THE BODY OF CHRIST.
I. THAT institution which separate from the world, and consociates
the people of God into a peculiar community; having laws, ordinances, manners,
and customs of its own, immediately derived from the Saviour of the world,
is called the congregation or church of the Lord. This is sometimes
technically called the mystical body of Christ, contradistinguished
from his literal and natural body. Over this spiritual body he is the Head,
the King, Lord, and Lawgiver, and they are severally members of his body,
and under his direction and government.
II. The true Christian church, or house of God, is composed of all
those in every place that do publicly acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as the
true Messiah, and the only Saviour of men; and, building themselves upon
the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, associate under the constitution
which he himself has granted and authorized in the New Testament, and are
walking in his ordinances and commandments - and of none else.
III. This institution, called the congregation of God, is a great
community of communities - not a community representative of communities;
but a community composed of many particular communities; each of which is
built upon the same foundation, walks according to the same rules, enjoys
the same charter, and is under the jurisdiction of no other community of
Christians; but is to all other communities as an individual disciple is
to every other individual disciple in any one particular community meeting
in any given place.
IV. Still, all these particular congregations of the Lord, whether at Rome,
Corinth, or Ephesus, though equally independent of one another, as to the
management of their own peculiar affairs; are, by virtue of one common Lord,
one faith, one baptism, and one common salvation, but one kingdom or church
of God; and, as such, are under obligations to co-operate with one another
in all measures promotive of thee great ends of Christ's death and resurrection.
V. But, in order to this holy communion and co-operation of churches, it
is indispensable that they have an intimate and approving knowledge of one
another, which can only be had and enjoyed in the form of districts. Thus
the "congregations in Judea" intimately knew one another, and co-operated.
Those in Galatia also knew one another, and co-operated. And while some of
the churches or brethren in each district being mutually acquainted with
some in another, made the churches of both districts acquainted with one
another, they were enabled to co-operate, to the ends of the earth.
VI. These districts are a part of the circumstances of Christ's kingdom,
as well as the manner of maintaining correspondence and co-operation
among them, and the occasions and incidents requiring concert and conjoint
action. For these, as well as for the circumstances of any particular community,
the Apostles gave no specific directions. It was, indeed, impossible they
could: for as the circumstances of particular communities, and of the whole
church, vary at different times and places, no one set of particular, sectional,
or intersectional regulations could suit all these peculiarities and emergencies.
These, then, are necessarily left to the wisdom and discretion of the whole
community, as the peculiar exigencies and mutations of society may require.
VII. But in granting to the communities of the saints this necessary license
of deciding what is expedient, orderly, decent, and of public and practical
utility in the circumstantials of Christianity, no allowance is implied
authorising any interference with a single item of the Christian institution.
Hence the necessity of a very clear discrimination, not between "the essentials
and non-essentials," for in Divine Christianity there are no non-essentials;
but between the family of God and its circumstances - between the Christian
institution and its accidents. Certain it is that there is a very manifest
difference between any individual man, family, community, or institution,
and its circumstances. What more evident than the difference between a man
and his apparel, his house, his neighbourhood, his associations and connections?
VIII. The Christian institution has its facts, its precepts, its promises,
its ordinances, and their meaning or doctrine. These are not matters of policy,
of arrangement, of expediency; but of divine and immutable ordination and
continuance. Hence the faith, the worship, and the righteousness; or the
doctrine, the piety, and the morality of the gospel institution are not
legitimate subjects of human legislation, alteration, or arrangement. No
man nor community can touch these and be innocent. These rest upon the wisdom
and authority of Jehovah; and he that meddles with these, presumes to do
that which the cherubim and seraphim dare not. Whatever, then, is a part
of the Christian faith or the Christian hope - whatever constitutes ordinances
or precepts of worship, or statutes of moral right and wrong, like the ark
of the covenant, is not to be touched with uninspired and uncommissioned
IX. But whether we shall register the churches in a given district, or the
members in a particular church; whether we shall meet oftener than once on
the Lord's day, or at what hour, and in what sort of house; whether we shall
commemorate the Lord's death forenoon or afternoon, before day or after night;
whether we shall sit round one board, or in our respective pews; whether
we shall sing from book or from memory, prose or verse, etc. etc., are matters
in which our conceptions of expediency, decency, and good order may have
free scope. Also, whether the churches in a given district shall, by letter,
messengers, or stated meetings, once or twice per annum, or oftener, communicate
with one another; whether they shall send one, two, or twenty persons, or
all go and communicate face to face, or send a letter; and whether they shall
annually print, write, or publish their statistics, etc. etc. etc., are the
mere circumstantials of the Christian institution.
X. But co-operation itself is one thing, and the manner of co-operation another.
Co-operation, as much as the intercommunion of Christians, is a part of the
Christian institution. We must "strive together in our prayers" for
one another, and for the salvation of men; and this, if there were no scriptural
example nor precept on the subject, is enough. To pray for one another as
individuals or communities, implies that we shall assist one another in very
way for which we pray for one another: otherwise our prayers and thanksgivings
for each other are mere hypocrisy. He that would pray for the progress of
the truth at home and abroad, having it in his power to contribute a single
dollar to that end, and yet withholds it, shows how little value he sets
upon his own prayers, and how much upon his money.
XI. From the days of the Apostles till now co-operative associations of churches
have uniformly followed the political distributions of the earth. Those "in
Judea, Galatia, Achaia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Macedonia, Asia, Bithynia," etc.
etc. are designations of churches and brethren familiar to all New Testament
readers. This is a matter of convenience, rather than of necessity; just
as the churches in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, etc. can generally
more conveniently and successfully co-operate by states and territories,
than by any other divisions or precincts. I say, this is matter of convenience,
rather than of necessity. It is of necessity that we co-operate, but of
convenience that the churches in one county, state, or nation, form regular
ways and means for co-operation.
XII. The necessity of co-operation is felt every where and in all associations
of men. It is a part of the economy of Heaven. What are mountains, but grains
of sand! What are oceans, but drops of water! And what the mightiest and
most triumphant armies, but collections of individual men! How much more
good or ill can be done by co-operation, than by individual enterprise, the
history of the world, both civil and ecclesiastic, does little more than
detail. One hundred churches, well disciplined, acting in concert, with Christian
zeal, piety, humanity - frequently meeting together in committees of ways
and means for building up Zion, for fencing in the deserts, cultivating the
enclosed fields, watering the dry and barren spots, striving together mightily
in prayer, in preaching the word, in contributing to the necessities of the
saints, in enlightening the ignorant, and in devising all practicable ways
of doing good - would, in a given period, do more than twice the same number
acting in their individual capacity, without concert, without co-operation,
and that united energy, always the effect of intelligent and cordial combination.
XIII. But, in order to this, Christians must regard the church, or body of
Christ, as one community, though composed of many small communities, each
of which is an organized member of this great national organization; which,
under Christ, as the supreme and sole Head, King, Lord, and Lawgiver, has
the conquest of the whole world in its prayers, aims, plans, and efforts.
Hence, there must be such an understanding and agreement between these particular
congregations as will suffice to a recognition and approval of their several
acts; so that the members, or the measures of one community shall be treated
with the respect due to them at home, in whatever community they may happen
to be presented. On this principle only can any number of independent and
distinct communities of any sort - political, commercial, literary, moral,
or religious - act in concert with mutual advantage to themselves, and with
a proper reference to the general good.
XIV. Any one who seeks apostolic sanctions for these view of co-operation,
will find ample authority in the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles. Paul
addresses "all the saints in Rome" in his Epistle to the Romans. Now
in Rome there were sundry churches, as appears from chap. xvi. 5, 10, 11,
14, 15. These all he addresses as one single community. Again he represents
"all the churches of the Gentiles" as uniting in thanks to Priscilla and
Aquila, xvi. 4. He also represents "the churches of Christ" as uniting
salutations by him to the Romans, ver. 16. In his letters to the Corinthians
he addresses the church of Corinth, "All the saints which are in all Achaia,"
and "all them in every place who call upon the name of Jesus Christ." 1 Cor.
i. 2; 2 Cor. i. 1. There he exhorts to "be perfectly joined together in the
same mind and in the same judgments." 1 Cor. i. 10. "The churches in Asia
united in their salutations to the Corinthians," chap. xvi. 19. He speaks
in the 2nd Epistle of all the churches in Achaia, as "helping together in
prayer for him" and his companions, and of their helping him on his way in
the work of the Lord. In the 8th chapter he informs them of the grace of
God bestowed on "all churches in Macedonia," evinced by the liberality of
their united contributions to the saints. He also speaks of an equality in
the mutual contributions of churches in one co-operation - and of a brother
chosen by sundry communities to travel with the Apostles, viii. 14, 18, 19;
and of his accompanying brethren as "messengers of the churches." The whole
9th chapter of this epistle speaks of the co-operation of the churches in
public contributions for common objects. Paul, and all the brethren with
him, unite in the epistle to "all the churches in Galatia." These he commands
to "bear one another's burdens, and thus to fulfil the law of Christ." But,
indeed, all the catholic epistles are unequivocal proofs that co-operation
is of the very essence of the Christian institution. Such are some of Paul's
epistles, both the epistles of Peter, the 1st of John, and that of James
and Jude. The very basis of such general or universal letters is the fact,
that all the communities of Christ constitute but one body, and are individually
and mutually bound to co-operate in all things pertaining to a common salvation.