. Thus, for example, (Ephesians v, 18-19), “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Also the parallel passage in Colossians iii, 16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” From these Scriptures we infer that christian praise was an individual exercise. It was not performed for, but by, each member. Its social influences depended upon its individual performance. This is plain from the use of the pronoun ἑαυτοῖς (eautois, to themselves) in Ephesians, and ἑαυτοὺς (eautous, themselves) in Colossians, in place of αλληλους (allelous, one another). I am not aware that this use of this pronoun is ever employed by the sacred writers when this, or a similar sense is not to be conveyed. We find, for example, in Colossians iii, 13, and in Ephesians iv, 9, χαριζομενοι ἑαυτοῖς (charizomenoi eautois) rendered in our version “forgiving one another,” but literally forgiving yourselves; a form of expression which seems, in connection with forgiveness, to be strikingly in accordance with the prayer the Saviour left his disciples, and in harmony with his subsequent commentary thereupon, He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;” and added, “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 forgive your trespasses.” “Forgiving yourselves” then, following such expressions as, “Be ye kind to one another,” is, in this christian sense, specially appropriate, inasmuch as we cannot be forgiven if we do not forgive, whilst forgiveness by us secures its exercise in our own behalf. With a similar weight of significance are we instructed to speak, teach, and admonish ourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, inasmuch as this is an exercise to be individually performed, and one which cannot be properly performed without producing the same effects both upon the singer and the hearer. The exercise begets in the hearer a desire to join,—a sense of individual appropriateness, whilst each singer feels his heart enlarged and his mind elevated and improved. Like the exercise of forgiveness, it is, and brings, a private blessing on the private performer of the service. “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” The exercise, when no one hears but God, invigorates the mind, accords with its healthy action, and is promotive thereof. As a private exercise, “when two or three are gathered together,” who has not felt its invigorating energy? Since that night when “Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God” in the prison at Philippi, how often has the sacred song lighted up the cheerlessness of the prison, strengthened the martyr’s faith, and astonished the enemy? The performances in the churches were but larger reunions,—those present in public acted as they did in private, the effect being a stronger expression of the same feelings and sentiments, and livelier resulting emotions. But let the churches change this christian plan, and we shall have singing only employed when it can be suitably performed, and homely people will cease to sing at home, as they know they cannot perform there with so called proper effect. If our members begin to associate with the ear and heart of Almighty God, the finical [finicky] perfunctoriness which our scientific musical friends display, then we need not be surprised if in our families the voice of psalms is hushed,—if in our private meetings few can lead the psalm, or care to join in it with heartiness. In our singing let us lay this specially to heart, That we speak, teach, and admonish ourselves. Securing that, every other good effect will follow of course.
Objection 1. But it is objected that the Book of Revelation refers to instruments. This reference to the Book of Revelation is very instructive, and the manner in which that portion is treated is also instructive. Nothing can be clearer from Revelations v, 8, and xiv, 2, and xv, 2, that the service described was a temple service, that Jehovah the Lamb was recognizably present, and that each individual performer had a harp. Now, the New Testament churches were not temples,—Jehovah the Lamb was present, not recognizably, but spiritually and effectually in them,—whilst no meeting of disciples is elsewhere described as being accompanied with a service of harpers. Do our Organ friends desire to conform to these requirements,—to introduce a temple service,—to have one large building for a yearly meeting of a nation, or a building large enough to hold such masses of people that priests in courses will need to be employed therein? Do they desire to rob home worship of its sanctity, and to restrain the praise and prayer ascending from our family altars? Do they desire us to believe that “God is in His temple as in Sinai,” and to forget that “Him must the heavens receive till the times of the restitution of all things?” Do they wish us to forget that now we have neither the Shekinah nor the more immediate heavenly presence of Jehovah, without one or other of which we read in the Bible of the use of no instrument? Do they choose the harp, not the organ? Do they put a harp into the hand of each worshipper, or of each elder? Do they abandon the idea of having one large instrument for a building, and let each individual choose his harp, God’s instrument, (see Revelations xv, 2) for himself? Without raising these or such like issues, the Book of Revelation cannot be made to serve their purpose. It will not do to say that the glorified ones have harps in heaven, and, therefore we may have organs upon earth; for the harps they have are the harps of God. Again, each performer there had a harp, given him by God, and it must be wrong to have only one performer, with an organ, on the earth. Nor will it do to say that these are not prominent or essential features of this heavenly example,—for observe that the sound described is brought out, not by strength of instrument but by the number of performers. “I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” And again notice very specially, these performers are not straitened with the difficulties we encounter on the earth, should we try to copy their example. Unglorified fingers, unaccustomed and untrained here, might, if drawn along harps, produce not a pleasant, but a discordant sound; and the combination of such effects might be, not a voice, but a noise. But there is ground to hope that “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal, immortality,” when we shall no longer think as children, or sneak as children,—when we shall see “not through a glass darkly, but face to face,”—then, with our illustrious glorified congeners out of every nation, and people, and tongue, we shall find our untuned fingers ready to fulfil, without training, the behests of love and pure understanding, and touch our golden God-given harps in time and tune and perfect harmony with the holy bands of heaven. Unglorified bodies are no more able to copy heaven’s music than to dispense, like heaven’s inhabitants, with the ordinance of marriage. Let us wait till we hear the cry, “The temple of God is with men, and he will dwell with them;” when we, seeing him as he is,—our members delivered from the dross and stiffness of earthly clay, having obtained spiritual bodies,—may join the heavenly chorus with our God-given harps, and swell the song of victory. No imperfection will then mar the voice, no indelicacy of touch produce from the instrument a harsh sound, no differing notes introduce discords; but perfect science, perfect instruments, and perfect instrumentation shall fill the holy courts of heaven with voice of praise.
Objection 2. The radical meaning of the words ψαλλω and ψαλμος is playing on an instrument. That the words ψαλλω (psallo) and ψαλμος (psalmos) had the signification of striking a harp attributed to them, in the translation of the Old Testament, does not admit of doubt. In the Old Testament temple service all the musical services were accompanied with instruments, and the psalms were both sung and played. But the words named do not help the demand for the organ, unless the organ is struck, and by being struck emits a musical sound. If the authoritative word ψαλλω (psallo) indicates “I strike lightly,” and the organist does not strike a distended cord, but lifts a valve which liberates confined air, the word does not help, but oppose the instrument contended for. It is not as if the words in question were the only words applied to an instrument of music. The pipe, not less than the harp, is a subject of reference and illustration, as in 1st Corinthians, xiv, 7; but the αὐλὸς (autos) is not in any case applied to the singing of psalms, or hymns, or spiritual songs, in the New Testament. But not only do the words in question radically point to the employment of the wrong instrument as the musical accompaniment, they are used so, and hedged about so, with significant words and circumstances in the New Testament, that they cannot be applied to instrumentation at all. Thus, in 1st Corinthians, xiv, 15, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing (ψαλῶ, psalo) with the spirit, and I will sing (ψαλῶ) with the understanding also.” Here it is plain that prayer and musical service were to be performed on the same instruments, that is to say, on no instrument at all. In Romans xv, 9, the word ψαλῶ (I will sing) is also used in a connection in which it would be absurd to attach to it the idea of instrumentation. And this instance is all the more impressive that it is a quotation from the Old Testament, where it is (Psalm xviii, 49), and will sing praises. Whatever may have been their Old Testament signification, it is obvious, from these passages, that the words in question were employed in the New, where no sense would be tolerable but that of singing praises.
This desire to further a cause by straining the interpretation of words, to suit not the context in which they stand, but the radical meaning, of the word employed, if carried out in every case, and insisted on as in the case before us, would produce some rather awkward, results. Our organ ministers are proud to be called clergymen. They wear a clerical dress, they distinguish themselves from the members of other professions by calling themselves “the clergy.” Now the words clergy, clergymen, clerical, come from the Greek word κληρος (cleros), and κληρος comes from a Hebrew wordגּוֹרָל (goral), a small stone,—then a small stone for casting lots. Are the clergy then to be called small stones or pebbles, from the radical meaning of the word by which they delight to be called? Again, the above Hebrew word passed into Latin, as well as Greek, and became “glarea,” fine sand; in English it became gravel or grit. It also passed into Scotch, in which dialect the word “glaur” speaks for itself. Are we then to extend the idea of an organ clergyman to embrace this also? and is he to become a sandy, gritty, gravelly individual or,—Scottice, a humplock o’ glaur? The epithet would be not altogether inapplicable, as some of these gentlemen are gritty and klabbery enough in all conscience; but it may be doubted whether it would be as acceptable as applicable, notwithstanding its ancient radical origin.
Objection 3. The language of the Psalms in the Old Testament. The manner in which the Old Testament is adduced to aid in settling the Organ controversy, in favour of the instrument, is not less infelicitous. We are told, for example, that we cannot sing the Psalms without introducing cymbals, harps, and instruments of music in general. This is most true: we cannot. But it is equally true that we cannot use the Psalms without introducing offerings, and burnt-offerings, and offerings for sin. Are we to delete the authority in the latter case, and to retain it in the former? Are we not justified in using the entire Psalms in the Christian sense? Not to interpret the New Testament by the Old,—but to read the Old in the light and sense of the New?
Secondly, How are the Services of the Church to be performed? Taking all these matters together with the Saviour’s declaration at the well of Samaria, we are surely justified in concluding that the New Testament worship left no room for embellished services, or for instruments of music, except in the heart of the worshipper, a position not favourable to such instruments as our organ friends have it in their hearts to introduce. If any thing is established in the New Testament it is surely this, that we must serve God with the whole heart, at all times, in all places, having no guide in any thing but His holy will.
Thirdly. They were performed by all the members of the Church, by the individual in the closet, by the parent in the family, by the teacher or elder in the church, by any or all whom He might call by his providence through his people.
Fourthly. We come now to consider for what end these services were performed? The exercises of devotion above referred to are fitted for men in seclusion, or in the family; in the social gathering or the public assembly. Worship ceased, at Pentecost, to be a matter of place, and became a matter of mind and heart; it ceased to be performed by proxy, and became a matter of personal concern to every believer. We are now saved, not by being born of the “seed of Abraham, according to the flesh,” but by being “followers of Abraham’s faith.” No temple service now throws its shade over the imperfections of the individual, and imparts grace to the crowd. Ye are, each of you is, the “temple of the Holy Ghost,” sanctified by his indwelling, and purified by his grace; and no ceremony, on the part of another, will add to your acceptance, or redeem your soul from impurity. It is no doubt a most blessed truth that we may help each other’s faith, and hope, and joy; what we may, by earnest supplication, secure the divine interference in the heart and life of those whom we love; open their hearts to attend to the things of the kingdom; bring their souls into healthy action; constitute them, by faith in Christ Jesus, the children of God. By our singing we worship God, edify our souls, or convert the souls of our neighbours;—by our prayers we worship God, secure blessings to our own souls, and converting and restraining grace for others;—by the reading of the Word we edify our own souls or the souls of all who hear;—and by the word of exhortation we exercise faith, and grow in grace, and set before others the ways of truth with more or less perfection. There is no promise in the New Testament, to a great congregation assembled in any special place, which is not equally promised to the two or three gathered in the name of the Lord; and whilst Christian association and fellowship is becoming and proper, and is the just expositor of Christian love and affection, and the season of many a blessing, yet our God and Redeemer does not confer on these large assemblies such unique tokens of his love and grace as to discourage the hearts of the believing few who may, under press of circumstances, meet in some obscure and humble dwelling.
In singular contrast—speaking contrast—to this were the arrangements made by Almighty. God for the establishment of Jewish worship. God might have established such a form as might have been performed in every Jewish tent large enough for the reception of two or more families. The ceremonious services, simple in themselves, might have been part of the common furniture of every dwelling, and the priests have been merely public helpers of the faith or metals of the entire community. At first sight we almost conclude that such a system would have had its advantages over that which was adopted. But a nation was to be born and constituted, to be made the custodiers of a specific faith, to be a witness against the idolatry of the world, and ultimately, when all should be ready, to furnish men to go forth into all the earth to proclaim the termination of their special observances, and the occurrence of the hour of the “world to come.” This nation and religion was to be constituted, not in the busy marts of trade, commerce, and population, but at the foot of Horeb, in the midst of the wilds of the Arabian desert. It was a complicated ritual, observed in an ornate temple, performed by priests in order of succession—the first only receiving a call. To originate this, and establish it, there were necessary not only wise and good men, to whom might be entrusted the work of legislation and social combination, but for the construction of a tabernacle so ornamented and adapted for the performance of so complicated a service, and which, moreover, should admit of removal at pleasure, there was required especially the labour of the genius in mechanics and art. And hence we find that to Moses and Aaron, and their associates in the legislation and priesthood, there was added Bezaleel and Aholiab, and others, wise hearted like them. These, far away from the workshops of Egypt or Greece, in the midst of the fastnesses of Horeb, or the burning sands of the desert, must construct this tenement, to be a repository of the new religion about to be inaugurated, or already inaugurated, amidst the most terrific exhibitions of divine power and majesty. What God intends he certainly will accomplish. To construct a tabernacle in the wilderness, with a ceremony so ornate, and a priesthood drilled to the veriest details thereof, seems to our notions exceedingly impracticable, but, on the authority of the Old Testament, we are assured of its having been accomplished.
Fifthly. May we alter these Christian services? And now, when we come to a new religion, appointed and instituted, without such ornaments, we can have no other conception of the reason of their absence than that God so willed it,—that, in the services of the Christian church, he had no intention to introduce any of the forms or rites by which the old had been distinguished. That had been fitted for one nationality, and had served its end by establishing and keeping it together; but this was to be spread over the wide earth. To be clogged with ceremonies, to be loaded with forms, would be to cripple its resources and cramp its energies; and God cut from it every fetter, and set it free. The Saviour, to his Church, as to Lazarus at the grave, said “Loose him, and let him go” free. Free in spirit, to meet the soul of humanity, and reveal to it its lost and ruined state;—free in form, to accommodate itself, without expense or loss of time, to the wants of the nations needing its light;—free in the simplicity of its arrangements, as in the numbers and functions of its officers, that every new nation might have its own faithful ones preaching in its own tongue. The Jerusalem synod, contemplating these bald services, marvelled at the power of Jehovah, but concluded, that since He had saved men by them, they should lay upon the disciples no farther burden.
We are confirmed in our views of the simplicity of the Gospel services, and of their unalterable character, when we notice also that these services had their correlates in the abstemious and simple social usages established amongst the members thereof. The Gentiles had lived in riot and drunkenness, in sleep and wantonness, in gluttony and debauchery, of every kind and degree, and their worship was correspondingly, sensuous; the Christian regarded himself as only a stranger and pilgrim on the earth,—his joys were not of this world, he found no enduring city here, but sought one to come. Hence he lived in the world as living above it,—he was a citizen of heaven,—he looked on the tastes and habits of the worms of earth—on their varied inclinations and pursuits, with the most supreme contempt, and their insidious snares with the most constant vigilance. He was constantly looking out for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mortifying his members which are upon the earth, he set his affections upon the things above. He “put on the new man, which after God was created in righteousness and true holiness.” He “looked diligently, lest any should fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up should trouble him, and he should thereby be defiled.” Thus was Christian society modelled, not in the interests or for the gratification of worldly feelings or joys, but in the interest and for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. No mere gratification could be sanctified, or made holy; the holy man (the only subject of holiness) displayed his character by restraining his “fleshly lusts, which warred against the soul,” and the cultivation of that simplicity of habit which forms the best preservative of purity of mind and of life. And whilst it is abundantly true that the Christian propagandist could travel in every clime, live according to the social usages of every country, partake of common food—sit at the common table—with men everywhere, asking no questions for conscience sake, yet, when mention was made of an idol, or of the food presented being brought as sacred,—not from the public market, but from the idol’s temple,—then the Christian must enter his protest. With the Jews he might live as a Jew, with the Greek as a Greek, for the kingdom of God was “not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” And yet, in the circumstances above referred to, social usages raised themselves into matters of supreme importance. The weak conscience could not discriminate between the food eaten and the reason of its being eaten. Those foregone conclusions which had prevalence during the presence and power of heathenism, could not at once be eradicated; and, in the treatment of these difficult cases, a principle of Christian conduct was introduced (valuable in all ages) viz., the principle of Christian expediency. It is of importance to understand this principle; not only from its bearing on our present matter, as showing the abstemious character of Christian morals, but also because it has been appealed to by our Organ friends as a principle under which, in certain circumstances, their instrument may be introduced. We have just seen that the social usage difficulty was, that Christian liberty was, in certain cases, destructive of Christian principle,—as when meats, which might be freely eaten, were, by their connection with idolatrous worship, a means of keeping the partially emancipated neophyte in constant weakness of conscience. The expedient suggested was abstinence from the food offered. “For the kingdom of God was not meat and drink, but righteousness,” &c. Thus, not only was simplicity and purity of manners inculcated, but all remedial measures took the abstemious form, which was continued, until the conscience, by habitual abstinence, had regained its power, and the man was reinstated in his freedom as a follower of Christ Jesus. This Christian law was a very different thing from a permanent compromise, nor did it in any sense partake of the looseness of principle of that common mode of determining disputes in these latter days. As we have seen, its object was, by abstinence for a season, to confer the power, of permanent enjoyment, and it was enjoined not alone upon the man exposed to spiritual injury, but even upon those whose habitual power was superior to temptation. We never see the Apostle Paul so much the Christian as when he says, “If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth.” His own liberty, his own power over temptation, was nothing when weighed against the weakness and waywardness of his brother. If, by his abstinence, he could succeed in aiding his weak brother to break the idolatrous spell under which he. was held, he would crucify every taste, however simple and innocent in itself. Thus this Christian social principle exactly tallied with the simplicity of the church services.
But how do our Organ friends want to apply this principle of expediency? They say, We are very numerous in certain districts: and in some congregations; and we consider that expediency counsels our gratification in these localities, lest we and our young men should proclaim an insurrection. This last kind of expediency is not in the Bible. I am not aware that ever the Apostle Paul said, Because I have a notion of my own, and a considerable following, therefore you should allow me to carry it out. We, as Christians, may ask our neighbour, for our soul’s health, to give up the use of anything which to him is innocuous. I am not aware that we may ask our neighbour to add to his practice, or even to tolerate, a non-legal exercise, that we may be gratified. The one is a noble Christian principle, the other is the meanest selfishness. For organs some men would rend the Church of Christ.
We are told at this point that the Organ, though not used was simply not ready for the church, and that its non-use was a condition of the times. If it was not ready for the New Testament Church, it is very obvious that it could not be ready for the Old Testament Psalms. But notice—we have seen that as a corporation the church was founded by God, was composed of members purchased by the blood and filled with the Spirit of Christ, were endowed with the power of working miracles, and yet with the resources of Deity at his disposal, and the hearts and minds of the children of men in his hand, he did not interfere to introduce or arrange matters which should eventuate in the introduction of instruments into the service of the Christian church. Here notice the following particulars:
1. Under the Old Testament dispensation, on the contrary, “which stood in meats and drinks and carnal ordinances,” God did raise up and install “workmen in gold and silver and in brass, and in cutting of stones to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship,” and for these purposes “filled them with the spirit of God in wisdom and in understanding and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works.” These men designed and executed in the midst of the Arabian desert the Tabernacle for His worship, directed by him in the grandest conceptions and the most minute details.
2. Nor was this his only such interference, for he raised up “a preacher of righteousness” in the great prototypal carpenter Noah, who constructed, in spite of the sneers of the antediluvians, and in the midst of their constant revilings, an Ark to float upon the waters of the deluge, and bear his family and dependents in safety to the renovated world.
3. The same God subsequently inspired Solomon with wisdom to build him a Temple to his praise; to the admiration of the ancient world and the glory of the Jewish name.
4. He also called forth from obscurity and captivity Ezra and Nehemiah, to build with the trowel, while begirt with the sword, till the wall of Jerusalem and the house of the Lord were in some measure restored in their ancient grandeur.
5. The same great God put up and put down the kingdoms of the world, intermixed the races and the deities of men established over the face of the earth, introduced an empire nearly commensurate with the limits of civilization, thus forming a groundwork of freedom,—then took a Jew of most intense Hebrew feeling, and fired with a sense of intense determination to root out from his sacred land every vestige of heresy,—broke his spirit, demolished his prejudices, and laid him meek and humble as a little child at the feet of the arch heretic Jesus Christ, whose sect he had resolved to destroy, sent him, with his chosen companions, abroad into the Gentile world, with his noble learning, his true genius, his indomitable spirit, and this substantial human protection, “I was a freeborn Roman.” In the world, prepared for him and the Gospel he preached, he could say “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat; to the Jews have I done no wrong.” These magistrates “have beaten us uncondemned, being Romans, and now do they thrust us out privily? nay, verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out.”
Are we to be told that the God who did all that to establish the Jewish Church, and for the Gospel and its preachers, could not have made an organ in the primitive church if he had wanted one? Have we not seen that the men who were separated from the world and united to Christ, were purchased by him, body and soul, and filled with enlarged powers of mind, rendered capable of performing the most astounding miracles,—that in their days the lame man leapt as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb did sing, that men of all lands and all classes flocked together at their preaching? Was it beyond the power of the Spirit who accomplished these things, to have produced some apostle, evangelist, pastor, or teacher, who might have introduced the grand accessory to cultivated worship—the Organ? It is an impious limitation of the Holy One of Israel.
It now only remains to add a little word upon church history. We all know that that Church, originally so pure, so simple, so perfect, fell from its stedfastness and parity; that its downfall was gradual, and continued through long dreary ages; that daring all that time there was a constant tinkering with the psalmody of the Church, that heretics used it by their hymns to introduce their conceptions of the person of Christ, and of the condition and prospects of men, into the intellectual life of the church; and ritualists introduced change after change, until there was at length a period so dark that singing became a performance, and the organ was introduced. Perhaps no testimony of a bygone age comes to us more impressively attesting the simplicity of the rites of primitive Christians, the object of their worship, and the manner in which it was performed, than the testimony of their Roman persecutors. Under the Emperor Trajan, Pliny, the second of the name; A.D. 110, held the governorship of Bithynia, and being sadly distressed that the temples were deserted, the sacrifices not purchased, and the ancient priesthood and their long established powers derided, resolved to get to the bottom of the matter, and had the parties summoned before him. All were threatened with punishment. Some confessed themselves Christians a second and third time, and died rather than retract. Others, however, denied the Redeemer, and worshipped the gods, and the image of the Emperor. These last, however, were very few in number. Pliny was making no progress, seized two female slaves, “deaconesses” of the church, and subjected them to torture, when they made confession to the Roman governor. They affirmed that the sum of their crime or error was, that on a certain day they were accustomed to meet before day-break, that they alternately sang hymns to Christ as to God, and bound themselves under an oath that they should neither be guilty of theft, robbery, or adultery; should never break faith or deny what had been deposited with them; such things having been done, they were accustomed to depart, and at times to partake of a joint and very harmless repast.
Such was the testimony of those put to the torture respecting their ceremonies at the end of the first century, some eighty years after the ascension of Christ.
Passing over some three hundred years we take up again the chronicles of ecclesiastical history, but we find every thing altered, the people, the services, the preachers, the churches. We meet with festivals and fasts, with pictures and ornaments, and other matters too, all which we are accustomed most justly to regard as defections from the soundness of the Christian faith, Still, with all its defection, it is a period of no small Christian vitality, and is rendered illustrious by the names of Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory Nazianzen, &c.
“Church music was cultivated at this period more according to rule. Besides the Psalms, which had been used from the earliest times, and the short doxologies and hymns, consisting of verses from the holy Scriptures, spiritual songs, composed by distinguished church teachers, such as Ambrose of Milan, and Hilary of Poitiers, were also introduced among the pieces used for public worship in the Western Church. To the last-named practice much opposition it is true was expressed.
“It must already have become a matter of complaint, however, as well in the Western as in the Greek Church, that the ecclesiastical music had taken too artificial and theatrical a direction, and departed from its ancient simplicity.”—Neander’s Church History, Vol. 3, pp. 450-451.
Let us now pass on to a later period in which the vital spark of Christian truth has all but expired; when, overlaid with forms and ceremonies, it is scarcely possible to extricate the wheat from the chaff; when we have a special Priesthood interposed as the only medium of intercourse between God and man.
“By the force of custom, the Latin had already been a long time established as the predominant liturgical language. . . . The striving after conformity with the Church of Rome naturally promoted an attachment to the liturgy as expressed in the Roman language and form, while the latter again would react upon the former. King Pipin no doubt found a Latin church psalmody existing in the Frankish church, which had been transmitted downward from the ancient Gallic church. But as this differed originally from the Roman church psalmody, especially since Gregory the Great had done so much to improve the music of the church, and as it had moreover been corrupted by the barbarism of the intervening time, Pipin endeavoured to restore it after the model of the church music at Rome. .. It was found impossible to suppress entirely the old Gallic form of church music, . . . and hence the Emperor Charles, when attending the high festivals at Rome, could not but notice the great difference between the Franco-Gallic and the Gregorian church music of Rome. Hence he was led to desire that the Frankish psalmody should be altered and improved wholly after the pattern of the Roman.”
“NOTE. From the French church proceeded the use of the organ, the first musical instruct employed in the Church. A present of the Emperor Constantine Copronymus to King Pipin gave occasion to its use.”—Neander’s Church History, Vol. 5, pp. 174-175-176. In his note above quoted he refers, as his authority, to the Annal Einhard, a. 757.
It is evident that whilst there was a constant declension in the service of the Christian church, it had reached its climax on the introduction of the Organ.
In conclusion we have seen that this instrument instead of being handed down from age to age from apostolic men, was itself the crowning act of defection from Christian simplicity; and though in justice He might, the guilty and we have reason to thank God that he does not, mingle the blood with the sacrifices of those who continue it, still we have the conviction, begotten by many proofs, that it is a measure of departure from Scripture authority, which leads to more ungodliness, and gradually unsettles the mind on the great matters of Christian worship. The first was a gift, we read, from Emperor Copronymus to King Pipin. Kings and Emperors have never heartily loved the religion of Christ. Their additions are always of a suspicious character,—not in any degree promotive of religion, but often so thrust in upon it that it requires long years of toil and suffering on the part of God’s people to sever the connection. Does Christianity rank no higher in your estimation than to incorporate, without examination, this present from an Emperor into the worship of the Presbyterian Church? Is it no honour to our Christianity, that when others, in vast masses, have sillily adopted this present, and have used it without consideration, we have, on the non-authority of the Scripture, refused it admission? Rally around the Word of the living God, study its meaning, submit to its dictation in all things. Its definitions are the standards of liberty against priestcraft and kingcraft; against infidels without, and rationalists and ritualists within. It narrows the platitudes of the latitudinarian, by the prescriptions of the divine law; it quenches the dogma of the rationalist in the deep things of God; it tears off the rags of the spiritualist; it arrays all believers in the spotless robes of the Redeemer; it obscures altar lights by the clear and heavenly light of divine and sacred doctrine; it makes true believers no longer “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Its heavenly truths fire our souls with bravery, with head erect, and mien of manly courage, to refuse the gew-gaws of the world, in exchange for the glories of immortality. And when haughtiness and power step out, and with lordly tongue make proclamation, “What time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all people, nations, and languages shall fall down and worship the golden image” set up by power,—this holy book, the treasury of the bravest and purest, counsels, with its loudest note, cries No! When power compels thee to “walk through the waters, I will be with thee; through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou passest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.” Let neither the wrath of man, nor the love of the present world, seduce thee from attachment to thy precious Bible. Lose it, and in all the world besides: thou wilt find nothing by which, in any degree, to replace it. “I testify,” saith our glorious Redeemer, “unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.”