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CHAPTER III.
THE CHARACTER OF THE CHURCH MEMBERS.


      Church members are those who compose, or belong to, the church. The distinguishing character of those who attach themselves to the church of God should be real, experimental religion, or true piety. None should be admitted into the church but real Christians, truly converted persons, or such as are born again, and who lead holy and unblamable lives. None other ought to be belong to the church.

      The doctrine indeed militates against the practice of nearly all sects and denominations, but in this fact there is no proof that the doctrine is false. The fact that the church of Christ ought to consist of true believers only, and that the unconverted ought not to be admitted to membership, is capable of proof, and the truth of the doctrine may be shown by a variety of considerations. The following I advance as evidence of its truth:

      For the truth of the position I have taken I offer as evidence,

      I. The Nature and End of Church Fellowship.

      Religious, or church, fellowship is two-fold, viz., Divine and Christian. [33]

      First. It is divine. "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1Jo 1:3). This sacred communion with the Deity lies in a mutual intercourse between God and His people. It is variously expressed in Holy Writ as

      1. By their mutual indwelling in each other. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1Jo 4:16).

      2. By a mutual walking together. "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2Co 6:16). "And Enoch walked with God" (Ge 5:24). This shows agreement, and is expressive of fellowship, for how "can two walk together, except they be agreed" (Am 3:3)?

      3. By a mutual converse together, as in prayer. "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you" (Jas 4:8). This holy fellowship with God forms one of the hidden mysteries of our holy religion to the natural man. Sinners can have no idea of it, neither lot in it, except they repent and be converted.

      Second. Church fellowship is Christian and consists in church members participating in all the ordinances of divine worship. "But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1Jo 1:7).

      Now, fellowship, or communion, is founded in union, and arises from it. This is true of all kinds, but especially of religious communion.

      Christ is the head; the church is His body. The saints are all members of Him, from whom they receive life and nourishment. Christ is the vine, believers are the branches, and by virtue of this union they have communion one with another.

      If, then, we are "united with Christ" and "walk in the light" [1Jo 1:7], we have fellowship one with another, and not otherwise.

      The unconverted have no union with Christ, neither walk they in the light, but are alienated from Him and walk in darkness. They can, therefore, have no fellowship either with God or the saints. And on this account they ought to be excluded from church membership. "For what fellowship hath righteousness with [34] unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (2Co 6:14).

      The same might be argued from the end or design of church fellowship, which is to glorify God in the mutual comfort and edification of His children. But sinners cannot be comforted and edified whilst they are walking in the broad way to hell. It is written, "Comfort ye My people" [Isa 40:1], but "Woe unto the wicked" [Isa 3:11].

      II. The doctrine is no less forcibly illustrated by sundry duties incumbent on church members.

      A few of these need only to be mentioned to establish the point in hand.

      1. It is the duty of all church members to reprove each other for their faults (Mt 18:15).

      This duty a true believer is only only willing to perform, but also to receive with meekness and thankfulness. He can adopt the language of the royal Psalmist and say,

      "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" [Ps 141:5].

      Sinners, on the contrary, will neither give nor receive reproof but with reluctance and resentment. They are, therefore, plainly unqualified to hold a place among the sons in the house of God.

      2. But a single point will set this part of the subject in the clearest light. It is this: Christ has enjoined upon all His followers brotherly love. This affection is that which is commonly called complacency, or the love of virtue, and it is directed, not like benevolence towards the happiness of intelligent beings, but towards the virtue of good beings. Now it is evident that the unconverted do not, and cannot, exercise this affection towards Christians whilst in their carnal state. Nor can Christians exercise this affection towards sinners, because sinners do not possess the virtue which this command requires Christians to love. Christ cannot require of His disciples anything which is physically impossible; but it is physically impossible to love virtue in those who have it not. Yet Christ has required all the members of His church to exercise this affection towards all. He [35] intended, therefore, in this command, as well as elsewhere, that all the members of His church should be such as could be the objects of this affection.

      To this command He accordingly subjoins the following declaration: "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" [Joh 13:25]. But it is impossible that sinners, who are not His disciples, should be known as His disciples. Sinners, therefore, were not included by Him in the number of those of whom He speaks in these passages; or in other words, are not proper members of His church.

      III. The truth under consideration may be proved with similar clearness by the appellations given to the church of God in the Scriptures.

      As for instance, the church is called the Body of Christ.

      "The church, which is His body" (Eph 1:22,23).

      "And He is the head of the body, the church" (Col 1:18).

      "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another" (Ro 12:5).

      Now Christ's body is a living body.

      But sinners are dead.

      Sinners, therefore, can have no union or communion with "the church, which is His body" [Eph 1:22,23].

      Again, the church is denominated "the sons," or "the children of God."

      "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1Jo 3:1).

      "They shall be called the children of God" (Mt 5:9). The members of the church are called "sons of God" twelve times in the Scriptures; "His children" twice in the Old and ten times in the New Testament; and "His people" in instances too numerous to be reckoned. In all these instances "the sons" and "children" of God denote those who are such by adoption; and in very many the phrase "the people of God" has the same meaning. But the adopted children of God [36] are Christians. The original church, therefore, consisted of Christians, or in other words those who were subjects of repentance, faith, and holiness.

      Again, the church is styled the fold of Christ.

      "And 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" (Joh 10:16). The fold, or flock of God, shall receive the gift of God, which is eternal life.

      But the unrighteous shall not inherit eternal life. Therefore, they ought not to attach themselves to the fold, or church of Christ.

      Moreover, there is a variety of other appellations, or names given to the church, which show the same thing.

      "Lively stones" (1Pe 2:5).

      "Temple of the Holy Ghost" (1Co 3:16,17).

      "Spouse," or "Lamb's wife" (Re 19:7).

      "Holy Nation" (1Pe 2:9).

      "Peculiar People" (1Pe 2:9).

      IV. The sacred character of the church clearly demonstrates the same truth.

      The character of the church, as given in the New Testament, may be sufficiently learned from the following passages:

      To the church of Rome St. Paul writes in these terms: "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints" (Ro 1:7).

      To the churches of Galatia he writes: "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise" (Ga 4:28).

      To the Ephesians he writes: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph 1:1).

      "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:25-27). [37]

      To the Colossians he writes: "Paul, an apostle, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ, which are at Colosse: we give thanks to God since we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" (Col 1:1-5).

      St. James, speaking of himself and of the churches to whom he wrote, says: "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures" (Jas 1:18).

      "In these and a multitude of other passages exactly the same character is given of the church. One character, and one only, is given of her; and that is, a holy and Christian character. Even when the faults of its members are mentioned, they are mentioned solely as the backslidings of Christians, and never as the sins of unbelievers and impenitent men. How, then, can we entertain a rational doubt that God, when He instituted His church, intended it to be an assembly of saints or holy ones?"

      V. The doctrine is also evident from the fact that God has expressly prohibited His people from uniting with unbelievers, and which is equivalent, that unbelievers, or wicked persons, are forbidden to unite with His people.

      God has expressly forbidden His children to unite with unbelievers, that is, with unconverted people. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2Co 6:14). "This," says one, "is a military term: keep in your ranks; do not leave the Christian communion to join those of a different kind, as that would be unfit, or improper."

      Concerning the communion here forbidden there have been various opinions.

      "Some apply the exhortation to pious persons marrying with those who are not decidedly religious and converted to God. That the exhortation may be thus applied, I grant; but it is certainly not [38] the meaning of the Apostle in this place; because there is not, before or afterward, a syllable said concerning this subject; and because the direction given in the seventeenth verse of the context, concerning the communion here specified, would, if marriage were intended, contradict the precept given by the Apostle" (1Co 7:12,13).

      Religious communion, therefore, is intended by the passage. This is forbidden with unbelievers. To this end the questions following the passage are asked by the Apostle. For the same end it is said also, in the seventeenth verse, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord," &c. [2Co 6:17]. And Paul, speaking of such as had the form of godliness, but were devoid of power, says: "From such turn away" (2Ti 3:5).

      Thus saith the Lord: "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth: let them return unto thee, but return not thou unto them" (Jer 15:19; see Eze 22:26 44:23).

      The same thing is also evident from God's prohibiting the wicked to join with His people.

      Unto the wicked God saith, "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth" (Ps 50:16)? "And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2Ti 2:19). In these passages, if I am not mistaken, wicked or sinful men are absolutely prohibited from making a profession of religion, or joining the church of God in their carnal state. And what can be the use of their joining the church, if they are only "dead weights," "corrupt trees" [Mt 12:33], "cumberers of the ground" [Lu 13:7], "ravenous wolves" [Ac 20:29], "a generation of vipers" [Mt 23:33], and "children of the wicked one" [Mt 13:38], who have neither lot nor part with the saints of God after all.

      VI. The same thing is equally manifest from the practice of the Apostles in constituting the Christian church.

      It was the usage and uniform practice of the Apostles and first founders of the church to collect and band together the primitive [39] followers of Christ, at the different places where they resided, into religious societies. These societies were called churches, and they consisted of true converts from Judaism and Heathenism to Christianity. And I know not of a single instance recorded in Scripture where they admitted any to church communion whose profession was incredible, and whose lives furnished no evidence of their being Christians, that is, persons truly and radically changed from nature to grace. We read of some, it is true, who are styled "false brethren" [2Co 11:26 Ga 2:4], "disorderly walkers" [2Th 3:6,11], "enemies of the cross of Christ" [Php 3:18], "the synagogue of Satan" [Re 2:9], "cursed children" [2Pe 2:14], &c.; but at the same time they are spoken of as being either such as had "crept in unawares" (Jude 1:4), or such as had "forsaken the right way" after they had known it (2Pe 2:15).

      It is likely also that the first founders of the church may have been deceived in receiving members into the church in some cases. But they never admitted wolves to the fold of Christ when they knew them to be such. "And of the rest durst no man join himself to them" (Ac 5:13). And why not? Because the Apostles would not let them. And why would they not let them? Because they would not repent and believe on Jesus Christ. A very good reason. For the same reason church privileges ought to be refused to such men now. If men will not receive Christ, what right has the church to receive them?

      The first Christians were faithful householders. Their remedy and rule of procedure, in case of deception and apostasy, was immediate expulsion from the church. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1Co 5:13).

      In First Corinthians, Paul zealously warned the builders of the church at Corinth against building with discordant materials, such as "gold, silver, precious stones" and "wood, hay, stubble" [1Co 3:12]. His obvious meaning is that they should not unite together in church fellowship the precious and the vile [Jer 15:19], lest their "work shall be burned" and they themselves "suffer loss" [1Co 3:15]; yea, lest they should "defile the temple of God" [40] [1Co 3:17].

      These things viewed in connection plainly show that the Apostles endeavored to rear the church without "spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" [Eph 5:27].

      Thus the erection of the church ought to have been continued in every succeeding age, and thus it ought to be now. None should be admitted into the church but true believers; and if at any time there should any one backslide, or fall away into open sins, church discipline should be exercised forthwith. But is it so? Is the building of God built up with "lively stones"? [1Pe 2:5]. Are wicked persons put away, or cast out of the church? Ah, alas! alas! who does not know that the reverse is true? Who can consider the customs of the churches at the present day and not see and know that the unconverted are as readily received and tolerated in the church as what the converted are! Some churches are made up of nearly all, and others perhaps entirely of unconverted persons. Impious and profane men are often placed at the head of affairs; hence, the truly pious are frequently persecuted and driven out of the church, whilst the profane, intemperate, filthy, and abominable of all sorts are retained. Oh, what a corrupt and lamentable state of things! Who among the sons of God should not weep and mourn to see the appalling corruption, the disastrous plague, the abomination of desolation spread far and wide through almost every denomination.

      Oh, ye ministers of God, consider these things! And not merely so, but reform these things. And here you will find much to do every way.

      First. Cease to build the temple of God with wood, hay, and stubble; or in plain terms, quit receiving into the church persons who give no evidence of true conversion.

      Second. Exercise a salutary discipline, wherever you find Jehovah's laws and cause require the same. Expel profane and wicked men from the church, and let them be unto you as heathen men and publicans. By doing so ye shall save yourselves and the church of God; whereas, if ye build up churches with unrenewed [41] men, God will spew you, and such depraved churches, or rather such "synagogues of Satan" [Re 2:9] out of His mouth. [42]

      To those who belong to different churches, and are destitute of religion, I would say, either repent and be converted immediately, or withdraw from the church; for, sinful and unholy as ye are, it is presumption for you to claim brotherhood with the saint, and fellowship with the skies.

 
 
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