Editor's note: By request I have republished these first six chapters of Mr. Milner's original book here. These are not available at present except online. They do not appear in the republished form of the book, "The Christian Ministry According To The Apostles."
CHAPTER V: The Ecclesia
The house of God which is the Ecclesia of the living God (᾽Εκκλησἰα θεοῦ ζῶντος), the pillar and stay of the truth, 1 Tim. iii.15.
- The English word church is not a translation of ΄Εκκλησία, the term which the Savior and his apostles have employed to designate the convocation of the faithful. The Greek adjective κυριακοσ, pertaining to the Lord, is given by some as the root of the English word church, the scottish kirk, and the German kirche, while others refer to these modern synonymes to a conjunction of the Greek, κυριοσ Lord, and οικοσ house, thus making them signify Lord’s house. Be this as it may, certain it is, that whether we are indebted, as is said, to the schoolmen of the seventh century for the simple use of the adjective in a new sense, or for the compounding of a new symbol; in neither case does the word church convey to the mere English reader any very definite idea, and much less does it express the meaning of the word which the Messiah saw fit to choose as the appellation of that body of which he is at once the founder and the head. Only twice in the christian Scriptures do we find the word kyriakos, once in 1 Cor. x. 21, as qualifying the table as the Lord’s, and once in Rev. i. 10, as designating the day specified as the Lord’s day, nor do we at all find the two words kyrios and oikos conjoined in Scripture in designating the christian people. Therefore in neither view of the case is the word church the Bible term for the designation of the Lord’s people in their associated capacity.
- One hundred and twelve times is ecclesia employed by the spirit for this purpose. Most formally and impressively does the Savior take the lead in its employment. On his questioning the disciples as to his Messiahship, and on Peter’s replying, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;’ the Lord, in manifest allusion to his confession, said, ‘upon this rock I will build my church (μου τήν έκκλησίαν) and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.’ Surely the founder of an institution has the right to designate it! Surely the wisdom of the divine Architect will appear in the selection of the term he employs to designate that edifice which is to be the residence of Deity on earth! Surely the appellation so formally adopted by the Messiah on this illustrious occasion, and so uniformly employed by his inspired ambassadors after him merits the respect of all who revere him !
4. When a language has not a correct representative of an important word, the idea of which requires expression in the translation, the proper course is to assimilate and introduce the term in question. Now if we except evocation, the English language has no word exactly synonymous with that of the Messiah’s selection. The word church has no similarity of meaning to it; congregation is the equivalent of the Christ-rejecting and rejected synagogue. Assembly is no more expressive than congregation; concovation is nearer, and therefore better ; it denotes call––a calling together, but it wants the peculiar thoughts of the divinely chosen term––the idea of calling out. Yet this is a chief peculiarity of the true character and position of the Christian Ecclesia. It is a people called out of the world, a peculiar, a purchased, a separate people. No church that stands in amalgamation with the world––the unconverted or unregenerate––possesses that which is an essential attribute of the Ecclesia, the living God. ‘We know that we are of God,’ says John, ‘and the whole world lieth in wickedness,’ John v. 19. ‘Ye are,’ says Peter, ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the perfections of him who hat called you out of darkness into his marvellous light ; who, in time past, were not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.’ 1 Pet. 11. 9, 10.
5. Beside conducing to a proper conception of the christian body as one called and separated by the gospel of the grace of God, and thereby subserving its sacredness and sanctification, to the employment of the exact and significant term of the Messiah’s selection, opens up the fine harmony of thought which runs through quite a number of other Scripture words and phrases, largely and emphatically used by the sacred penmen in designation of the people of the Lord. In proof, let us notice the following words and facts : First, there is the very frequent use of the verb καλξω to call, in reference primarily to the invitation or summons of the gospel, and subsequently to the naming or calling of those who obey the invitation. The King who makes the marriage-feast for his Son sends forth his servants to call those who were bidden, Matt. xxii. 3. The saved were called to salvation by the gospel, 2, Thess. ii. 14. Such persons became the acknowledged people of God. God named them for his. In them was fulfilled the prediction, ‘I will call them my people, who were not my people, and her beloved who was not beloved, and it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto them, ye are not my people, there shall they be called the children of the living God,’ Rom. ix. 24-26. Then, next, there are the cognates, κλησισ, calling, and κλητόσ, the called, in which the divine vocation and denomination of the faithful are referred to, as in Eph. 1. 18, ‘That ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe;’ iv. 1. ‘I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love ; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ; there is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.’ Heb. iii. 4, ‘Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.’ 2 Pet. i. 10. ‘Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.’ Thus it is that the members of the churches are declared, ‘the called of Jesus Christ,’ ‘beloved of God,’ ‘called saints,’ and ‘the called according to the purpose of God,’ Rom. i. 6, 7 ; viii. 28.
6. But if, as is thus evident, a significant connection is indicated between these denominational terms, shewing that the members of the Church of Christ are the recognized and distinguished people of God––those called and named by him as partakers of the heavenly calling Christ Jesus by the gospel, so also do these terms open up a further, most interesting, and important relation between this calling of God, and that election on his part to salvation, of which the Christian Scriptures speak so frequently. As it is already seen that the ecclesia is composed of the called of God, so likewise they are his elect. Their being partakers of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, shews them to be his choice, or chosen ones. They have no right to the Christian name, or to regard themselves as the called of Christ Jesus, without also understanding that they are, for the same reason, and in the same way, the elect of God. They were given by the apostles to know their election of God as assuredly as that they were called by the name of his Son. They had no more doubts of the one than of the other. They had no doubt whatever on the subject, nor could they have, for they believed God, and his gospel declared those who received his Son, and none else, to be his approved, chosen, select, elect sons and daughters. This intimate and indissoluble connection between faith in the glad tidings, the holy calling, and the election of grace is in some aspect or other seen in every letter to the assemblies of the faithful. If the apostle pronounced the disciples of Rome ‘the called according to God’s purpose,’ he also, and in the same argument, intimated them to be his elect. he affirmed an unalterable intention on God’s part to the effect that those whom he had of old acknowledged as his (προέγνω), namely (as the preceding verse shews) those who loved him, he had predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born or chief among many brethren; that those thus predestinated to conformity of Jesus he had called, he had justified, he had glorified. Having thus shewn the divinely determined connexion between love to God and his acknowledgment ; having affirmed that such characters (as Abraham, Isaac, &c.) not only had the precognition of God in their favour, and the pre-determination of their ultimate likeness yo the first-born, but were also called, justified, and glorified by him, the apostle at once transfers the argument to himself, and those whom he had addressed as the called of Christ Jesus, and the beloved of God, saying, ‘Since God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?? Again, this connexion between the ecclesia, the calling, and the election of favour comes out as clearly in 2 Thess. 11. 12-14––where, contrasting the state of those who received not the love of the truth that they might be saved,’ with that of these disciples in Thessalonica who had received the word, and became followers of the Lord and his apostles, Paul writes, ‘But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirt and belief of the truth, whereunto he called you by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Here we see that the call to glory is by the gospel, and the election to salvation by the belief of the truth and the sanctification of the Spirit. These Thessalonians having obeyed the call––having received the word––having believed the truth, were sanctified of the Spirit, and thus chosen to salvation, and held a name and a place in the christian ecclesia among those who once were not a people, but were now the people of God.
7. Were this indissoluble relation between the ecclesia, the calling, and the election of God, recognised as it was by the apostles in their respect to their converts, the miserable doubts of teacher and taught that prevail in the present day as to the principle and manner of divine election, and as to the characters constituting the elect, could have no existence. Now as then, the disciples could, with that ‘much assurance’ in which the apostles wrote the brethren of their day, be addressed as ‘beloved of God,’ and as ‘knowing their election.’ The divine method of ‘making their calling and election sure’ would be seen as no other than the prescription given by Peter in his second general letter. The certainty of ultimate triumph would be as undoubted as it appears in the apocalypse, where the victorious King of kings and Lord of lords overcomes his confederated foes, and where they that are with him are declared to be ‘called, and chosen, and faithful.’ In brief, it would be seen that the ecclesia of Christ is composed of the elect of God : that the ecclesia, the calling, and the election are related epithets for the one people, the faithful of Christ Jesus, Rev. xvii. 14.
8. With this truth would be seen another, equally lost to view through the mists of the dark and cloudy day of the apostacy, namely, that Christian worship is the exclusive privilege of the ecclesia of Christ. Believing upon and immersed into the name of Christ, gathering together in his name, and indeed doing all, whether in word or deed, in his name their worship of God is characterised by this peculiarity, the invocation of the name of the Lord. This is a peculiarity which no other religion on earth possesses, and one which none but the veritable disciples of the Lord Messiah can appreciate or enjoy. To those at Rome, Paul wrote, saying, ‘The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him ; for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved ;’ but he immediately asks, ‘How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?’ To do so were to perpetrate the merest folly, or the grossest hypocrisy. Yet this is the ‘public worship’ of these realms, as of all where the apostacy from the faith has spread its benighting wings. In apostolic days not the public but the disciples of Jesus alone were known as callers upon the name of the Lord. This was a principle, distinguishing feature of their worship, and one that properly can belong to no other than that offered by the true worshippers of the true God––the members of the Christian ecclesia. Therefore it is that in the inscriptions of the apostolic letters to the churches, we find the calling of the faithful conjoined with their calling upon the name of him by whom they themselves had been called. Thus wrote Paul : ‘Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.’
9. Out of this well-marked distinction arises another––the separation of Christians from the unconverted in worship. The calling upon the name of the Lord being confined to the believing, and this recognition of the name of Jesus as Lord being a cardinal characteristic of the Christian worship, the worship was necessarily restricted to the ecclesia of Christ. There is no such anomaly in all the New Testament as any, save the disciples of Jesus, being recognised as Christian worshippers, or as participators in any acts of Christian worship. The apostle distinctly affirmed the faithful brethren in Christ to be ‘in circumcision, who worship God in spirt, who rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ Their meeting was expressly the gathering of the ecclesia, the called, the elect. They were all within––the world lay without. At the first, in the time of danger, the doors were shut ; otherwise they were open, so that enquiring or interested persons might enter as observers, and ‘witness their order.’ But though present they were so only in this capacity till the truth took effect upon them. Hence such language as that of James 11. 3, ‘If there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel,’ &c. ; or that of Cor. xiv. 23, ‘If the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in unlearned or unbelievers,’ &c ; or that of Heb x. 23, ‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,’ &c. In every instance of gathering for Christian worship it is the brethren that are addressed, it is their assembly, it is the assembling of themselves together, it is the coming together of the ecclesia. And confirmatory of this, the recognition of the unclean, the unsanctified, or unconverted, is challenged and prohibited in language, the most imperative and solemn. The church in Corinth, neglecting its separation from the world to the service of the living God, was thus addressed : ‘Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers ; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness ? and what communion hath light with darkness ? and what concord hath Christ with Belial ? or what part hath the believing with the unbelieving ? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols ? for ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean, and I will receive you ; and I will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.’ 2 Cor v1. 14-18.
10. Though the recognition of the divine Father is here so emphatically conditioned upon the non-recognition by his people of those who are not his people, yet with almost universal disregard of this most solemn prohibition do most existing churches maintain, not christian worship, not the worship which the Messiah instituted, not the worship of the Father by the Spirit through the Son, not this worship on the part of those, and only those, who have received Jesus as Christ and Lord, the one Mediator between God and men, through whom alone there is access to the Father ; but on the contrary, what they so well term ‘public worship,’ a so-called ‘divine service,’ which God never instituted ‘performed,’ for the most part by those who are still in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity, and have neither part nor lot in the matter of the ecclesia of God. Public worship is necessarily indiscriminate ; it of necessity mixes all characters together. Once instituted, and wherever and however maintained, the line of the line of demarcation between the church and the world is lost. The church becomes no church in the only true and scriptural sense of the term ; it is no ecclesia, it is no calling out from the mass; for it is the mass that is convened. The world and the church are confounded. The unholiest of alliances is consummated. The world becomes the church, or rather the church is unchurched in the ungodly mass ; it is lost in the ocean. And that separation which the law of Christ established and enforced upon them under peril of the divine withdrawal from their midst, is a thing of the past.
11. By public worship is meant worship in which the public take part. We do not mean worship in the mere presence of the world, but such as in one way or other recognizes the public as participators in the acts of worship observed. With the apostles, except in times of danger, the doors of the meeting-place are open. John xx. 19 says that ‘they were shut for fear of the Jews.’ The mere presence of the unconverted as observers no more makes them or gives them to suppose that they are worshippers, than does the presence of visitors in the strangers’ gallery of the House of Commons constitute them, or lead them to imagine that they are Members of the Parliament. And when we urge the biblical restriction of Christian prayer and other acts of the mediatorial worship to those who can accept the exhortation to ‘draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and the body laved with pure water,’ we do not say to any man, You ought not to pray. On the contrary, we affirm that ‘men ought always to pray,’ but that to do so acceptably, they must do it in God’s way, they must remember that way to be a mediatorial one, and that the Mediator said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life : no man cometh unto the Father but by me.’
12. By the common violation of Messiahmic worship, there is repeated under the second institution the three-fold crime that was perpetrated under the first : ‘They have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.’ No upholder of public worship in any form can give any law or precept of the Messiah for it. No one who has ever read the Mediator’s words on the subject of worship can fail to see that the worship of God by the promiscuous multitude of the public, i. e., worship, according to human precepts by men unrenewed in the spirit of their mind, is the most direct violation possible of those laws of worship which he affirmed when he said, ‘The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.’ ‘They have changed the ordinance ;’ for that immersion into Christ by which believers, and they alone, were inducted into the kingdom, family, and ecclesia of God, has been thrown aside, and is now pronounced ‘a non-essential,’ albeit, the Messiah averred in the solemn words, ‘Amen. Amen. I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ As said by Calvin in his comments on Acts viii. 38, in explanation of the sprinkling of babes instead of the immersion of believers, ‘The church did, since the beginning, grant unto herself the liberty to change the ordinances.’ Such is her sin. ‘They have broken the everlasting covenant.’ Not one in a hundred of the teachers of the people will affirm salvation on the express terms in which the Messiah promised it in his first commission, when he said to the eleven, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned.’ They will not recognise the conditions pronounced by Peter on Pentecost, when to the thousands of convicted enquirers he cried, ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.’ But these words of the true and faithful Witness are held as fables now by those who call themselves his ministers, and the disobedience of the people is secured by the repetition of the first lie told on earth to man, ‘Ye shall not surely die.’
13. Initial as this ordinance is to christian worship, the mediatorship of Christ is denied both in the changing of it, and in the prostitution of the various items of worship consequent upon the recognition of the unconverted as christian worshippers. The mediatorship implies such a believing, personal acknowledgment of the mediator as leads the worshippers to approach the Father only through him, and only in the acts of his ordaining. Christians have introduction to the Father through the faith of Jesus. In Ephesians ii. 18, Paul says, on behalf alike of the jew and Gentile converts ‘through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.’ In saying this he intimates that the Father is approached through the medium of the Mediator by those who are έγ πνενματι, ‘in the Spirit’––who ‘have the Spirit’––who are ‘spiritual,’ who are not carnal,’ not having the Spirit, If there be acceptable introduction to the Father otherwise than thus, that is, by another way than through the Son, or to others than those, who, having received him, have received the adoption of sons, and therewith the Spirit of the Son, whereby to cry Abba, Father,––we say, if there be acceptable worship otherwise than thus, or to other characters than these, then manifestly the Mediatorship is needless, and every system or arrangement which admits men to worship, otherwise than thus, or other persons than these declares the needlessness of the Mediatorship. In a word, the Mediatorship is denied by the recognition of the unconverted as Christian worshippers, It implies worship only through Christ ; and when the apostle says, in the twelfth verse of the third chapter of this same letter, ‘In Jesus Christ our Lord we (Christians) have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him ;’ he says much more than that this liberty and introduction were obtained by faith. It is true they were possessed, as all the privileges of the christian ecclesia are, by faith, since ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, and those who come to him must believe.’ But this is not the truth here stated. The apostle does not perpetrate the truism that we have confidence by faith, but he affirms the then distinctly taught, though now utterly ignored verity, that Christians have liberty, introduction, and confidence toward God in Christ by ‘THE FAITH.’ He does not say by faith, δια πίστεωσ, but by the faith, δια τησ πίστεωσ. Faith is one thing, the faith is another. Faith is belief :the faith is the economy mediated by Jesus Christ. This being so, the apostle’s meaning is, that it is by that way, constitution, or arrangement of things which the Saviour has instituted, and which he heads in his own person, that his disciples approach the Father with boldness and confidence. And therefore do we submit that the various departures from the faith which now obtain, and by which public worship has taken the place of christian worship, and the ecclesia has been merged in the world are unmistakeable denials of the Mediatorship of Christ. They assume that there is acceptance with God otherwise than by the faith of Christ, for those who have not received him, and in ways which he has not ordained.
14. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.’ A man cannot take fire into his bosom without being burned. The Church cannot receive the world into its embraces without being polluted. The holiness of the ecclesia depends on the conservation of the ordinances. The restriction of worship to ‘those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart’ is essential to the purity of the people who worship, as well as to the purity of the worship offered. True worship is possible only to the true worshipper ; spiritual service is possible only with the spiritually minded ; acceptable worship is rendered only in the case of those who are accepted in the Beloved ; a pure offering is mad only by those who have purified their souls in obeying the truth. The purity, truth, spirituality, and acceptability of the worship, and of the worshippers, are alike sacrificed by an impure fellowship. The christian character cannot be developed when ungodliness is fellowshipped. The perfections of him who has called his people out of darkness into his marvellous light cannot be shewn forth if they fail to realize themselves as alone in the holy nation, the royal priesthood, the purchased people, the chosen generation.
15. Nor is the effect less disastrous to the unconverted. A false position assigned them, treated as Christians though ‘without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Isreal, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,’ they are lulled into a false security ; they say, ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace ;’ they sport themselves with their own deceivings ; they find cover under refuges of lies ; they see not the dread reality of their case ; they are led to appropriate its promises, and to disregard its stipulations and threatenings ‘ they are ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth ‘ they fancy themselves safe and accepted while, in fact, as all unbelievers are, they are condemned already, and the wrath of God abides upon them. What although the gospel be preached to them ? Where is the propriety of preaching the gospel for the acceptance of those who are already in the supposed possession of the blessings and privileges peculiar to those who have accepted it ? What though faith and repentance be urged upon them ? What need have they of either, who were christened, that is, made Christians at birth, and have lived all their days under that hypothesis ? Why talk to them of conversion, who are regularly addressed by the ambassadors of Christ as brethren ? How persuade those of the terrors of the Lord, who have found shelter from the wrath to come in the fold of the good Shepherd? Plain it is why the most popular ministers in Scotland tell their auditors that they have not known a conversion among them for two, seven, fifteen, yea, even twenty years! There is no question that the popular worship is damning as it is unscriptural, and that the blood of souls blots the garments of its upholders.
16. As the Church of Scotland is not that of England, as Calvin’s system is not Luther’s, as no two societies in which different and opposing doctrines are taught and practiced are one and the same, so no body of men, organised and convened otherwise than in faithful imitation of the churches of God, which in Judea were in Christ Jesus, is a church of Christ. To become members of the ecclesia of God, men must just do what those Thessalonians did, who, as Paul says, became followers, or imitators of these first or model churches planted in Judea by the apostles, according to the mandate of the one head of the one body––his church. No humanly conceived and organised religious society ever can be a church of Christ. His church is a divine institute, it is the ecclesia of God. It is this because it has God for its author ; it never could have been so, but for the divinity of its origination. It is beyond the power of the creature to make anything divine. Nothing of human authorship, conception, or construction, can be more than an ordinance, a creature of man. Every church, therefore, constituted by human wisdom, established on human foundations, ruled by human laws, is but a man-made church. All such societies find in the archives of the past the date of their establishment anterior to which such churches had no being, and certain it is that not one of them dates from the day of Pentecost. All of them have their code of laws––their rules and membership, and plain it is, not not one of these is the second of Acts. Each boasts the name, or names its founder or founders, and of a verity it is, every one of them has another name than that of Christ, Now, if the Church of Christ be one, if he be its founder, if the second of the Acts of Apostles record its laws and practice of admission and membership, if it date from the Pentecost succeeding the ascension of the Messiah, why should men blindly admit the absurdity that the Church of Christ is one with organizations, various as the opinions of men, based on those opinions, glorying in them, holding them forth, fighting for them, interpreting the word of God by them, subjecting and wresting it to them, denying the name of Jesus for the names of men, their speculations, or their country ! No man in his senses would say that the church established by law in Scotland is the same as that which law declares the national Church of England ; no sane man would affirm that the dissenting bodies are one with the state churches. And if the church of Knox be known and reputed a different church from that of Wesley, who sees not that the ecclesia founded by Jesus the Messiah of God is one by itself, and differs from all churches of subsequent constitution, and that to the precise extent of their divergence form it.
17. There ever will, and must be, this grand difference between the ecclesia of God and the churches of men, that in the former is manifested the wisdom of God, in the latter the wisdom, or rather the folly of men. Folly it certainly is, for those who profess to be mere builders with infallible specifications supplied them for their guidance to leave the divine model for plans of their own. We dispute not that much of the wisdom of men is manifested in all existence ecclesiastical systems, be they of Constantinople, Rome, Germany, England, or Scotland. We care not to say which of all the churches of denominationalism bears the palm for such wisdom. Enough it is to know that such wisdom is not from above, that the wisdom of men is foolishness with God, that we have no business to institute comparisons between things all alike, disallowed indeed by God. ‘We dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves ; but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.’ Such glorying is not good. Altogether vain is the glory of sectarism. At the best, it is glorying in men, and that at the expense of the glory of God. If, in respect of creation it is written, ‘God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions;’ if, respecting the first economy, it was said, ‘See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee,’ but ‘they did not continue in my institution;’ so in regard to the christian ecclesia it is recorded as the divine intent, that now unto the ‘principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church in the manifold wisdom of God.’ But while this stands on record as the intention of God, the doctors of denominationalism teach their votaries, that so far from the church manifesting the manifold wisdom of God, it has been left simply as an arena for the display of human ingenuity ; that whatever the angelic hierarchies may see in it, they find only scope for their inventions ; that instead of its arrangements displaying God’s various wisdom, they rather shew his folly, inasmuch as they have proved inadequate to the changes through which the church has had to pass, and been displaced by systems more suited to the times. In this strain of dishonour to God must every abettor of any sectarian church proceed with his defense of it. Every word he utters in favour of it is a reflection on the wisdom and church of God. Let him soften it as he will, the very existence of a church differently constituted from the apostolic churches is a condemnation of them, their author, and his wisdom together. Every organization, material and moral, manifests the wisdom of its author. The plan of a house shews that of its architect, the construction of an engine that of the engineer, the discipline of an army that of its general, the arrangement of a museum that of the curator. So does the church of God make known his manifold wisdom, and did men desire to look into it as do the angels, they would praise him as they do. But they are taken up with their own inventions, and of them and their authors it may be said, as it was said of old, ‘These be thy gods, O Israel !’ In no case can the organising of anything adumbrate the wisdom of God, or secure his glory ; they manifest only the wisdom and folly of their authors and upholders, they secure alone their shame and glory. Two parallel lines will meet as soon as will the wisdom of God be shewn, or his glory advance,d by the organization and maintenance of humanly constituted churches.
18. Yet God will not be robbed. He will take his own method of shewing his own to have been the more excellent way. In all past ages he has suffered men to take one of two paths, with their related consequences––his or theirs, and when they have preferred the latter, what appeared undoubted wisdom at the time, stands in history the monument of supremest folly. So shall it ever be. So particularly respecting the action of men concerning the church and truth of God. ‘As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so,’ said the apostle, ‘shall men resist the truth, but they shall proceed no further, for their folly shall be manifest unto all, as theirs also was.’ Every church of men shall fall. The extirpation of every plant not planted by God is affirmed by him whose word cannot fail, But the church of Christ shall stand for ever. ‘On this rock,; said Messiah, ‘I will build my ecclesia, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.’
19. Though we thus speak, it is by no means our purpose to convey the idea that there are not many pious persons in all these churches, or that they do no manifest many excellences of christian character. In all the sects there are many devout, excellent, and useful individuals. God indeed acknowledges that there are of his people in Babylon, when buy the mouth of John he calls them out. But it should be recollected that it is not enough to be pious merely. Many heathen are devout. Their piety induces them to worship’ God as far as the light they possess can guide them. To be a Christian implies much more than to be pious. Cornelius was a devout man, one who feared God with all his house, and gave much alms, and prayed continually ; yet even he was told to send for Peter, of whom he should her words by which he and his house would be saved. Acts x. 2 ; xi. 14. His piety led him instantly to obey, as he said to Peter, ‘Immediately, therefore, I sent to thee, and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now, therefore, we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.’ Had he not thus obeyed, he could neither have obtained his character for piety, nor enjoyed the salvation or approval of God. But it is preposterous to talk of piety refusing to make ‘haste to keep the commands of God,’ Yet here it is that many fail. Let the reader be exhorted, should his ecclesiastical position not be that which the word of God warrants.
20. The third of First Corinthians contains a solemn warning. It affirms there is but one foundation, namely, that Jesus is the Christ ; it intimates two different descriptions of material built upon it, combustible, gold, silver, precious stones; wood, hay, stubble; it predicts that every man’s work shall be tried as by fire, and that one of three results must happen to every builder: first, the builder is saved and his work standing the test, he receives a reward ; second, the individual himself is saved, but his work his burnt, and he suffers loss; and third, he who defiles the temple, is with his work, destroyed by God. Thus distinctly are we warranted in concluding not only for the destruction of every profane person and his work, but for that also of everything which men have built upon the foundation laid of God, which he has not authorised in the Christian edifice.
21. There is no ecclesiastical body that does not feel and give evidence of the operation of disturbing potencies in its midst. The most stable and strong is encompassed as well as possessed of forces, the sure working of which is onward to change and disruption. From the hoariest to the most juvenile, evidence is continually being given of the presence of such elements. Dissatisfaction, insecurity, doubt, are, in one way or other, everywhere expressed. Schemes and movements of every variety follow suit in quick, changeful, and often opposing succession. All religious bodies are still engaged in the discussion, more or less, of but first principles ; their organic laws are not found to merit, any more than those of the Medes and Persians in the name of immortality. And not uncommonly it is the most pious and earnest of the body that clamour most for innovation. Reform has succeeded reform, till most of the reformed churches are re=-reformed, and still another reformation is called for. It is only beginning to be seen that a human church, however reformed, is but a human church after all, and never may, and never ought to have taken, the place of the ecclesia of God. Well were it would men but see that the watchword should rather be, Restore, Return, than Reform. Never more applicable than now were the words of Jer. vi. 16, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, Where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’
22. The vast number of supplementary organizations which modern Churchism has called into existence, is not only in singular contrast with the simple, unencumbered, inexpensive policy of New Testament times, but affords the best answer possible to the ignorant and impious objection, that the apostolic organization will not work well. If the modern ecclesiastical engines work so well, why do they as churches need such a perpetually increasing variety of supplementary machines in the shape of societies of hitherto unheard of names ? Why the organization mania of this generation ? Where is it to end, for with it all it is confessed that this highly favoured Britain is not being evangelised––that the churches are rather losing hold of the masses than converting them ? In view of this fact, is modern ecclesiasticism entitled to defame the ecclesia of God as an obsolete, unworkable machine ? In the beginning of the gospel, the one divine society––the ecclesia of Christ, was competent to all the work for which God in his manifold wisdom designed it. Gloriously did it accomplish his benevolent purposes. Never was defect found till the wisdom of man took the place of that, which said wisdom was then as now pleased to sneer at as the folly of God. The foolishness of God was wiser than men. And ‘the ecclesia of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth,’ unaided by kings or governments, princes or nationalities, yea, with hell and the world in combination against it, carried the all-conquering gospel to every ‘creature under heaven,’ overturned the direst and darkest of empires, despotisms and priestcrafts ; brought in multitudes of trophies to the Messiah from every clime, and established for itself a conviction throughout the most enlightened portions of the globe, of its being the only authentic revelation from God. The period of the gospel’s greatest success was that in which the wisdom of the world was opposed to it, in which the church received none of its aid, but held forth the word of life according to its high calling in Christ Jesus, by the individual life and labours of the brotherhood. The example was given by the church in Jerusalem. Persecution arose there through the faithful, preaching of Stephen, and became so violent and general, that all the brethren were scattered abroad, and went everywhere preaching the word, the apostles only remaining in the city. Some went down to Samaria and preached the glad tidings with such success, that several of the apostles followed to carry on the work. ‘Some went as far as Antioch, and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. The apostles hearing of this, sent Barnabas, who, when he came and saw the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the holy Sprit and of faith, and much people was added to the Lord,’ Acts viii. 1-25 ; xi. 19-24. So spread the truth from all the churches ; each was a centre of operations, each member acted in church capacity, simply as a christian, not as a member of any human society whatever. For centuries of greatest trial and triumph, the ecclesia approved itself as that of God, the pillar and stay of his truth. Only with the development of the apostacy from the faith began the many inventions that have hindered immeasurably more than they have helped the truth. It is obligatory upon all the Lord’s people to be and act as members of his ecclesia, but he does not require them to assume membership in any human society to serve him.
23. Separation from the unclean is therefore the one solemn apocalyptic cry to all the people of God in spiritual Babylon. Like the warning trumpet cry to the inmates of a house on fire, and doomed to destruction, the voice of the Spirit is, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers in her sins, and receive not of her plagues.’ The retention of one’s place in a church of impure communion, of unhallowed worship, of unscriptural organization, of unauthorised practice, is participancy in the sins of that community. No one can remain in such fellowship, or can in any way support such churches, and be free from their sins.