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CHURCH OF CHRIST.
Notes on St. Matt. xvi. 13 - 19.
hamilton, adams, & co.
"I will build my Church." -- Matt. 16:18.
WE are told of Moses, that, when he first beheld the burning bush, as he kept the flock in the wilderness, when he turned aside to see this great sight, why the bush burnt, and yet was not consumed, a Voice called to him out of the midst of the bush, saying, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place thou standest on is holy ground" (Exod. 3:2-5). The self-same Voice still calls to those, who, as they keep a few poor sheep in the wilderness, have the sight of the bush in which God dwells, "burning yet not consumed," presented to their notice. And now and then it becomes all those, who look on such a sight, to take heed how they approach thereto, for the place is holy ground. For here we come not to a mount which may be touched, or to a sight which carnal reason can measure or give account of, but to that wondrous dwelling-place of the Most High, that mystery of His Body, which angels desire to look into; which, seeming to be, and being, of the earth, is of heaven also, the true link between the earth and heaven. The sight is nothing less than the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, that is, in Christ and Christ's members.
Now the most perfect manifestation of this great mystery is given to us by the Holy Ghost in the Four Gospels. In Christ we see the flesh in which God dwells, and in that flesh we have in type every aspect and particular of the Church, which is His Body; and this not, as in the Old Testament, set forth piecemeal, if one may say so, but presented in all its completeness, though in mystery. In the Old Testament each one of the holy men and women express some form of that divine life in human nature, which was to be revealed perfectly in Christ's Body. One man shewed forth the life of faith, another the blessed life of sonship, another that of service, another that of suffering, others figured other forms or aspects of the same wondrous mystery. But in Christ we have the perfect revelation; and in His life we may also read the life and sufferings of the Church, which is His Body (Eph. 1:23).
For "as He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). His Church, like Him, must be conceived by the power of His Spirit, and "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). And her calling, like His, is to gather to God, and thus to save others, though herself she cannot save. His story tells out hers also: her first reception (which indeed is His,) by the carnal children of the kingdom, who, wise in the letter of the prophets, have no eye for Christ, when He is seen in feeble members, and wrapped in earthly swaddling clothes: then her baptism, fasting, and temptation, still tempted like her Head, first in the wilderness, then in the temple, and then by this world's glory: then her teaching, like His, opening with blessings, not cursings: then her acts, or rather His in her, for He is her life, and must be seen in her, meeting every form in which sin works in human nature, whether it appears in outbreaks of fleshly uncleaness, as in the leper, or in weakness and helplessness, as in the palsied man, or in burning restlessness, as in her who lay sick of a fever, or in hopelessness, as in those possessed with devils. In every scene, if we have eyes and hearts to see, in Christ the Head we may see something of the Church His Body, and what His Church must be, and do, and suffer, in virtue of being His Body and quickened by His Spirit; like Him appearing very differently at different stages, though like Him the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever; like Him now known after the flesh by fleshly men, and now like Him known in spirit by those disciples who are spiritual; now seen in Jewish forms and swaddling clothes, and now, as Jewish no more, with heaven opened, and power to reach the dead, the wounded, and the leper, whom Jewish priests and levites cannot help, but only look at and pass by on the other side. So the story, "old yet ever new," goes on, to shew the welcome such a body receives from the carnal children of the kingdom, how the Anointed Man and His members are misunderstood, misrepresented, and at length cast out by the fleshly seed, for whom they live and toil and suffer.
The Gospels tell it all. The Church is seen, not as described in books, but as living and breathing in Christ and in Christ's members. And though to see Christ's Body thus requires more insight than to read a description of certain particulars respecting the Church, such as we may find in some Epistle,—just as to see geology in the hills and rocks, or astronomy in the heavens, requires an eye very different from that which can only read these things in the pages of a Lyell or a Newton,—there is yet, for those who can thus see the Church in Christ, a revelation of her, such as is not, and cannot be, found elsewhere. For as the heavens are fairer than a book about them, and the earth far fuller and more wondrous than any treatise on geology, so is the Church, as set forth in type in Christ her Head, fairer and more wondrous than any human or even divine description of her. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into man's heart to conceive of such beauty; but the Holy Ghost can still reveal these things of Christ, that we may see our calling, and the things that in Him are freely given to us of God.
But the Lord, in pity to our weakness, has done more than exhibit in Himself what the Church, His Body, must be. He has also shewn, in words to His disciples, how His life and path are to be their life and path also. Rejected by the carnal seed, in the coasts of Cesarea Philippi the Lord opens out the mystery of the Church to those, who, rejected with Him, still cleave to and closely follow Him. The passage is perfect in itself (Matt. 16:13-18:35), and gives us the sum of all Church Principles. Here only in the Gospels does Christ name the Church. But in this passage, which forms a separate section of the Gospel, are seven scenes, all bearing on the Church, the first and last of which directly name her, and repeat the well-known words respecting "binding" and "loosing" (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:17-18). In the first, which shews the nature of the Church, we read, "I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In the last scene, which opens the Church's law, we have Christ's order,—"Tell it to the Church; and if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The intermediate scenes fill up the picture. There is, first, the Church's nature and foundation (Matt. 16:13-20), secondly, her cross (Matt. 16:21-26); then thirdly, her coming glory (Matt. 16:27-17:13); fourthly; her power on earth over all evil spirits (Matt. 17:14-21); fifthly, her subjection to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake (Matt. 17:22-27); sixthly, her true greatness, as compared with this world's pride (Matt. 18:1-14); and lastly, her law, which is grace and truth, after the pattern of Christ Jesus (Matt. 18:15-35). In each of these particulars it is shewn, that, "as Christ is, so are we in this world." Nay more, in each, Christ, the Head, is seen sharing the same nature, or work, or experience, as the Church, His Body; whether in sonship towards God, or in His cross and shame, or in glory, or service, or power over evil spirits. In each He shares our lot with us: in each He calls us to share His lot, as His members.
Let us then look at our Lord's own words touching the Church. As a Master-builder, He begins with the foundation; and, having shewn this, proceeds to the nature of the building, and the results of having such a nature, first in this world, and then in that which is to come.
1.—We are first shewn The Foundation the Church is built on, namely, the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Our Lord asks, "Whom say men that I, the Son of Man, am?" And Peter, after giving the common notion respecting Him, confesses Jesus to be Son of God. This is the foundation of the Church,—the fact and confession that the Son of Man is Son of God also: not only that the Divine can dwell in the Human, and make it a vessel to reveal all God's fulness; but further that man in Christ is God's Son. "Upon this rock," says Christ, "I will build my Church."
What this confession amounts to will be best seen by comparing the imperfect view respecting Christ, then generally current, with the true confession, as made here by St. Peter.
The imperfect view is this, that Jesus, Son of Man, who is manifestly man, eating, drinking, sleeping, walking here with men, is one of the prophets:—"Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Now this view, that Christ is one of the prophets, is true, but not the whole truth, nor the special truth the Church is built on. The prophets were men sent of God to teach men. This view therefore goes no higher in its idea of the relation between God and man, than that man is a creature taught by God, and that God is a sender of messages to His creatures. A prophet witnesses that God is a carer for men, a director and judge, and even a helper, when they are in trouble. But is this the special truth, or the whole truth, of the relation between God and man, which Christ expresses to us? Is this the truth of which the Church is witness? Is God merely a director of His creatures, their law-giver, or even their promise-giver? Is this all? Is the relation, which the Church stands in to God, only that of a receiver of law, or receiver of a promise? Surely something far more. The fact that God helps men, and sends prophets to men, is a part, but a part only, of the truth which Christ teaches. Jesus surely is a prophet, filling up all that Elijah, Jeremiah, and the rest, had shadowed forth before the eyes of Israel; but the difference is, that whereas God in times past spoke by prophets, now He speaks by One who is His Son, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, in and by whom man is brought into the relationship of son towards God, and in the spirit of sonship can cry, Abba, Father (Heb. 1:1; Gal. 4:4-6).
The true confession, on which the Church is built, expresses this:—"Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art, (though Son of Man,) the Christ, the Son of the living God;" in other words, Peter confesses the great fact of the true relationship between God and man in Christ Jesus,—that a man in Christ is son of God, and therefore that God is our Father. This is the relation between God and man, of which the Church, which is the Body, even as Christ, who is the Head, is formed and set to be the witness. God is Father of man in Christ. Man may be under a curse, needy, suffering, weary, weak, dying:—Christ was all this as Son of Man:—but in all this, man, in whom The Word abides, spite of all pains and weaknesses and deaths, is yet a son of God; not only cared for by God, or warned of God, or directed by God through certain prophets or lawgivers, but truly a son of God, partaker of His nature, and, as His son, His heir and first-born. Death only proves this; for death but shews that life of God which is in man, and which cannot be held either by death or hell or Satan.
Is Man then Son of God by nature? The answer is, It is not Man, but the "Son of Man" who is the "Son of God" also. And though the Son of Man is truly Man, every man is not a son of man. Old Adam was man, but not the son of man; nor is the "old man" in us the "son of man," who cries, Abba, Father. The "son of man" is the "new man," which by the Word and Spirit of God is brought forth by grace from human nature. Man is not the son of God by nature. Man by nature, and living under the dominion of nature, is in wrath, as Paul argues:—"By nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3);—and this because all nature is fallen and in strife and wrath through all her kingdoms; not yet at one with herself, but struggling, element against element, light against darkness, cold with heat, creature with creature everywhere; with death on every hand, so that the world eats up and destroys every fair thing which comes into it;—all shewing an awful fall in nature, yet with a witness in herself, in every birth and form of life by which this death is met and conquered, that though fallen, she is redeemed also, and that God at least is in nature, if nature is not in God. By nature therefore man is in wrath, subject to that which he should rule, fallen from his true place of nature's head and ruler, but with a witness that this place may be regained, by overcoming nature, in the power of that life which is bestowed through Christ Jesus. It is not therefore man by nature, but man in Christ, the son of man or the new man, who is the son of God also;—man as quickened and formed by the divine Spirit, and born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. If Christ, the Son of God, was conceived simply by natural human generation, then are those the sons of God also, who are simply conceived by human generation. But if the Christ of God was indeed begotten of the Holy Ghost, then are they only sons of God, who, like Him, are begotten by the same Spirit. The Lord's words are very marked here: His question is not of man, but of the Son of Man:—"Whom say men that I, the Son of Man, am?"—for it is not mere man, but the son of man, who is God's son also. For man in nature is in wrath; but man in Christ, the son of man, is son of God also.
Now this blessed truth, on which the Church is built, and of which Christ, as the chief corner-stone, is the first and great witness, and of which all the apostles and prophets are witnesses, may be apprehended in two ways, either by faith, or by knowledge. So St. Paul, speaking of the building of the Church, on this same confession of the Son of God, says, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge, of the Son of God, unto a perfect man" (Eph. 4:13). We have therefore to consider this "faith," and this "knowledge;" for Peter's confession may be with us either matter of faith, or matter of knowledge:—the two are very different, though the one leads to the other:—and they who believe shall also know, if they "follow on to know" the Lord.
This confession then, as matter of faith, is, that Jesus of Nazareth, a man as truly man as we are, though born of a woman, poor, under the curse, though He suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was scourged, mocked, and crucified, though dead and buried, though He descended into hell, is yet, being begotten of the Holy Ghost, God's Son, and heir of God's glory. Such is the Church's faith; and this not of the Head only, but also of His members; for we believe that we too, though sinful men, though subject here to the most shameful humiliations, even to death and dissolution, are yet in Christ the sons of God, and shall be so revealed at His appearing. Oh, how such a faith enlarges our thought of man's calling and hopes and capabilities: how it reveals the love and power of God, who can make of rebels sons and heirs in Christ Jesus.
But this faith, as the Apostle teaches, may grow from mere faith into the knowledge of the Son of God; when we not only believe that a life has been formed by the Divine Word in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Head, for us, whereby in Christ we are God's sons, and are "accepted in the Beloved," but also know that this same heavenly life, formed by the Word and Spirit of God, and which is "Christ in us, the hope of glory," is really and truly in us also, "the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24); so that we too may say, "It is not I that live, but Christ liveth in me; for I have been fastened to the cross, but another life, which is not my own, liveth in me; and this new life in me is indeed the life of Christ and God, and in this life I am a son of God."
This "knowledge of the Son" too has immense degrees, from knowing Christ in us in weakness and swaddling clothes,—for to this day, when Christ is newly formed in us, He is yet bound in swaddling clothes, and laid among beasts within us, with little room or welcome for Him,—till we know and apprehend Him, as already we believe Him, crucified and risen and ascended above all heavens. How many steps there are to learn of Christ in us, while as yet heaven is not opened, nor the dove-like spirit seen abiding on us: how many steps too after heaven opens, after baptism, fasting, and temptation, in the appointed toil among the carnal children of the kingdom, who yet cannot discern God's true sons, even when they work their Father's works of truth and charity: how many steps there are in such a "knowledge of the Son" may perhaps be gathered from those words of the Apostle, who, after he had lost all things for Christ, yet prayed, "that he might know Him, and the power of His resurrection;" for even Paul had "not attained" to this, but still "followed after, if that by any means he might attain" it (Phil. 3:8-14). But Christians now settle down, having attained nothing, believing indeed that Christ is risen for them, but caring little to add to their faith virtue and knowledge, and to knowledge temperance and patience and godliness and brotherly kindness and charity (2 Pet. 1:5-7).
This is the faith, and this the knowledge of the Son of God; and when our faith becomes knowledge,—when (to use the Apostle's own expression,) "we come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,"—in other words when our faith and knowledge are one, our knowledge being conformed to what we already believe concerning Christ Jesus,—then comes "the perfect man," and we on earth are made like the Son, to shew His works, and bear His image; being indeed already sons of God by faith, but growing up by true knowledge into His eternal life and likeness.
Such is the relationship of man to God in Christ, on which the Church is built, and of which she is ordained witness. It is full of interest to mark the time, and place, and way, in which, and the person, to whom, this truth was first opened; for to this day it is yet opened in the same manner, to a like class of souls, and under like circumstances. For the time, it is not when souls first meet with Christ, but after considerable following of Him, after having heard from Him the laws of His kingdom, and seen His works and His reception by the carnal Israel. For the place, it is not in the temple, but far away on Gentile ground, "in the coasts of Cesarea Philippi" (Matt. 16:13), that man's place in Christ is seen by those who follow Him. How many things yet open to souls alone with Christ, which cannot be seen amid the crowd of carnal professors. The person too who sees this truth is Peter, once a carnal Galilean fisherman, then for a season a disciple of John the Baptist, but who in due time from John has come to Christ, from the human teacher to the Lord, at the risk of being charged with inconsistency; in every change seeking to walk before the Lord, according to the growing measure of the light which is by grace given to him. Very unlike is he to Christ, though yet he follows Him: his very nearness to his Master only the more brings out his own foolishness: but he is a disciple, that is a learner, content even by mistakes to learn, if only at last he may be perfected. Disciples or learners are few. Crowds are round Christ, and eat His bread, and may even have their blind eyes opened by Him, who yet are never called, and never are, disciples; who never leave their home or nets or custom for Him; and therefore never see what is revealed to those, who, like Peter here, become indeed disciples. And Peter is not only a disciple: Peter is that disciple, who is the appointed type of the Christian life of faith and conflict; who in his own experience learns what is man's need, and how the grace of God in Christ meets it. For each of the Apostles express a special form of that One Life which in its fulness was in Christ Jesus. Peter is the man of faith; and the man of faith is the first to see our true relationship to God in Christ Jesus, which is revealed, now as of old, not by flesh and blood, but according to the Father's good pleasure; as our Lord says, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17).
2.—Let us now pass on to The Nature of the Church, as built up by Christ on this foundation. Generally speaking, the building accords with its foundation, being a continuation of it, and partaking of the same nature; not a witness only, but an extension, of the Incarnation, growing from, and up to, Christ in all things; "in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21); which, like Eve, who was its figure, is built up of God, "without sound of axe or hammer or any tool of iron" (1 Kings 6:7), (Note: Compare Gen. 2:22, "He builded a woman;" margin; and "The building of the Body of Christ;" Eph. 4:11-16.) formed like its foundation, by God's indwelling Word, according to His promise, "I will dwell in you" (2 Cor. 6:16), to be, even as its Head, a manifestation of God to those, who otherwise, by reason of their fall from God, could neither see nor know Him.
This likeness of the Church to Christ, of the building to its foundation, is shewn out here in three particulars.
(i.) First, the Church is like its foundation, in that it is composed of living stones, built upon the living Corner-stone. This comes out in the words, "Thou art Peter," that is a stone (Compare John 1:42), "and upon this rock I will build my Church;" for the words "Peter" and "rock" are closely allied, Peter being a stone, while Christ Himself, and the relationship which He expresses and creates in man towards God, is the rock and the foundation. The Lord therefore says here in effect, "As a stone is to its native rock, so art thou to Me, even of the same nature. I am the living rock, (Petra,) lasting as a rock, by virtue of the divine nature abiding in the human. Thou art a stone, (Peter,) upon that rock, with the same divine nature now given to thee (2 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 2:5), so that thou canst be built up on this foundation, and canst be a living stone and pillar, to support others as I support thee." The change of name from Simon to Peter here,—the two names being both used by our Lord within the limits of a single sentence, for He first says, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona," and then immediately, "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter,"—shews, even were there no other proof, that something mystic is intended by the name Peter, or "a stone," and its connexion with the Rock of Ages. For all changes of name in Scripture cover a mystery, as we know in Abram changed to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, and Oshea to Joshua. So here the old name, Simon Bar-Jona, shews what the man is by nature and in himself, before the Lord meets him; while the new name, Peter, shews what Christ can make him, a living stone instead of a timid dove or pigeon. For Simon Bar-Jona means "son of a dove" or "pigeon," a timid bird, which, through fear of man, may be driven about anywhere; (Note: Jona, in Hebrew, is simply a dove or pigeon. Bar-Jona is merely Son of Jona, and is so written, John 1:42; 21:15-17.) while Peter is "a stone," part of the rock, and, when built upon that rock, firm and lasting as its foundation. Our Lord therefore uses these names intelligently, in every instance keeping in view their true meaning. For example, after the threefold denial of Him, He thrice says, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me;" thus reminding Peter of what he is by nature, spite of all that grace and truth have done for him. Our Lord could hardy say, "Peter, lovest thou me?"—for this would in effect be saying, "Thou living stone, can there be a doubt or question of thine allegiance?" But He says, "Lovest thou me, thou fearful dove?" And the dove can answer, "Feeble as I am, thou knowest that I love thee." So our Lord can say again, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona;"—blessed art thou, feeble flutterer, fearful and hasty as thou still art by nature;—"for I say unto thee, that thou art Peter also," though by nature weak as a dove, seeking to find a rock of refuge, now by grace not only sheltered in the rock, but thyself transformed, to be a living stone, firm as thy refuge and foundation.
And grace having thus transformed Bar-Jona into Peter, the fearful dove into a stone, which itself becomes a "pillar" (Gal. 2:9) and "foundation" (Rev. 21:14; Eph. 2:20), Peter cannot forget the transformation, but, as he has known what grace can work in fearful creatures, he calls on others, who by nature are weak as he was, to remember that they too by grace are living stones on the elect and precious Corner-stone,—"living stones built up a spiritual house, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5-6). And as in every rock and stone we see the result either of water or of fire, the primary crystalline rocks being all marked with fire, while the others as yet have only known the waters,—and as the highest once were lowest here, the loftiest peaks having been elevated to their present heights out of the very lowest strata,—so is it in the Church's stones; all are not yet crystals, for all as yet have not been through the fire. The baptism of water they have indeed received, and it has served them, and by its action they are already stones, in some sort fit for God to build with; but to be perfect they must also pass the fires, and be cleansed, not only as by water, from that defilement which is upon the surface, but from those inmost impurities, which can only be removed by the fiery furnace, which by melting shall purge out their dross and make them bright as God's jewels. For at last they must be all jewels, their earthly nature changed by the waters and by the fires till they are as pure gold (Rev. 21:18); "having the glory of God, and with a light like unto a stone most precious," even like to the Foundation Stone, "even as a jasper and a sardine stone, and clear as crystal."
(ii.) But further, the Church is like its Foundation, in that it expresses and represents a relationship. The Church is an assembly or society; but there are two sorts of societies, human and divine, formed on wholly different principles; and the Church is Christ's assembly,—"My Church" (Matt. 16:18),—the bond of which is the divine principle of union, not by man's will, but by relationship. The human method of forming a society is to gather individuals on the ground of their voluntary adoption of and subjection to certain views or regulations. In such a society membership depends upon man's will, either one's own will or that of other men. Men bind themselves by certain laws, and their association is built up by their own compacts and arrangements. On such a base the bond of union must be perishable, for to build a fellowship on the principle of independence is simply a contradiction. If man can make, man can also break, the union. Such bodies therefore may be Companies, but they are not Churches. They may be Railway Companies, or Literary and Philosophical Societies; they may even be Religious Societies, as the Evangelical Alliance, or the Bible or Tract Societies; but Churches they are not, even though all their members should be true Christians, for they lack in their very nature and constitution the essential idea which forms and animates a Church. For the Church is God's method of society, and His method is to gather, not by compacts or self-will, but by relationship to a person. The relationship may be that of children to a father, or of a people of the same blood to their hereditary king and governor:—these both are examples of a true society, and, in the family of Abraham and in the kingdom of Israel, are given as types of the Church, which is both Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:29), and God's Israel (Gal. 6:16):—but in each case its is a body, whose bond is not in rules or self-will, but in a relation as brethren and children under a common Head or Father. The Church of Christ is not a voluntary association, gathered or held together by their own likings or dislikings, but a body formed by relation to a Person, and existing as the continual proof and witness of this relation. And indeed, whether in nature or grace, God's principle of society is ever simply relationship. Men do not come either into this world or the next independent of each other, but find themselves, whether they will or not, in families; nature itself thus teaching things above nature, even the mystery of the Church, which is God's family.
Such are the methods, human and divine, of forming society; and the Church and world are the living examples of the working of these two principles. The world is the world because it denies relationship,—because it seeks to rule and arrange itself in independence,—because it thus strives for a life disowning God's fatherhood, with self-will against His will, and self-interest against the common interest; the necessary and inevitable result of which is and ever must be Babel or confusion. The Church of Christ on the other hand is the Church simply in virtue of confessing relationship, being built on the recognition and confession of the truth, that men are related as children to One above them,—that men are sons of God in Christ, related to Him and to each other by their relation to the Person of the Lord Jesus. In a word the Church is a spiritual family, existing, not by having certain rules and compacts, but by being sons and brothers.
This principle, as it is true of the Church of God which is in Christ, the One Body which is composed of all who in every age are related to the Lord Jesus, is true also of the Churches of Christ which are in the world, each of which, though existing by virtue of relation to the person of the Lord Jesus, will be found related also to some man or men, who have been the means by which Christ has reached, and quickened, and gathered, and sustained, them; and this because Christ is a Man, and His gifts, for the perfecting and knitting together of the Body, like Him, are men also, whether apostles, or prophets, or evangelists, or pastors (Eph. 4:11-12), for God's one method is the Incarnation. The men, like Christ, are but the vessel for God: their power and life is not their own but Christ's spirit, which dwells and shews itself in men, who are the joints and bands which hold together Christ's Body. Voluntary associations or compacts cannot do it; for God's fixed principle of union is relationship. And in fact the different churches of Christ, like the twelve tribes of Israel, shew even in their present bondage and confusions very distinct lines of spiritual ancestry. And the evil is not in being of this or that family, in being "of Paul" or being "of Apollos;"—for this must needs be so, for "though we have ten thousand instructors in Christ, we cannot have many fathers" (1 Cor. 4:15);—the evil is in saying, "I am of Paul" (1 Cor. 1:12), in setting our form of life, which is only one of many, against another form of Christian life which God approves, and which may bring out something of His fulness which our form cannot and does not manifest. Paul cannot be John, or Peter, or Apollos; but Paul can say, "All are yours, whether Paul, Peter, or Apollos" (1 Cor. 3:22); all are yours to serve in Christ as brethren, as the tribes of that one spiritual Israel, which is God's first-born (Exod. 4:22).
Now Protestantism has brought in a difficulty here, or rather the sin which made Protestantism necessary; for the Church's sin and fall has done for Christendom what Israel's fall did of old for that people, in breaking up the outward rule and order, so that faithful souls are "strangers to their brethren and aliens to their mother's children" (Psalm 69:8; John 2:17). But there is another difficulty; for Protestantism, which in its true sense is the duty and obligation to obey God rather than man, is practically understood by some, by too many, to be the right to do what they may think good; in other words it is made the assertion of self-will, in opposition to another monstrous self-will. And even where it does not come to this, it is at least the assertion of individual rights or duties rather than the confession of the family bond and relationship. Hence it has led to all sorts of experiments, in the way of reforming both worldly and religious society, not on the ground so much of our duty to obey, as on the principle, or want of principle, of man's right to do what he pleases, or, as it is now called, "the right of private judgment." In the political world the French Revolution is the great example, shewing how men, impressed with the hollowness and rottenness of all existing society, have laboured to reform the world, on the principle of voluntary subjection to self-made laws and constitutions. But in the Church there have been similar attempts, arising from the same deep sense of the corruption which everywhere pervades Christendom. In every case nature triumphs over man's systems. Society, whether natural or spiritual, to be firm must be as God made it, in relation to a person. Hence the French nation finds itself settling down into the most devoted subjection to the person of Napoleon; for men must gather round a person, and be governed, not by laws or compacts merely, but by a person, as we see in every family. What may come at last out of the Church we do not see; but it may be that when the last great Antichrist shall come to head up all confusions, one of the things which shall give him a firmer hold on men may be the fact that he will meet the true and innate craving of man's heart for union by relation to a person. In that day, as now, they shall be safe, who abide in the faith and confession of their relation to the Person of the Lord Jesus.
(iii.) The Church is further like her Foundation, in her relation to the light-world, the dark-world, and this seen and outward sense-world. For there are, as Scripture tells us, three worlds, in which as men we are or may be. Of these, two are unseen by sense, and these are unmixed, either unmixed good or unmixed evil; while the third is seen, and is mixed, good and evil, being a sort of shadow of the other two, in which nothing is good or evil in itself, but only as we use or misuse it through love or self-love. There is, first, the blessed world of light and love, God's kingdom, which is eternal, though we have fallen out of it; there is, secondly, the awful dark world of self-love and pride and wrath and envy, with its gnawing worm and burning fire for ever; and there is, thirdly, this outward world, which as a veil, hides the two unseen worlds, though indeed the veil is rent, and, even where unrent, shadows forth the spiritual things which it shuts out from mortals. As Christ stands to these three worlds, so stands the Church: her relation to each is exactly His relation.
As to the dark-world,—"The gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (Matt. 16:18).
As to the light-world,—"I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19).
And as to the seen and outward sense-world,—"Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19).
Now what is said here touching the dark-world is true of all the Church:—"The gates of hell shall not prevail against her." What is spoken touching the outward sense-world, if not true of all believers, is at least common to all disciples; for not to Peter only, but to all the disciples, it is said,—"Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). But what is said touching the light-world is to Peter only,—"I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19). The dark-world is overcome for all, be they small or great, who are in Christ Jesus; and who therefore have this common portion, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against them;" of which common deliverance baptism is our profession, witnessing our death and resurrection from the dead in Christ Jesus: but this blessing may be ours, while the words to Peter, touching the world of light and this outward sense-world, promise things not meant for or true of all believers,—while we can neither "bind nor loose on earth," nor have had "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" entrusted to our keeping. Many by grace are saved, who could not be entrusted with power to bind or loose on earth what is bound or loosed in heaven,—much less with that far higher power, to unlock the sacred treasures of the light-world, which, because they are light, are judgment to all but those prepared for them. The Peters only can do this. For the Church is like Noah's ark, "with lower, second, and third stories" (Gen. 6:16), which, at different elevations, bore in safety through the flood, not only those who had the image of the Man, but even beasts and creeping things, both clean and unclean. Once in the ark, the weakest thing was safe; but to be safe, and to be entrusted with power in that ark, were wholly different callings. And so of all the members of Christ;—"the gates of hell shall not prevail" against the feeblest of them; while as yet the precious things of earth and heaven cannot be safely entrusted to all without most grave peril. Some only therefore, as they are prepared for it, by fellowship with Christ, and by growing up in Him to His likeness, like the sons of Noah, can traverse all the ark, and be servants, to bind and loose for their profit the more wild and beast-like natures who are with them,—to open the window, which lets in heavenly light (Gen. 8:6), or to send forth the raven, and again to take the dove in. All the saved cannot do this; for few enter into all the heights and depths of that salvation, which, like the ark, brings all who trust it with equal safety through the judgment.
But let us look more closely at the Church's place, as touching the dark-world, the light-world, and this outward sense-world.
First, in relation to the dark-world, the Church is like her Head;—"The gates of hell shall not prevail against her." Christ's members may like Christ be slain, and go down into the grave, and their souls may enter hades; but neither the grave, nor the place where "spirits are in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19), shall prevail to keep the Church a prisoner: for it is not possible that death should hold Christ's members: "the gates of the grave" (Isa. 38:10), and "the doors of the shadow of death" (Job 38:17), must surely open to them. But the promise is wider than this. Not only shall the gates of hades never hold the Church captive: but all the power of hell shall not prevail against her here; the elect "shall still possess the gate of their enemies" (Gen. 22:17); even those gates of hell and darkness in us, through which the adversary would pour his floods of evil to destroy us. By none of these shall he prevail, but in all his gates and all his ways shall he be overthrown. The Church must vanquish in the end, though like her Lord sorely pained and crucified. Evil shall not prevail. Yea, if we be swallowed up of death, as the great sea-beast once swallowed Jonah, "out of the very belly of hell our cry shall reach unto our God" (Jonah 2:2, 10), and the beast and hell must give us up, even as "the fish cast out Jonah upon the dry land."
Again, in relation to the light-world, the Church is like her Head, in possessing its keys, as He says, "I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." This is Peter's special gift, and still possessed only by those who from Bar-Jonas are made Peters; for this gift, though for the good of all, for the good of all is not entrusted to all Christ's members. All His members overcome death: all, outward or inward, small or great, share in the promise, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail" against them: but every member cannot hold a key, and it is only to such members as can hold a key, that the Head in wisdom will confide it. For there are many members in the One Body, and all members have not the same office (Rom. 12:4-6). All are not hands; but the hand alone of all, though not better than the eye or ear, can use the key for the profit of the Body. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us, let each use the gift bestowed, not for himself, but for the Body; for no member serves itself, and the hand holds not the key for itself, but that it may serve the other members. Certain it is that all do not possess the key, to open the precious things of the light-world, either for themselves or for their brethren; but they are as safe as if they were the hand,—safer perhaps,—for, not being the hand, they escape the piercings which Christ's hands must still suffer; for He yet is wounded in those hands, wherewith He holds the keys to open the light-world. He is the true and great Eliakim (Isa. 22:20), (Note: Eliakim, that is, The resurrection of God. Compare John 11:25.) who can "open and none shall shut, and shut and none shall open," the true keeper of the treasures of the house of David, and of the precious things which are laid up for God's Israel. And, because His grace has taken earthly members, He can, with His keys in earthly hands, fulfil His pleasure.
And to this day He gives the keys to those, who by His grace are made true Peters; but even to them, not when they first are brought to Him, nor when His hands are first laid upon them, but when, after sinking in the troubled waters, where He walks, and where they have sought to walk with Him, having learnt themselves, they learn what He is also. Then are the keys committed to their charge, that they may open to others what is already opened in them and to them.
These "keys of the kingdom of heaven" are two,—knowledge and faith, though perhaps the key of faith is first in application; not simply saving faith, but the gift of faith, of which St. Paul writes, when he says, "To another is given faith by the same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:9). By this key Elijah shut and opened heaven, and the dews were stayed and given at his word (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17-18). By this same key Peter on the day of Pentecost opened the kingdom to the Jew, and "the door of faith" soon after to the Gentile (Acts 14:27); and by this key those witnesses, who prophesy in sackcloth, "have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy" (Rev. 11:6). And by this self-same key in every age the stewards of the mysteries of God, though men subject to like passions as we are, have brought out of God's treasures things both new and old, "not keeping back anything that was profitable to the people, but shewing and teaching publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20).
But besides this key of faith, there is the "key of knowledge" (Luke 11:52; Matt. 23:13), which scribes and priests, who should be keepers of it, now as of old would take away from others; not entering in themselves, but even hindering others who would enter; scornfully rejecting those whose light exceeds their own, who in obedience to the commandment have added to their faith knowledge (2 Pet. 1:5). For in the Church there is a door within a door, the door of knowledge, only to be reached through the door of faith, which is the Church's portal; which inner door may in due time be reached by those, who have purchased to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith of Jesus Christ; who, going on from strength to strength in Christ, from the door of faith shall reach the door of knowledge, which admits those, who are prepared to enter, to a sphere of light, where they may see the very ground and reason of the things most surely believed in by them; and may therefore now, not faithful only, but wise,—according to the word, "Who is that faithful and wise steward" (Luke 12:42),—enter into and open the fulness of Christ, and give to each committed to them their portion of meat in due season; by both the keys, of faith and knowledge, dispensing precious things to all who can receive them; to outward men the blessings of the outward court, and to those who are within the light of that which is yet more inward.
But further, in relation to the outward sense-world, the Church is like her Head, in the power in and by seen things to express and ratify unseen things; using the outward to express the inward, and the inward to sustain and seal the outward, declaring upon earth the mind of heaven, binding on earth what heaven binds, loosing on earth what heaven looses. So our Lord says, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). Such is the Church's work,—like Christ, to be in the world before men's eyes a living sacrament, a sign of what God loves and hates, of what He will permit, and what He will not bear with,—to be indeed herself an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace given to men in Christ Jesus,—to be a means whereby they receive the same, and a pledge and token to assure them of it,—and therefore to judge in her own ways whatever He judges, and to permit in herself and in her members only what He approves of in them; thus in earth, for her members are yet of earth, to bind or forbid what heaven forbids, and to loose what heaven looses; so that whatever she declares upon the earth to be unlawful, shall be declared unlawful in the highest heaven, and what she declares on earth to be the truth, shall be declared the truth in heaven also; her works and life all being sacramental, visible tokens of God who is not visible. Such is her calling, to shew God to carnal man, who do not know and cannot see Him.
Now this gift, unlike the keys of the light-world, which are given only to those who are indeed Peters, is common, if not to all believers, at least to all who by grace become Christ's disciples (Matt. 18:18, 19), who when called by Him give up their nets and custom, to learn of Him and take His yoke upon them. Such disciples can declare God's mind on earth, and their judgment on earth is bound in heaven also. God speaks to men through them, shewing forth the mind of Christ in them and by them. What they forbid on earth, God also forbids; and what they allow, God Himself allows also. Scoffers may say, as they said of Christ Himself,—"Who can forgive sins, but God," and "Is not this the Carpenter?" (Mark 6:3)—not seeing that "the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins" (Matt. 9:6), seeing the vessel only, not the treasure in it. But God is in the vessel, earthen though it be, for by the mystery of the Holy Incarnation the creature has become God's dwelling-place; the very earth therefore is holy ground, and what is bound on earth is bound in heaven also.
Would to God all Christians lived up to this truth; but all Christians are not, and will not be, disciples. Few of the thousands healed by Christ are His disciples; and to disciples only is this power to bind and loose given. And even among disciples some only apprehend the things which they are apprehended for in Christ Jesus. Three only see the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1): four only hear the prophetic teaching respecting the Lord's coming (Mark 13:3): three only witness the anguish in the garden (Matt. 26:37); for even of disciples all are not prepared for such disclosures. But all who daily walk with Christ receive from Him the power to express and seal on earth the will and mind of heaven, if not when first they come to Him, yet surely in due season, as they follow Him in His humiliation.
And indeed this is the test of Churches and disciples:—Would men learn by them what God approves and disapproves? Does heaven ratify the things you bind on earth? Is that condemned, which you condemn, and that allowed, which you allow here? If we but think of the things allowed by some Churches, and ask, Are these same things allowed or loosed in heaven?—or of the things required as terms of faith by others, which are bound on earth, but surely not in heaven also,—as for instance some doctrines of the Church of Rome, which they bind as iron chains on men's consciences,—we must confess that those, who call themselves the Church, may rather be the synagogue of Satan. The Church is known by likeness to her Head, and by the mark that her acts express on earth the mind of heaven; not by self-asserted claims to be Christ's Body, which are signs against rather than for those who make the pretension. Christ's Body need not say, "I am the Church:" the works she does bear witness of her. A lamb need not say, "I am a lamb;" but to say this may serve the purpose of a wolf in sheep's clothing. The false Church therefore ever bears witness of herself, and so in fact judges herself as a pretender; for Christ Himself has warned us to take heed of those, who come to men in His name with self-witness. False Christs shall say, "Lo, here is Christ," or "I am Christ" (Matt. 24:23, 24; Luke 21:8): false apostles say of themselves they are apostles (Rev. 2:2): that woman Jezebel calleth herself a prophetess (Rev. 2:20); and the synagogue of Satan say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). The witness of the true Christ are His works. John's disciples ask, "Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" His answer is not, "I am Christ," but "Go and tell John what things ye see: the blind receive their sight, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:2-5). Again, the Pharisees ask, "How long makest thou us to doubt? Tell us plainly, Art thou the Christ?" His answer is, "The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me" (John 10:24, 25). The Church's works are also her witness, and by this witness she binds and looses on earth what is bound and loosed in heaven.
Thus far touching the Church's Nature and Foundation. Depths remain in our Lord's words, "of which we cannot now speak particularly;" but something through grace is open for us of the great mystery of God manifest in Christ's members. The following scenes reveal much more of the relations in which such a Body stands to earth and hell and heaven. The Church is indeed "a great mystery," for she is "the fulness of Him who filleth all in all;" One Body, but possessing many members, not united by likeness of outward form,—for the eye is unlike the hand and foot, and some are outward and seen, and some are unseen,—but linked together by the bond of common life, each in its place and measure completing the Body, which is One Church, one "Mother of all living," the Bride, all whose members are encircled in the divine arms, and included in the divine love, which, because it is divine and eternal and almighty, has breadth and length and depth and height enough to hold them all. And though now for a season she stands before men's eyes, "with coverings of goats' skins, and badgers' skins," suited to the wilderness, she shall appear one day in very different guise, made like her Head, and sharer of His glory. In that day may we be found in her, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish. Amen.
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