« PreviousContinue »
THE CHURCH: ITS SPIRIT AND WORK.
BY THE REV. G. HESTER. EVERYTHING, and every subject of discussion relating to the Church of Christ, and, therefore, to the present and eternal well-being of our fellowmen, ought to be interesting and attractive to the Christian mind. The Church of Christ, as a reality and not a mere name, is the outward embodiment of the Spirit of Christ. It is the manifestation of the moral harmonies of the Divine life in the soul. In it the afflictions of Christ, which are behind, are filled up. The Church is the outward expression of God's eternal and immutable plan of love. Its origin lies in the mysteries of the counsels of God. Its life and its power centre in the cross of the Redeemer. Every ray of Divine light which illumines the Church radiates from Calvary. The cross must be ever before our eyes. All the lines of doctrine, all the lines of duty, all the lines of promise, all the lines of grace, and all the lines of glory, meet in the cross as the grand vital centre of the Church of the living God.
The Church is the temple in which are enshrined the light, the beauty, and the glory of the Spirit of God. It is the channel of the Divine communications. The oracles of God are committed to its trust. The regeneration of the sinful heart, and the renewal of the saved heart—the spiritual enlightenment of the intellect—the re-adjustment of those great moral principles which underlie the framework and form the basis of society—the annihilation of oppression—the overthrow of idolatry—the destruction of tyranny—the uprooting of priestcraft—the total subversion of the man of sin—all these moral and spiritual processes are carried on by means of the agency or instrumentality of the Church of God. The Church of Christ is the light of the world—the salt of the earth. It is God's building. It is God's husbandry. It is the habitation of the Spirit. It is the bride of Christ. It is the divine temple in which there is spiritual sacrifice, spiritual consecration, spiritual thanksgiving, and spiritual joy. In the Church are the first fruits of heaven. The Church, as a spiritual manifestation and a Divine embodiment, is the fruit
Vol. LXVI. -New SERIES, No. 1.
of the Father's love, of the Son's agony, and the Spirit's power. It is the work of the Trinity. It is that creation in the world in which the Three Persons or Subsistencies of the Infinite Mind have taken a part.
Looking at the Church in this light, everything connected with it-its internal harmony-its external efficiency--its inward life and its outward form-everything relating to its peace, prosperity, mission and reward, must be of the highest importance and of the most absorbing interest. The names of the members forming it are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Angels are ministering spirits to those who are the heirs of salvation. Mansions are being prepared to receive the children of light. Shall all heaven be interested and absorbed in the well-being, the prosperity, and the glory of the Church; and shall we show no thought, no care about it? Shall the watchful eye of God always look upon us sleeping? Shall ministering angels find us with no intention and no interest for the kingdom of our Lord? Shall we live as if we treated the cross as a fiction, the Bible as a fable, and heaven as a mere painted show to deceive the imagination? Is business to bave every faculty of the mind and every feeling of the heart ? Is the world to eat us entirely up? No! we must bethink ourselves. We must arise and shine because the glory of the Lord is risen upon us. We must rouse ourselves to thoughtfulness, rouse ourselves to prayer, rouse ourselves to action. The Divine life is in us—the Divine seal is upon us- -the Divine image is our modelthe Divine command is our law, the Divine work our duty—the Divine providence our light, and the Divine smile our reward. The Church of Christ bas the most pressing claims on our thoughts, our feelings, our prayers, and all the energies with which our gracious Creator bas evdowed us. We are not our own. The blood of Christ is upon us. The anointings of the Spirit are within us. The vows of profession and consecration are written on our name by the act of our own will. We have given ourselves to Christ. He is our Lord, and his Church is the field of our labour,
The Church of Christ is an organic unity divinely formed for the express purpose of making known the mind of God, and the redemption of Christ to the unthinking world. Its business is the dissemination of religious truth, and therefore the promotion of the well-being and salvation of mankind. This organism may be regarded and studied in its internal spirit, its external form, and its prescribed work. The character of its external form, and the efficiency of its work, will be determined by the character and degree of the ruling spirit. A dead mechanism cannot produce a living result. Real religion is a vitalizing property. It is life and peace. It embodies the principle of spiritual and divine cohesion, The essence of religion is love, and love is a knitting principle. It is antithetical to sin, which is a separating power. Religion knits us to Christ, the centre of all love, and then knits us to one another in the love we draw from him.
Now looking at ourselves in our individual Christian life, and as sections of the Church of Christ, what is it we most need to enable us to on the work of God in the world? Do we not need more of the Spirit of God? Is the enlightening and informing Spirit dwelling in us to that degree that it ought to be ? Are we not walking as men more than as Christians ? May we not lay it down as a church axiom that the work of God can only be done through the influence and agency of the Spirit of God. Not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit, saith the Lord,
carry The Habitation of the Divine Spirit.
3 Church organization without the indwelling and the informing Spirit of God will be so much useless lumber in the kingdom of Christ. Man, at his best estate, is weakness, darkness, and vanity. We must live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit, and be filled with the Spirit, and then our thoughts will be penetrated with a heavenly fire, and our words winged with a divine wisdom, and our actions clothed with a beavenly glory. Our life being hid with Christ in God will bear on it the stamp of spontaneous and undivided consecration,
It is the Spirit of God that changes the vital principles of our nature and transforms us into the image of Christ. The work of the Spirit in the sanctification of the individual ; and, in the guidance of the Church, may be contemplated in many aspects. The same Spirit is a soul-liberating Spirit—a life-directing Spirit-a teaching Spirit--a witnessing Spirit -a sin-slaying Spirit-a prayer-prompting Spirit-a co-helping Spiritan interceding Spirit—a comforting Spirit. He leads us through the dark chambers of our corrupt nature and convinces us of sin. He leads us to Calvary and clothes us with righteousness. He leads us into the deep things of God—to the depths of doctrine-to the heights of promise. He melts our hearts in prayer-he enlightens our understanding in study -be nerves the arm for labour-he sustains in suffering-he supports in death.
Do we not all need more of the companionship and counsel of this Spirit? Would not our path be plainer, and our way clearer, if we had more of the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit ? Our resources are not in ourselves, not in our reason, nor in our wisdom, nor in our organizations,- but in the enlightening grace and sanctifying energy of the Spirit of God. Without that Spirit we can do nothing; in alliance with it, nothing will be impossible.
The Church—the habitation of the Divine Spirit—the ground and pillar of the truth—the representative of Christ on the earth-has a divine organic form that it may do a divinely prescribed work. All life embodies itself in an outward form that it may serve some useful end. The Church is Christ's mystical body. The historical Christ is the divinely appointed type of all spiritual life, and the only perfect pattern of spiritual work. Ali doctrine, and all teaching, are summed up in His life. We can see what we are to be and what we are to do in the study of His character. All duty is summed up in the comprehensive brevity of one injunction, Follow me. Could we, as individuals and as churches, imitate His life, and reproduce its wondrous soul-saving and man-elevating elements, what a mighty revolution would take place in society. The wilderness and the solitary place would be glad, and the desert would rejoice and blossom as the rose.
The towns and the villages felt the mighty power of this divine life. Christ instructed the ignorant, comforted the sorrowful, healed the sick. He reproved the worldly, and shattered to atoms the incrustations of Pharisaic pride and hypocritical formality, and discarding all ostentation and pompous pageantry, preached a plain gospel to the simple poor. In His life, as in a speculum or a mirror, we can see our allotted work.
The work of the Church, as the representative of Christ, is to preach the Gospel, to pour into the wounds of suffering and dying humanity the oil and wine of heaven-to enlighten the ignorant-to console the sorrowful—to visit and comfort the sick-to reprove vice in all its forms— to bear testimony to truth, righteousness, and love-to bring all divinely sanctioned appliances to bear on this sin-stricken world. How Christlike is the mission of the church! How sublime its aim! How ennobling its pursuits ! How certain its success! How glorious its reward ! 11
The Gospel, in the religious principles it embodies and inculcates, is designed for all classes of society. It has laws for the rich, and regulations for the poor. The learned and the rude are comprehended in its message. A bigh form of civilisation is not absolutely essential to the reception of the Gospel. It saves the ploughman and the philosopher. It is for the city market as well as the village green. The Gospel is for every creature everywhere. The Great Master—the model of every form of christian labour-preached in the city and in the village. The temple heard His voice, and the well's-mouth witnessed His earnest words. . Jerusalem was not disdained ; Nazareth was not despised.
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness, and every
disease among the people. Taking the life of Christ, therefore, as our pattern and guide-book, the Church has a work to do in the villages as well as in the cities; and the question naturally arises, how can that work be done most efficiently? The best means of sustaining the Church of Christ in our rural districts is an important question, and deserves thought and investigation. I like to look at the Church in its relation to Christ as its centre, life, and head. Christ is its animating spirit, its pattern, its law, its reward. Paul did not look at the Church in its relation to any one doctrine or system of doctrine, but in its relation to its Divine Head. Christ is all and in all—this was the essence and sum of the Apostle's theology. We need more of the Pauline spirit in this respect. We think too much of our little creeds, and names, and “isms," and too little of Christ. Let us lay aside our denominational rancour and sectarian bigotry. Let us not look at the Church in its relation to John Calvin, or John Wesley, to Dan Taylor or Andrew Fuller. Let us not wrap up the church in the name of General Baptist or Particular Baptist, or any other form of expression which may be used to nourish our sectarian pride and denominational vanity—but let us look at the Church more as it moves in grand simplicity and universal benevolence around Christ, its imperishable centre and immutable head.
Now looking at the question before me, and feeling, as I do, its great importance, especially at this juncture, and conscious of my inability to do it justice, I should shrink altogether from the attempt but from the nature of the invitation I have received. An older head, containing a larger experience, would be better able to grapple with its difficulties; and might, with greater appropriateness, suggest such remedies as in his maturer wisdom seemed best.
Meanwhile it may be well for every member of the Church of Christ to recal the personal claims which in combined efforts are sometimes forgotten. Fidelity in individual members is the only way whereby fidelity in the united Church can be secured. Be it yours, then, to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love ; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
“HE CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN RECEIVED
HIM NOT." Can we let the passage go without a penitent conviction ? See how pathos and rebuke are mingled in it! The sentence of a heavier condemnation never was written. Severity never spoke in a tenderer compassion. It is not weak complaint. It is not bitter sarcasm. It is not sentimentalism bewailing its own impotence. It is not tyranny exulting over its victim, and saying, “ You would not give me your heart, and so I rejoice to see your heart crushed.” It is another spirit, and has another sound. “ He came to his own, and his own received him not.” It is the sadness of parental affection repulsed. It is the sorrow of a heart that bleeds, not for itself, but for children lost, and knowing the misery before them as the children themselves cannot know it. It is one audible note of the unutterable pity of God for ungrateful souls.
And who are they?. Men of the past only? Peasants and Pharisees of Palestine only ? Students in the schools of the Scribes, and the Scribes that taught Hebrew learning only ?
Answer for yourselves. In a day that is coming, we must all answer for ourselves. Who are God's ungrateful children? “ Last of all He sent His Son,” saying, “ They have slighted my common mercies ; they have ridiculed or criticised my mortal messengers: I gave them food from heaven and fruitful seasons, and they feasted and drank and were merry and profane, and forgot me: I gave them friends, and they tempted them, misled them, dragged them down to their own level of denial, vanity, selfishness, and shame: they stoned my prophets, but they will reverence my Son."" “ He came to His own ; they received Him not."
This is the language of narrative. The verbs are in the past tense. But in what we have to do with the Eternal One, to whom there is no yesterday and no to-morrow, nothing old and nothing new, the past brings no excuses for the present. Time does not alter truth. There is no partiality for ages, nations, or persons.
As John writes, there was an advent and a rejection—a bodily advent, a bodily crucifixionthe image and outer form of the Word that was from the beginning, the ever-living Emmanuel, the Christ that comes to-day. If he is rejected to-day, it is by the pride and fashion and self-indulgence, of to-day. It is our compromising consciences, it is our well-dressed sensuality, it is our commercial cunning, it is our literary conceit, it is our making merchandise of men and of men's virtue, our covering up cruelty, and calling it patriotism ; dishonesty, and calling it regular trade; hollowness and mutual flattery, and calling it good society; prayerless selfidolatry, and calling it a rational religion ;-it is these things that prepare and build His cross, and crucify Him afresh.
How should you receive Christ? Seek the full answer to this in the New Testament, in Christian instruction, in prayer, in doing every hour all of God's will you know, in counting belief, not doubt, the glory and power and joy of a man. Seek it, where thousands of stronger and humbler hearts have found it, at the foot of His cross who loved you, and gave Himself for you.