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them to seek mutual fellowship. “ He that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” Recollecting these words, which contain a general statement, true in every separate case, we feel no surprise at the strong language of Christ, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another;” since fraternal love is manifestly not an accidental or arbitrary criterion of discipleship: it is a necessary, and an infallible criterion. No man can love the disciples who does not love their Master : nor, on the other hand, can any one love Him who does not love them; for he himself loves them, and is gone to prepare mansions for them, that they may all dwell in his presence for ever. Now can it be conceived that mutual love will not lead to mutual fellowship ? Though two cannot walk together unless they be agreed, will they not walk in union when they are thus agreed? Of old, they who feared the Lord spake often one to another ; and, in the present day, those who love the Redeemer, and one another for his sake, will assuredly seek that intercourse on earth which is to be perpetuated and perfected in heaven.
Thirdly. Union in the faith of the distinguishing principles of the Gospel. Among the body of Christ, there is one faith as well as one baptism,-radical identity of belief, with partial and unimportant diversity. The truth of God, in relation to the deep degradation and ruin of man by sin,-his redemption by Jesus Christ, -his renewal by the Holy Ghost, is enthroned in the understanding and conscience of all the members of the body; and their hearts are bound to one another on that account. The elder,” writes the venerable Apostle John, “ unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth ; and not I only, but all they that have known the truth; for the truth's sake which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever,” 2 John 1, 2. Is it surprising, then, that they who love the truth, and each other for the truth's sake, influenced by a strong desire
of mutual fellowship, should come out from the world, and form a separate and peculiar people,
holy brotherhood, having a community of opinions and experience,-of joys and sorrows,—hopes and fears, with which unrenewed men have no sympathy, and of which they have little conception ?-On the contrary, it is just what we should have expected. Identity of sentiment and pursuit, epecially when connected with fraternity of feeling, cannot fail, and do not fail, to produce intercourse and fellowship amongst all who are thus united. Their cementing influences are seen in the world,—in the walks of commerce,—in the paths of science and literature. How should they not be felt in the church ?-or rather in forming the church ?-in drawing its members together from the north, the south, the east, the west, and causing them, with a holy joy with which strangers intermeddle not, to sit down together in their Father's kingdom.
Finally. Common participation in the privileges, and hopes, and prospects of the Gospel. They are sons of God,—brethren in Christ; and, by his Infinite grace and condescension, brethren of Christ. They are pardoned, and justified, and sanctified. They have access by one Spirit unto the Father. They know not what they shall be, but they know that when He who is their life shall appear, they also shall appear with him in glory. They feel that they are in a stranger land, but they are cheered with the thoughts of home, and exult in the anticipation of the moment when all the ransomed of the Lord shall, in the highest sense of the words, return to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Under the influence of these recollections and feelings, they give themselves to one another according to the will of God, that, by mutual fellowship, they may confirm each other in the faith, and, by combined exertions, may more effectually and rapidly extend the kingdom of their common Lord.
THE OBJECTS WHICH THE CHURCH AIMS TO
ONE general description, the description already given, characterises the whole of them ; they are entirely spiritual in their nature. I speak not now, of course, of the actual objects which certain individuals have sought to secure by joining the Christian body; but those which they ought to have proposed to themselves. There have doubtless been instances in which worldly-minded men have desired and obtained fellowship with a church of Christ, and have even gone to the table of the Lord, (thus eating and drinking to themselves damnation,) to secure what they deemed important political privileges. Others have adopted the same unholy measures in the hope of escaping the reproach which, in certain circumstances, invariably overtakes (this is often the case in Scotland) an habitual neglecter, as well as an open contemner, of the ordinances of religion. Some, again, have followed in this course to advance their worldly interests. But all these men abuse the institution of Christian fellowship as he abuses wine who takes it to produce intoxication, and not, as we may lawfully do, to refresh and stimulate. The object of Christian fellowship is not political, not literary, not commercial. It has no direct bearing upon any thing worldly and temporal; its immediate relation is to spiritual and eternal concerns.
The proximate object sought to be secured by Christian fellowship is, the personal edification, and comfort, and protection of its members. Superior means of spiritual growth, and security, are enjoyed in connexion with an associated body of Christians, than can be possessed by one who stands in an isolated condition. A member of the spiritual community has access to all the ordinances which are observed by the associated body, powerfully calculated as they are to extend his knowledge, to strengthen his faith, to confirm his love, to increase his joy in the Holy Ghost, to cherish every devout and holy affection, and to render him fully meet to be a partaker “of the inheritance of the saints in light.” He becomes especially interested in the prayers of the church, obtains the inspection, the watchful and guardian care of the church. If he be ignorant, the other members of the body will instruct him; if in danger, they will come forward to the rescue; if he droop, they will cheer him; if he waver, they will warn and stimulate him; if he sin, they will rebuke him, and when the righteous smite it is an excellent oil which does not break the head. Their affectionate and solemn admonitions will, there is strong ground to hope, recover him from the snare of the devil.
A person who desires fellowship with a Christian church seeks to obtain these eminent spiritual advantages. Two, he remembers, are better than one; and he enters the church below, that he may be more safely guided, and more efficiently sustained, in his way to the church above.
But his desire should also be to communicate as well as to receive. The Gospel breaks down the selfishness of the human heart; and, accordingly, every right-minded. member of a Christian church, though in the early stages of his religious life he will probably regard, chiefly at least, his own profit, will, when he has reached the maturity of Christian experience and character, extend a helping hand to those behind him who are in a condition to need it. It is in consequence of this disposition to communicate, as well as to receiv that the more abundant spiritual wealth of one member becomes the com
mon property of the church. The superior knowledge, or faith, or prudence, or courage of one, is thus rendered a benefit to all ; for, when a church is under wise direction, and a pastor perfectly understands his duty, and is competent to its discharge, almost every member will be made to work for the common benefit; and their combined labours will be perfectly harmonious, will all tend to the same delightful result, will all be found necessary;
so that the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee, nor again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Thus, there will be “no schism in the body,” but the members “ will have the same care one for another.” It is in this way that Christian fellowship becomes so exalted a blessing. Let those despise it who may; one thing is at least certain, that it can never be despised by those who are eminently holy, or who desire to become so.
The ultimate object of Christian fellowship is the promotion of the glory of the Triune God; of the Father, who provided the Redeemer for fallen man ; of the Son, who became that Redeemer; and of the Holy Spirit, who, by opening the heart to receive the testimony of God concerning his Son, brings us into the personal enjoyment of the blessings of his redemption. Christians are commanded to do all they do to the glory of God. It follows then, by necessary consequence, that the promotion of that glory must be the ultimate object of churchfellowship. In fact, it was to secure this very object that the individuals of which the church consists, were separated, as to spirit, by Divine grace, from the world. “Ye are a chosen generation,” says Peter, “a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1 Peter ii
. 9. Had not, then, the ordinance of Christian fellowship been adapted to promote the Divine glory, it would not have been instituted; for God aims in every act, (as he ought to aim,) in every institution, to secure his own glory; for his pleasure all