Chapter 7 - The Church in Ruins

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We have in previous chapters regarded the Church in two different aspects, according to what it is in the mind of God, and according to what it was as established by God on earth, and entrusted to the responsibility of men. Viewed in the first aspect, as the body and bride of Christ, there can be no failure, for it is all of God Himself. Viewed in the second aspect, there has been grievous failure, for it has proved, like everything else, the inability of men to enter into the thoughts and purposes of God. These different views are strikingly presented in two parallel figures. In Ephesians, which pictures the Church according to God's thoughts about it, believers are described as “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-2220And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20‑22)). Peter uses similar language, saying, with respect to Christ, “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed in-deed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4,54To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4‑5)). In these passages God is the builder, only “living stones” are used as materials, and the result is a spiritual house, a holy temple, a habitation of God. Thanks be to God, no failure on man's part can change this.
When, however, we see the Church, as it has become outwardly under man's responsibility, the same figure is used in a strikingly different way. As the epistle to the Ephesians presents the Church according to God's thoughts, that to the Corinthians presents it according to its outward manifestation to the world. Here, then, the builders are men, not God. The foundation, Christ Himself, is secure, “but let every man take heed how he build eth thereupon”; for “if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire” (1 Cor. 10-43).
The Church, then, viewed according to God's thoughts, is always perfect. The Church, as entrusted to man, soon shows failure, wood, hay, and stubble being built in with the costly material which alone can stand the searching fire of God's scrutiny. A like contrast occurs elsewhere. In the first epistle to Timothy the Church is viewed, not indeed on its heavenly side, but as consisting of real believers holding the truth on earth. It is, therefore, spoken of as “the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:1515But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)). In the second epistle the Church is regarded as the professing mass called by the name of Christ, and it is there described as a “great house,” in which “there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor and some to dishonor” (2 Tim. 2:2020But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. (2 Timothy 2:20)).
We have already looked at the Church, as the temple of God, that is, in its heavenly character; also as the house of God down here on earth, that is, in the practical manifestation which it had as established on earth according to God's order. We have now to inquire how far man has adhered to this order; how far the so-called Church, or Christian profession, of the present day corresponds with God's thoughts; how far it represents the temple of His building, and how far it is composed of the wood, hay, and stubble of human workmanship. To ascertain this, let us briefly recall the leading features of the Church, as founded by God.
1. It is the body of Christ formed by the Holy Ghost sent down to dwell on earth.
2. As united with a heavenly Head, it is not of the world, but is heavenly in character and hope.
3. It is the witness to the world of the oneness of the Head with the body, and of the members of the body with each other.
4. This oneness was to be maintained, as to doctrine and order, by absolute subjection to the Word of God.
5. The local assembly was to show the same oneness as the Church, and all local assemblies were to be kept one with each other in discipline by subjection to the authority of Christ as present in their midst.
6. Officers belonged to local assemblies, and were appointed by apostolic authority, while gifts belonged to the whole Church, and were bestowed by an ascended Christ.
7. The assembly met on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread, the Holy Ghost alone regulating the order, and deciding how and by whom gift should be exercised.
I. the Church Is the Body of Christ, Formed by the Holy Ghost Sent Down to Dwell on Earth.—
As such it consists only of true believers, real members of Christ's body. Such is God's institution; but what is the Church, as man has made it? Throughout a large part of Christendom, the so-called Church, instead of being the assembly of the saved, is held forth as the means of salvation. Unconverted persons are urged to come into it, and are told that deliverance from wrath and judgment is to be obtained by its offices. In other cases the Church is a political institution, and every citizen, without respect to his conversion or non-conversion, is entitled to its communion and its privileges. There are considerable exceptions, no doubt, but in one or other of these two classes the enormous preponderance of nominal Christians are included. To the great mass, therefore, of that which bears the name, and is the responsible witness, for Christ on earth, the solemn words of the Judge may be addressed — “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3:11And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. (Revelation 3:1)). The professing Church, instead of consisting only of living members of Christ, has merely a name to live, and is dead — “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:55Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5)). How needful, then, that where there is true life, the solemn warning should be heeded — “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found thy works perfect before God “(Rev. 3:22Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. (Revelation 3:2)).
The Church, moreover, as instituted by God, was bound, as the body of Christ, to derive everything from Him, to hold “the Head, from which all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” The Head has furnished the truth necessary for the growth of the body, and this is God's provision; the increase thus obtained is “the increase of God.” But what has man made the Church? Not the recipient, but the decider of truth. So much is this the case that throughout the greater part of Christendom those who are allowed to act as teachers are bound to declare their assent, not to the truth of God contained in the Scriptures; but to the statements of doctrine prepared by the Church, and embodied in certain human creeds. And what are these creeds? Take the earliest and best, the so-called “apostles' creed”; its very first words are in direct contradiction to Scripture — “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The Word ascribes creation to God, but when it speaks of the persons of the Godhead, while it does name the Spirit as taking part, and while it constantly attributes the work to the Son, the Father is never mentioned. It is of the “Word,” that Scripture says — “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:33All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)). It is of Christ that the apostle declares — “All things were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (Col. 1:16,1716For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16‑17)). It is God as displayed in the person of the Son, of whom it is written, “By whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:22Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:2)). That the Father had a part is not questioned, but is it not ominously suggestive that in man's very first attempt to deal with such matters, the one person of the Godhead to whom he ascribes creation should be the one person to whom Scripture does not ascribe it? And yet it is these blundering—in some cases, even blasphemous—creeds, that the Church, as administered by man, has set up for the guidance of believers instead of the living oracles delivered by God. Scripture never refers us for direction to the Church, always to itself. “What,” says the apostle, to those who would set up their own thoughts, “came the Word of God out from you, or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor. 14:3636What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? (1 Corinthians 14:36)). So Timothy is exhorted by Paul to continue “in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of knowing of whom thou hast learned them, and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14,1514But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14‑15)). Peter classes Paul's teaching with “the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:1616As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)); and in the above passage Paul sets the truth which he communicated to Timothy side by side with the Old Testament Scriptures of which he there speaks. We know Paul's teaching only through the New Testament Scriptures, and to these, therefore, together with the others—that is, to the whole Word of God—the believer is referred in the dark times of unbelief and formal profession which the apostle foresees.
But did not the council at Jerusalem decide a doctrinal question? At that time, however, the New Testament was not yet written; while the apostles, who were divinely taught concerning the Church, were there to speak with an authority which now belongs only to the Scriptures. Besides, this was not a general council of the Church, but merely a local gathering of the Church of Jerusalem. No complete break with Jewish customs had yet been made by this assembly, and such was its influence that there was great danger of the Gentile Churches being led by ignorant or interested teachers to fall into legal bondage. It was, therefore, divinely ordered that this assembly, under the Holy Ghost's guidance, and with apostolic authority, should emphatically repudiate the conduct of such of its members as were seeking to force legal practices upon the Gentiles. All the circumstances were exceptional, and cannot possibly be repeated. This council, then, cannot certainly be pleaded as sanctioning the claim of the Church to settle doctrinal questions. On such matters the Word of God is our only and all-sufficient guide.
II. the Church, As United With a Heavenly Head, Is Not of the World, but Is Heavenly in Its Character and Hope.—
How has man adhered to this design of God, as taught in Scripture, and practically exemplified in the Church, according to His institution? Some of the ecclesiastical systems claim to govern the world, others have accepted the world's protection, received from the world their doctrine and discipline, and appeal to the world's tribunals to settle questions which can only be divinely decided by the Word of God. Where this open commerce has been repudiated, separation is taken up as a political maxim, urged by political means, made the basis of political associations. In this case it is, just as much as in the other, an attempt, on the part of the so-called Churches, to regulate the world's politics according to their own views. Is it not sad to see godly and devoted men referring matters concerning the Church to their “parliamentary committees,” organizing political campaigns, unequally yoking themselves with the world's factions, in order to improve the social standing and prospects of their own denomination, under the vain delusion that worldly advantage will give a greater leverage for the proclamation of spiritual truth? We need not question their motives, but we ask, Is this consistent with a heavenly calling? Can such persons say that the weapons of their warfare are not carnal? Our politics are not of this world, but of heaven. We are crucified with Christ to the world—how, then, can we seek to secure the world's suffrages, avail ourselves of the world's alliances, or desire to regulate the world's affairs?
In another form of worldliness, too, almost all sects are equally implicated, vying with each other in their efforts to please the flesh, and to allure the world. I am not speaking of ritualism, which attaches a superstitious significance to various acts, but to the avowed attempt to secure the admiration of the world by artistic display, by magnificent buildings, by richly toned organs, and by highly paid choirs, often composed of singers who make no pretense to personal faith in the Lord Jesus. And this is only a specimen of the way in which the world's approval is bid for, and the world's support demanded. Persons asked to take the chair at their meetings, not for their piety, but for their social position—subscriptions sought by importunate begging, utterly regardless of whether the givers are the children of God, or the children of the wicked one—bazaars, conversaziones, and all sorts of worldly devices resorted to for the sake of raising money or of attracting favor—different Churches and associations pitted against each other as to which can secure the largest collections—talents, elegance, and accomplishments sought in the preacher in order that the worldly estimation of the sect may be raised, and its ministers may be deemed fully abreast with the progress of the age—all these, and multitudes of other symptoms which can hardly fail to suggest themselves to the reader, indicate the set of the current, not in those great religious apostasies where the spirit of the world might naturally be looked for, but in those denominations which have, as to many things, made a real stand for truth, and which contain large numbers of the Lord's children.
And if the heavenly character and heavenly dependence have almost disappeared, what shall we say of the heavenly hope? Alas 1 Christians are for the most part seeking to civilize and improve the world by Christianity, rather than to gather a people out of the world, who shall stand with their loins girt about and their lamps burning, and they themselves like unto men that wait for their Lord. As the Church lost her heavenly calling and gave her heart up to the world, she began to say — “My Lord delayeth His coming”; and “Where is the promise of His coming?” is what the great bulk of believers, like the scoffers of the last days, are now incredulously asking. Surely these things furnish food for sorrowful reflection to those who inquire how far the Lord's people have entered into His thoughts concerning the Church.
III. the Church Is the Witness to the World of the Oneness of the Head With the Body, and of the Members of the Body With Each Other.—
As such, in perfect, Divine oneness, God set it on the earth—the image of the oneness of Christ, the testimony to the sending of the Son by the Father. Could a sadder contrast be conceived than between the beautiful vessel launched by God's hand, and the floating fragments of wreck now tossing far and wide on the waves and currents of this restless world? Instead of all believers meeting round the person of Christ, His name is the only center which is not known. There is no difference of doctrine too trivial, no variety of discipline too microscopic, to form the rallying point of a separate denomination; no name too insignificant to become the label of a distinct sect. No need to dwell on the humiliating picture, the details of which are familiar to every eye. To gather up the fragments of wreck, and reconstruct the shattered vessel, is impossible. But are we on that account to shut our eyes to the fact that under man's pilotage this disastrous shipwreck has happened, and that the professing Church is responsible for the ruin into which it has fallen? Alas! if Christians only recognized this fact, and took their place, like Daniel of old, in confession before God, there would still be blessing, though there could never be restoration.
But man has got so filled with his own thoughts, and so divorced from the thoughts of God, that he has begun to regard these divisions as rather beneficial than injurious. He has ceased to ask, like the apostle, “Is Christ divided?” ceased to regard the least approach to diversity with the jealous apprehension of those who watch for the Lord's glory, and judging everything by the low standard of his own thoughts, scoffs at the Divine unity as a cramped and slavish conception, and rejoices in a thousand-fold diversity as a proof of his own mental independence. He compares the various sects to the various rays of colored light refracted from a prism, each one of which is necessary to the light of the perfect beam; forgetting that God's light is not the light, after it has been twisted and scattered by human prisms, but the light as it proceeds direct from His own mind. No doubt it proves that in which man glories, the range and activity of his own mind. What it does not prove is his subjection to the mind of God.
IV. the Oneness of the Church Was to Be Maintained, As to Doctrine and Order, by Absolute Subjection to the Word of God.—
In this book we have the perfect revelation of God's mind, and to its teaching He demands absolute obedience. Here is the Divine chart by which the vessel committed to man's responsibility might be steered through every strait. What has man done with it? Thinking the chart insufficient for his guidance, he has added to it lines and marks of his own, either deviating from the divinely furnished plan altogether, or putting in numerous other tracings according to his own fancy. God's fathomings of truth and error were not good enough for him; he must let down the little plummet of his own philosophy and note the more accurate soundings thus obtained! Is it wonderful that the Church, so piloted, made shipwreck? The grand truth needed for our day is this of entire subjection to God's Word, not only in what we call great things, but in small things too. God does not demand subjection as far as we think proper, but that every thought should be brought into captivity. And this implies, not only obedience to what is written, but rejection of what is not written. To refuse the former is to deny the obligation of God's Word; to refuse the latter is to deny its sufficiency. To maintain that I may depart by a hair's-breadth from what is written, is to declare my judgment better than God's. To maintain that I may do what is not written, is to declare God's directions imperfect.
How wide the departure has been in doctrine is familiar to all. There is no need, however, to call up the grosser errors of the professing Church—the purgatories, the prayers to the Virgin, the intercession of saints, the penances, the indulgences, and the other glaring forms of evil—in evidence of this departure.
Take the comparatively pure doctrine of Protestant countries, and contrast it with the Word of God. The great mass of believers, if they have given up the law as the ground of justification, have retained it as the rule of Christian walk. Having absolutely lost all sense of the heavenly calling, they are content to take as their standard the law of commandments contained in ordinances, which was suited to a fleshly religion and a worldly people. By the majority of professing Christians, eternal life as a present fact is thought a mere dream, and the claim to its possession an almost impious presumption. The complete setting aside of man after the flesh is to most an unmeaning phrase, and conversion and the new birth signify nothing more than a bettering of the nature which God has declared hopelessly bad. Hence how few even among real Christians there are who possess entire deliverance and settled peace. The great and all-important fact of the Spirit's present abode in the world, the leading feature of the work in which God is now engaged, is treated as “another craze.” The hope of the Lord's return for His saints is scoffed at as a fanciful delusion. And all this ignorance of God's truth is found among the teachers and leaders of religious thought in the so-called evangelical denominations of Christendom.
Nor has the departure from God's order in the Church been less conspicuous or disastrous than the departure from His doctrinal teaching. Indeed, while as to doctrine there has been a measure of return to God's truth, as to Church order the departure continues as wide as ever. The horrible mass of corruption in the professing Church in the days of Luther compelled him and all who cared for God's glory to come out. Instead of adopting Church principles, however, as laid down in God's Word, they threw themselves into the arms of the civil power, and in return for its aid placed themselves under the authority of the state. In Protestant countries, the state took the place of the Pope; and the Church, though cleansed from some gross corruptions, became just as much the tool of the world and the center of political intrigue, just as destitute of Divine life and stricken with spiritual atrophy, as the Church of Rome itself, without even the show of unity which this still retained. The ever-increasing corruption and deadness of the political Churches drove spiritual men outside again; but once more, instead of finding the true principles of the Church of God, they set up Churches of their own. In these they either sought unity by human organization, thus perpetuating the evils against which they protested, or else they lost sight of the fact that unity was God's principle. Sect after sect arose, gathered round the person of some great leader, or knotted into factitious oneness by common opinions as to the most expedient mode of Church government.
In a few cases there may have been an attempt to return to some forgotten principle of order in God's Word, though in these the influence of tradition and the want of thoroughness is painfully evident. In the majority of cases, however, rules of government were adopted simply from motives of expediency. The Scriptures were not dishonestly twisted. to suit the new constitutions, for their authors supposed that these matters of Church order were just left to man's will and wisdom. But this involves two things, an admission that the Word of God is not a sufficient guide under all circumstances, and a splitting up of the Church into all sorts of sects according to man's varying thoughts as to the best mode of ecclesiastical government. It implies, therefore, a virtual setting aside of God's authority, a lowering of the claims of Scripture, and the outward ruin of the Church. How it has worked in practice is easily seen. Men have thought it expedient to adopt their own constitutions instead of adhering to God's order. But if one set of persons may adopt one constitution, another may adopt another. Unity, therefore, is of course impossible. But what made it impossible? Simply that man's diverse thoughts have been brought in to supplement or set aside the Word of God.
Here is the simple and sufficient origin of all the sects. If a person objects — “Well, but how are we to help this? The mischief has been done, and no action on our part can repair it “—the question I would ask is this: Are you yourself personally free from the guilt which has brought this evil in? Are you allowing anything which the Word of God either distinctly forbids, or does not expressly sanction? If you are, the first step you have to take is to separate yourself from this thing. It is of no use contending that you are not answerable for the divisions, so long as you are going on with the insubjection and disobedience which caused the divisions. You are answerable for the legitimate consequences of your own acts. And if the legitimate and inevitable consequence of bringing in man's thoughts to override and overstep God's revealed mind is the rending in pieces of the body of Christ, the only way in which you can escape the responsibility of such a result is by personally abandoning whatever there may be in your conduct or position which in any way contributes to it. Act faithfully in this, and the next step will soon be made plain.
V. the Local Assembly Was to Show the Same Oneness As the Church, and All Local Assemblies Were to Be Kept One With Each Other in Discipline by Subjection to the Authority of Christ As Present in Their Midst.—
How has man adhered in this respect to the Divine model? What has he made of the local assembly? Under his administration, the local assembly, as an outward, visible thing has ceased to exist. Where is the Church of London or of Paris? In Scripture use, the Church of London is the whole body of believers in London, meeting together, not of course in the same place, but in manifested oneness. Where is such an assembly to be found now? Nowhere. Then God's institution as to the local expression of the one body has been entirely lost—absolutely effaced from the world.
And what has taken its place? In each town there are a multitude of sects, divided in discipline, in doctrine, or in something which isolates them from the others, some more or less friendly with their neighbors, and admitting a certain amount of intercommunion, others holding a position of complete separation, or even of avowed antagonism. In some of these sects, care is taken to receive into fellowship only those of whose conversion there is reasonable evidence; in others nothing further is demanded than the desire of the person asking for communion; in others, again, the right is conceded either as a political privilege or as a means of bestowing life on those who are admitted to be spiritually dead. Thus instead of order, there is chaos; instead of unity, division; instead of a local assembly, a broken mass of sects not one of which can claim for itself the leading characteristics of the Church of God. Even in these sects, taken by themselves, the order of the Church is utterly given up. Each local meeting is, in some cases, independent of all others. Where there is any common government it is brought about either by the rule of the state, or by an organization wholly of man's devising. All these plans are widely at variance with the teaching of God's Word. This enjoins unity, but it is the unity springing from the oneness of Christ's action in the assembly, and to substitute for this an artificial unity of man's contriving is as much opposed to His order as the open abandonment of oneness for the fuller exercise of local independence.
VI. Officers Belonged to Local Assemblies, and Were Appointed by Apostolic Authority, While Gifts Belonged to the Whole Church, and Were Bestowed by an Ascended Christ.—
Such was God's wisely ordained institution, the reason for which will afterward appear, though even if our intelligence could not comprehend the reason, the fact that it is God's plan should be sufficient. Man, however, has almost invariably joined what God has separated. There were two kinds of officers, deacons, who served tables, and elders and bishops, who had a pastoral care over the flock. Both these were appointed by apostles or apostolic delegates, and no directions are given for their appointment in any other way. But some of the human systems called Churches have made the bishop, instead of one of several officers of a local assembly, an officer over several local assemblies. No such officer is named in Scripture, and to appoint one is to forsake God's order. Others have confounded the eider or bishop with the deacon, and have made the appointment one of popular election, both of which are in direct contradiction with the teaching of God's Word. In some cases the bishop and elders, which in Scripture are the same, have been made quite different officers, and the bishop has been invested with the totally unscriptural power of ordaining the presbyter or elder.
But what is far more important than any mistake as to the exact functions of bishops and deacons, is the invention of an officer called “the minister,” to whom, in his official capacity, belong the sole exercise of gift, the sole regulation of the service, and the sole administration of the “sacraments.” I say this officer is a simple invention of man's mind. Deacons and elders are the only officers spoken of in God's Word, and neither of these bears the slightest resemblance to the person we have just described. In the first place, there were several deacons and several elders in each local assembly. And next, there is not a word which confers on either of these officers the right, by virtue of his office, of exercising his own gift, or of regulating the exercise of gift in others. An officer might or might not have gift, but if he exercised his gift it was not because of his office, and if he fulfilled his office it was not because of his gift. Gift is simply the endowment of a risen Christ, and to ask man's sanction for its exercise is to set man up against Christ. It is given to the Church as a whole, and to make regulations which confine it to a particular assembly, is to presume by human rules to thrust aside the order of God. It is to be exercised under the guidance of the Spirit, and to lay down a code as to the manner of its exercise is to usurp the functions of the Holy Ghost. The apostle Paul himself would never have dared to ordain or appoint a person to act as evangelist, pastor, or teacher—still less to combine these three gifts in one; but if he would have shrunk from this as a usurpation of Christ's authority, what would he have said about ordaining such a person to an official position which neither evangelist, pastor, nor teacher, ever possessed, about bestowing upon him the Holy Ghost's function of regulating the order of the assembly, and about authorizing him to administer the sacraments in direct contravention of the Word of God?
VII. the Assembly Met on the First Day of the Week for the Breaking of Bread, the Holy Ghost Alone Regulating the Order, and Deciding How and by Whom Gift Should, Be Exercised.—
Man, however, setting aside God's order, has made the Lord's Supper merely an occasional meeting, putting teaching, evangelizing, or some other thing, into the place of prominence which the Lord gave to His own supper. He has defended this, not as scriptural, but because constant repetition might destroy its solemnity! If theatrical effect is what is sought, this will doubtless be the case. But what a thought for a believer to cherish I God's institution set aside, because man knows so much better than He The remembrance of Christ and His matchless love become so familiar that at length it breeds contempt! Such is the working of man's mind when it strays from simple obedience, and brings in its own wisdom to supplement or supplant the teaching of God. And yet it is to the exercise of this wisdom that we are abandoned the moment we depart from the living oracles. That the mode of celebrating the Lord's Supper is as unscriptural as its infrequency, we have already seen. I am not alluding to those who attach to it a sacrificial efficacy, nor to those even who look at it as a “means of grace,” a kind of spur occasionally given to the sluggish conscience and heart; but to those who have retained, at least in a certain measure, a true apprehension of the nature of the feast. Even among these, with few exceptions, the liberty of the Spirit is not owned, and the supper is “administered” by a sacerdotal or official person wholly unknown, either for that or any other purpose, in the Word of God.
Let us cast our eye, then, over this wide scene of ruin and desolation. There is absolutely nothing that God has instituted which man has not perverted or destroyed. If God has set up the Church as the body of Christ, man has converted it into a means of salvation, by which a person may be made into a member of Christ. If God has put it in subjection to Christ, man has made it the rival of Christ, and the authoritative judge of doctrinal truth. If God has made it heavenly in its character, its resources, and its hopes, man has lowered it to a worldly standard, has claimed for it worldly support, and has given it worldly expectations. If God has established a Divine unity, man has broken it up into a chaos of rival sects and jarring systems. If God has given it the Word as its Divine guide, man has called in his own wisdom to supply the deficiencies, or correct the errors of which, in his arrogance, he accuses the Scriptures. If God has instituted local assemblies to express the oneness of the assembly in each city, man has split them up into a thousand detached masses, not one of which is gathered on the true principles of the Church. If God has instituted local officers, man has perverted them to every purpose except that for which they were appointed, has set aside the scriptural mode of ordination for the inventions of his own brain, and has invested them with a character which God never conferred upon them or upon any other human being. If God gave gifts to the Church, man has insisted that these gifts should be exercised only according to his own will, should be restrained within the limits of an official class, and should be tied down to the narrow circle of a local assembly. If God made office local, man has made it general; and if God made gift general, man has made it local. If God separated gift and office, man has insisted upon their union, regardless of whether the officer possesses gift, or the gifted person possesses the qualifications for office. If God has left the exercise of gift free in the assembly, to be guided only by His own Spirit, man has deposed the Spirit by giving the authority to an officer of his own appointment. If God has gathered the assembly together with the special object of remembering Christ according to His own institution, man has thrust this institution into a corner, made it the exceptional in-stead of the principal object of gathering together, and put his own supposed profit in the place of prominence which Christ claims for the memorials of His death.
It may, indeed, be pleaded with perfect truth that the practices here pointed out as contrary to the Word of God, had already begun in times closely following, if not even overlapping, the apostles' days. This is constantly urged by writers, not only of those denominations which profess to receive the traditions of the fathers, but of those which profess to repudiate them, in defense of one or other of the institutions now found among the varied sects. But what reason is there for assuming that those who immediately followed the apostles were purer in doctrine, or more tenacious of God's order, than modern Christians? They had the same guide that we have-the Word of God, and if they departed from it, we are bound to judge their departure, instead of following it. To draw conclusions from the practice of the early Church is to test the truth of God's Word by the fathers, instead of testing the truth of the fathers by God's Word. Surely every reader of the New Testament must see that we have not to wait for the days of the apostolic fathers to detect the signs of ruin, but that they are plainly marked in the epistles themselves. The Corinthians had introduced sectarianism, allowed immorality, tolerated drunkenness at the Lord's table. The Galatians had fallen from the principle of justification by faith. The Colossians were being beguiled by Jewish traditions and Greek philosophy. At Rome people were preaching Christ “of envy and strife.” Even of Paul's personal companions, all were seeking their own, not the things of Christ. Later, Diotrephes refuses the apostle John. Of the seven Churches in Asia, five are called upon to repent; one had lost its first love; another was tolerating the grossest evil; a third was almost wholly given up to wickedness; a fourth had a name to live, but was dead; a fifth, self-complacent and lukewarm, was so nauseous to Christ that He threatens to spue it out of His mouth. The word is full of warnings of coming evil, and the flood had already risen to a fearful height before the canon of Scripture was closed. Ecclesiastical history shows that the waters swelled to a still more disastrous deluge with awful rapidity afterward. Such, then, in and immediately after apostolic times, was the failing, ruinous, Christ-dishonoring state to which the Church had sunk under man's guidance. Yet from this armory writers of almost all denominations are willing to borrow weapons for the sake of parrying the thrust of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God!