committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHURCH POLITY

CHAPTER I.
STATEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.

WHEN Christ uttered, in the judgment hall of Pilate, the remarkable words?"I am a king,"1 he pronounced a sentiment fraught with unspeakable dignity and power. His enemies might deride his pretensions and express their mockery of his claim, by presenting him with a crown of thorns, a reed and a purple robe, and nailing him to the cross; but in the eyes of unfallen intelligences, he was a king. A higher power presided over that derisive ceremony, and converted it into a real coronation. That crown of thorns was indeed the diadem of empire; that purple robe was the badge of royalty; that fragile reed was the symbol of unbounded power; and that cross the throne of dominion which shall never end.

This pregnant truth contained the fulfilment of the hopes which had cheered mankind through all previous generations. When our first parents had broken the covenant, graciously made with them by their Creator, and were expelled from the garden of Paradise, they bore with them the seeds of a glorious promise, which, scattered by their posterity among the nations of the earth, sprung up in the form of a general expectation of a golden age;2 and, entrusted to a particular race, inspired them with the confident hope that a deliverer would afterwards arise, who, assuming the position and responsibilities of the second Adam, would arrest the dominion of sin and death, and gather together the covenant people into a kingdom of holiness and love.

The promise which was committed to our first parents, when they traced, with lingering footsteps, the path of their departure from paradise, was entrusted, as a special mark of the divine favor, to Abraham and his seed; and, in its subsequent announcement and corroboration, still further limited to Isaac, to Jacob, and finally to David, who was chosen of God as the favored individual in whose lingeage should appear the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

This conception of the Messiah?s kingdom was still further developed and amplified by the prophets, a succession of inspired men, from Samuel to Malachi, who sustained a most important relation to the Jewish Theocracy. While to the priests were committed the direction and support of the ritual service, the external worship of Jehovah, it was the main design of the prophets to cherish and diffuse a theocratic spirit, by which the people might be retained in loyalty to their invisible king. In this elevated sphere were their functions discharged, and to this end were their labors directed. They may thus be considered the forerunners and prototypes of the ministers of the Christian dispensation.3

In the discharge of their high functions, the prophets announced the coming of the Messiah; predicted the time of his appearance; and, grouping together the most striking and imposing characteristics of earthly sovereignties, presented a magnificent picture of his spiritual kingdom, and of the happiness which the nations would enjoy under his mild and equitable reign. This happy period would be signalized by the restoration of the long lost harmony between Judah and Israel, and the entrance of the Gentiles within the fold of the people of God. The kingdom of the Messiah was not to be limited by geographical divisions, nor restricted to a peculiar nation. The whole world was to be invited to its privileges, and all nations made to share in its blessings.4 The most opulent earthly kingdoms had perished, and the most powerful dynasties been destroyed; even Judah and Israel, though blessed with divine protection and guidance, had bowed their necks to the oppressor, and gone into captivity; but the kingdom of the Messiah would never perish, and of his government there would be no end. The uttermost parts of the earth were to be its boundaries, and eternity the measure of its duration.5

When the fulness of the time was come, Jesus of Nazareth appeared, and appropriated these predictions of the Messiah to himself. In striking harmony with the theocratic representations of the prophets, he denominated the dispensation which he introduced, "the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven;"6 and claimed the honor and allegiance due to a divine messenger. Attesting his mission by infallible signs, and declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead, he stood forth, in virtue of his divinity and the appointment of the Father, the head of that spiritual kingdom, of which the Jewish theocracy was but a feeble type.7

The predictions of the prophets and the admonitions of Jesus were sufficiently perspicuous to have prevented the formation of erroneous opinions with respect to the nature of this kingdom. Christ declared explicitly that he claimed not to be an earthly monarch; refused to be made king;8 and proved, by many incidents in his life, how little he thought of interfering with the civil concerns of men.9 In immediate connection with the assertion of his royalty, he declares that his kingdom is not of this world.10 And as if to relieve the minds of his disciples of all doubt on the subject, he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overthrow of the Jewish political state.11

The history of our race has developed nothing more clearly, than the tenacity with which the mind clings to errors which are sanctioned by universal belief, and hallowed by venerable associations. Notwithstanding our Lord?s unambiguous language, with respect to the nature of his kingdom, his followers continued, up to the period of his ascension,12 deeply tinged with the Jewish notion of the Messiah; and few of them rose to the elevated conception of a spiritual economy, which, obliterating all national distinctions, and swaying its sceptre over the souls of men, would dispense to Jew and Gentile alike, its healing and saving influence. Long after the disciples had attained and promulgated correct views on this subject, the old Judaizing leaven continued to work. A large number of the early professors of christianity, including several distinguished fathers, were persuaded into an expectation of the temporal reign of Christ;13 and Chilaism, although repeatedly convicted of folly and delusion, has subsequently appeared, at intervals, in the history of the Church, and numbered multitudes among the victims of its gross hallucinations. Its latest modern development, Millerism, has just spent its force in our own country.

As the reign of Christ has primary reference to the human race, the Messiah appeared in human form. By his mysterious incarnation, he formed the connecting link between the subjects of his kingdom and himself, allying his divine nature to theirs, and making them partakers of his own. Every real member of Christ?s kingdom bears the likeness of its great king. As "the habitation of God through the spirit," the divine and the human are united in him. It is also a necessary inference, from the principle which was stated at the beginning of this paragraph, that the instrumentality by which the kingdom of Christ is promoted among men must be material as well as spiritual, human as well as divine. These divine and spiritual elements in its organization, are not cognizable by the senses, and must, of course, be invisible. It is only in reference to its human or material elements that it becomes visible. Its local and temporal developments are visible, but its efficient agencies and ultimate ends are spiritual. Wherever the phrases which designate the Messiah?s reign, occur in the Scriptures, they refer to it under the one or the other of these aspects. The idea of a visible kingdom of Christ, as embodied in the visible church, is foreign to the letter and spirit of the New Testament.14

The late Dr. Mason, in a work15 which is distinguished for the confidence with which he asserts his sentiments, rather than the conclusiveness of his reasoning, or the correctness of his principles of interpretation, maintains that by the kingdom of heaven is designed the "external visible church." "This," he contends, "can be but one, or else it would not be a kingdom, and the kingdom, but several. And this one must be visible, because its ordinances are administered by visible agency." To prove his position, the excellent author relies upon several passages of Scripture, particularly those parables in which an analogy is suggested between the kingdom of God and the usages of common life.16 His argument is founded upon an erroneous view of the nature and design of a parable, and especially of those which he cites in support of his position. "The parables of the Saviour," as Neander has remarked, "we may define as representations, by which the truths, relating to the kingdom of God, are exhibited in a vivid manner to the eye of the mind, by means of special relations and analogies of common life, whether derived from nature or the world of mankind."17 It was no part of his design, in any of them, to present an exact representation of the kingdom of heaven, considered as a unit, but simply to illustrate some particular truth connected with the christian dispensation. To attempt to press the analogy beyond its legitimate limits, and find a specific correspondence between each point in the narrative or fact and the Messiah?s kingdom, is contrary to the most approved principles of interpretation. For illustration, it is simply necessary to refer to two parables, which occur in immediate connection with those which Dr. M. has cited. The parables of the mustard seed and of the leaven are intended to represent the diffusiveness of genuine piety, under two different but related aspects. There is but one idea in both of them, though clothed in different drapery, and relating to different forms of development. The former indicates the diffusion of piety, or the extension of the reign of heaven among masses of mankind; the latter refers to the development of the same principle in an individual. There is, therefore, an analogy between the mustard seed and the leaven, on the one hand, and vital religion on the other.

If we proceed to examine the parable of the sower, upon which the author relies with so much confidence, we shall see that it is susceptible of a similar interpretation. It teaches the important truth, that in the progress of the Gospel its pure and legitimate effects would sometimes be mingled with foreign admixtures; that in those organizations which would be established for the propagation of the truth, spurious professors would obtrude themselves among the genuine subjects of his kingdom. Human sagacity could not prevent this conjunction, but a separation would be effected at the end of the world. The parable of the net, to which Dr. M. also refers, teaches the same truth.

Fortunately we are not left to conjecture here. Christ has given his own interpretation of the parable of the sower. He tells us "the field is the world," not the church; and "the children of the kingdom" are distinguished from "the children of the wicked one." If it be urged that these latter are represented in a subsequent verse, as forming a part of his kingdom, since it is said that the angels shall "gather out of his kingdom all things that offend," it is sufficient to reply that the royal authority of Christ extends over his foes as well as his friends. The former may appear in visible connection with his genuine disciples, but have never been recognized by him. Even if this parable were ambiguous, the many passages of Scripture, in which moral and spiritual qualifications are mentioned as indispensable to admittance into the kingdom of the Redeemer, would be sufficient to determine who are his real subjects.18

Great stress is laid, by Dr. M.,19 upon the predictions in the Old Testament, in which the kingdom of the Messiah is described. In his judgment they manifestly refer to an external visible community. This view, however, betrays a very imperfect apprehension of the nature of those prophecies, and of just principles of interpretation. He sustains his position only by attaching a literal sense to figurative representations. The passages which he has quoted are taken from the second part of the book of Isaiah,20 one of the most splendid portions of the prophetic writings, in which the prophet, ravished with the glorious vision of the new theocracy, which the Spirit reveals to his mental gaze, portrays it in glowing language, and in imagery derived from the earthly theocracy, or the kingdoms of the earth. A literal interpretation is, here, out of the question. The kingdom which he depicts can be realized only in the spiritual theocracy of the Redeemer. With reference to chap. 60, upon expressions in which Dr. M. relies with great confidence, it may be said, without any assumption of superior perspicacity, in the language of a distinguished critic:?"It can scarcely be necessary to remark, that the whole representation is figurative throughout."21 But Dr. M. thinks that "that light, which was to shine upon the Gentiles, and the ?brightness? of that ?rising,? which was to attract the ?kings,? must of necessity be external."?p. 10. But can any one, after even a cursory glance at this chapter, 60, believe that this light is a material, visible light; that the darkness which covers the people is its opposite in nature; and that kings will actually behold this light? It is clear that the terms are used figuratively?darkness being the symbol of sin and misery?light, of righteousness and happiness.22 The chapter has no reference to a "visible church catholic," but simply describes the extent of the Messiah?s reign, and the blessings by which it would be attended.

This kingdom belongs to Christ as Mediator. It differs from his natural kingdom, not in the extent of its sway, but in the authority from which it is derived, and the object for which its government is administered. As God, he possesses an indefeasible right to rule the universe; but as Mediator, he exercises his rule in accordance with the provisions of the covenant of grace, and administers the affairs of his kingdom with special reference to his chosen people.23 This kingdom has been committed to him by the Father as the reward of his obedience unto death. As that obedience is possessed of a retrospective efficacy, and delivers from guilt and condemnation the faithful who died before the advent of the Redeemer; so his royal authority, which was first publicly committed to him at his resurrection from the dead, was exercised in the administration of his kingdom in every age. His incarnation was only the removal of his audience chamber to earth; the visible manifestation of the divine sovereign; and his ascension to heaven was his public coronation in the sight of the universe.

The benefits of Christ?s kingdom are restricted to its real, accredited subjects. But for the purpose of administering its government and promoting its interests, he has been invested with all power in heaven and in earth.24 He sways his sceptre over the armies of heaven, the inhabitants of the earth, and the spirits of hell. All the agents of the universe are held in his hand, and execute his will. All will be made contributors to the promotion of his kingdom, and will grace his final triumph.

The reign of the Redeemer is to be perpetual. Such is the description given of it in ancient prophecy and confirmed by Christ and his apostles.25 The only apparent exception to the general tenor of the Scriptures, is found in 1 Cor. 15: 24, 28. But even this passage, upon a more careful examination, will be found to comport with the representations which are elsewhere found of the perpetual duration of the Messiah?s kingdom. The import of this passage seems to be, that God has committed to Christ the government of his mediatorial kingdom and invested him with full power to carry it on to perfection, by "placing all things under his feet." His enemies oppose his progress in vain; for he must finally triumph, and put down all opposing "rule, and all authority and power." When this glorious period arrives, he will present the kingdom to his Father, in all the amplitude and splendor of a redeemed and purified possession. His mediatorial work, so far as it regards this world, will be accomplished. He will then see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. But lest it should be supposed that he will then abdicate his throne, and resign the authority delegated to him by the Father, the apostle adds?"And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." He will still act as the representative of the Father, and administer the government of his kingdom in subservience to the interests and happiness of his redeemed and glorified people.26

The reign of Christ is a subject of unspeakable dignity and interest. With it are connected the noblest prospects and dearest hopes of mankind. Sages have dreamed of ideal republics; poets have painted the glories of a golden age; and the human race, groaning under the curse of sin, and burdened with the accumulated sorrows of earth, have earnestly longed for a period of respite from grief, and a state of pure and permanent felicity. Under the dominion of the Redeemer, these hopes are fulfilled, these expectations are realized. With the condescension that marks the character of the king, and the unexampled benignity which induced him, at the cost of his own sufferings and death, to rear this kingdom, as an asylum for guilt and a refuge for sorrow, he invites the nations to its rights and immunities. The right of citizenship is proffered, without distinction of clime or country, sex or station. In the distribution of its favors, no regard is had to Jew or Greek, Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free. The possessors of uncertain riches are blessed with spiritual wealth; and the poor are made rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. All its subjects are the sons of God, the redeemed of Christ. Imbued with the graces of heaven, furnished with every thing necessary to their comfort and happiness, and favored with occasional glimpses of the glory in reversion, they possess, even on earth, a joy which is unspeakable, and a peace which passeth all understanding. And when the reign of Christ is fully consummated, and all his followers have entered the heavenly world, they will accede to an inheritance which is as infinite in value, as it is interminable in duration. It is a matter of vast importance, of imperative necessity, to every man that he be a member of this kingdom of Christ. Admittance is granted and the conditions clearly defined. The king himself has inscribed over its portal the solemn words, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

 
 
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