We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the House of God in company.
MAN is a social being. In his creation God infused into his nature, the principles of rational and intellectual society. These principles are, in their nature, totally different from any thing conferred on the lower orders of animated being.
By the constitution which God has given to the irrational creatures, they are disposed to live in a collective, and not in a solitary capacity. Fishes, of the same species, crowd together in shoals.—Quadrupeds, herd together in droves. The feathered tribes are gregarious. But it is peculiar to man to be a social being. Irrational creatures assemble together, by a blind instinctive propensity of their nature. Society is predicated upon rationality, and is the property only of intelligence. It proceeds upon a moral principle, and not on the ground, either of instinct, or mere necessity. Society, thus constitutional to man, has God himself for its author, and can no more be said to be a creature of human fabrication, than intelligence or rationality. It was God who declared that it was not good that man should be alone; because he had created him with a social nature.
Man is a subject of law—and being a moral agent, the law by which he is to be governed, must be a moral law. This law recognises every relation, in which man can be placed on earth. It, of course, extends its authority to society. To God, the Creator of society, we must look for its laws and regulations. And as all things were made by Jehovah for his own glory, and as his rational family are capable of actively declaring his glory, they are, therefore, under indispensable obligations to be employed in social acts of worship.
Social worship does not originate in any positive institution of a visible church, but in the constitution of man, as a rational and social being. There is no sense, in which, it is good for the man to be alone. All men are bound by the constitution of human nature, to worship God in their social, as well as in their individual capacity.
By the fall of man, he was rendered both incapable and unworthy, to worship God, with divine acceptance. While the obligation remains, with undiminished claims, the power, disposition and ability are lost. Man is become a culprit, and cannot restore himself to favour. He is no longer innocent, and to make satisfaction for his guilt is absolutely out of his power. Divine Revelation opens up a way of escape. It presents a new and living way, into the holiest of all, through the tent vail of the Mediator’s flesh. The system of grace is revealed, and the Church of God is presented, as redeemed by Christ, and consecrated to the service of God, through His blood. The original and constituent principles of human nature are not eradicated, but devoted, through a new channel, to the honour of God. The social principle, purified from the corruption of the fall, is retained, and applied to its proper offices in the Church of Christ. The church is a society. She is formed upon the principle of an organic body, having a head and members. This constitution proceeds upon the ground of a covenant, embracing the head, and all the members, in a state of union and communion together. All the members united to Jesus Christ, and members one of another, walk together in love. They join their hands, for their hearts are united. They take sweet counsel together, and walk unto the house of God in company.
Saints by profession, are bound to hold communion and fellowship, in the worship and service of God.
Method of Illustration.
I. Explain this Communion.
II. How far ought it to be extended.
III. Answer objections—and then conclude with some practical inferences.
I. I am to explain this Communion—
1. It is a communion of Saints. The house of God is holy, and holiness becometh it well forever. Here the social principle is exercised in its perfection on earth. It is devoted to holy purposes, and consecrated to the Lord of the whole earth. None have a right, in the sight of God, to this holy fellowship, but real Saints, and none but such really enjoy it. Others, though they may be present, and appear to participate in the communion of the Saints. yet it is only in appearance. Externally, they draw near to God in his holy institutions, but their hearts have no concern in the solemnity. The character of such is given in Ezekiel, 33:31. “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their month they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” But those who are Saints, were once, a very different character. They were, by nature, children of wrath, even as others. How then do they obtain this character? No way but by union to Jesus Christ, through the regenerating influence of the Spirit of God. Means are generally used, but the efficiency is of God. In the day of effectual working of his Holy Spirit, [he] lays on them an arrest of mercy. They are apprehended by Christ, and are made to apprehend him. Their understandings are enlightened, so that they are enabled to discover the certainty, the value, the excellency, the suitableness of Jesus the Saviour, to their needy case. Objective testimony is furnished, with such undoubted evidence, that they become convinced, and are verily persuaded, not only that they may fully and freely accept of the offered salvation, but that it is the best and the most desirable thing so to do. The will, renewed by the Holy Ghost, follows the dictate of the understanding, and actually receives the Lord Jesus Christ, appropriating him for life and salvation. This completes a mystical and indissoluble union between Christ and the believer’s soul. Christ, by the bond of his spirit, unites himself to the elect sinner, in regeneration, and the sinner, effectually called, by the bond of faith unites himself to the person of the Redeemer. The believer, thus united to Christ, is in the court of heaven, sustained, as righteous. Christ and he being one, whatever is Christ’s is reckoned to the believer. Christ’s righteousness is his, and on account of that righteousness, he is justified. His name is changed from sinner to saint.*[See Note A at the end of the discourse.]
We have said, that only such as are thus really Saints, are, in the sight of God, entitled to the communion and fellowship of his church. But as the heart of man is known only to God—as it is his prerogative, and only his, to search the heart and try the reins, an absolute knowledge of this union to Christ, which constitutes men really Saints, cannot belong to this communion. Only Saints by profession, such as possess those distinctive characters which the head of the church has laid down in his word, by which we may, in the judgment of charity, know, and esteem men to be his followers. By their works shall ye know them. If they are sound in the faith, and have a life and conversation, such as becometh the gospel; they are to be reputed Saints, and with such, we are bound to have communion.
2. It is a communion of love and holy affections.
Not only are all Saints united to the Head Christ Jesus, but they are all united to one another in love. They are members one of another.[Eph. 4:25.] They have one common interest, and they mutually seek each other’s good. They are all actuated by the same spirit. They are all concerned for the honour of their glorious head. They are brethren, children of the same Father and of the same Mother. God is their Father. By him they were spiritually begotten, through the instrumentality of the word of truth.†[Jas. 1:18.] The Church is their Mother. By her they were brought forth.‡[Song 3:5; 8:2.] The spouse (the individual believer) calls the church her mother’s house, the chambers of her that conceived her. There are, it is true, some mother’s children,§[Song 1:6.] that are not Father’s children, nominal professors, who love not the real children of the family: but all who are the children of adoption, the sons and the daughters of the Lord Almighty—have a communion in one another’s love. They seek the good of the family, and they live together in unity, as it becometh brethren. This love, and kind affection, is opposed to the biting and devouring of one another. It is opposed to quarrels and intestine broils, the disgrace and the ruin of every family. It is opposed to schism and divisions. Those who possess this principle of love, will cover with the mantle of charity the failings and the infirmities of their brethren. They will bear one another’s burdens. They will be gentle and easy to be entreated. They will not willingly give, or take offence. But bound up in the bundle of life and of love, with the rest of the members of the household of faith, they will take sweet counsel together, and walk to the house of God in company.*[See Note B.]
3. The communion of Saints embraces their gifts. In these they have a joint and mutual interest.
As all the members of the human body, belong to the body, and discharge their several functions in its behoof, so all the members of the mystical body, belong to that body, and are bound to discharge every office in their power for its good. The human body, of right, demands the strength of the arm, the skill of the fingers, the motion and agility of the limbs, the hearing of the ear, the seeing of the eye, the wisdom of the tongue—all to be employed for the advantage of the body. The church—the mystical body of Christ, has similar claims upon all her members. She also of right, demands, that all the gifts which any, and all her members have received from the blessed Head, shall be employed in her service. Their ears—their eyes—their hands and feet—their tongues, and all their powers, must be devoted to the Church’s interest, for to her they all belong. And as all the members are benefited by the act of one, so is it in the Church. If the eye sees the danger approaching—if the ear hears the deep laid plot for the destruction of the body or any of its members, the timely notice, is of equal advantage to every member. The tongue that successfully pleads the cause of its owner, confers an equal advantage upon the hands and the feet. In the same manner has the mystical body, and every one of its members, a joint interest—a fellowship and communion, in the gifts of any individual member. They all share in the knowledge, the judgment, the experience, and the wisdom of each other. The stock becomes common, and every one may draw upon it, without, in the smallest degree, diminishing the capital.
4. The Saints have communion in each other’s graces,
Real Saints all possess the same graces. They may vary exceedingly in their exercise and degree, but not in their nature or number. They are all proper children, and have their spiritual members alike, in number and kind. These graces are bestowed for the purpose of being exercised. And not only does the exercise of grace in one of the members, by strengthening the body, thereby strengthen all the other members in consequence of their relation to the body, but the members present together, have a fellowship in the exercise of the grace of any individual member. There is a kind of spiritual sympathy, so to speak, in the exercise of faith, love, hope, patience, joy, &c. so that it is calculated to call forth corresponding affections and sensibilities of soul, in others, possessing the like principles of spiritual action.
The gracious prayer of a Saint, will be accorded in, by gracious souls, whose mouth he may be, at the throne of grace, and a fellowship and joint interest, may be enjoyed in all the social exercises of the true worshippers of God. 1 Cor. 12:12,13. 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. 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. Compare also verse 6. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Such is the unity of the body of Christ, and such the interchangeable participation amongst all its members. This leads them with cheerfulness, to spend and be spent for each other—to engage, with pleasure, in the benevolent act of relieving each other’s wants, according to their several abilities and necessities. It is relieving a member of that body to which they belong, and of which, each one forms a part.
5. This communion involves, a joint recognition of the same engagements binding to the performance of such duties, public and private, as conduce to the mutual good of the members of Christ’s body mystical. Isaiah, 2:3. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let its go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. See also Heb. 10:5. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another. The Church embraces the social principle, in its fullest extent. All the obligations to duty, in every relation in which man is found, and all the moral engagements under which the rational family may lay themselves, are homologated by the church. And her members have a fellowship in fulfilling all these obligations and engagements. The rule of the Church’s conduct in every respect, is the moral law, in the hand of the Mediator. And all the new institutions revealed in the gospel, are ingrafted upon the moral law. The social principle is never lost sight of. As a band of brothers, as fellow labourers and good yoke fellows, the authority of the law addresses them, and calls them together to the rallying point of social worship, whether public or private, to take the cup of salvation, to call upon the name of the Lord, and to pay their vows unto the Lord, in the presence of all his people. They are collected, as a number of grains are gathered together, and incorporated into one loaf of bread,*[1 Cor. 10:17.] For we being many, are one bread, and one body. Feeling the force of the sacred obligations under which they are laid, they join hand in hand, in the discharge of every duty. Professing the same faith, believing the same testimony, holding the same doctrines, and offering the same prayers, they set to the same seal, and enter into the same vow in the solemn Eucharistic festivity, when, in the most intimate communion, which is exhibited or enjoyed on this side heaven, they all eat one bread, and are all made to drink into one Spirit.
II. How far ought the communion of Saints to be extended.
1. That communion of charity and sympathy, which consists in relieving the necessities of those in distress, and supplying the wants of the poor and needy, ought to be extended to all who profess to be lovers of Jesus, and who, in their daily conversation evince, that they are his friends. It might be enquired whether the charitable liberality and beneficence of Christians, ought not to be extended to all the needy sons and daughters of Adam, as far as in our power? And the answer, we cheerfully give, in the affirmative. It undoubtedly ought. But the claim is not of the same nature with that, which a child of God has upon you, O! believer in Jesus. Descended from the same common stock—possessing the same common nature—made of the same flesh and blood and subject to similar wants. All the offspring of Adam are brethren, whether believers in the Redeemer or not. By the common tie of kindred blood—by the indissoluble bond of human nature, they are more closely allied to one another than they possibly can be to creatures of another kind. Their claims upon each other are peculiar also. But added to the common bond of identity of nature and kindred blood, the members of Christ’s mystical body have claims upon each other, arising from the unity of that body, and the relation they bear to each other. There is an especially to the household of faith, because they are the household of faith. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.*[Gal. 6:10.]
2. To all, to whom, in the judgment of charity, we may apply the name of Christian, we ought to extend our Christian communion.
With all such, we ought, as we may have opportunity, to pray and converse about religious things. Joint craving of Heaven’s blessing on the food of our table—praising God in company—united thanksgiving for the mercies of the bountiful Giver of all good, is the indispensable duty of all who name the name of Jesus, when in the course of Providence an opportunity is afforded, for such private and Christian communion. All real Christians love one another. They all love Christ, and cannot but love all who bear his image. And this is the characteristic mark of all who love him—they have his Father’s name written in their foreheads. All such will delight to mingle their voices, their hearts and affections, in religious exercises. They will speak of Christ—of the wonders of his love, and the wonders of his grace, with pleasure and delight. They will join in his praises. They will talk together in recommending him more and more. The theme is inexhaustible. They will unite in addressing him, for they love prayer, and they have one heart. One spirit actuates them.
3. But that communion which is strictly ecclesiastical,*[See Note C.] is to be extended only to such as agree in the same terms of church communion. Can two walk together except they be agreed.†[Amos 3:3.] Undoubtedly they cannot. They would fall out by the way. If brethren dwell together, it must be in unity, or their character will be extremely unbecoming.
Without calling up the idea of church communion, all that are reputed Christians, may worship God together, because in their acts of worship, they are, in the main, agreed. The principal part of their worship will be prayer. In this, all Christians think and act nearly alike. They speak the same language, for they feel the same wants, they approach through the same medium, and form the same conceptions of that Great Being whom they address, and whom they love. But a visible church requires a public connection, and definite terms of communion, on which all its members agree, and on the footing of which, they appear as a consolidated body, publicly espousing the cause of their Redeemer, supporting his interest, and opposing all who are hostile to his rightful claims.
Every association of men, necessarily requires some specific articles of agreement, or principles of combination on which they associate. This forms a test of fidelity, or bond of agreement, which every individual member gives to the whole association. Having the same views, they voluntarily agree, to prosecute the same ends, by the same means.—Approving of these, and engaging faithfully to abide by them, every member is entitled to the full enjoyment of the privileges and the protection of that association. All others are, of course, excluded. These principles of association—these conditions of membership, are the terms of communion, of that society. Now, it is not easy to see how any association, civil or religious, could exist without such regulations, or terms of membership. “They seem, indeed, to result from the very nature of society,” amongst mankind. And shall we suppose, that the Church of Christ, the most precious—the most excellent—the most orderly, and the best regulated association upon earth, shall be without her specific articles of agreement—her conditions of membership, and terms of communion? Far from it. She is a visible society, and she has her bond of agreement, among her members—Soundness in the faith and a becoming conversation. The divine Head of the church has strictly enjoined it upon every member of this spiritual association; earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints. JUDE verse 3. See also 1 Cor 1:10. Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.*[Eph. 4:3-5.] Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—one body and one Spirit—one Lord, one faith, one baptism. And there was given me a reed like unto a rod, and the Angel stood saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.†[Rev. 11:1.] Stand fast in one Spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel.‡[Phil. 1:27.] It is evident, from the above passages, that express and explicit terms of communion are required in the fellowship of the Christian Church. Union in sentiment, and oneness in judgment—No divisions but speaking the same thing, and with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, cannot by any rational and fair interpretation mean any thing less than a cordial agreement in terms of ecclesiastical communion. It is to ascertain this unity and oneness of judgment, that confessions of faith and testimonies in behalf of truth and in opposition to error, are necessary. These declare in what sense, those who hold communion together, understand and profess the doctrines of salvation—in what sense they hold fast the form of sound words, and contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints, so that they who take sweet counsel together, and walk to the house of God in company, may be of one mind and speak the same thing.
4. Ministerial communion may be extended to all those ministers of the gospel who agree in the same public standards, and to them only.
There is a fellowship in breaking the bread of life to the people of God. It is true, there is a communion in the church, common to the rulers and the ruled—to the officers and the private members. Every officer, whether civil or religious, is also a member of that Commonwealth, or Church, in which he is an officer. He stands, in some respects, in an individual or private capacity, as well as others, and in that relation, there is a communion, common to him and them. Such is the communion of church members, as such. The highest officer in the Church of God receives the ordinances of the church, administered to him, not as an officer, but as a member of the church. At the Lord’s table he is a fellow communicant, in common with the rest, who, with him, break the bread of communion, and drink the cup of holy fellowship, “dividing them among themselves.” But there is, distinct from this, a fellowship which is official—a communion, which is properly ministerial. This is peculiar to them in their official character. It is in a special manner, necessary, that they speak the same thing, and teach the same doctrine. That their prayers and instructions, shall be all regulated by one standard. They may be viewed as officers in an army, all under the authority, and subject to the orders of one commander in chief. Agreement in understanding their instructions, unity of operation, and harmony in discharging their several duties, are evidently necessary. Nor will the supreme commander be satisfied with less. But the ministers of the sanctuary are all watchmen on Zion’s walls, and it becomes them to see, eye to eye, and, indeed, this is promised, when the LORD shall bring again Zion. They blow the trumpet of the everlasting gospel, and must give a distinct and certain sound. No discordant notes, no jarring sounds must be suffered to interrupt the pleasing harmony. The ministerial office is a unity, and no reason can be given for dividing it. If those who bear this office, cannot hold communion together, in one part of it, they cannot, consistently, in another. Those who cannot subscribe the same terms of communion, cannot interchange in any part of their official or ministerial duty. The house of God is like its glorious owner, full of order, and not of confusion.
5. Judicial communion may be extended to all those officers in the church, who rule according to the laws of the house. They must be agreed in their views of the government of the church. The different views of church government, so far as they are reducible to any regular and systematic form, may all be classed with one or other of the three following, viz. Prelacy, Independency and Presbytery. All who maintain an official superiority and inferiority in the Christian ministry, dignitaries, superior orders, or grades invested with office above a preaching elder, are reducible, in their ecclesiastical regimen, to prelacy.
All who view official commissions in the church, as radically in the community at large, and refuse to any court, a power of governing or judging, in common, the several congregations belonging to the church, but that each congregation is competent, to its own self-government, independent of every other, are reducible to the system of independency.
All who maintain that the power of church discipline and government, is by the head of the church, entrusted to the office-bearers, or public, and regularly called ministry of the church, in the capacity of ruling elders, contend for Presbyterial Church government.—This is that government which Christ has appointed for his visible society on earth. The ministers of Zion, according to the express declarations of the Redeemer, stand together, upon a perfect equality. Every attempt at superiority is pointedly prohibited by the Redeemer. Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you. One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.*[Matt. 20:25, 26; and 23:8.]
With the teaching Presbyters, the Head of the Church hath associated in the government of the church, other Presbyters who only rule. Their courts, inferior and superior, are appointed by the Lord of the house. How absurd to suppose, that those who hold different views and opinions about these very courts, and the kind of officers that are to compose them, could jointly sit down and hold communion together, in judicial transactions. Would not their decisions be a mass of confusion, and self-contradiction, in direct opposition to the character Christ gives of his Spouse; I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses, in Pharaoh’s chariots.†[Song 1:9.]
To the doctrine thus stated, and illustrated, many objections are made. In head III. we shall notice some of the most plausible.
Obj. 1. There is no such limitation of communion “so much as noticed in the word of God.” Why did not Christ, or his Apostles, caution “against the peril of a free communion, among all who are visible Christians?” The only term of communion authorized by Christ in the New Testament, is “visible Christianity.”*[Dr. (John M.)Mason’s Plea for Sacramental Communion, pp. 37, 307.]
Ans. 1. What is taught in scripture, is of equal authority, whether it be stated expressly in so many words, or indirectly, and by necessary consequence. An argument for explicit terms, in admitting to the communion of the church, may be fairly drawn from the commission given to the Apostles, by their risen Lord.†[Matt. 28:20.] He authorized them to administer the seals of the new covenant. But he, at the same time, gave it in charge to them, to accompany the administration of these seals, with the instructing of the nations in the knowledge of the truth. Not merely that truth, or those few truths, that may be called fundamental, or essential, but all the different articles of his revealed will. Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.—Was not this really a term of communion, as extensive as that contended for in the doctrine objected to? And will any venture to affirm, that the Apostles administered the seals of the covenant without any engagement to this requisition?
2. The conduct of the Apostles confirms the doctrine of explicit terms of communion. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper alike embrace, and seal the communion of the church. We shall examine their conduct in relation to both.
On the memorable day of Pentecost, when, after the hearing of Peter’s sermon, the hearers cried out, what shall we do? The term of admission to the privilege of baptism, and of course, to the communion of the church, was Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.‡[Acts 2:38.] It is unnecessary to explain all this. The sum of it is this, embrace the Christian Religion in all its doctrines—On this footing, you shall be admitted to the communion of the Church of Christ, and receive the seals of his covenant. They who complied with the terms laid down, were taken into communion—verse 41. Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized. How extensive this expression, his word? How much of divine truth does it comprehend? Does it exclude any articles of revealed truth? We never contended for more than this.
Let us consider the Ethiopian Eunuch.*[Acts 8:27-39.] After Philip, the Evangelist, had preached unto him an excellent gospel sermon, and explained to him the true nature of the Messiah, and that Jesus of Nazareth was he, the Eunuch expressed a desire to be baptized. Philip proposed to him a simple but comprehensive term of communion. If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. This proposition reduplicated upon all that Philip had preached, and embraced an acknowledgment of all revealed truth, known to the Eunuch. His answer plainly supposes this. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.
The same doctrine is exemplified and confirmed in the case of Cornelius, the centurion, and those that were with him. Now, therefore, are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.†[Acts 10:33.] This was a willing and cheerful acquiescence, in the truth, the whole truth taught by the Apostle, so soon as it was made known to them. Thus instructed, and thus professing their faith in the Redeemer, and submission to his law, they were baptized. “This was visible Christianity,” an excellent term of communion.‡[See Note D.]
Nor were the Apostles less pointed and explicit, in their terms of admission to the Lord’s Supper. Continuing stedfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine, is inseparably connected with the church’s fellowship and breaking of bread.*[Acts 2:42.] Such was the Apostle’s zeal that the communion of the church should be kept pure and harmonious, according to the truth of the gospel—the test, or term of communion, and that the truth might continue with the brethren, that to such as did not submit unto it, he would not give place by subjection, no not for an hour.†[Gal. 2:4, 5.] From which, it is abundantly evident, that the communion of the church, as limited, as that for which we plead, was that which was enjoined by Christ and his Apostles, and practised in the earliest period of the Christian Church.
Obj. 2. “Every church refusing to hold communion with another, does, by that fact, declare herself to be too pure for such communion, i.e., that such communion would contaminate her in the eyes of her God, and bring down upon her the tokens of his displeasure.” And “before she venture upon such high and dangerous ground, she must be very sure of her own pretensions, very sure that the mantle of her excluding zeal does not cover offences against the Lord her God, quite as provoking as those which she charges upon others—that there is no place for the Jewish proverb, Physician heal thyself.”‡[Plea for Sac. Com., p. 301.]
Ans. The spirit of this objection is, that refusing to hold communion, with all churches: who may be churches of Christ, whatever may be their defections or errors, betrays a spirit of supercilious self-importance, and that a church must be perfectly pure—no place for the proverb, Physician heal thyself, before she dare withhold her communion from any other church of Christ, however erroneous.
This objection will, no doubt, be popular. It is addressed, not to the understanding, but to the feelings of Christians. And there are many more who are actuated by feeling, than those who are governed by understanding and judgment.
But let us examine it more closely. “Every Church,” says the objector, “refusing to hold communion with another, does, by that fact, declare herself to be too pure for such communion.” And, therefore, would be acting wrong. This must be the conclusion, or where is the force of the argument? Whatever, therefore, would declare us “too pure for communion,” with any, must be wrong.—And this is further illustrated, by stating, that “there must be no place for the Jewish proverb, Physician heal thyself,” i.e., we must be altogether perfect; nothing, with which, in the court of conscience, we may charge ourselves, before we refuse communion with any. This would, at once, put an end to all church censure, unless we could find men to inflict the censure, to whom the proverb would in no way apply. Such men, it is presumed, will not soon be found. A real Christian may fall into scandal. We cannot, it is true, judge the heart. But not unfrequently is it the case, that men are left, in the providence of God, to fall into scandal, whom, the judgment of charity may, nevertheless, allow to be real Christians. And must we really hold communion with such, unless there be no place for the application of the proverb to us, physician heal thyself? Surely, our own purity or impurity, is not the rule of duty. Whatsoever I have commanded you, is the rule, and the only rule. The Head of the church had a right to give the law, and his authority, and not our own purity, is the formal ground of our obedience.
But after all, where would be the impropriety of doing as we are commanded, even though it should say, “we were too pure for such communion.” There is some communion, for which, we really ought to be too pure. When Joseph said to his mistress, How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God, it might have been retorted to him, in the language of the objection, “You declare by this, that you are too pure for this communion, you would need to be very sure of your own pretensions, before you venture upon such high and dangerous ground.” Assuredly he ought to have been very sure of his own pretensions. But if he had not—if he had not been able to say, “there is no place for the proverb, Physician heal thyself,” would that have justified him in complying?—For surely the objection carries this idea, if there is impurity about you both, you ought to hold communion together. Any thing like a divine command, as the rule of obedience, is kept entirely out of view. It may be objected to all this, that the case is not in point, because compliance in Joseph’s case, would have been a sin. Granted, it would have been a sin. But the communion pled for in the objection, would be no sin. Whether is that fact, or begging the question?
Obj. 3. “To refuse communion with a church, or with her members, is, in effect, to unchurch her, and to declare that she is no church, and that her members are no followers of Jesus Christ—it can be viewed as nothing less than an excommunication in disguise.”*[Plea, p. 302.]
Ans. 1. It, might be, perhaps, a sufficient answer to this objection, to say, Non valet consequentia. The conclusion is not contained in the premises. But let us hear the argument. For to assert that it is not, or that it is, may be alike a begging the question.
It is enquired, by the objector, “What is excommunication, (the heaviest penalty in the Kingdom of God) but a judicial exclusion from the communion of the church, on account of the unworthiness of the excommunicated.”*[Plea, p. 302.] Now, it does not appear, how these other churches and their members, can be subjects of judicial cognizance, in any church, to whom they are not accountable, and who have no jurisdiction over them. By the hypothesis, the one is without the communion of the other. But excommunication is “a judicial exclusion from the communion of the church.” It is not perceived, how those could be cast out of communion, who had not been in communion. Nor does it appear that withholding communion, from those not in our communion, is an unchurching, or excommunicating them. But an explanation is given by the objector, “a judicial exclusion from the communion of the church, on account of the unworthiness of the excommunicated; i.e., the unlawfulness of holding communion with them.” The precise idea of the objector does not readily occur—What is the word unlawfulness intended to explain? From the word unworthiness being also put in italics, it would appear that unlawfulness is explanatory of it. But the unworthiness of the excommunicated, is not the unlawfulness of holding communion with them, though it may be a reason for its being unlawful to hold communion with them. Nor can “the unlawfulness of holding communion with them,” be exegetical of the whole sentence, though it may be a result from it.—For a “judicial exclusion from,” &c. and “the unlawfulness of holding communion,” do not identify. What then can he intended by this confusion of ideas—even of language itself? Is it argument? Certainly not. Is it with a design that it may “draw deep”—that it may alarm the religious feelings of weak, but pious minds? The mere refusing to admit to the communion table, Christians who do not believe our creed, and, whose creed we do not believe, is represented as the same thing, with the most awful deed of the church judicative. An exclusion from the visible church—a delivering over to Satan—a separating the wretched outcast from the holy walks of Mount Zion, to wander unblessed and cheerless in the unhallowed grounds of the world’s common—the same thing, as to declare this, perhaps, Christian brother, a blasphemer and a profligate.*[“What more can they do to the blasphemer and the profligate?” Plea for Sac. Com., p. 303.]
And does the fact of not admitting to the Lord’s table a Christian, who cannot agree with our terms of communion, say all this? Would your declining to receive to your family table, a person who would willingly participate with you, or your refusal to partake with a respectable neighbour, when invited by him, say, that you counted such men the vilest of characters? It is not pretended, by this, that the tables are alike, but that the principle is the same, and if the consequence—the “therefore,” follow in the one case, it will in the other. But it is refused that it would fairly and legitimately follow in either. And such, also, appears to be the judgment of the objector himself, when he says, that “a church, in her collective capacity, does not withdraw herself from communion with an offender; she authoritatively puts him away from her communion.”*[Plea for Sac. Com., p. 337.]
So it seems, after all, that the mere withholding from communion, is a very different thing, from authoritatively putting away, or judicial excommunication. Indeed, no man who would seriously and coolly reason, could so "gamble with his own understanding—as to adopt such a monstrous “therefore,”†[Ibid., p. 340.] that because the church withholds her communion from those who do not agree with her terms of communion—therefore she excommunicates them—because she lets them alone, therefore she draws the sword against them!
Obj. 4. All Christians are agreed, or nearly so, in their views of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; why then, may they not take this family meal together? All Christians, whatever may be their creed, have a common interest in the provision which Christ has appointed, for the nutriment, growth and consolation of his body, and all have a right to shew forth his death till he come.
Ans. This is, perhaps, the most specious and imposing of all the objections that are made to a limited communion. It requires to be particularly examined.
1. It may be proper to enquire into the nature of this ordinance, as it respects the church. It is not only a seal of the covenant of grace, but as every sacrament must be, it is, also, a seal of church membership and of church privileges. There is no more intimate pledge, of the fullest communion, in God’s visible covenant society upon earth. It is an oath of fidelity to the Christian’s King, that all who thus eat and drink together, do sacramentally pledge themselves, that they will co-operate as a band of brothers, in faithfully promoting his interest. That they will defend his honour, and earnestly contend for all his rights. It surely then, behooves them to be agreed about that honour, and about those rights. Otherwise, they might oppose one another, and be obliged to testify against one another, in relation to this very subject. Would this be to drink into one spirit?
2. Union in the Lord’s Supper, declares, a union in our views of doctrine and church order—of the great principles of our faith and duty; otherwise, it is an unprincipled communion.*[See Note E.] For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread. Are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?†[1 Cor. 10:17, 18.]
3. The communion pled for in the objection, is deficient in relation to the qualifications required in the word of God. Open ye, the gates, that the righteous nation WHICH KEEPETH THE TRUTH may enter in.‡[Isa. 26:2.] The gates of the church’s communion must be opened to the righteous nation that keepeth the truth. The pure church of Christ, are not only Saints, a righteous nation, but they also bear testimony faithfully for truth—all truth, in opposition to error. They keep the truth. Men may be Christians, and not keep the truth, all the truth. The hundred and forty-four thousand that are with the Lamb on Mount Zion, are saved sinners, yet they are not the two witnesses that prophecy in sackcloth.§[Rev. 14:1-5; 11:3-12.] They are not testimony bearers, as the two witnesses are.
4. There is an absurdity in admitting to the most intimate communion of the church, those, over whom, that church has no control. Not being subject to the judicatories of the church, whose communion they have shared; discipline, should there be afterwards need to exercise it, must be entirely lost, as to them. For, according to the objection they belong to a family in the church, over whom the administrators of this communion, have no official power. The subject is without their jurisdiction, and they cannot judge him.
5. This communion is self-contradictory. The parties are of different communions. They have previously pledged themselves to different public creeds. Yet at the sacramental table they declare that they are one—One bread, and drinking into one spirit. At that moment their hearts belie their public profession. They arise from the communion table, and immediately take up, each his own creed, and declare their union a farce. Or else they mutually recognise each other’s creed—the same from which they differ! Can any thing be more contradictory?
This self-contradiction will further appear in the article of testimony-bearing. Those that are faithful in the house of God, are witnesses for him. Ye are witnesses saith the Lord.*[Isa. 43:10.] It is the business of a witness to give testimony. His witnesses bear testimony in behalf of truth and in opposition to error.—They testify against the enemies of God, as enemies, and against his unfaithful friends, because they are to be blamed for their unfaithfulness. There are, sometimes, such corruptions so interwoven with the constitutions of churches, and so conspicuous in their daily administrations, that we are obliged, if we would be faithful, to lift up a testimony against them. But how self-contradictory must it be, to join in the most intimate union and fellowship with those against whom we are holding up a testimony, because of their unfaithfulness! Where is our testimony in the moment of communion? Are we then ceasing to hear the instruction that causeth to err?*[Prov. 19:27.]
6. Much stress is laid, in this objection, on the right which all believers have, to commemorate the death of their Redeemer.—Sometimes the right is represented as a privilege, sometimes as a duty, and either way it is thought a most formidable objection.
It is granted, that the idea, both of privilege and duty, is contained in a right. As a privilege, the argument is taken, wholly from the fact of their being Christians. Being children, they have a right to the children’s bread. But this shifting the ground of church fellowship, from an agreement in the faith and practice of true religion, to the supposed Christianity of men, will be found a dangerous experiment. Indeed, it is sometimes granted by the objectors themselves, that the mere fact of Christianity is not enough. For it seems, that Noah, and Lot, and David, and Peter, though admitted to be children of God, yet at some periods of their lives, would not have been entitled to the children’s bread, even while they retained the seed of God, or in other words, they would not have been entitled to the full communion of the church?†[Plea for Sac. Com., p. 321.] They admit that “Christianity of the heart, unattested by Christianity of the mouth, in a good confession, and of the life, in fruit unto holiness, is to the Church no Christianity at all.”
The ground pled for then, is simply this, that those, whose profession of faith is according to the pattern shewed in the Mount, and whose conversation is such as becometh the Gospel, are entitled to communion. And to the admission of such characters, it is confidently believed, no advocate for the most limited terms of communion, would have the least objection.
Nor is it perceived that the objection is more formidable, when viewed as a duty. It is asked—“Is it, or is it not the duty of Christians in all true churches to shew forth the Lord’s death in the Sacrament of the Supper?”*[Plea &c., p. 20.] And to this we unhesitatingly answer, it is not only the duty of “Christians in all true churches, to shew forth the Lord’s death in the Sacrament of the Supper,” but it is also the duty of all who are not Christians, but living in a Christian land, and who are in possession of the exercise of their rational powers, even the most ungodly, profane, mockers of religion—the vilest of the vile, to shew forth the Lord’s death in the Sacramental Supper. It does not appear that their wickedness can loose them from obligation. And the Redeemer enjoins it upon all to whom these presents come, as they may have opportunity, to do this in remembrance of him. They are not only bound by his authority to do this, but they must also do it as he has commanded. All men have a right to do right. But no man can have a right to do wrong. If an allowance to do wrong, in something or other, be not pled for by the objector, what doth the reasoning prove? All will surely grant, that all men have a right to do their duty?†[See Note F.]
Obj. 5, is taken from our Confession of Faith, Chap. XXVI. Sect. 2. “Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those, who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Ans. 1. It is certainly a fact, that the Scriptures referred to, as proofs, by the Compilers of the Westminster Confession, evidently apply to relieving the wants, and contributing to the necessities of the Saints. But,
2. Let it be applied to the communion of the church in sealing ordinances, which very probably was the meaning of the Compilers of the Confession, then this “calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus,” will be either according to the manner he has appointed to be done, in his own institutions and ordinances, or it will not. If the former, we have no objection. This is precisely what we contend for. If the latter, which would be a breach of the laws of God, it is firmly believed, that our Westminster Divines never did intend any such communion.
Obj. 6. “It is our duty to heal the divisions and breaches that are in the Christian church, but to forbid occasional communion among the churches, which hold the head and agree in fundamentals, instead of healing, tends to widen the breaches, and keep professed Christians apart.”
Ans. 1. That the breaches and divisions in Zion, shall be healed, is promised of God, and it is criminal to keep the churches unnecessarily apart. It is our duty to pray earnestly for their healing, and use all lawful means in our power, to promote such a desirable effect.
But it is humbly presumed, that occasional communion among those who entertain different creeds, would be to heal them slightly, which is severely reproved by the Lord. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, peace, peace; when there is no peace.*[Jer. 8:11.] It is impossible that there can be any salutary healing, until those churches, who have either denied, or refused to own, any article of divine truth, shall be brought to see, and acknowledge, that they have, thereby wounded the Redeemer’s interest and glory. And until those who have already made unnecessary divisions, shall be disposed to return and retrace their footsteps.
On this subject, the mother truly may complain; but the children whom she has brought up, and who have rebelled against her, have cause to be ashamed.
2. That the churches shall all be one, i.e., shall all agree, in the same terms of communion, we have reason to believe will assuredly be the case in the glorious Millennium, but not before it. Until that time the two witnesses will be finishing their testimony, against the anti-christian apostacy.*[See Note G.] And until they shall have finished it, there will be something to testify against, in relation to that which constitutes their character. They are called two, not only because the law of God requires, at least, that number, to establish a testimony, but also because they testify in behalf of God’s two cardinal ordinances—a scriptural magistracy and a gospel ministry,†[See Note H.] which antichrist is endeavouring universally to corrupt. The plan of universal healing, therefore, sooner than according to prophecy we have a right to expect it, will be rather a jumbling together of discordant bodies, than a communion of those who profess one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
We are informed of a certainty, that in the immediate dominions of antichrist—the western Roman empire, during the whole time of his reign, the two witnesses shall be a distinct body, not only from the world that lieth in wickedness, but likewise from the hundred and forty-four thousand, who are also Christians, for they are with the Lamb on Mount Zion, and have his Father’s name written on their foreheads. But these do not, like the two witnesses, torment and irritate the men that dwell upon the earth, by testifying against them.—They consequently do not subject themselves to suffering, as the witnesses do. Now, as similar causes produce similar effects, there may be found in other countries, that are not the immediate territories of the anti-christian empire, Christians who espouse the same testimony with the witnesses, and are in full communion with them. They will find the men of the world, as well as temporizing Christians, actuated by the same spirit every where. And like the woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, on whose head is the crown of twelve stars, where antichrist claims his kingdom, they will be obliged to remain in the wilderness, denying themselves the privileges and the smiles of the city, until the forty and two months are fulfilled. But how is this consistent with the universal amalgamation into one communion (even though it should be only occasional) of all who are called, or professed Christians? Where then are the witnesses?
3. “Holding the head,” and “agreeing in fundamentals,” or “essentials,” is resorted to on all occasions, by the advocates for what is called a free or catholic communion.
It is freely granted, that there are, in the system of grace, some things of greater relative importance than others—some things, the knowledge and belief of which, are essential to the very being of Christians; while others are not. And it would, certainly, be highly improper to consider all these as equally fundamental. But it does not appear, how the distinction comes to have any weight in this argument.
It is not a dispute about the comparative importance of fundamental truths, or whether every truth revealed, should be known and acknowledged, or not. The question is about the maintaining, or refusing, some of these truths when they are known. Whether any of them be of so little importance—so circumstantial, that we may admit to the communion of the church, those who deny them? And for our own part, we hesitate not to confess ourselves on the unpopular side.
We cannot believe that we are at liberty to set aside, or nullify any law, or doctrine of Jehovah, because it is of comparatively less importance than some others. The pins of the tabernacle, were not to be compared to the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, or the cherubims of beaten gold; yet was not Moses at any more liberty to deviate from the pattern, in the making of a pin, than in preparing the furniture of the holy of holies. In Ezra 1:9-11, we are informed that Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, brought up from Babylon, after the captivity, “nine and twenty knives,” which belonged to the sacred vessels of the house of the Lord. This is a fact of comparatively little value, and thousands of sinners may have been saved by the blood of Jesus, who never knew, during the whole course of their lives, that such a fact had taken place.—But supposing a man who knew that this fact was recorded in the Bible, would deny the truth of it, and declare that the writer was an impostor, and that such a relation was utterly unfit for divine revelation; how then? Was he still fit for communion, supposing him to deny no fundamental truth? Again, we could suppose a Christian man, who did not know that when David uttered the dreadful imprecatory prayer, Set thou a wicked man over him, and let Satan stand at his right hand—Let his days be few, and let another take his office, &c.*[Psalm 109:6-19.] that the Holy Ghost, in that passage, spake of Judas Iscariot.†[Acts 1:16.] And yet his not knowing that truth, which is of minor importance, compared with the declaration, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God—the only Saviour of sinners, might comport with his holding the head. But suppose, after he knew this, he would still insist, David here indulges a malicious and vindictive spirit—The language and the sentiment, are contrary to the spirit of the New Testament, and consequently unworthy of God, and unfit to be sung in his praises; is the man still fit for communion? Yet in neither of these cases, has any one of those truths called fundamental, been denied; while in both cases, the persons have gone over to the camp of deism.
There is a deception practised upon less knowing, though well meaning Christians, by employing the reasoning of the objection, to justify the prevailing, but it seems, unwarrantable practice of occasional communion, amongst those who are far from being agreed in their articles of faith. Still the idea of our being imperfect creatures—knowing but in part—the things contended for, being of little moment, and the like, are made the ostensible ground, while the true spirit of the objection is, that there are some truths of God that are of so little moment, that we may believe them or not, according to circumstances‡[See Note I.]—Some commands of Jehovah, possessing so little obligation, that we may obey, or not obey them at pleasure! How unlike the injunction of our ascended Lord, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.*[Matt. 28:20.]
Obj. 7. A limited communion is contrary to the practice of the church, as it existed in the Apostles’ days—contrary to the practice of the primitive church, which immediately succeeded the days of the Apostles; and contrary to the practice of the churches of the reformation.†[Plea &c., p. 27.]
Ans. The practice of the Apostles in receiving members to the fellowship and communion of the church, has already been considered, in answering the first objection;‡[See page 20, #2.] and it has been found to give no countenance to the modern Catholicism in communion, so strenuously contended for in this objection. It may be further observed that there is no parallelism between the state of the church then and now, in relation to the article of dispute. The Redeemer had organized, before his ascension, the New Testament church. He had given commission to the extraordinary officers, who were then necessary in her peculiar condition, and authorised and instructed them to settle her ecclesiastical polity. The idea of distinct churches, with distinct or separate communions, had then no place. All was predicated upon the ground of the one church of Christ, with one and the same doctrines and terms of communion. Whatever differences might spring up among individual members, or societies in that communion, never affected their standing as a church. The peculiarities, if erroneous, were corrected; if indifferent, they were borne with; if heretical, scandalous, or immoral, after suitable discipline had been previously exercised, without producing the desired effect, they were excommunicated.—So it ought to be in all communions.
But the church, at present, is far different in her visible appearance, from what she was in the Apostles’ days. There are now separate churches, with their separate creeds and terms of communion. It ought not to be so. There is a fault somewhere. Who made the divisions?—But so it is. As this was not the case in the Apostolical church, reasoning from the one to the other is inconsequential and sophistical.
2. The case of the primitive church is of the same nation. The same principle of unity in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, which pervaded the Apostolical church, operated to a certain degree, in the primitive church which succeeded it, after the death of the Apostles.
It is true, that departures in some things, soon began to take place. Occasional inroads were made on the simplicity and purity of scripture doctrines and institutions. Indeed, these had begun to shew themselves, even in the Apostles’ days.
But let it be remembered, the church was still one great family. Her terms of communion appear to have been the same. The departures were made by members who had regularly belonged, or had been introduced, to that family. And it would not have been proper, rashly to have withheld from them the family benefits, even when, in some things, they were not acting altogether according to the family order. Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, dwells with earnestness upon the unity of the faith, and represents the church, however widely scattered, still as one family, and as if inhabiting a single house. Such too, appear to have been the ideas of Cyprian, and indeed, of all the early fathers of the primitive church.
But now we have churches formed out of churches; independent communions, with their peculiar creeds and tenets, differing widely from one another—And shall all these, in spite of their discordant principles, and jarring terms of communion, claim to themselves the unity of the Apostolical, or even the primitive churches?
3. The churches of the reformation are supposed to be hostile in their practice, to a limited communion. The sentiments and the conduct of the early reformers, and the confessions of faith of all the reformed churches, are vigorously pressed into the services of modern Catholicism, in the article of communion.*[See Note K.]—Let it, however, be considered, that there is also here a want of parallelism between their case, and that which it is brought to support. They were all emerging from Popery. They were making their escape from superstition, despotism and tyranny. It behooved them, as far as in their power, mutually to co-operate in the struggle against the common foe. Is there any fair reasoning from the case of a people emerging from darkness, and in the act of reforming from gross superstition, to that of a people who have long enjoyed the blessings of that reformation—the ancient system regenerated—their confession of faith adopted, and the whole form of their ecclesiastical polity, established according to the word of God?—Certainly not.
Still it is urged, that the reformed churches, notwithstanding their different confessions of faith, held occasional communion with each other; and consequently, if we withhold communion from Christians differing from us, we contradict their practice.
But still the cases are not parallel—nor were the reformers correct in every thing. The reformed churches were generally, what were called National churches, and acted upon the ground of civil establishments of religion.—The principle of the church’s unity in all the nations of the earth, was not duly appreciated, by the majority of the early reformers. The struggle in which they were engaged—the difficulties they had to encounter—the dangers to which they were exposed—the want of opportunities for mutual consultation; together with the worldly policy of the civil rulers who joined them, and by whom they were in some measure protected, had a tendency to divert their minds from sufficiently attending to this principle, in the formation of their ecclesiastical systems. Happy would it have been for the church, had all the reformers possessed such accurate views of her unity as did the great John Calvin. His comprehensive mind embraced this subject in all its bearings. But his excellent plan for consolidating all the friends of the reformation, in every country, into one church, was unhappily frustrated.—The great body of the reformers, confined their views of uniformity to their own country. In concert with the civil authorities, the officers of the church laboured to obtain a uniformity in religion, in the kingdoms or nations to which they respectively belonged, as if the church in their district had been the whole church of Christ on earth.
The ministry were too inattentive to the church’s independency of the civil governments; while the civil rulers, taking advantage of this, endeavoured to make the church, in her external form, a creature of state policy, and but too far succeeded. Hence their ecclesiastical constitutions, and confessions, instead of preserving that unity which ought to subsist, among the different branches of one great family—were, in a great measure, moulded into the frame of the respective civil governments where they were made. Their ecclesiastical standards respectively, became the bond of their own internal communion—while, as separate and independent governments, they held a friendly correspondence. They did not condemn each other’s establishments, nor did they view their respective confessions of faith as erroneous. They admitted also an occasional communion with each other, according to circumstances. This communion, however, was rather external than internal.
But had their views of unity been never so correct, and should this communion be admitted, in the utmost latitude in which they practised it, it affords not the least countenance to the kind of communion, which it is called to support. The communion pled for in the objection, is not that external communion which subsisted among the different churches of the reformation; but an internal communion, between a church who has adopted certain standards, and those around her who do not agree with these standards; and even such as have organized themselves on an entirely different plan, provided, she can in the judgment of charity, believe them to be pious. In order to make the practice of the reformers, and the churches of the reformation bear upon the question, it should be shewn, that in their respective organized churches, they admitted to communion those among themselves, who, in the judgment of charity, were to be esteemed pious, notwithstanding, they disagreed with their established order, opposed their confession of faith, and had an organized system of their own, in some things entirely opposite to the confession and order of those who admitted them. Precedents of this description, it is apprehended, will not easily be found.
We conclude with some practical inferences.
1. The social principle in man is most honourably and usefully exercised in the communion of the church. Here, indeed, it is ennobled, for it is engaged in acts of fellowship with the Divine Head himself, and with his precious members, whom he hath purchased with his blood, and who are the jewels of his crown. Let us ever bear in mind, that it is a holy fellowship—a communion of saints.
It concerns every one to know the character, and the distinguishing marks, of the true church of Christ. And knowing these, let the resolution forthwith be formed, I shall be there. Deplorable is the condition of those, who despise the membership, and make light of the fellowship of the church of God—who never could say, in the spiritual exercise of the social principle, we took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company.—Such are strangers to God’s covenant mercy. Their moral and social principles are low and groveling, unuseful and unhonoured, vile and polluted. The High Priest hath looked upon them, and pronounced them unclean. Without are dogs. Let us earnestly desire to be within the sanctuary of the house of the Lord.
But a mere name will profit little. Saul was found once and again among the prophets, but he was Saul still. Judas was once numbered with the Apostles, and had a name among the disciples, but he was entirely destitute of the grace of that gospel which he preached, and a total stranger to the spirit of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Let us ascertain the character of a real and genuine member of the house of the Lord. He is one who is united to Christ. He holds the head, because the Head hath taken hold of him. He is conformed to the Head, for the spirit of Jesus dwells in him. He loves the brethren, because he beholds in them the image, into which he himself is moulded.—He loves the house of God, and desires to be conformed to its laws, and to seek its good. He admires the beautiful order, symmetry and proportion of this house. He sees it to be a building fitly framed. He desires to maintain a character becoming those who dwell in the house of the Lord. And all is holy about it. Holiness becometh thine house, O LORD for ever. The communion is a holy communion. The members are called to be saints, and they answer the end of their holy calling. A principle of holiness is infused into their hearts. Their exercises are of a pure and holy nature. Here is the perfection of the social principle on earth. They unite in a holy song, and with one heart, and with one voice they praise the Lord, the King. Behold the goodly assembly! It is an holy convocation. It is the communion of saints, in the house of wine. They sit at the King’s table, and the King sits with them, and they eat and drink in his presence. They see his face, and they hear the gracious words that proceed out of his mouth. What a blessed family! God is their Father—Jesus is their elder Brother, and he is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and in him they behold the beauty of the Lord—the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
2. The revealed will of God is the rule of extension in the fellowship of the church.—How can two walk together except they be agreed? The members of the church must all drink into one spirit. Our own views, feelings or affections, must not guide us in the communion of the church of Christ. We walk by a rule. We must be careful not to make laws for the Lawgiver, but humbly learn his law, and do as we are commanded. We must never forget the principle of unity that pervades the church of Christ, and this we must hold, even though we should he obliged to withdraw from a brother walking disorderly. We must all speak the same thing. We must be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots. We must beware of indulging in plans and inventions of our own, or in those of others, having a specious pretension to more catholicism, liberality and charity, than others; lest be we found like David placing the ark of God on a new cart, instead of the shoulders of the Levites. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken, than the fat of rams.
The time is fast hastening on, when divisions shall be at an end—when all shall be one, according to divine appointment—the time when there shall be one LORD and his name one—one LORD, one faith, one baptism. But let us not go before God, and anticipate the promise. He that believeth, shall not make haste. And Sarai said unto Abram, behold now the LORD hath restrained me from bearing, I pray thee go in unto my maid.*[Gen. 16:2.] Let us not try to force the millennium before the time, lest the seed should not be the child of promise—Ishmael and not Isaac. Let us, with a firm reliance upon God’s promise, wait his own time, and not “go out of the way of duty, to catch at expected mercy.”
3. It is highly criminal to do any thing, that would unjustly, or unnecessarily mar the communion, or interrupt the fellowship of the church of God. The silken cords that bind the members of the sacred family together, should not rashly be broken. Whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.—Mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.†[Rom. 16:17.] They must answer it to God, who tear the bowels of the church of Christ without a cause. We are commanded to plead with our mother, and to plead again.‡[Hos. 2:2.] Nor may any leave the communion of the church of Christ, any where, so long as they may remain in it without sin.
It becomes us also to beware of doing any thing that may grieve the generation of the righteous, or cause a weak brother to offend. The strong are bound to bear with the weak, yea even with their infirmities. To the weak many things are scruples of conscience, that to the strong are mere matters of indifference. How unchristian, then—how cruel must it be, in those who wound the conscience of a weak brother, in a matter which they themselves admit to be a thing indifferent. “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”*[1 Cor. 8:12, 13.] To the strong, it is a matter of indifference—to the weak it is a scruple of conscience, and that too, on account of his weakness. Who then should bear? Doubtless, the strong.
Love is the great cement of union. Let brotherly love continue. Let it be without dissimulation. Let us be kindly affectioned one to another. We are brethren. We are travelling together to the heavenly Canaan.—Let us remember the charge of Joseph to his brethren, “See that ye fall not out by the way.” “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
Let us not grieve the hearts of the people of God, by a conversation unbecoming the gospel.
When a professed member of the family of Christ unfits himself for the communion of that family, it makes the hearts of the children sad. The enemies exclaim in triumph, Art thou become as one of us? Religion receives a wound by the hand of a professed friend—the enemies of the LORD are furnished with great occasion to blaspheme, and the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. A scandal is brought upon the church, and the sweet counsel of the family is interrupted, by a member having rendered himself unclean. “For, thus saith the LORD GOD of Israel, there is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.”
4. It becomes us in the communion and fellowship of the church, to be witnesses for Christ our LORD. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD.” “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.” We are called to be witnesses, both for the sweetness of the counsel enjoyed in the house of God—in the communion of saints, and for the correctness and scriptural order of that communion.
The world are witnesses against him. They say, in effect, “there is no sweetness in the counsel which they take together, who go to the house of God in company.” Believer in Jesus, you know better. You know they are false witnesses. You can, by sweet experience, say, and you will not withhold your testimony, “He brought me into the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” “This is none other but the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.” You love the house, and the order of the house. You are pleased with the goings out, and the comings in thereof, and all the laws thereof. You have never found the Master of the house an austere man, or a hard master. On the contrary, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. You willingly bore your ear to the door posts of his house, and engage to be his servant forever.
We must also be witnesses for the correctness and scriptural order of the communion of the house of God. For this we must contend, and evidence it in our practice. Let us then seek that communion, where there is a true and faithful testimony for Christ, as King of Saints, and King of Nations. Let us be witnesses for a scriptural magistracy and a gospel ministry, these two cardinal ordinances of God, and both in the hand of the Redeemer—As governing his own house by his own ecclesiastical laws and ordinances, and as having Civil government in his hand to execute all its laws, and make it subservient to the interests of Zion. For the sake of his body, the church, he is made head over all things, and all power in heaven and on earth is delivered unto him. He rules the nations—he sits on the throne of his holiness. He sways a sceptre of righteousness over the concerns of the universe, for the sake of Zion the perfection of beauty. And that he may perfect the things that concern his church, in the administration of Providence, “he puts down one and sets another up.” “He shall remove the diadem, and take off the crown; exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. He shall overturn, overturn, overturn, and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is, and he will give it him.”*[Ezek. 21:26, 27.]
5. This subject calls upon us to bewail the divisions, that prevent the children of God; from taking sweet counsel together, and going to the house of God in company. Alas! for our sins, “the great Shepherd hath cut asunder his staff, even bands, that he might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.” Let us grieve for the afflictions of Joseph, and for the divisions of Reuben, let there be great searchings of heart. Let us earnestly pray that the Lord would heal all our breaches.—Let us also use all lawful endeavours, that they may be speedily and effectually healed. While we lament that the attempts that are generally made, are only to heal the wound of the daughter of Zion slightly, and to say peace, peace, when there is no peace.
Yet, let us be encouraged. The time is not far distant, when Zion shall arise, and put on her beautiful garments, and glorious things shall once more be spoken of tile city of the LORD. The time is fixed. Jesus hath declared the decree. In due time it shall bring forth. The LORD hath spoken, and himself will bring it to pass. “He will yet turn to his people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, and serve him with one consent.”
“The watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.” It is but a little while, until every impediment shall be removed, and every obstruction taken out of the way. And the LORD shall give his people one heart and one way. As there is but one LORD, so there shall be but one faith and one baptism.—“Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.” “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.” “The LORD will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and will raise up his ruins, and will build it as in the days of old.” “Thou, O LORD, shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favour her, yea the set time, is come.” “Sing O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it:—Shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.”