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A Treatise on Church Order: Infant Membership- Chapter IV- Section I- Arguments

CHAPTER IV

INFANT MEMBERSHIP

WE have ascertained that believers in Christ are the only persons who have a Scriptural right to membership in the Christian churches. But this right has been claimed for infants; and the number, talents, and piety of those who make the claim, entitle the arguments by which they defend it, to a careful and thorough examination.

SECTION I.–DIRECT ARGUMENTS FOR INFANT MEMBERSHIP.

Argument 1.–In epistles written to church-members, Paul addresses children; and, at the same time, exhorts the parents to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is clear, therefore, that young children were among the church-members to whom these epistles were written. If such children were in these churches, it cannot be doubted that they were in all the churches, and that they were admitted in infancy.

Because children were addressed in an epistle directed to a church, it does not necessarily follow that they were members of the church. As parents were required to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the same epistle that enjoined this duty on the parents, might appropriately contain a direct command from the Lord, requiring the children to obey their parents. In performing the duty enjoined on them, the parents would naturally and properly take their children with them to the public worship of the church, where the apostolic epistles would be read in their hearing. The fact, therefore, that an apostolic command was addressed to them, proves nothing more than that the apostle expected it to reach them, and claimed the right of commanding them in the name of the Lord.

But the probability is, that the children whom Paul addressed were members of the church. The command, “Obey your parents in the Lord,”[1] is so expressed, as apparently to imply that the obligation was to be felt and acknowledged by them, because of their relation to the Lord. The children to whom Paul addressed this command must have possessed intelligence to apprehend its meaning, and piety to feel the force of the motive presented in these words, “For this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”[2] Timothy, from a child, had known the Holy Scriptures. Intelligent piety has, in all ages, been found in children who have not yet reached maturity; and such children have a Scriptural right to church-membership.

The argument that the children were so young as to need the care and discipline of their parents to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, does not prove that they were destitute of personal piety. Adult church-members need instruction and discipline adapted to their circumstances; and the instruction and discipline of wise and pious parents are of inestimable advantage to their pious children.

The argument contains a fallacy which deserves to be noticed, in the assumption, that the children who were commanded to obey, and the children who were to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, were the same. Masters were commanded how to treat their servants, and servants were commanded to obey their masters; but it would be wrong to infer that no masters were so commanded but those who had pious servants, or that no servants were so commanded but those who had pious masters. On the contrary, those servants who had believing masters are distinguished from those whose masters were unbelievers; and yet the latter class were commanded to obey, as well as the former. The relation of master and servant existed, in some cases, when both of the parties were members of the church; and, in other cases, when one party was in the church and the other party out of the church. No proof exists, that the relation of parent and child may not have been divided in the same manner. Parents were not commanded to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord because the children were church-members; and children were not commanded to obey their parents because the parents were church-members. The supposition, therefore, that the children in the two cases were the same, is an assumption without proof.

The inference that, if there were children in the primitive churches, they were admitted in infancy, and not because of personal piety, is illegitimate. It cannot be made to appear that they were destitute of personal piety; and, as this was the established condition of church-membership in all other cases, the fair inference is that their membership in the church stood on the common ground.

Argument 2.–The King of Zion has expressly declared, in Matt. xix. 14, that the privileges of his kingdom belong to infants; and, among these privileges, that of church-membership must be included. Children are to be received in the name of Christ, or because they belong to Christ;[3] and this must imply that they are members of his church.

In interpreting and applying the phrase, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven,” an important question must be decided; whether the word “such” denotes literal children, or persons of child-like disposition. As the clause stands in our common version, it seems to import that the kingdom consists of such persons exclusively. Now, no one imagines that the kingdom is a community consisting of literal infants only; and, therefore, this rendering, if retained, greatly favors the other interpretation, according to which the whole community are properly described as persons of child-like disposition. The disciples of Christ are humble, confiding, teachable, and free from malice and ambition; and these qualities characterize all who have a part in the kingdom.

But the advocates of infant church-mermbersliip have proposed another rendering of the clause. They remark that it corresponds, in grammatical construction, with the clause in Matt. v. 3: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” but, since the word “such” has no genitive in English corresponding to the genitive “theirs,” the sense must be expressed thus: “To such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” After a careful consideration, I am inclined to think that this rendering gives the true sense of the passage. It makes it analogous to the clause in Matt. v. 3; while the other rendering is, I think, without any analogy in the New Testament. The kingdom does not consist wholly of its subjects; but it has also its king, its laws, its privileges, and its enjoyments. We have Scripture analogy for saying, that the subjects receive the kingdom, enter into the kingdom, inherit the kingdom, and have part in the kingdom; but none for saying that they compose or constitute the kingdom. Hence the rendering, “To such the kingdom belongs,” is recommended to our adoption, as the best interpretation of the Saviour’s words. So much having been granted to the advocates of infant church-membership, we proceed to inquire into the true sense of the passage.

In the parallel passage, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the persons intended are “the poor in spirit;” and these include all the loyal subjects of the kingdom. If the parallelism between the passages is complete, the word “such” must, in like manner, include all the loyal subjects of the Redeemer’s reign, and cannot therefore signify literal children. But if we take the word “such,” to signify a part only of those to whom the kingdom belongs, we shall still be compelled to consider the declaration as importing that the kingdom belongs to all such. Nothing in the words, nothing in the context, nothing in the nature of the subject, leads to the supposition that the kingdom belongs to some infants, and not to others. But the most consistent advocates of infant church-membership, do not admit all infants indiscriminately. If the word “such” was intended to signify any qualifications for membership, peculiar to these children, and not found in all children, no clue whatever has been left us, in the whole context, for ascertaining what these peculiar qualifications were. If Jesus had designed to instruct his apostles how to discriminate between the children to be admitted, and all other children, it is unaccountable that he should have given his instruction with so much obscurity and indefiniteness.

The words demand an interpretation, which will make the term “such” include all who have a right to the kingdom, and no others; and this is precisely the interpretation to which the context leads. Immediately after uttering the words, Jesus explained them: “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”[4] To be a little child, and to act as a little child, are different things; and the latter, not the former, is what the Saviour intended. His explanation shows this clearly; and that the explanation was made, we are expressly informed by Mark and Luke. Matthew has omitted it; but he has recorded, in the preceding chapter, a discourse of Christ on the same subject, giving the same instruction fully and clearly: “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”[5] Here, a child is made the representative of him who was to be greatest in the kingdom; and the phrase, “one such child,” denotes one who possesses a child-like disposition. Jesus was accustomed to call his disciples “little children;”[6] and he here calls them, “these little ones which believe in me.” In this discourse, no room was left for doubt as to the import of the phrase, “one such child,” and this discourse had prepared the minds of the disciples to understand his meaning, when he afterwards said, “To such the kingdom belongs,” even if no explanation had followed; but when he added an explanation, reiterating the very teaching which he had before given, no doubt ought to remain, that the same kind of qualification for his kingdom was intended–not literal childhood, but a child-like disposition.

A further demand for this interpretation is found in the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Those who suppose literal children to be intended, assume that the kingdom is the visible church catholic; and they understand that membership in this body is here affirmed to belong to infants. Our inquiries in the last chapter have brought us to the conclusion, that Christ’s kingdom is not identical with the visible church catholic of theological writers; and that such a body as this does not in fact exist. In Christ’s kingdom, there are two classes of subjects; the loyal, and the disobedient. To the former class exclusively, the kingdom belongs, according to the uniform teaching of the Scriptures; and the passage under consideration corresponds precisely with this teaching, if persons of child-like disposition be intended. But if the kingdom belongs to literal infants, who are such by natural birth, it must be a different kingdom from that of which Jesus discoursed to Nicodemus, when he said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Some persons understand the clause under consideration to import that the kingdom of glory belongs to little children; and they argue that if they have a right to the church in heaven, they ought not to be shut out from the church on. earth. But infants have not an unconditional right to the kingdom of glory. If they die in infancy, they are made fit for that kingdom and received into it; but if they remain in this world till they grow up, they cannot obtain that kingdom without repentance and faith. Since the right of children to the kingdom of glory depends on the condition, either that they die in infancy or that they become penitent believers, no inference can be legitimately drawn from it that they have a present and unconditional right to membership in the church on earth. Children are not taken to heaven without being made fit for it; but churches on earth are organized for the worship and service of God, and infants are not fitted for these duties. Even the privileges of the church on earth they are confessedly unfit for. A right to baptism is claimed for them, but a right to communion at the Lord’s table is not; yet without this right, it cannot be said that the church or kingdom belongs to them. If by any mode of inference from the passage the right of infants to the church on earth can be established, it must include a right to communion at the Lord’s table.

It has been objected to our interpretation of this passage, that the word “such,” properly denotes the kind or quality of the thing to which it is applied, and not the resemblance which something else bears to it. In proof of this, such passages as the following have been cited: “Because they suffered such things.”[7] “With many such parables spake he unto them.”[8] In the first example, such things means these very things; and in the second, such parables means these parables and others like them. In like manner it is argued, such children must mean either these very children or these children and others like them. Hence, it is alleged that an interpretation which excludes the children present from the import of the word “such,” is inadmissible.

It is true that the word such denotes the kind or quality of the thing to which it is applied; but just so far as it does this, it denotes also the resemblance which another thing bears to it, if that other thing is of the same kind or possesses the same quality. It denotes the kind or quality of the thing, and not the thing itself. In this particular, it differs from this or these. If the first of the above examples had read “because they suffered these things,” the identical sufferings would have been signified, and not their kind or quality. Hence, such does not mean these. So in the other examples “such parables” does not mean these and other parables, for it denotes the kind and quality of the parables, and this the phrase these and other would not do. The fact that “such things” in the first example, denoted the identical sufferings which had just been mentioned, is not determined by the meaning of the word such, but by the connection in which it is used. Any other sufferings of like kind would suit the meaning of the word equally as well. So any parables of like kind equally suit the meaning of the phrase “such parables.” The fact that the sufferings and parables previously mentioned are denoted by the word such, or included in its meaning, is accidental. Such does not mean these, and does not include these in its meaning, unless by accident. However frequent this accidental use of the term may be, its essential meaning refers to kind or quality, and not to particular things. When it is said, “They which commit such things, are worthy of death;”[9] the particular things that had been mentioned are not necessarily intended or included; but any things of like kind are denoted. In the words of Paul, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether, such as I am, except these bonds.”[10] The word such neither intends nor includes “I,” but merely denotes likeness; and that likeness is confined to spiritual endowments and privileges, and does not extend to the body or the external condition. So the word such in the case before us, does not intend or include the children present, but denotes a likeness to them; and that likeness does not respect the body or outward condition, but those mental qualities which made them fit representatives of converted men.

If we were unable to distinguish between the essential meaning of the word such and its accidental use, we might still be preserved from an erroneous conclusion in the present case by a due regard to Matt. xviii. 5. In this verse the same word is used by the same speaker with reference to the same subject, and in like circumstances, a little child being present as the children were present in the other case. Yet in this case, the word such does not intend or include the child present, but denotes those qualities in which that child was made a representative of converted persons. The verse preceding proves this: and the words which follow the use of the term such in the other case, prove the same. The analogy is complete, with the single exception that the explanation follows in one case, and precedes in the other. But it follows immediately as if uttered by the same breath, for it was spoken before Jesus laid hands on the children. If any importance can be attached to the order of time in which the explanation was given, it should be remembered that the whole of the discourse in the 18th chapter preceded the transaction recorded in the 19th, and prepared the minds of the disciples for understanding it. When all these facts are considered, we need not be staggered, though numerous examples be adduced in which such may appear to have a different meaning. True criticism will regard the analogy of the cases rather than their number; and if the word has different meanings, will prefer that which is supported by an analogy so remarkable and complete. But the truth is, criticism has no choice to make between different meanings of the word, for in every case the meaning of the word is the same.

If the criticism which we have set aside were just, it would fail to justify the conclusion that has been drawn from it. In the passage recorded in Luke ix. 47, 48, the word such is not used: “Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” Here the expression is, “this child;” but the meaning is not to be taken literally. The whole transaction was symbolical. The disciples had desired the highest place in their Master’s kingdom. It was their ambition to sit on his right hand and on his left. But Jesus set the little child by him, and constituted that child his prime minister and representative: “Whoso shall receive,” &c. All this was symbolical; and was designed to teach the disciples what they must be, to obtain the honor which they coveted. If criticism could convert the word such into these, and the clause, “of such is the kingdom,” into theirs is the kingdom; there would be sufficient reason, even then, to regard the children as only symbols or representatives of converted or humble and child-like persons.

It has been further objected, that the clause, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” could not, according to our interpretation, contain a reason for admitting into Christ’s presence the children that were brought to him. We cheerfully grant, that the connection of this clause with what precedes would be quite obvious, if it could be shown to declare the right of infants to church-membership; and if it could also be shown that these infants were brought to Christ to be initiated into his church. This last has been supposed by some, but without any proof from the sacred narrative. The purpose for which they were brought to Jesus is thus expressed: “that he should put his hands on them, and pray;”[11] “that he should touch them.”[12] If initiation into the church was the design, it is unaccountable that all the inspired writers should have failed to mention it, and that they should have described the act as performed with a different design. If it was usual for infants to be admitted to church-membership, the apostles must have known it; and their opposition, in the present case, is unaccountable. Moreover, if these infants were brought to be initiated into the church, and if Jesus declared their right to the privileges of his church, it cannot be supposed that they were sent away without the benefit desired. But were they initiated? If so, by what rite? Baptism has been considered the rite of initiation; but there is no evidence that these children were baptized. When Jesus made disciples, they were baptized, not by himself, but by his disciples. There is no evidence that he put these children into the hands of the disciples, with a command to baptize them; but, on the contrary, he took them into his own arms, not to baptize, but to bless them.

On a careful examination of the passage, we discover that the conjunction “for” connects the clause which follows with the command, “forbid them not.” This command was addressed to the disciples; and the reason which follows may be supposed to have been introduced for their sake, rather than for the sake of the children. He was displeased with his disciples, and designed to rebuke them. Now, to understand his rebuke, we must view it in connection with the fault of which the disciples had been guilty. They expected their Master to set up a temporal kingdom; and all his teachings to the contrary, and even his crucifixion at last, did not convince them that his kingdom is not of this world. They were ambitious to have the highest place in his kingdom; and this sinful ambition remained, till they ate the last passover with him. He had recently set a little child before them, and used it as a representative of the chief favorite in his kingdom. This discourse they had not understood. Like other discourses designed to explain the nature of the kingdom, and of the qualifications for it, the instruction which it contained was not properly received until after Christ’s departure, when the Holy Spirit brought it to their remembrance. Ambition and worldly policy blinded their minds. How they understood the Saviour’s discourse, we cannot certainly determine; but they seem, like the advocates of infant church-membership, to have understood the word such to refer to age, and not to moral qualities. Hence, the words, “Whoso receiveth one such child,” placed little children before their minds as rivals for the highest place of dignity in the kingdom. Whether they feared that Christ would postpone the setting up of his kingdom until these young rivals should be of age, or whether they apprehended that he would, among the miraculous works which he performed, endow them supernaturally, even in infancy, for holding office in his kingdom, we have no means of ascertaining. But, whatever may have been their notions, they seem to have conceived a jealousy of these young rivals. The ministers of Eastern monarchs guarded the way of access to their sovereign. This right of guarding the way of approach to their Master, the disciples assumed on this occasion. Jesus, who never denied access to any that sought favor at his hands, was displeased with their conduct and the worldly ambition which instigated it. To them, and for their benefit, he said what may be thus paraphrased: “Suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not. Do not, by this usurpation of power, think to exclude these dreaded rivals from my presence and favor; for to such as these the privileges and honors of my kingdom belong, rather than to those who, like you, are actuated by worldly ambition. Instead of driving these children away, imitate their spirit; for whosoever shall not receive the kingdom as a little child, shall not enter therein.”

Whether we have succeeded or not in discovering the true connection of the clause with what precedes, the clause itself does not affirm the right of infants to church-membership. The proofs which have been adduced on this point are clear and decisive.

What has been said, sufficiently explains Mark ix. 27, the other passage quoted in the argument. We admit that to receive one of such children in the name of Christ, is to receive him because he belongs to Christ; but the passage does not teach that literal infants are members of Christ’s church. We have proved that the Saviour employed the phrase, such children, to denote persons of child-like disposition. Hence, the doctrine of infant church-membership cannot be inferred from the passage.

Some Congregationalists have held that children are members of the church universal, but not of local churches. This distinction may perhaps account for their admission to baptism, and exclusion from the Lord’s supper; but it accounts in such a way as to show clearly, that the privileges of the kingdom do not belong to them. No one maintains that unregenerate infants are members of the spiritual church. If they are members of a universal church, it must be the visible church catholic. Now, if such a body exists, it never meets or acts; and the privileges of membership in it, to those who are denied membership in local churches–what are they? To the local churches belong the regular worship of God, a stated ministry, the benefits of discipline and mutual exhortation, and the communion of the Lord’s table. The baptized children grow up, without the membership which entitles to these privileges. How, then, can it be said that the kingdom belongs to them?

Argument 3.–Paul declares, that the children of certain members of the Corinthian church were holy.[13] The word holy, or saints, was used by him to denote church-members, that is, persons consecrated to God. We have, therefore, ground for the conclusion, that these children were members of the church.

The passage referred to, reads as follows: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” This passage, if the holiness of which it speaks signifies church-membership, will prove too much. The word “sanctified,” which is applied to the unbelieving husband and unbelieving wife, means made holy. These unbelievers, therefore, were also holy; and must, according to the interpretation, have been members of the church. The text is a process of reasoning; and the laws of reasoning require, that the term “holy” in the conclusion, should be used in the same sense as in the premises. If holiness implies church-membership, when predicated of the children, it must imply the same when predicated of the unbelieving husband and wife. But no one imagines that those unbelievers were members of the church; and, therefore, the holiness affirmed of the children, is not church-membership.

If it be asked, what holiness could be predicated of these children, or of the unbelieving husband and wife, which did not include church-membership–the answer is at hand. The Jews accounted gentiles unclean, and thought it unlawful to enter their houses, to keep company or eat with them, or to touch them. The Jewish Christians retained this opinion, as is manifest from Gal. ii. 12. According to this opinion, they with whom familiar intercourse was lawful, were considered holy; and all others were unclean. The question had arisen among the Corinthians, probably from the influence of Judaizing teachers, whether familiar intercourse with unbelievers is lawful.

In the fifth chapter of the epistle, Paul discusses this question, and decides that association in church-membership with such persons, was unlawful; but that ordinary intercourse with them must be admitted, or Christians “must needs go out of the world.” As the principle which he opposed had produced a doubt among the Corinthians, whether it was lawful for Christians to live in familiar intercourse with unbelieving husbands or wives, Paul considers this case in the seventh chapter. He decides that, if this principle may disturb the domestic relations, it will separate parent and child, as well as husband and wife. If familiar intercourse with the unconverted is unlawful in one case, it is unlawful in the other also. This is the argument of the apostle; and it is precisely adapted to meet the difficulty. But this argument presupposes, that the children, like the unbelieving husband and wife, were not members of the church. The text, therefore, furnishes decisive proof, that infant church-membership was unknown in the time of the apostles.[14]

Argument 4.–The writers of the New Testament used words in the sense in which they were accustomed to read them in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Greek word Christ, corresponded to the Hebrew word Messiah; and both words denoted the same person. The Greek word ecclesia, was not a newly-invented term; but it was the word by which the LXX. had rendered the Hebrew cahal, of the Old Testament, and must therefore be understood to denote the same thing, the Congregation of the Lord. Hence the church was not a new organization. It was the Hebrew congregation, continued under the new dispensation; and, as children were included with their parents, in the former dispensation, the right of membership cannot now be denied to them. The identity of the church under both dispensations is further apparent in the fact, that the names Zion and Jerusalem, derived from the places where the Old Testament worshippers assembled, are given to the church of the New Testament.

It is true that the Hebrew word Messiah, and the corresponding Greek word Christ, denoted the same person; but it cannot be hence inferred as a universal truth, that identity, either of person or things, always attends identity or correspondence of name. The Hebrew name Joshua is applied in Scripture to different persons;[15] and the corresponding Greek name Jesus, is applied to persons different from these, and different from one another.[16] The English words assembly, convention, association, &c., are in common use as names of organized bodies; but the character of the organization cannot be inferred from the name. The name Assembly sometimes signifies the legislative body of a state, and sometimes an ecclesiastical judicatory. With this name the Hebrew and Greek words for congregation and church very nearly correspond in signification; but were the correspondence perfect, it could not be inferred that organized societies denoted by them must be identical.

But the correspondence between the designations of the church and of the Hebrew congregation is not perfect. Two Hebrew words, cahal and edah, were used to denote the Hebrew congregation, and neither of these is invariably rendered by the Greek word ekklesia;. In the sixth verse of Exodus 12, the chapter in which the Hebrew congregation first appears on the sacred page, both Hebrew words occur, and one of them the LXX have rendered plathos, and the other synagoge. In Numbers xvi. 3, both words occur, and both are rendered synagoge. If any one should argue from hence, that whenever the New Testament writers use the words plathos and synagoge, they must mean the Hebrew congregation, he would err egregiously. The argument which would be so fallacious when applied to these words, cannot be valid when applied to ekklesia.

The single words which we have noticed, are, when used to designate the bodies to which they are applied, often accompanied with adjuncts. The Hebrew congregation was called the Congregation of the Lord or Jehovah, and the Congregation of Israel. It was a congregation instituted for the worship of Jehovah as the God of the Hebrew nation. The church is called the church of God, and the church of Christ. These full designations of the two bodies are by no means coincident; but we have proof that the two bodies are not identical, which is far more to be relied on than a want of coincidence in their names.

When the New Testament church is first introduced in the sacred writings, Jesus calls it not the cahal or ecclesia of Israel, but my ecclesia. He moreover speaks of it as yet to be constructed: “On this rock will I build my ecclesia.” It cannot be that he intended the cahal of Israel which was instituted in the time of Moses, and its organization completed in the most minute particulars. The next occurrence of the word ecclesia in the New Testament is still more remarkable: “Tell it to the ecclesia. If he will not hear the ecclesia, let him be, &c.” Can it be true that the New Testament writer who recorded these words, understood the word ecclesia in the sense in which he had been accustomed to read it in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, as referring to the Hebrew cahal? Can it be that Jesus meant it to be so understood? Did he mean that his followers should refer their matters of grievance to the great congregation of Jewish worshippers, their enemies and persecutors, and be governed by their decision? Incredible! The next mention of the New Testament ecclesia is equally decisive: “The Lord added to the ecclesia such as should be saved.” The time was the feast of Pentecost, when the worshippers of the Hebrew cahal were assembled at Jerusalem. From this assembly the converts to the new religion were made; and when made, they were added to the ecclesia. No proof more decisive can be desired; that the ecclesia to which they were added, was not the cahal to which they had previously belonged.

The argument from the name may be retorted with effect. When Jesus said, “Tell it to the church;” the Christian churches in which discipline was to be exercised had not yet been organized. The master of the family was still present to manage the affairs of the household by his direct authority; but he gave the command to be observed after his departure, as a perpetual rule of discipline. The unguarded manner in which he speaks of the ecclesia, furnishes proof of no inconsiderable force, that the word which he employed, was not at the time in familiar use as a name for the congregation of Jewish worshippers. Had it been, this application of the word would have been natural to the disciples, and some accompanying explanations would have been needed to guard them from mistake. When intending that which did not yet exist, of which they had no personal knowledge, and which never had existed, he would not, without explanation, have employed a term to denote it, with which they were familiar as the name of something that had long existed and was well known to them. The conclusion to which this argument tends, is strongly corroborated by the fact, that although the word ecclesia occurs in the New Testament more than a hundred times, it never, with but one exception, denotes the people of Israel; and in this single exception, “He that was in the ecclesia in the wilderness,”[17] it does not denote the people of Israel as an enduring organization, but refers to a particular time in their history, when they were assembled at Sinai to receive the law, and for this reason it should have been translated assembly. As an enduring body, they are called the house of Israel, the commonwealth of Israel, the people, the nation; but the ecclesia they are never called.

The passage, “In the midst of the ecclesia I will sing praise unto thee,”[18] is quoted from the Old Testament, where the word cahal is used, and where there is an allusion to the Hebrew congregation; but as used by Paul, the ecclesia intended consists of the “many sons” brought to glory, who are mentioned in the context. The same ecclesia is afterwards spoken of, “The church of the first born,” with an apparent allusion to the assembly of Old Testament worshippers. This allusion may be readily accounted for by the fact, that the worship of the Old Testament dispensation was “a shadow of good things to come.” Zion and Jerusalem were types of heaven, the future meeting place of the saints; and the congregation of Israel assembled for the worship of God, typified that future assembly in which the redeemed of the Lord shall come from the east, the west, the north, and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven. This fully accounts for the use which the prophets have made of the names Zion and Jerusalem, in predicting the glory of the church.

The Hebrew cahal was an actual assembly. Three times in the year the tribes were required to meet for public worship in the place where the Lord would put his name.[19] This obligation continued as long as the ordinances of their worship were obligatory; and ceased when the handwriting of them was nailed to the cross of Christ. An intimation that the obligation to meet at Jerusalem was to cease, is given in the words of Christ to the woman of Samaria: “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.”[20] When men were no longer required to meet in Jerusalem, the cahal of Israel was dissolved.

The distinction between the church and the Hebrew congregation, may be further elucidated by an attentive consideration of the design with which the congregation was instituted.

Although, in the divine purpose, a sufficient sacrifice for sin had been provided from eternity, yet it did not seem good to Infinite Wisdom that it should be immediately offered, when sin first entered into the world. Four thousand years of ignorance and crime, God winked at, or overlooked as unworthy of his regard, or unfit for his purpose; and fixed his eyes on that period denominated “the fulness of time,” when it would best display the divine perfections, for the Redeemer to atone for transgression; and repentance and remission of sins to be preached in his name, among all nations. As, in the exercises of an individual Christian, the discovery of salvation in Christ is withheld, until an anxiety is excited in his breast that makes the discovery welcome; so in the history of the world, the Messiah makes not his appearance, until mankind have felt the necessity of such a deliverer; then he comes, the desire of all nations. It pleased God that a full experiment should be made of man’s power and skill to find a remedy for his moral disease, before God’s remedy for the healing of the nations should be revealed and applied. “After that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.”

The experiment which, in the wisdom of God, opened the way for the Redeemer’s entrance into the world, was of a two-fold nature; or, rather, there were two distinct experiments, demonstrating distinct truths. When the bolder enemies of God and religion make their appeal from the volume of inspiration to the volume of nature, and assert the sufficiency of the latter to enlighten and direct them in the search after God; we can refer to actual experiment, to ascertain how far fallen man, without the oracles of God, can advance toward the knowledge of the Divine character. With the light of nature, the bright beams of science, and the keen eye of natural genius, the wisest men of antiquity still felt in the dark, after the unknown God.[21]

When those who profess to receive the truth, deny the doctrine of grace, and maintain that man has sufficient native virtue, if properly cultivated, to render him acceptable to God; that there are influences of the Word or Spirit common to all men, which are sufficient, without any additional special influence, to bring him to know and enjoy the Most High; we have in the wisdom of God, another completed experiment, which decides against this doctrine, with as much certainty as is anywhere to be found within the limits of experimental philosophy. In the sacred record is the history of a people, who had the advantage over every other people much every way. They were not left to read the volume of nature only; but to them were committed the oracles of God. They were not left with unmeaning forms, and unauthorized rites of religion; but they had ordinances of divine service, instituted on the authority of God. “To them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Nor were they without instructors in religion; but holy men were raised up among them, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Neither were they without motives to obedience; but a covenant was made with them, containing every threat which might deter–every promise that might allure. The experiment was made fairly and completely. Jehovah himself said, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?” And what was the result? It was clearly demonstrated that man is totally depraved; that the best institutions, instructions, and motives, with all common influences of the Spirit, whatever such there may be, are altogether insufficient to restore his fallen nature; and that a direct special influence upon his heart, by the effectual working of Divine power, is indispensably necessary, in order to make him delight in the law of God, and render acceptable obedience to its holy requirements. See Heb. viii. 8, 9, 10.

That society of persons which was the subject of the last-mentioned experiment, is frequently denominated the Congregation of the Lord. It appears to have been the only divinely instituted society, organized for religious worship, that ever existed before the coming of Christ. That God designed by the Mosaic dispensation, of which this congregation was the subject, to give a clear demonstration of man’s depravity, may be inferred from the end which has actually been accomplished, and from such declarations of Scripture as the following: “The law was added because of transgression until the seed should come. The law entered that the offence might abound.” Since unto God all his works from the beginning are known, he well knew the imperfections of the Mosaic covenant, even from the time of its institution, and what would be the result of the experiment. He found fault with it long before its abrogation; and so prepared it at first, that it typified and foretold a better covenant that should succeed it, established upon better promises.

The first account that the Scriptures give of the Congregation of the Lord, we find in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. When a new order of things was introduced; when the year received a new beginning, and became, as it has been called, the ecclesiastical year; when God took his people by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt;[22] when that code of laws for the regulation of religious worship, which the apostle means by the first covenant throughout his epistle to the Hebrews, began to be promulgated; and the Passover, as one of the ordinances of divine service pertaining to the first covenant, was instituted; then, first, are the Israelites recognised as a worshipping congregation. Before this, the word of the Lord had come to individuals, and individuals had performed religious rites; but now, the word is sent to a whole congregation, and that congregation, by divine appointment, perform a rite of divine worship simultaneously. Before this, the Israelites had indeed been distinguished from the rest of mankind; but not by the characteristics of a worshipping society. That there were persons among them who worshipped God in sincerity and truth, will not be disputed. But where were their public altars? Where was their sanctuary? Where were their public ministers of religion? Where were their appointed sacrifices? Where their statute book, the laws of their worship, the rules of their society, &c.? A worshipping society, without forms, and rites, and rules of worship, God never constituted.

The seed of Abraham were destined to be the subjects of special dispensations, throughout all their generations. This appears no less in their history since the Christian era, and before their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, than in the intermediate time. But, during all this intermediate time, they were the subjects of that peculiar, experimental, preparatory dispensation, which we have been considering. They were constituted, and continued to be, the Lord’s peculiar cahal, his only worshipping congregation.[23] But while the ordinances of. their worship were wisely contrived to be types and prophecies of Christ, at the same time that they afforded to the world that experiment, which appears to have been so important a part of their design; in like manner, an instructive intimation of the future exclusion of the Jews from gospel privileges, and of the admission of the gentiles, appears to have been given, in the character of the members who composed this sacred congregation. The great body of its constituents were the descendants of Abraham; but provision was made in its charter, that Israelites in some cases should be excluded, and that gentiles might be admitted.[24] Nothing like this can be found in the covenant made with Abraham and his seed, as recorded in the 17th chapter of Genesis. This covenant received into its arms every circumcised son of Jacob (in whom the seed was ultimately called), without any exception; and thrust from its embrace every Gentile, without any distinction. It was, indeed, one of its stipulations that every Israelite should have all the males of his. house circumcised; but there is no intimation that they were all thereby incorporated among the covenant seed, or that they had more right to the territory granted in the covenant, than had Ishmael, or the sons of Keturah. Jacob’s servants were circumcised; but they did not become heads of tribes in Israel, as they would have been, had circumcision endowed them with the privileges of the covenant seed.

When the end for which any society was instituted has been accomplished, it is natural to expect its dissolution. The experiment for which the Congregation of the Lord had been organized, was completely made, when the Redeemer appeared, in the end of the world, “to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” The first covenant, established upon conditional promises, was proved, upon due trial, to be faulty, weak, and unprofitable; and the necessity of a better covenant, whose better promises should be all yea and amen in Christ Jesus, was clearly demonstrated: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” When “There was a disannulling of the commandment going before,” in which was contained the charter of the Congregation of the Lord, the society was dissolved. Deprived of the character of a worshipping congregation, it lost its existence. The wall that had enclosed it from the rest of mankind, was broken down, when its ordinances were nailed to the cross of Christ.[25]

We have not insisted on the obvious difference between the church and the Hebrew congregation, as to the character of the members composing them. The congregation consisted mainly of Israelites; and these were admitted without regard to moral character, if circumcised, and free from ceremonial defilement and bodily defect. Gentiles were admitted, on conforming to the law of circumcision; but a Moabite, or Ammonite, could not be admitted until the tenth generation; and the most pious Israelite was prohibited, if he was ceremonially defiled, or the subject of a particular bodily defect.[26] In Christ Jesus, circumcision availeth nothing, but a new creature. Moabites and Ammonites are not excluded; but, in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.[27] Ceremonial defilement and bodily defects constitute no obstacle to the fellowship of the saints. If the institution were the same, such radical changes in the membership could not well consist with the continued membership of infants. But the Mosaic institution has been abolished: “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before, for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”[28] “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.”[29] “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”[30]

Some advocates of infant church-membership, admit the temporary nature of the Mosaic institution; but maintain that there ran through it, and was contained in it, a spiritual and unchangeable covenant, which had been made with Abraham, and which is now in force. To this covenant, our attention will next be directed.

[1] Eph. vi. 1.

[2] Col. iii. 20.

[3] Mark ix. 37.

[4] Mark x. 15; Luke xviii. 17.

[5] Matt. xviii. 6.

[6] John xiii. 33. In the original text a different word is here employed, which seems to have been more appropriate for the expression of endearment. Its literal meaning agrees with that of the other term, and is properly given by our translators in the words “little children.”

[7] Luke xiii. 2.

[8] Mark iv. 33.

[9] Rom. i. 32.

[10] Acts xxvi. 29.

[11] Matt. xix. 13.

[12] Mark x. 13; Luke xviii. 15.

[13] 1 Cor. vii. 14.

[14] For a more extended examination of 1 Cor. vii. 14, see a tract entitled “A Decisive Argument against Infant Baptism,” published by the Southern Baptist Publication Society.

[15] Ex. xxiv. 13; Zech. iii. 1.

[16] Matt. i. 21; Col. iv. 11.

[17] Acts vii. 38.

[18] Heb. ii. 12.

[19] Deut. xii. 5.

[20] John iv. 21.

[21] Acts xvii. 27.

[22] Heb viii. 9.

[23] 1 Chr. xxviii. 8; Mic. ii. 5.

[24] Deut. xxiii. 1-8; Exod. xii. 43-47.

[25] Eph. ii. 14, 15.

[26] Deut. xxiii. 1-3.

[27] Acts x. 35.

[28] Heb. vii. 18.

[29] Heb. viii. 7.

[30] Heb. x. 9.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

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A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section VII- Relation to Local Churches

CHAPTER III

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

SECTION VII.–RELATION TO LOCAL CHURCHES

If none but true believers were admitted into the churches, there would be an exact agreement between the character of the membership in the local churches, and in the church universal. And if all believers professed their faith without delay according to the law of Christ, and united with the local churches, the aggregate membership of the local churches, and that of the universal church, so far as it exists on earth, would be identical. Nothing but disobedience to the law of Christ gives occasion to distinguish between the church universal, and the great body of professing Christians united in the several local churches; and in a pure state of Christianity, the distinction might be overlooked. When the church universal was spoken of in the times of the apostles, the thoughts of men were naturally directed to the great body of professing Christians; and for all the ordinary purposes of speaking and writing, the distinction between this aggregate of professors and the true body of Christ was unnecessary. So when we speak of a wheat-field, we disregard the fact that tares may be here and there intermixed with the wheat. The name does not signify this intermixture, but is applied as if nothing but wheat were in the enclosure. In like manner, the name church was used in some cases for the aggregate of Christian professors, although in its strict signification, false professors are not included.

The fact that the same name ecclesia that is applied to local churches, is also applied to the church universal, is liable to mislead into the opinion that the membership must be strictly homogeneous; and, therefore, the universal church must include false professors as well as the local churches. So the name brass, denotes the same mixture of metals, whether it is applied to a large mass or a small one. The cases, however, are not analogous. The name brass denotes the metal without respect to its quantity, and is as applicable to a particle as to a mass. But the name ecclesia does not denote the material of which a church is composed, and is not applicable to a single member. It signifies the quantity rather than the quality. There may be an ecclesia of wicked men as well as of righteous. It applies to a local church, because the members of it actually assemble; and it applies to the church universal, because the members of it will actually assemble in the presence, and for the everlasting worship of God. The mere fact that the same name is applied, gives no ground for the conclusion that the membership in the two cases is strictly homogeneous. In the epistles to the local churches, the members are addressed as saints and faithful men in Christ. This was their character according to their profession, and what they ought to be according to the law of Christ. False professors who might chance to be among them, were not of them. When excluded, they were not deprived of rights which had belonged to them. Hence, the churches were addressed as if composed entirely of true Christians.

Though unconverted persons are not entitled to membership according to the law of Christ, they nevertheless obtain admittance into local churches through human fallibility. Membership in the church universal is determined by God himself. When Paul described the Hebrew saints as come “to the church of the first born,” he described them as come also “to God, the judge of all.” The infallible judge determines membership in the great ecclesia; but fallible men admit to membership in the local churches. Hence, a corrupt element finds entrance into local churches, and because of it they are not strictly homogeneous with the universal spiritual church. This want of homogeneousness existed in some degree, even in the purest age of Christianity; but it became much more manifest when corruption overspread the churches, and the evils attending it are now painfully felt by the lovers of Zion

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section VI- Relation to Christ’s Kingdom

CHAPTER III

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

SECTION VI.–RELATION TO CHRIST’S KINGDOM

The doctrine of the Scriptures concerning the kingdom of Christ, has been investigated in the Manual of Theology, pp. 221-229. The result of the investigation, so far as our present subject is concerned, may be briefly stated as follows:–

The kingdom of Christ is the kingly authority with which he, as mediator, is invested, and which he exercises over all things, for the glory of God and the good of his church. The peculiarities of this divine reign are, that it is exercised in human nature, and that it grants favor to rebels. An incomplete administration of it commenced, immediately after the fall of man; but the full development was not made till the man Christ Jesus was crowned with glory and honor, and seated at the Father’s right hand. The subjects of his reign are divided into two classes; the obedient, and the disobedient. To the obedient, all the blessings of his reign are promised; and the disobedient, he will ultimately gather out of his kingdom, and banish to everlasting misery. The obedient subjects of his reign, are the same persons that compose the church universal, which has been defined “the whole company of those who are saved by Christ.” For the benefit of this church, his kingly authority over all things is exercised.

As theological writers have maintained that there is a visible church catholic, distinct from the spiritual universal church of the Scriptures; so some of them have maintained that there is a visible kingdom of Christ, a society of external organization, into which men enter by baptism. But the kingdom of Christ is not a society of men, bound together by external organization, like a family, a nation, or a local church. This view of it is not authorized by the Holy Scriptures.

The kingdom of Christ is properly the kingly authority with which he is invested; and the phrase is used, by metonymy, to denote the subjects of his reign, and especially the obedient subjects on whom the blessings of his reign are conferred. But the tie which binds these obedient subjects to their king, and his reign, is internal. “Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice.”[83] These men constitute a holy nation, a nation bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom; but they are not made a nation by external organization.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”[84] We are not to understand this declaration to imply, that his reign had nothing to do with the men and things of this world. The other sentence just quoted, which was spoken in connection with this declaration “Every one who is of the truth, heareth my voice,” claimed the men who receive and love the truth as the subjects of his kingly authority. Having all power in heaven and earth committed to him, he rules in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. Hence every relation among men, and all the duties arising from it, come under his authority. The family, the nation, and the local church, are all institutions in his kingdom, or under his reign; and the external organization of these institutions should be regulated according to the will of the sovereign king; but the kingdom itself exists, independent of all external organization.

Some passages of Scripture have been supposed to favor the opinion, that the kingdom of Christ is a society of external organization, including good men and bad. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a net cast into the sea, which brought good fish and bad to the shore;[85] to a sower, who sowed seed that fell in bad ground as well as in good;[86] to a field, which contained tares as well as wheat.[87] These parables are designed to illustrate important truths connected with the reign of Christ. The gospel of the kingdom was to be preached to every creature; and the commission to preach it, was accompanied with the declaration, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”[88] However variously men may be affected by the word preached, and however difficult it may be to distinguish their true character, and separate the bad from the good in the present life, the separation will be made in the last day, and none will be admitted to enjoy the blessings of the reign but obedient subjects. To suppose an organized religious society, including good men and bad, to be intended by the net which enclosed good fish and bad, or the field containing tares and wheat, is to overstrain and misapply the parables. The Saviour does not so explain them. The field is the world, and not an organized society in the world. The command was given that the tares and wheat should be permitted to grow together until the harvest, which is the end of the world. Then the King will sit in judgment on the whole world, and not on a particular society in it; and will separate the good from the bad, whom he has permitted to remain together in his kingdom. Then he will remove out of his kingdom all that offends; and will say concerning his enemies, in the midst of whom he now reigns, “Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”[89] Yet it is the will of the King that bad men and good should be permitted to remain together in the world; but instead of commanding that they should be permitted to grow together in religious association with each ocher, he commands his followers, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”[90] Moreover, though the tares and the wheat grow together in the field, the tares are called the children of the wicked one; and the good seed, the children of the kingdom. The kingdom does not embrace the good and bad alike, as sustaining the same relation to it; but a society embraces all its members, irrespective of their moral character.

Families, nations, and local churches, are societies of external organization; and they are organized for the present world. At the end of the world, all these organizations will cease. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world; but at the end of the world, when earthly organizations shall have passed away, he will gather the wicked out of his kingdom; and the kingdom itself, freed from all rebellious subjects, will continue for ever. Then shall the righteous, who alone are the children of the kingdom, shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.

[83] John xviii. 37.

[84] John xviii. 36.

[85] Matt. xiii. 47-50.

[86] Matt. xiii. 3-8.

[87] Matt. xiii. 24-30.

[88] Mark xvi. 16.

[89] Luke xix. 27.

[90] 2 Cor. vi. 17.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section V- Progress and Duration

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment

CHAPTER III

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

SECTION V.–PROGRESS AND DURATION

The Church Universal is in progress of construction, and will be completed at the end of the world, after which it will endure for ever.

The words of the Saviour, “On this rock will I build my church,” prove that the building was not then completed. In another place, speaking of the church under the figure of a fold: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”[72] The calling of the gentiles, and the introduction of them into the privileges of the gospel, are here intended. By the ministry of the word accompanied with the influence of the Holy Spirit, great multitudes were converted in the days of the apostles. These converts are described by Peter as lively or living stones, built on Christ the living stone disallowed of men, but chosen of God and precious.[73] Paul uses the same figure; and both of these inspired writers speak of the edifice as a growing temple.[74] The work is still in progress; and innumerable multitudes are yet to be gathered, who are to complete the glorious structure. On the last day, when all the redeemed shall have been brought in, Jesus will present them to the Father: “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me.”[75] This will be the church completed in number, sanctified and glorified, a glorious church, without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing. The church will remain throughout eternity: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”[76]

Some difficulty exists in determining the date at which the church of Christ may be properly said to have commenced. The same difficulty exists respecting the beginning of the gospel, and of Christ’s mediatorial reign. Mark dates the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the ministry of John the Baptist;[77] but Paul says that the gospel was before preached unto Abraham.[78] The reign of Christ is dated from the time of his exaltation at the right hand of the Father; yet saints were saved by his mediation, and he was David’s Lord, under the former dispensation. So Christ said, “on this rock will I build my church,” as if the work was still future; and yet the edifice is said to be built on the foundation of the prophets, as well as of the apostles.[79] The Scriptures represent a gathering of all things under Christ, both in heaven and on earth,[80] at the time of his exaltation in human nature to supreme dominion. The Old Testament saints who had been saved by the efficacy of his blood before it was shed, and who had desired to understand what the Holy Ghost signified when it testified to their prophets concerning the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which should follow, were waiting in heaven for the unfolding of this mystery. Moses and Elias evinced their interest in this theme, when, during their brief interview with the Saviour on the mount of transfiguration, they discoursed of the decease which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.[81] The angels had desired to look into this mystery, but the fulness of time for its disclosure did not arrive until the man Christ Jesus entered the heavenly court, and was crowned with glory and honor. Then the angels gathered around and worshipped the Son. Then the saints drew near, and adored him as their Lord and Saviour. The proclamation was made throughout the courts of glory, and every inhabitant of heaven rendered willing homage to the Mediator. The Holy Spirit brought the proclamation down to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, that it might go thence through all the earth. They who gladly received it, were received into his royal favor, made citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, and members of the great ecclesia.

In the words of Christ before cited, the church is represented as a building. The beginning of an edifice may be dated back to the first movement in preparing the materials. In this view the church was begun, when Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham first exercised faith. But in another view, the building was commenced when the materials were brought together in their proper relation to Jesus Christ. To the Old Testament saints, until gathered under Christ with the saints of the present dispensation, Paul attributes a sort of incompleteness, which may be not unaptly compared to the condition of building materials not yet put together: “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”[82]

[72] John x. 16.

[73] 1 Peter ii. 4, 5.

[74] Eph. ii. 21.

[75] Heb. ii. 13.

[76] Eph. iii. 21.

[77] Mark i. 1, 2.

[78] Gal. iii. 8.

[79] Eph. ii. 20.

[80] Eph. i. 10.

[81] Luke ix. 31.

[82] Heb. xi. 39, 40.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section IV- Organization

December 20, 2017 Leave a comment

CHAPTER III

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

SECTION IV.–ORGANIZATION

The church universal has no external organization.

Organization has respect to action, and is an arrangement and adaptation of parts fitting them to act together to a common end. A society is said to be organized when its members are brought into such connection and relation, that they can act together as one body. A family is a society in which persons are connected with each other in the relations of husband and wife, parent and child. They act towards each other in these relations for the common good of the family, and each family stands as a distinct whole in the community. The tie of affection which unites the members of the family, is an internal bond of union; but superadded to this, there is an external organization which makes them one family, even though the internal tie of affection were severed. A nation is a society organized for the purpose of civil government, and the common good of the whole. The members may all love their laws, institutions, and governors; and patriotism, an internal bond of union, may make them one. But an external organization is superadded which would constitute them one nation, even if patriotism failed. A local church is an assembly of believers organized for the worship and service of God. Internal piety is a bond of union; but while piety and brotherly love would bind them equally to saints of other churches, they have an external organization which brings them into special relation to each other, and constitutes them one church.

Believers in Christ may be regarded as composing one family. God is their Father, and all they brethren; but the relationship is spiritual. Believers in Christ compose a nation, a holy nation, over which Christ is the king. They obey his laws, and strive to gain conquests in his cause, but they fight not with carnal weapons; and the bond of their union to each other and to their king is spiritual. The members of a local church may be known by the record of their names in the church book; but the church of the first born are written in heaven, and no record on earth determines their membership. It may be known by their fruits of righteousness, but these are the fruit of the Spirit which dwells and operates in each member, and by immersion in which they are formed into one body.

In the preceding section, the unity of the church universal was proved to be spiritual. Unity may exist in material bodies without organization. A pebble is one, though its parts are not organically united; but in living bodies the parts are organically united, and the organism is necessary to their vitality. The church is called the body of Christ: and the members operate on each other and co-operate with each other like the members of the human body; but the organism is spiritual. The qualification of every member to occupy his proper place and perform his proper duties, is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, who divides to every man severally as he will; and who operates in and through all. Christ is the head of this body, and every member is organically united to the head: but “he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit;” and, therefore, the organization is spiritual.

Theological writers have maintained the existence of what they call the Visible Church Catholic, consisting of all who profess the true religion. They regard this as distinct from the body of true saints, which they designate the Invisible Church. The propriety of this designation we have denied, on the ground that true religion is visible in its effects. But the question as to the propriety of the names used to designate these bodies, is altogether different from the question whether these bodies actually exist. We have maintained the existence of what theological writers have called the Invisible Church, consisting of all who are spiritually united to Christ. Is there another body consisting of all who profess the true religion?

The possibility of uniting all who profess the true religion in one mental conception, and of designating them by a collective name, cannot be disputed. In this way we conceive and speak of the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom, &c. If it were impossible to unite all who profess the true religion in one mental conception, the doctrine that a visible church Catholic exists would be an absurdity; but this no one will assert. The existence of such a body in our mental conception is one thing, and the existence of it in fact is another. All who profess the true religion do not form one body by mere juxtaposition, as a number of men gathered together form one assembly; but they are scattered abroad everywhere over the face of the earth. The simple fact that they are alike in professing the same religion is sufficient for the purpose of mental classification; but to constitute them really one body, some species of organization is necessary. Do they compose an organized body?

The Holy Scriptures contain no proof that the followers of Christ, after the dispersion of the church at Jerusalem, ever acted together as one externally organized society. Previous to their dispersion, they were of one heart and one soul, and they were one by juxtaposition as a congregated assembly, and they united as one body in the outward services of public worship, and in such church action as the election of deacons. After their dispersion, they continued to be of one heart and one soul; and they continued to act under the influence of one Spirit to one common end. Their spiritual union and their spiritual organization continued; but their external union and external organization ceased. They no longer constituted one assembly, and they never acted together as one society. They constituted separate local churches which acted independently in their distinct organizations, but never formally united in counsel or in action as one body.

The only fact in sacred history which at all favors the opinion that the churches acted in general council, is recorded in the 15th chapter of Acts. The church at Antioch sent messengers to the church at Jerusalem to consult on a point of duty. After consultation, the church at Jerusalem, with the apostles and elders, sent forth a decree which the disciples of Christ everywhere were required to observe. There is not the slightest intimation that delegates went from the other churches, which were now numerous, and scattered through different countries. The whole church met in the council: not the entire body of those in every place who professed the true religion, but the church at Jerusalem. To this church the messengers from Antioch were sent, and before this church they laid the question. When the decision was made, it was announced, not as the decision of the universal church assembled in general council by its delegates, but as the decision of the church at Jerusalem with the apostles and elders. The decision of this church would have been entitled to respect, as the oldest and best informed of all the churches, and especially in the present case, in which the disturbers of the church at Antioch had claimed the authority of established usage in this, the mother church. But the decree of the assembled body was sent forth with an authority above that of any single church or council of churches: “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us.”[67] The inspired apostles were present in this consultation, and their decision went forth with divine authority: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”[68] No ecclesiastical council can justly claim this synod at Jerusalem as a precedent for its action, unless it can also claim to act by inspiration, and send forth its decrees with the authority of the Holy Ghost.

No ecclesiastical organization of modern times can, with any show of propriety, claim to be the Visible Church Catholic. No one of them includes all who profess the true religion. Some of them may claim to be The Church; but most of them have more modest pretensions, and claim to be only branches of the church. Each branch, however, has its own organization, and all the branches do not unite in one organized whole. Were there a combination of all the separate ecclesiastical organizations into one body, and were this body to act as an organized whole, it would possess no authority from the Holy Scriptures; but no such combination does in fact exist. The state of the Christian world falsifies the doctrine.

The bishop of Rome and his adherents, claim to be the Catholic or universal church. They are united by external organization, for the organization itself points out the head, the subordinate officers, and the members of the body. These hold their several positions, whatever may be their moral or spiritual qualifications. The organization is a strong one, as the history of its acts demonstrates; and this history, stained with blood, equally demonstrates that the body is not energized by the spirit of peace and love. This external organization needed an external head, and the bishop of the imperial city became the acknowledged vicar of Jesus Christ. Sitting in the temple of God, and showing himself that he is God, he claims a headship which belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ. This assumption of power is founded on the doctrine of the visible church Catholic. Destroy the foundation, and nothing remains for the superstructure to stand on. We have, therefore, good reason to regard the doctrine with suspicion, and to examine carefully its claims on our faith.

It will be instructive to notice how naturally the papal usurpation arose out of this doctrine. On the supposition that Christ instituted a universal church of external organization, the declarations and promises which have respect to his spiritual church. would naturally be applied to this external body. It would appear incredible that he should leave this body to degeneracy and corruption, after having promised to be with it always to the end of the world, and that the gates of hell should never prevail against it; and after having constituted and declared it the pillar and ground of the truth. If external organization connects the universal church with the church of apostolic times, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to set aside the pretensions of the Romanists. We may argue that they have lost the doctrine and the spirit of the apostles; but if the church is a body of external organization, the continuity of the organization must determine the true church. If its failure to preserve the truth and spirit of the primitive times has unchurched it; then these last attributes are the distinguishing characteristics of the true church, rather than external organization. Here, then, is the grand controversy between Christ and Antichrist. Jesus Christ has not two universal churches. He is not the head of two bodies, the husband of two wives. His true church is a spiritually organized body, and spiritually joined to him its only head. The body claiming to be the church on the ground of external organization is a substitute, and its head is a substitute for Christ. They first take the place of the true church and its true head, and afterwards oppose and persecute. They who see and deplore the mischief which the papal usurpation has wrought, should learn the secret of its power. The substitution of ecclesiastical organization for spiritual religion has wrought all the evil. Let the pernicious effects teach us to guard against the cause which produced them.

The doctrine of the visible church catholic, is much favored by the use of the epithet visible. Things are predicated of the true church which cannot be true of an invisible body. Saul persecuted the church, and this he could not have done if the church had been invisible. We fully admit the visibility of the church, but we distinguish between visibility and organization. Herod persecuted the infants of Bethlehem; but it does not follow that those babes composed an organized society. The rage of the persecuting Saul was directed against the saints, and not against their ecclesiastical organization. To have disbanded their external organization, would not have disarmed his rage. This they might have retained, if they had blasphemed the name of Jesus and renounced his doctrine. The truth and spirit of Christianity are hateful to the world; and without external organization, have been sufficiently visible to awaken the opposition and rage of persecutors.

An argument for an externally organized universal church, is derived from 1 Cor. xii. 28: “God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” The universal church is here meant, and the offices enumerated imply that the body to which they belong is organized; but the organization is not external. The church which includes all who profess the true religion, contains bad members, and bad officers, as well as good ones. Even in the primitive times, there were, among those who professed the true religion, false apostles and false prophets; pastors who devoured the flock; teachers who brought in damnable heresies; and governments that lorded it over God’s heritage, and loved to have the pre-eminence. Considering the church as an externally organized society, these men were as truly officers in it as the most self-denying of its ministers. In the Roman church, the pontiff holds the supreme place, whatever may be his moral character. The priests hold the sacraments, and dispense their mysterious benefits, however unclean may be their hands. If a similar organization existed in apostolic times, the false apostles and other ungodly officers were truly members of the church. Now, did God “set” such men in the church? Did he set them there “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ?” Such men were not the ministers of God, but ministers of Satan, transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness; and the church which excludes them from its boundaries must have those boundaries determined, not by external organization, but by genuine piety. With this view, the whole context of the passage agrees. The qualifications for the officers enumerated are mentioned in the first verses of the chapter, and attributed to the Holy Spirit, dividing, not according to the vote of the church, but according to his own will. The members are brought into the body by immersion in the Spirit; and the sympathy which pervades the body is spiritual. It is no objection to this view, that some of the offices enumerated have respect to local churches, which are confessedly bodies of external organization. The man who labors in the pastorship or government of a local church, if called of God to his office, is a member of the true universal church, and qualified for his office by the Spirit that pervades and animates that body, and is required to labor with reference to the good of the whole. The local church to which he belongs, if organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of real saints; and he labors to introduce no others into their fellowship. Ho officiates to them as members of Christ’s body, and does not bound his aims by the local organization. So Paul taught the elders of :Ephesus to consider themselves laboring for the whole redeemed church: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”[69] So Peter taught the elders whom he addressed: “Feed the flock of God which is among you. …Neither as being lords over God’s heritage.”[70] Every faithful pastor shares in the universal pastoral commission given to Peter: “Feed my sheep–feed my lambs.” Though laboring for a part of the flock, he labors for the good of the whole. He who, in his official labors, limits his view to the local organization with which he is connected, and which is temporary in its duration, degrades his office; and so far yields to the antichristian spirit which substitutes external organization for spiritual religion, and a visible for an invisible head.

The opinion has been held, almost as a theological axiom, that baptism is the door into the church. It is not the door into the spiritual universal church; for men enter this by regeneration, and are, therefore, members of it before they are fit subjects for baptism. It is not the door into a local church; for, though it is a prerequisite to membership, men may be baptized, and remain unconnected with any local church. But those who hold that there is a visible church catholic, commonly maintain that it receives and includes all the baptized. They differ among themselves respecting the extent and boundaries of the church, because they differ as to what constitutes valid baptism. Since Baptists admit nothing to be valid baptism but immersion on profession of faith, those of them who hold the doctrine of a visible church catholic, make this church substantially identical with the Baptist denomination. This Baptist modification of the doctrine was its earliest form. While immersion was the universal practice of the churches, and infant baptism had not yet prevailed; before sprinkling was substituted for baptism, and babes for believers; the notion obtained, that the kingdom is the visible church catholic, and that men are born into it by water. In this notion, Pedobaptism and Popery originated.

Much mischief to the cause of truth has resulted from a misinterpretation of the words of Christ just referred to: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”[71] Not a word is said in this text about baptism and not a word in the whole discourse, of which this verse is a part, leads to the supposition that baptism was intended. But it is not necessary for our present purpose to enter into a discussion of this question. If we admit that the phrase “born of water” intends baptism, it is clear that this alone does not introduce into the kingdom; for it is also an indispensable condition, that a man be born of the Spirit. We have, therefore, the boundaries of the church so narrowed, that it includes none but those who have been both regenerated and baptized.

Persons who have been both regenerated and baptized, are the baptized part of the true universal church; but they do not of themselves constitute a church. They are not the generic church of Mr. Courtney. Each local church is liable to contain false professors; and, therefore, the genus of local churches does not consist of regenerated persons exclusively. They are not the visible church catholic of theologians. This body consists of all who profess the true religion; and, therefore, includes false professors as well as true Christians. Besides, these regenerated and baptized persons do not, in the sense of theological writers, compose a visible church. Their regeneration is a spiritual qualification, and is not determined by outward ceremony or external organization. This baptized part of the true spiritual church is as invisible, in the technical sense of the term, as the entire body called the invisible church. No man can say with infallible certainty of any one, though baptized, that he is born of the Spirit. These regenerated and baptized persons do not compose the universal church of the Holy Scriptures; and the church that Christ loved and gave himself for, includes many who, like the penitent thief on the cross, never received baptism. They will form a part in the general ecclesia of the heavenly city; and God will be glorified in them by Jesus Christ, throughout all ages, world without end. This universal church is not limited to the baptized; and in no proper sense does the baptized part of it constitute an ecclesia. The true universal church includes the whole company of those who are saved by Christ; and their spiritual organization is not dependent on outward ceremony.

[67] Acts xv. 28.

[68] Matt. xviii. 18.

[69] Acts xx. 28.

[70] 1 Peter v. 1, 3.

[71] John iii. 5.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section III- Unity

December 13, 2017 Leave a comment

CHAPTER III

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

SECTION III.–UNITY

The Unity of the universal church is spiritual.

Material bodies are formed by an aggregation of particles which have an attraction for each other. In like manner, living beings are brought together into bodies, or societies, by various attractions which subsist among them. Bees, birds, and various species of animals, exhibit the social propensity; and it operates in man, as a part of his natural constitution. Together with this innate tendency to seek society, the interests and necessities of men bind them together in various forms of association. In these cases, the principles of association are natural; and a new nature, or a new heart, is not indispensably requisite. But the church is a society, in which this qualification is indispensable. Its members are bound to one another by an attraction which is unfelt by men of the world: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”[50]

The distinctive principle which separates Christians from the world, and binds them together, is produced in them by the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God.”[51] “Every one that loveth is born of God. “[52] We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”[53] The same spiritual influence that sheds abroad the love of God in the heart, produces love to all who bear the image of God: “He who loveth God, loveth his brother also.”[54] Brotherly love was especially enjoined on the followers of Christ, by their divine Master: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”[55] All who feel the love of Christ constraining them, are drawn by its influence to love those whom he loved, and gave himself for. Not only is brotherly love enjoined, but it flows spontaneously from the new heart: “But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.”[56]

Love, which is sometimes called charity in our translation of the Bible, is declared to be “the bond of perfectness.”[57] It binds all the people of God together, and makes them one. It is the essential principle of that sympathy, so beautifully described in 1 Cor. xii., as subsisting between the various members of Christ’s body. It is this that cements the living stones of the spiritual temple, which as it groweth together, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. This was the principle of union in the first church at Jerusalem, of which it is recorded: “The multitude of them that believed, were of one heart, and one soul.”[58] Persecution drove the members of this church from one another; but it could not sever the tie that bound them together, and made them one. The love of the brethren was never confined to a local church. After Paul had said to the church of the Thessalonians, “Concerning brotherly love, ye have no need that I write unto you,” he adds, “and indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia.”[59] Their love extended beyond the boundaries of their church, into all the region round about. Wherever a child of God, a disciple of Jesus, was found, this love embraced him as one of the spiritual brotherhood. “Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.”[60]

The bond of perfectness which unites the people of God on earth, makes them one with the church in heaven, who are made perfect in love. This grace is not destroyed by death, nor does death deprive it of its cementing power. Faith and hope may cease, and the unity of faith and the unity of hope belong more properly to the church on earth; but love never faileth, and the unity of love binds and will for ever bind all the redeemed together, as it binds them all to Christ.

The attraction of love, which draws all the people of God to heaven, causes them, while on their way thither, to unite with each other, as they have opportunity, in the worship and service of God. Even without a divine command not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, grace within would incline them to form such societies. It is said of the first Christians, on the memorable day of Pentecost, “They were all with one accord in one place.”[61] And when their number was greatly increased by the ministry of the word, it is said, “All that believed were together.”[62] The word “together” is a translation of the same Greek phrase that is rendered in the first verse “in one place.” The new converts were of one heart and one soul with the original one hundred and twenty; and formed with these one society accustomed to meet for the worship of God. The unity of this assembly was disturbed by persecution; but the tendency to assemble was not destroyed. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem; and we immediately after read of the churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The same principle of unity pervaded the whole body; and by it, from the necessity of the case, local churches were multiplied.

The brotherly love which characterizes and unites the followers of Christ, has not for its object all who profess the true religion. Christ did not enjoin such exercise of it; but instructed his disciples to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. These dangerous intruders into the fold were to appear as professors of the true religion; otherwise, it could not be said that they wore the clothing of sheep. Paul, in his last interview with the elders of the Ephesian church, gave a similar warning: “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”[63] He elsewhere speaks of false brethren, brought in unawares. If these false brethren had not professed the true religion, they could not have found entrance, even for a short time. Such agents of mischief are not the proper objects of brotherly love. Even the beloved disciple, whose heart was so full of love, and who urged the duty of brotherly love with the utmost earnestness, commanded to try the spirits;[64] and directed, concerning such mischievous professors, not to receive them, nor bid them God speed. [65]

Again, all who profess the true religion do not exercise the brotherly love of true Christians. The wolves in sheep’s clothing were enemies of the flock. Among others who had not their deadly designs, it was still true, even in the apostolic times, that iniquity abounded, and the love of many waxed cold.[66] In later times, the pages of what is called church history give accounts that contrast painfully with the beautiful exhibitions of brotherly love found in the Holy Scripture. Those who, according to their profession, ought to have laid down their lives for the brethren, have, in multitudes of instances, persecuted them unto death; and, while professing the true religion, have shed the blood of the saints.

From what has been said, it follows clearly that the church, the body of Christ, does not consist of all who profess the true religion. To constitute membership therein, the profession must proceed from love in the heart; in which case it will be manifested externally by obedience to his commandments. Only so far as this evidence of true discipleship appears, are we required, or even authorized, to exercise brotherly love.

[50] John xv. 19.

[51] Gal. v. 22.

[52] 1 John iv. 7.

[53] 1 John iii. 14.

[54] 1 John iv. 21.

[55] John xiii. 34.

[56] 1 Thes. iv. 9.

[57] Col. iii. 14.

[58] Acts iv. 32.

[59] 1 Thes. iv. 10.

[60] 1 John v. 1.

[61] Acts ii. 1.

[62] Acts ii. 44.

[63] Acts xx. 29, 30.

[64] 1 John iv. 1.

[65] 2 John 10.

[66] Matt. xxiv. 12.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section II- Visibility

CHAPTER III

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

SECTION II.–VISIBILITY

The Members of the Universal Church are known by their profession of Christ and their obedience to his commands.

The religion of Christ was not designed for concealment. From its very nature, it cannot be hid. It inclines every one who possesses it, to do good to all mankind, and to make known the gospel by which all mankind are to be blessed. At every point of contact with human society, Christian benevolence will exhibit itself. Christ’s followers are described as lights in the world.[37] They are a candle which is lighted, not to be put under a bushel, but that it may give light to all who are in the house.[38] They are a city on a hill, which cannot be hid.[39] They are commanded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”[40] Their obedience to this command has distinguished them in all ages, and made them visible to the world.

The disciples of Christ are bound to profess their attachment to him before the world. This obligation is taught in such passages as the following: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in shine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”[41] “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.”[42]

But something more than mere profession is necessary to distinguish the true followers of Christ. Many say Lord, Lord, who do not the things which he has commanded. To such persons, however loudly they may profess his name, he will say, “Depart from me, ye that ork iniquity.”[43] He recognises those only as his followers who are obedient to his precepts; and he has taught us to recognise them in the same manner: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”[44] “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”[45] A life of holy obedience to Christ is readily distinguishable from the common course of this world; and where it is exhibited, men cannot fail to see it.

The visibility of the church consists in the visibility of its members. Our Divine Master came, “a light into the world;” and all his followers are lights; some of them burning and shining lights, and others stars of less magnitude. But, as the constellations of heaven have no other light to render them visible than that which the several stars emit, so it is with the church. All its light is the light of its members, and all its visibility depends on their lustre.

Writers on theology have distinguished between the church visible, and the church invisible; but a church in this world to be invisible must consist, not of children of light, but of those whose light is darkness. Were we to use these designations according to their proper import, we might call the saints in heaven the invisible church, because they are removed beyond the reach of human sight; and the saints on earth, the visible church, because they still remain on earth to enlighten this dark world. But the saints above and the saints below, make only one communion, one church; and theologians, when they mean to distinguish these two parts of the one whole from each other, are accustomed to call them the church militant and the church triumphant. By the church invisible, they mean all true Christians; and by the church visible, all those who profess the true religion. The invisible consists wholly of those who are sons of light; and the visible includes sons of light and sons of darkness in one community. We have seen that Christ does not recognise mere professors as his disciples, and that he has taught us not so to recognise them. A universal church, therefore, which consists of all who profess the true religion, is a body which Christ does not own. To be visible saints, a holy life must be superadded to a profession of the true religion; and they who do not exhibit the light of a holy life, whatever their professions may be, have no scriptural claim to be considered members of Christ’s church.

Membership in a local church, is not always coincident with membership in the church universal. This appears on the one hand, in the fact that the pure light of a holy life may sometimes be so successfully counterfeited, as to deceive mankind. Paul has taught us, that Satan may transform himself into an angel of light; and that it is no marvel, if his ministers do the same.[46] John says, “They went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us;”[47] and we hence infer, that they were not manifest before. But this passage teaches us, that their profession of religion, and their successful imitation of the Christian life, were not enough. It was still true, “they were not of us.” Simon, the sorcerer, was thought for a time to be a convert; but when his true character was disclosed, Peter decided, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”[48] If mere profession rendered him a member of the universal church, his membership in it was not affected by the discovery that his heart was not right, so long as his profession was not renounced. If membership in the local church at Samaria rendered him a member of the universal church, the local church had not disowned him. When Paul would have the incestuous person at Corinth excommunicated from that local church, he did not pronounce the sentence of excommunication by his apostolic authority; but left it with the church to perform the act.[49] So Peter did not use his apostolic authority, to exclude the sorcerer from the church at Samaria; but pronounced on his relation to the whole community of the saints. It is hence apparent that membership in a local church may be superadded to profession in those who have no part in the matter. They of whom John says “They were not of us,” were for a time members of some local church; and so are many to whom the Saviour will say in the last day, “I never knew you.”

On the other hand, men sometimes judge too unfavorably. The church at Jerusalem was unwilling, for a time, to receive the converted Saul as a true disciple; but the Lord Jesus had received him, and given him the place of an apostle in his universal church.

Notwithstanding the errors which human judgment may commit in individual cases, it still remains true, that the light of piety is visible. Time often corrects these errors. The sorcerer, and John’s false professors, were made manifest; and the conversion of Saul to the faith which he once destroyed, became universally admitted. Doubtless there are cases which will not be understood till the last judgment; but it nevertheless remains a general truth: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Because some cases are doubtful, and some may be mistaken, it does not follow that sin and holiness are undistinguishable, or that the world and the church are undistinguishable.

The epithet “invisible” applied to the true church of Christ, is not only incorrect, but it has led into mistake. Men have spoken of this church as a mere mental conception; and they have asked, whether Saul persecuted an invisible church. They seek a church possessing more visibility than proceeds from Christian profession and a life of piety; and they find it, as they think, in some form of organization, which they deem necessary to constitute the church. Such an organized body, they call the visible church. But Saul did not inquire, whether those whom he persecuted, as professed followers of Christ, and devotedly attached to his cause and doctrine, were also members of some external organization. He persecuted them as Christian men and women. But the existence of such men and women, like the persecutions which they suffered, was something more than a mere mental conception. Organization is not necessary to visibility; much less is any particular species of it. Rocks and mountains are as visible as plants and animals.

[37] Phil. ii. 15.

[38] Matt. v. 15.

[39] Matt. v. 14.

[40] Matt. v. 16.

[41] Rom. x. 9.

[42] Matt. x. 32.

[43] Matt. vii. 21, 23.

[44] Matt. vii. 20.

[45] John xv. 14.

[46] 2 Cor. xi. 14, 15.

[47] 1 John ii. 19.

[48] Acts viii. 21.

[49] 1 Cor. v 4, 5.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2