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among us without full consideration of what it involves. I believe it would far to make a Church useless for purposes of Christian fellowship.
The union of Christians in a Church is one of the ways in which they fulfil the command of the Lord and His apostles to “receive one another." I say, it is one of the ways of fulfilling that command. There are, in ordinary intercourse, many other ways of fulfilling it; and if any one should say that we have been accustomed to put too much value upon reception by the Church, and too little upon other ways of reception, I shall not now dispute his opinion. I do not now claim for reception by the Church any pre-eminence over other ways of fulfilling the Divine command. All that I plead for is, that this is one of the ways in which it becomes Christians to receive one another; and that, therefore, the informal fulfilment of the command in common life may enable us to understand what should be the essential character of reception by a Church.
Now, the reception which Christians give to one another, in the common intercourse of life, lies in their perception and recognition of each other's Christian faith and character. It does not consist in general good-will; for that is exercised towards all men. Neither does it consist in an undiscriminating recognition of Christian character- in a recognition which simply notices the existence of Christian character, without recognising its distinctive features. It is thoroughly discriminating; and the more discriminating, the better it is. We all love, in being received, not to have just such a reception as might suit every individual in a multitude, but one which recognises our own individuality and our own character, and is suitable to ourselves alone. A general reception, in which there is not a discriminating recognition of what we are, does not much move us; but a reception that expresses a clear perception and a generous estimate of what we are deeply moves us. It is, indeed, a severe trial to be judged by one whose discriminating glance recognises our faults as well as our excellencies; but if we perceive in him a candid judgment of our faults, and a generous recognition of what we have attained, and of what we are seeking to attain, his reception of us exercises a powerful influence over us, correcting what is evil, and drawing out what is good.
This loving but discriminating judgment, therefore, is not regarded by us as an unhappy necessity when we fulfil our Lord's command in receiving each other in the ordinary intercourse of life. It is the very thing which gives reception its chief value, both as an expression of friendship, and as a corrective and quickening influence. A loving judgment may perhaps, without exaggeration, be said to be the greatest social power a Christian can exercise; and yet it is this kind of power which, so far as reception by the Church is concerned, some among us regard as an unhappy necessity, and would fain set aside. My difficulty about the matter is, that a reception that is not discriminating is without value, both as an expression of friendship, and as a source of moral influence. If, in ordinary intercourse, a reception without discrimination has little value, on what grounds is it to be expected that a Church reception without discrimination will have much value? It seems to me that discrimination is essential to true reception, and that, if the Church receives members without discrimination, it substitutes a dead form for a living reality.
Then, moreover, if the Church is not to judge of the credibility of profession, a chief security for purity of fellowship is taken away.
It is said, however, that, if the Church cease to judge, the simple and natural action of spiritual affinities will secure purity of fellowship. I thoroughly believe that Churches should consist of those who are drawn together by the simple natural action of spiritual affinities. But how do spiritual affinities operate ? There are many kinds of Christian fellowship, other than Church fellowship, that originate in this way; and we may turn to those fellowships outside the Church to learn how spiritual affinities act in bringing men together. All fellowships, then, outside the Church, are based upon mutual sympathy and mutual agreement. When two individuals come into fellowship, it is by mutual recognition of each other's character. There is the discrimination of character on both sides ; and if either of the two cannot perceive Christian character in his neighbour, he can withdraw from his approaches, and he considers himself bound to withdraw. This power of withdrawing from fellowship, when true ground for it cannot be seen in the person seeking it, is a right which all men hold dear, and which they constantly exercise. Spiritual affinities, therefore, unite men by mutual appreciation and mutual consent; and it is the mutuality which makes them work truly.
But if the Church is not to judge of the character of those who seek to enter her fellowship, the natural action of spiritual affinities no longer exists. It is all one-sided. There is no mutuality. On one side the spiritual affinities are paralysed; and there is, therefore, no just reason for saying that the natural action of spiritual affinities will keep the
But it is said, again, that the danger of unspiritual men seeking fellowship with the Church may be prevented by faithful teaching and warning. I thoroughly believe in the power of faithful words in their right place; but it is a perilous thing to seek to do by words what should be done by action. If parents neglect the practical rule of the house, and seek to make up for it by more counsel to their children, the issue will be disastrous. If it be the duty of a Church to exercise discrimination in receiving members, any attempt to make up for neglect of that duty by appeal to the conscience of those seeking admission will only make the matter worse.
I must now ask you to consider this question of Church membership in connection with the duty of confessing Christ. Hitherto connection with the Church has been regarded among us as aiding in the confession of Christ. Joining the Church has commonly been called making a profession ; and those believed to be Christians, but remaining outside the Church, have been generally spoken of as not making a profession. It is now urged, however, that this is a mistaken view of the function of a Church ; that the true function of a Church is to awaken and nourish spiritual life; that the world, rather than the Church, is the place for confessing Christ; that the profession of faith made in the Church is of little value to any one, while practical fidelity to Christ in the common affairs of life is of great value to all. Hence, some would not require any profession of faith on joining the Church, while others would reduce it to the least possible amount.
Let me ask you to consider how much a profession of faith must include, if it is to be made at all. It will not be enough for any one simply to say, "I am a Christian.” Such a profession is often made when the party making it obviously does not know what it implies. If profession is to be made at all, the person making it must know what it implies. It implies questions both of doctrine and life. If any one did not believe Christ to be Divine, to be the Sacrifice for sin, to be the supreme Lord of men, or if, believing these, his conduct showed that he was not obedient to the faith, his profession of being a Christian could not be accepted. Therefore, if profession is to be required at all, it must comprehend a great deal.
But is it the case that the Church has little to do with the duty of confessing Christ ? Our answer to this question will depend upon the view we take of the nature of the confession Christ demands. Now, there are two great departments of confession. There is an implied confession in practical fidelity to Christ in the common affairs of life, and there is the confession of faith in Christ Himself. What is the relation of these two in Christian confession ? Does practical fidelity in the common affairs of life render unnecessary confession of faith in Christ Himself ? Certainly not. The value to the world of a consistent Christian life, does not lie so much in itself, as in the power it gives him who leads it, to bear witness to the great principles of the Gospel. Practical fidelity, therefore, can exercise its proper influence only when it is accompanied by a distinct, and full, and cordial confession of faith in Christ.
Christ often tested those who followed Him by requiring this confession of faith in Himself. It was in this very way He tested the multitudes who followed Him after the feeding of the five thousand, though the test had the effect of leading the greater part of them to walk no more with Him. It was this confession of faith in Himself He sought from His disciples at Cæşarea Philippi. It was not a proof of practical fidelity Christ sought from His disciples on that occasion, but a confession of their faith in Himself ; and it was upon the confession of faith in Himself He said He would build His Church.
Now, it appears to me that the Church is naturally fitted and divinely intended to aid in making this confession. Aid is needed; for, while it is most desirable that such confession should be made, it is difficult to make it. That it is difficult is acknowledged by all; and it is the difficulty of it that is now urged as a reason why the Church should not require it. But, whatever difficulties may belong to confession, it will be more easily made to the Church than anywhere else. The real question at issue is not whether the Church should require it, but whether it should be made at all; for if it is to be made at all, it will be most naturally, and easily, and fully made in the Church, among the Lord's own people.
I shall now briefly notice some objections to this view of the duty of the Church.
It is said, “ You have no right to make such examinations. This is not your Church, but Christ's Church. I profess Christ : I want to be His; and you have no right to prevent me." ”
This argument is clearly valid thus far, that a Church has no right to set up arbitrary conditions of membership. It is bound to receive every faithful disciple of Christ; it is bound not to receive any other. The real question, therefore, is, on what grounds it should proceed in receiving members on the ground of mere profession, or on the ground of a credible profession. If it be said, on the ground of mere profession, then the Church, as a society, is required to do what not one of its members would do as an individual. If any person were to come to me, as an individual, and say, " I am a Christian, and you are bound by the Master's command to receive and treat me as a Christian," I should reply, “I shall be most glad to welcome you as a Christian brother, if you will give me the means of knowing that you are indeed Christ's.” No one ever
cepts mere profession as an adequate ground for receiving any one as a Christian brother. We all say, and we always say, “ Show me thy faith by thy works ;" and, unless we have sufficient evidence, we feel that no man has a right to demand of us that we should receive and treat him as à Christian. But this, which no individual Christian would do, the Church, as a society, is required to do. It is sometimes unhandsomely said that societies have no conscience; but this denies the Church the right to keep a conscience. But, after all, no one is prepared to require the Church altogether to abstain from judging of the credibility of profession. If any one be guilty of immorality or crime, the Church would at once say that his conduct belied his profession, and that they could not acknowledge him as one of Christ's people. The principle is thus acknowledged that the Church is not required to receive any profession that is not accompanied with suitable evidence.
It is said, however, that this practice of examination impairs the sense of personal responsibility in the individual subjected to it, and fosters in him spiritual pride and self-delusion. I would venture to quote the words of Dr. Wardlaw as to the evils that would result from reception without examination :-"In these remarks I have said nothing respecting the effect of the admission into the Church, to the external enjoyment of what are termed its privileges, on the minds of those persons themselves who are so admitted-admitted without any evidence of their having 'passed from death unto life,' of their having been the subjects of that new birth which
the Saviour declares indispensable to a sinner's being a subject of His kingdom. I am fully persuaded, and ever have been, that ministerial unfaithfulness in this particular-indiscriminate admission to Christian ordinances—has ruined more souls than almost any other cause whatever. O the multitudes in whose bosoms it has fostered strong delusion,' whose . deceitful hearts' it has contributed to cheat into a false estimate of themselves and of their state, and whom it has sent down to the grave with 'a lie in their right hand !' Having a nominal membership in the Church on earth, they have never discovered the cruel delusion thus practised upon them, till they have found themselves excluded from the Church in heaven.”* I shall not impair the force of these weighty words by comments of my
I know there is a universal tendency to estimate one's character by man's judgment rather than by God's; but this tendency will not be removed by ceasing to exercise discrimination. Discrimination is rather the natural corrective of it.
One more objection. It is said that this examination prevents many excellent Christians from joining the Church ; and I am bound to believe such statements, because they are made on the ground of personal observation ; although my own observation does not bear them out. So far as my observation has gone, a deepening of spiritual life has invariably resulted in drawing those outside into the fellowship of the Church. quickened spiritual life is needed for the Church to absorb the congregation; and, without that, all mere external arrangements will avail little.
Our modes of admission, moreover, may be made more simple and natural. I find, as a rule, that those sent from the Church to converse with applicants go over the same ground that I have; and my report is therefore rendered unnecessary; while the applicant is subjected to the unpleasant necessity of twice speaking of his spiritual history. It does not seem to me either desirable or needful that there should be this double examination into the same matter. Conversation with the pastor may suffice to enable him to give the Church good grounds for reception ; while the Church might appoint some one whose duty it should be to receive testimony, or to make enquiry, as to character and conduct. I thoroughly sympathise with a sentiment that fell from Mr. Martin, that the Church is intended to aid in making a profession of faith, as well as to require such a confession ; and it seems to me that, if this double duty were well done, there would not exist the unhappy distinction now said to exist between the Church and congregation.
My space will not allow me more than two or three words as to the connection between Church membership and the Lord's Supper. May not persons be received to the Lord's Supper without a profession of faith, even though they ought not to be received into the Church without it? I
* “Independency,” p. 132.