CHAPTER VIII: The Ordinances, from "The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles" (1858) by Thomas Hughes Milner
I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you, 1 Cor. xi. 2.
1. THIS CHAPTER will amply confirm what we have already indicated as to the sacredness of the sacred things to the sacred people. It will abundantly appear all through that respect is had to the Messiah’s word to his disciples to cast not their pearls before swine, nor to give that which is holy to the dogs––that the ordinances of the house of God are neither intended for the unconverted, nor can be appreciated on their part––that faith in the observer is always and necessarily implied––that while to the believer they are indeed “means of grace,” they are not “converting ordinances” to unsaved communicants––that, on the contrary, participancy in them implies that conversion is past, that life divine is possessed, and requires now only to be developed––that they sustain the same relation in the divine economy as the means of life do in the human––that as men derive life from God at birth, and live thereafter, not by bread alone, but by every word which he has spoken, i.e., every thing which he has appointed to that end, so, in the divine life, it is at the first derived from God through the gospel, and is maintained, strengthened, and developed thereafter by the ordinances of his Son’s appointing. The unconverted are benefited only in witnessing their observance by the believing.
2. We have already seen that by the ordinances are meant those deliverances which the apostles handed down to the churches for their observance, by the authority of the Lord Jesus. They are authoritative deliverances. They are to be “kept as delivered.” And the apostle states the reason why in 1 Cor. xi. 23, in the words: For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.
3. They stand distinguished from human impositions in this all-important particular, that the divine service consists in the observance of them as received, while submission to ordinances after the doctrines and commandments of men is a mere human service, subversive of the divine, and, therefore, unlawful to the Christian. Thus, with one stroke of his pen, the apostle prohibited all ordinances other than those received from the Lord, and delivered by his chosen representatives to the churches. The hand-writing of ordinances of the law, he says, Christ blotted out,...took out of the way,...and nailed to his cross. And as to ordinances after the commands and doctrines of men, he says, in the immediate context: “Why, if dead from the elements of the world, are ye subject to them?...Touch not, taste not, handle not,” Col. ii. 20b-21.
4. Some of the apostolical deliverances are commonly designated “moral,” and some “positive.” This distinction, however, is merely human; it has no basis in Scripture, and is far from accurate. A positive institute is said to be one that would have had no existence but for the will of the institutor, but what moral law would have had any being apart from the will of its divine author? But it is said the things enjoined in moral law arise as duties simply from relationship sustained, and would have been obligatory though God had not commanded their observance; but that positive ordinances do not arise from mere relationship, but solely from the expressed will of God. This, however, is not correct. God never instituted a positive law, the obligations of which did not arise from relationship. It is always in view of relationship that positive, equally with moral institutes, have been ordained of God. The first positive command given––the prohibition of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, arose from the imperial relationship sustained by God to our first parents. Sustaining the soverign relationship, it was right that he institute a test of their fidelity. This was a moral law; the word moral signifies manner, and this law indicated the manner in which our first parents were to shew their faithfulness to their divine parent, and win for themselves the fadeless laurels of a good name. The popular division of the Mosaic institutes into laws, moral, ceremonial, and judicial, is merely arbitrary; the Scriptures do not thus separate what God joined together; the apostles never speak of the laws of Moses, but always of “the law”–as of one. And, here we note the futility of the notion that positive institutes are not so obligatory as moral. Pray, was not the law of Eden obligatory even unto death? Conformably with this, we find Paul using the same word paradosis, when in 1 Cor. xi. he speaks of church duties, as when in 2 Thess. iii. 6-14 he includes the common obligations of life. A para-dosis is simply a giving-down; and all the apostolic deliverances, therefore, whether referring to the ecclesiastical or the social circle, constitute the Christian ordinances. It is, however, in regard to the former, that departure from the faith once delivered to the saints, has more particularly manifested itself; it is in respect to them that the truth of God is misunderstood, and hid under the teaching of the day; few, if any ministers of the gospel, so called, would be heard, were they to inculcate and practice such deviation from what are called the moral duties of Christianity, as that which they attempt to justify, respecting those distinguished as positive. It is thus in regard to the latter, so far as the misunderstanding and mal-practice of them are concerned, that we now remark.
5. Baptism stands first in order; it is the first ordinance the believer has to obey. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. Here we specify four particulars: 1. The thing to be done; 2. The subject; 3. The meaning of the act; and 4. The administrator.
6. The thing to be done is immersion. All Greek scholars know that the verb baptizo, signifies to immerse; all readers of the Greek New Testament are aware that the terms meaning to sprinkle, and to pour, are never used by the apostles or evangelists in respect to baptism; all critics testify that baptism is immersion; the principal ecclesiastical authorities of all parties have admitted in their writings that the word means immersion, and that immersion was the uniform practice of the primitive church: of this number are Luther, Calvin, Tillotson, Secker, Whitby, Doddridge, Baxter, Wesley, Chalmers, and, indeed, all men of chief note in the ranks of ism; only those who have no reputation to lose deny it, and in regard to them Dr. George Campbell, Principal of Marischal College, Aberdeen, says, in his lectures on pulpit eloquence: “I have heard a disputant, in defiance of etymology and use, maintain that the word rendered in the New Testament baptize means more properly to sprinkle than to plunge; and in defiance of all antiquity, that the former was the earliest and most general practice in baptizing. One who argues in this manner never fails with persons of knowledge to betray the cause he would defend, and though with the vulgar bold assertions succeed as well as argument, and sometimes better, yet a candid mind will always disdain to take the help of falsehood, even in support of truth.” Baptism being immersion, he alone who has been immersed, has been baptized.
7. Believers, penitent believers, confessing, believing penitents, are the subjects of baptism; they only are to be immersed. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved... Repent, and be baptized...What doth hinder me to be baptized? If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. Such are the terms as to the subject of this ordinance. See Mark xvi. 15, 16; Acts ii. 38-42; viii. 12, 36-39.
8. Its meaning or doctrine intimates the new or Christian standing of the disciple. In Mark xvi. 16, it is connected with salvation–He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved; in Acts ii. 38, with forgiveness, Repent, and be baptised every one of you on the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins; in Gal. iii. 26, 27, with sonship, Ye are all the children of God by the faith in Jesus the Christ, for as many as have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ; and in Rom. vi. 1-4, with union to Christ and newness of life, Know ye not, that so many as are baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death; therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
9. The administrator is any competent disciple. The act of baptising was not confined either to the apostles or any class of brethren. Paul says, Christ did not send him to baptise, but to preach the gospel; and he was thankful that he had immersed so few of such a factious people as the Corinthians, lest they should say he had baptised them into his own name, and so made them his disciples and not Christ’s, 1 Cor. i. 12-17. It is not said that the apostles baptised their converts, but that they “commanded them to be baptised.” Various brethren accompanied the apostles in their labours as helps, and this is an answer to the ignorant objection that so many as three thousand could not be immersed on the day of Pentecost. Luke says there were a hundred and twenty brethren present; so where was the difficulty? Acts i. 15; x. 48.
10. The ordinance of the feast commonly called “the Lord’s Supper,” requires a variety of remarks. The terms used in regarding it are not the most accurate. The word dipnon, rendered feast and supper, is more properly the former than the latter, because it denoted the chief meal alike of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, and might as well be called breakfast or dinner as supper, as indeed it is found so used in Greek writers. It were more proper, therefore, to call it “the Lord’s feast,” than “the Lord’s supper.” Again, the word artos, translated bread and loaf, should rather be read “loaf” than “bread” in relation to the Lord’s feast, both because of the common use of the Greek article by the sacred writers whereby they specify it as the loaf in particular, and not as bread generally, and, because, on the fact of its being one whole loaf, not a piece or pieces of one, the apostle, in 1 Cor. x. 16, 17, argues for the union and communion of the church as the body of Christ, saying, Because there is one loaf, we, the many, are one body; for we all participate of that one loaf. It is not amiss to name here that it was unquestionably “unleavened bread” that the Saviour used in instituting the ordinance, none else being lawful at the time of the passover. And though Jewish custom is of no weight in Christian practice, yet in this we have the practice of Christ, and the apostle alluding to this use of unleavened bread, argues from it for the purity of the church, saying, Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump without leaven; for even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Let us therefore keep the feast not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the non-leavened qualities of sincerity and truth. It is certainly correct to keep the feast with one whole unleavened loaf. Then as to the popular use of the word “wine,” it is never employed by the sacred writers respecting this ordinance. “The fruit of the vine”–expressly its produce, is what the Saviour used, Matt. xxvi. 26. Of the vine there are many species; our common currant is one, and the fruit of it therefore is the proper element for our use. Of course all this will be called “non-essential,” but what is not so called?
11. The meaning of this ordinance was expressed by its Institutor in saying to his disciples: This loaf is my body which is broken for you. This cup is the new institution in my blood shed for many for the remission of sins, Matt. xxvi. 26, 27; 1 Cor. xi. 24, 25. As the loaf indicates the body not only in itself considered but as broken for the participants, so the cup is the index not only of the blood of the institution but of the institution itself. As the body was broken for the many, so the blood was shed for the remission of their sins, and is the symbol of that institution through which there is forgiveness. It thus shews the institutional connection between the observers of the feast and its author. It denotes their joint-participation in the blessings that flow through Christ. So asks the apostle: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? Certainly. Their joint-participation shews their fellowship in the blood and body of Jesus, their passover sacrificed for them.
12. But the institute is memorial. It is sacred to the memory of Jesus. “This do,” said he, “in remembrance of me.” There must therefore be a believing and grateful recollection of him in the breast of the participants. Without this the communion between the Saviour and the saint is lost. And it is doubtless to foster this pleasing remembrance of the absent but beloved Lord on the part of those for whom he poured out his soul unto death, that such an ordinance was instituted. The Saviour knew the frailty of the human heart, and the perpetual influence of things seen and temporal to the withdrawing of its regards from him, and thus in gracious consideration of the present pilgrimage position of his followers gave them the memorial feast.
13. Ordinances that are fraught with blessing in the due observance become means of condemnation when improperly observed. Blessings then become curses. This ordinance is no exception. He, says the apostle, who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. This shews that a proper understanding of the ordinance is essential to its right and beneficial observance. Therefore the rule, Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat. Self-examination as to being in the faith–as to having Christ in us, is indispensable to the benefit accruing. Forgetful of this, many in the church in Corinth were weak and sickly, and many slept. Their spiritual life declined, and in some cases terminated in death, 1 Cor. xi. 23-30. Many well-disposed, but unwisely timid persons refrain on this account from obeying the Lord in this appointment, forgetting that a course of non-observance is quite as unworthy and disastrous as one of thoughtless observance; they fail to consider that there is but one proper and safe course, namely, that of doing the thing commanded according to the command.
14. The ordinance being commemorative of the Lord’s death every occasion of its observance shews forth the Messiah’s decease. It is a monumental testimony to the gospel: the observance of this ordinance every first day of the week since the death of Jesus is one of the best proofs possible of the verity of his evangel. And that it was intended to be so the apostle intimates, in saying that the death of the Lord is shown forth till he come. The ordinance is thus a perpetual testimony to all of the reality of the accomplished gospel, and the certainty of the second advent of the Messiah. The partial or non-observance of it is therefore a refusal in part or in whole to bear the testimony intended.
15. Respecting the Christian prayer we have already seen that “Jesus taught his disciples to pray,”–that it was only into their lips that he put the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven,”–that they had access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit–that the Spirit was that of Christ, the Son, dwelling in their hearts, received by faith, and leading them to cry, Abba, Father. This settled, let us observe further: That they continued stedfastly in the prayers. The word is in the plural, confirmatory of this, that there was more than one given prayer, more than one subject of request, more than one petitioner. Paul instructing Timothy as to how he ought to behave himself in the house of God says, I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings, and all that are in authority, that we (Christians) may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth; for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all. On account of there being one God desirous of the salvation of all, and one Mediator who had given himself a ransom for all, the brethren were thus to pray. I will therefore, continues the apostle, that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
16. While the above exhortation prescribes the petitioners, and the medium, variety, and objects of their petitions, Phil. iv. 6, 7, enjoins the disciples to be over-anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let their requests be made unto God, doing which the assurance is added that the peace of God which passeth all understanding would keep or guard their hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. Here we have what may be termed the reflex benefit of Christian prayer––the peace-giving effect which it produces on the soul and spirit. But this is no more than its reflex advantage, and has no existence apart from the conviction that the care cast upon God in prayer is cared for by him. There could not possibly be any comfort in prayer except in faith of its being heard and answered.
17. Further, temporal and eternal well-being are alike objects of the prayers of the faithful. Their regards one for another in both respects are exquisitely intimated in the apostolic letters. The perusal of such passages as the following is most instructive and refreshing. Rom. i. 9, Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request, if by means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you; xv. 30, Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. Phil. i. 3-5, I thank my God upon every remembrance of you; always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; ver. 9, And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent, that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Col. i. 3, 4, We give thanks to God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love ye have to all the saints; ver. 9-12, We do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to his glorious power unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: iv. 2, 3, Continue (ye) in prayer, and watch in the same, with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us that God would open unto us a door of utterance to speak the mystery of Christ; ver. 12, Ephaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always striving fervently for you in prayers that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 1 Thess. iii. 9, What thanks can we render to God again for you for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith: v. 17, 25, Pray without ceasing;...Brethren, pray for us. Most unmistakably do we here discover the fraternal solicitude one towards another that animated the first disciples; the exceeding value the apostle attached to the prayers of the faithful; the continuousness and fervency of his own on their behalf, and his urgent desire to be remembered–apostle though he was–in their petitions; the steadiness with which he kept in view the perseverance and perfection of the brethren in the divine life; and the due presentation of the gospel to the world as the grand objects of desire.
18. The specific character of Christian prayer is vividly shewn in the examples given us. Christians are to do everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. The expression will, according to circumstances, be audible, or inaudible, solitary, or social; but they are to do nothing without prayer. Whatever their desires be, they are to be made known unto God. The request or requests are, as above shewn, to be explicitly stated, and perserveringly watched for. The prayers of the church may be appropriately sought by any brother respecting any lawful subject of petition. Nothing is finer than that a brother impressed with any matter, affecting either himself or the church, immediately or relatively, rise and request the brethren to unite with him at the throne of favour. So in praise.
19. Christian praise is the celebration of the worthiness of God on the part of the disciples of Jesus. It implies an appreciation of the worth of the thing or person praised. Our word praise signifies to price, to prize. We price, prize, praise what we value. We speak falsely if we praise ought that we do not value. We falsify if we praise anything beyond our esteem for it. Praise is the fruit of the lips, but out of the abundance of the heart the mouth must speak, if that God, who is Spirit, who searches the heart and tries the reins of the children of men, is to be acceptably praised. But many require to be informed respecting the scope of Christian hymnology in another respect; they suppose it should consist alone in direct praise to God. This is a mistake. It consists in psalms––narrative compositions in which God is praised indirectly through mention of his works; in hymns or direct praise; and in spiritual songs––songs on spiritual subjects, in which not only are sentiments of admiration expressed, but exhortation to Christian duty is tendered. And this is corroborative of the injunctions following. The interspersing of the exhortations of the brethren with sacred song appropriate to the themes of address is the usage alluded to in the words, every one of you hath a psalm, a doctrine, an interpretation, &c. This is alike proper and edifying.
20. Praise, then, in the Christian sense, is proper and possible only with Christians. Those who have not tasted that the Lord is gracious cannot tell how gracious he is felt to be. Thus every passage in the New Testament shews the restriction of this gladsome ordinance to the faithful. Eph. v. 18, 19 says, Be ye filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Col. iii. 16 exhorts, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Heb. ii. 11, 12, speaking of Christ as the sanctifier of his people, and shewing that he and they are of one Father, intimates that he is not ashamed to call them brethren; saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And the close of that epistle, declaring that Christians have an altar whereat they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle, thus immediately exhorts the disciples, By Jesus, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. In all this not merely are Christians alone addressed, but all others are excluded. The injunctions are such as none but they can obey. They are taught to be filled with the Spirit–to speak not to, or with the unconverted, but to, or among themselves, in psalms, &c.–to let the word of Christ dwell in them abundantly–to teach and admonish one another in their praise, and to sing with gratitude in their heart to the Lord–that it is in the midst of the ecclesia, not of an assembly of the public, and by Jesus, i.e., through his mediatorship, that praise is to be offered. Every rule here given is utterly violated in the public worship of the day. By it all characters are convened, and join in the utterance of words as foreign to the sentiment of the unrenewed heart as language could be. To think that worthless, godless characters are thus mixed with the people of God in the sacred service of the sanctuary; that some, in most congregations, are actually hired to perform the service, as if it were a mere theatrical entertainment, and that Christians are so blinded to the impropriety as to continue and defend it; so regardless of the spirituality of New Testament worship as to take pleasure in the mere gratifying of taste; so indifferent as to what in worship is pleasing to God, that their own pleasure is made the rule, it is most deplorable. We venture to say that there is no reason whatever in this unauthorised practice. It is an abandonment of the entire meaning and propriety of Christian praise. Let any one say wherein is the sense of ungodly persons singing the first psalm––
In judgment, therefore, shall not stand
Such as ungodly are,
Nor in the assembly of the just
Shall wicked men appear.
How can an unbeliever sing the seventh?–
O Lord, my God, in thee do I
My confidence repose.
How can he whose heart is far removed from God as he can have it sing the first line of the ninth?–
Lord, thee I’ll praise with all my heart.
How can the careless, prayerless neglecter of the great salvation utter the first couplet of the fortieth?–
I waited for the Lord my God,
And patiently did bear.
How can the man yet in the gall of bitterness, and bonds of iniquity, repeat the second stanza?–
He took me from a fearful pit,
And from the miry clay;
And on a rock he set my feet,
Establishing my way.
How can Christians feel justified in associating the wicked with them in singing the fiftieth psalm?–
But God unto the wicked saith,
Why shouldst thou mention make
Of my commands? How dar’st thou in
Thy mouth my covenant take?
How dare they put the language of the forty-second or forty-third paraphrase into the lips of those to whom God saith there is no peace?–
Let not your hearts with anxious thoughts,
Be troubled or dismayed.
Peace is the gift I leave with you,
My peace to you bequeath.
How can they make the unbelieving, disobedient coward sing the fifty-fourth?–
I’m not ashamed to own my Lord,
Or to defend his cause,
Maintain the glory of his cross,
And honour all his laws.
How can those, who, by unbelief “resist the Holy Spirit,” or those who are “light in the Lord,” with a vestige of propriety sing together?–
Come, Holy Spirit come!
With energy divine,
And on this poor, benighted soul,
With beams of mercy shine.
How can such addresses as follow be offered to the Christless, knowing that all such present will join the song, literally singing back in response to the pulpit?––
Stop, poor sinner, stop and think.
Millions of sinners vile as you.
Backsliding Israel hear the voice.
21. Such confusion is a disgrace to the intelligence of the age, letting alone the profanation of the ordinance and the violation of Christian propriety altogether. However pleasing in sound, it is certainly a very Babel in sentiment. It is confusion confounded. There is nothing like it for absurdity, except the desecration of other ordinances that goes along with it. Nor is there any attempted justification of the practise having the weight of a straw. It is said that many of the psalms invite all men to praise God, but do they invite men to do it in violation of the laws of the Mediatorship? Our heart’s desire and prayer to God is that all would praise him; but can any do so without prizing him, and can any prize him without prizing his unspeakable gift? Is singing lies to God praise? It is said that in the Jewish service all participated in the public praise. But, first, that nation was then God’s acknowledged people, which the unconverted are not. Second, God was not pleased with them. And third, neither themselves nor their polity is the rule in Christian worship. Again, it is urged that the apostles went into the synagogues. Yes, but it is not said either that they worshipped according to the Jewish fashion, or that they gave out hymns of Christian praise for the Jews to sing. What they did, Acts xviii. 1, 2, plainly tells. Paul, as his manner was, went into the synagogues and reasoned with the Jews, opening their Scriptures, and alleging that Jesus, whom he preached, was the Christ. Will the rabbis of these days admit such freedom in their synagogues? But again, it is said that the apostles and disciples sang in public––in the temple and in prison. Answer: to sing in the presence of the public is one thing, and to sing with them another. It were no violation of Christian law for Christians to sing, though an assembled world “saw their devotions.” It is not mere presence but participation that violates the law–What part hath the believing with the unbelieving? But yet the unconverted will enter the Christian assembly. It is well they should, if their true position as mere observers of the faith and order of the church be kept in view–if a false standing be not assigned them. But again, the objector asks: May that not be left to themselves? May the hymn not be given out with the remark, that those only who sing with the spirit, and with the understanding also may join? That is, sell and hand men hymn-books, and tell them not to sing!––hand a man a dish of fruit not intended for him, and tell him not to eat! Would not the reply be, Why tantalize us? Why not act consistently? If Christian praise be proper only to Christians, why not sing as the apostle says––among themselves? Say, you throw the responsibility on the unconverted,––Nonsense! Who places them in the false position in which they are found but the maintainers of public worship? The responsibility is his who acts contrary to Scripture law. But again, the public do profess to be Christians. Aye, but what leads to such a profession, false as it is on the part of every unrenewed soul, except the anti-Christian system of national religion derived from the papacy and maintained in the public worship of the sects? But in fine, let the reader ransack the Acts of the apostles, and see if he can find a single instance in which any of the first preachers of the gospel gave out psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs at any preaching meeting. He will find two sorts of gatherings: first, those for proclaiming the gospel to the world; and, second, those of the disciples for worship: let him find Christian praise sung at the former if he can. As soon will he discover the baptism of babies and bells. He will find all three at Rome.
22. In addition to what we have already advanced on the fellowship, we submit here that incalculable obloquy has been thrown upon the Christian faith by the almost universal departure from its principles of contribution. The gospel comes to the sinner, offering eternal life without money and without price. Its Author’s injunction to his apostles was: Freely (for nothing) ye have received, freely (for nothing) give, Matt. x. 8. With utmost fidelity the apostles adhered to this rule. They never received the contributions of the unconverted for gospel purposes. They gloried in it as absolutely free, and rejoiced in the recollection that they had ever preached it gratuitously. Wrote Paul: Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God freely? Not only did he decline support from the Corinthians while unconverted, but even after their reception of the gospel he still kept himself unburdensome to them, seeing there were among them those who sought occasion to damage his reputation, as if emolument had been his aim. Though, however, thus eschewing anything from this church for himself personally, he faithfully exhorted the brethren there to their duty in respect of giving. He set before them the example of the Macedonian churches, shewing how brightly the grace of God had shone in them; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty superabounded to the riches of their liberality; that to their power, and beyond it, and equally beyond the apostle’s expectation, they were willing of themselves, beseeching with much entreaty the reception of the gift, and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. They thus first gave themselves unto the Lord, and then to his people, by the will of God; and this done, besought the reception of their contributions, 2 Cor. viii. 1-5. In this way the apostle set the Macedonian converts before those at Corinth as worthy of imitation, assuring them that such service on their part would not only supply the want of the saints, but also abound in many thanksgivings to God; all the faithful, through this ministry, having proof of the contributors’ avowed subjection to the gospel, and so being led to glorify God for his exceeding grace bestowed upon them. 2 Cor. ix. 12-15. In turning to 1 Thess. ii. 9-14 we find that though Paul took wages from them after they had submitted to the gospel, yet that his action among them while preaching to them the gospel, in order to their submission to the Messiah, was exactly in keeping with his procedure among others. He says: Ye remember, brethren, our labour and toil; for labouring night and day because we would not be chargeable to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. And he thanked God that they had received the word as indeed the word of God, which works effectually in the believing, and had become followers of the churches of God, which in Judea were in Christ Jesus. Referring thus to the churches in Judea, we have seen the example on this matter recorded in the second of Acts. The three thousand gladly receiving the apostles’ word, were baptised, and so added to the saved, and thereafter continuing stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in the fellowship, &c., gave of their substance; their contributions were in proof of their having given themselves. Except on the recognition of this principle, the glorying of the apostle were mere false boasting. For him to have said, “I seek not yours, but you,” 2 Cor. xii. 14, and yet to have begged and taken the means of the unconverted for gospel objects, were to have falsified all his righteous glorying, and laid himself and the faith he advocated under the fama which attaches, and ever must attach, to those men and churches that professing the proclamation of a free gospel, yet make it not merely chargeable, but that in so many ways as to render religion more a burden than a relief, and a reproach rather than an honour.
23. That this great conservative principle was adhered to not alone by the twelve, but by the brethren and churches generally, is proved both from the consideration that the apostolic mode of action was alone authoritative with the churches, and also from the express statement of John, who says to Gaius: I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren and to strangers; who have borne witness of thy charity before the church, whom, if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well; because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We, therefore, ought to receive such, that we may be fellow-helpers in the truth. This apostle shews that the brethren, in so going forth, taking nothing of the unconverted, acted on principle: they did so for the name-sake of Jesus. No higher or more sacred consideration could they have than this. But this exalted consideration could be theirs only by its being the will of Christ that they should so proceed; that it was, the argument of the apostle demonstrates. The motive power to such procedure is exquisitely expressed in Paul’s argument with the disciples in Corinth: Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich. This language is utterly inapplicable to those ignorant of the grace of the Lord Jesus; it can only tell on those who know and feel that grace. But with all such there is an omnipotent power in the argument. Nothing can surpass it. This grace or charity of their Sovereign Jesus being so great as to lead him to forego the riches of the ineffable glory, and become so poor that he had nowhere to lay his head; and the fact that this ever matchless, ever marvellous love was manifested for their sakes, together with the consideration that it viewed them in their deep poverty as outcasts, prodigals, and rebels, and had for its object the enriching of them with the fulness and riches of the deity; it follows that all who know this all-exceeding grace of God must ever find it the most potent and precious argument to the consecration of their substance to the cause of him who so loved them.
24. It is ever to be deplored that those professing to know the grace of God should have succumbed to the weak and beggarly elements by which all parties are more or less in bondage. For not only is this principle the most pleasurable and powerful, but it is the only right one with those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious. For the sake of Jesus God has forgiven them their untold and otherwise unredeemable debt, and for his sake also he has freely accepted and enriched them with the excelling riches of his grace and glory; and as for his sake alone it is that God has done so to them, so also on this one all-transcending argument are they besought to make that return which gratitude dictates and ensures. The name-sake of Jesus–his grace, his love, is the one proper motive power in all Christian service, as says the apostle, The love of Christ constraineth us. And this being so, it is a cause of the deepest humiliation that motives so utterly inferior, so subversive of this best and purest of incentives, should ever have been introduced. There is one right way, but a thousand wrong ones. The right departed from, or what amounts to the same, the wrong in one case yielded to, the way is open to every species of evil. Not a mischief that the Messiah or his apostles reprobated but has been introduced and experienced in the departure from the faith, as respects this matter of giving and receiving. Let us note a few examples.
25. Said Jesus to his disciples, Take heed that ye do not your alms (righteousness) before men to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore, when thou dost alms, cause not a trumpet to be sounded before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth, that thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Are those injunctions attended to now? Are not alms done before men? Are they not done before them to be seen of them? Does not the left hand know what the right does? Are there no trumpets sounded now? What are public collections ordinary and extraordinary, plates at chapel doors before elders mounted guard? Subscription cards, lists and books? Newspaper paragraphs, and magazine reports, monthly, quarterly, and yearly? Who sees not that every injunction of the Saviour is violated by these usages? Who will deny that the chief difference between the practises reprobated by the Messiah and those of the present day is this, that in the former case the trumpets were sounded before, now they are sounded after.
26. Expressing the mind of Christ the apostle wrote the brethren, saying, He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity. A wider divergence from the simplicity of primitive liberality can scarcely be imagined than is to be found in the ostentatious complexity of modern giving. The disciples voluntarily and unasked selling their possessions and indistinguishedly laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet––their first giving themselves to the Lord, and unto his people according to the will of God, and thereafter beseeching the apostles to receive their contributions, and assume the fellowship of the ministering to the saints––or after the subsidence of the ardour of their first love, their quietly laying their offerings into the store on the first day of the week as they had prospered, afford views of the subject altogether in contrast with the many mouthed and much trumpeted modes of these days. The multiplicity of schemes and funds, the subdivision of objects, the continuous debating of money matters in churches and church courts, the incessant cry of the interested official, “give, give, give,” the positively mean and unworthy expedients resorted to for the obtaining of money, the letting out of chapel sittings, like those of a theatre or circus, the numerous ecclesiastical taxings, the large and suspicion-exciting legacies, the raffles, fancy fairs and bazaars, the employment of juvenile, female, and hired collectors, the raising-of-the-wind-like efforts of every shape and hue, not only evince the wide discrepancy existing between the simplicity of the New Testament and modern usage, but are deplorable tokens of degeneracy and rapacity.
27. One complaint which the all-generous Redeemer had with the priesthood of his day, was, that they bound heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and laid them on men’s shoulders, while they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers, Matt. xxiii. 4. No marvel that he stung to the quick those proud, greedy men by his withering charges and exposures when the object of his coming was to preach the gospel to the poor, and give freedom to the oppressed. But had he come to sanction the oppressive money seeking systems of the times where had been the propriety of his gracious call, Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. In no section of the apostacy known to us is its yoke easy, or its burden light. Grievously, everywhere and in every way, are the people burdened by the clergy of christendom and their schemes. Nor is relief possible, but by their betaking themselves to the great Emancipator for liberty. His commandments are not grievous: the labouring and heavy laden find rest in him; his yoke is easy, his burden is light. Let each disciple make the experiment for himself, by simply determining to support no scheme, and contribute in no way, except such as he finds the Saviour and his apostles enjoin. Certainly, this would be revolutionary; but would it be sinful? Unquestionably it would give immediate relief, and would it not be right?
28. The receiving of contributions for gospel purposes from the faithful only, and that entirely within the limits of apostolic precept and example, would obliterate the scandal which the too apparent rapacity of modern ecclesiasticism occasions. Under the divine rule, no unbeliever could suspect the gospel and its friends of sinister motives. The charges of the infidel against Christianity as an avaricious system were utterly vain; they could indeed have no existence; if made, it were but to be universally regarded as unqualified detraction. When the church and its officers can in fact say to the unconverted, “We seek not yours but you”–when they can tell them their offerings may not lawfully be received except they first receive Jesus as their Lord, and give themselves to him and to his people, not only is occasion of suspicion removed, but the solemn position of the unconverted, as aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, having no part nor lot in the great salvation, is practically and effectively intimated.
29. This rule would also explode a deception too common even in vauntingly communities. It is not directly taught in pulpits that charity covers a multitude of sins, in the perverted acceptation that a life of sin may be covered by a death-bed destination of means for pious purposes; but who that knows aught of the deceitfulness of the human heart, or much of the motives prompting such legacies, is not aware that this mournful deception enters thereinto? And, apart from this, who can avoid the conclusion, that when one is acknowledged as a contributor to an institution he is in some way entitled to its benefits, should he be of the class for whom they are designed, and should he stand in need of them? How a preacher, with any show of decency, can announce to his auditors, by whose contributions himself and system are supported, that they have neither part nor lot in the matter, baffles us entirely! How a man’s money is to be taken for the things that accompany salvation, and he is to be informed that none of them are his! or how this can be done, and the gospel be pronounced free! or how it can be done without some lingering thought that the gift of God is to be purchased with money, we cannot divine! When Peter heard the proposals of the prototype of this system, he not only told him he was in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, but said: Thy money perish with thee. Do the clergy act now as did Peter? Would Peter have been justified in taking Simon’s money, while pronouncing the anathema on the offerer? Is there no simony now?
30. Again, only by a return to the primitive order may men greedy of filthy lucre be excluded from the functions of the ministry. But a most effectual bar to all such this return certainly would prove. With no fixed stipulated salaries to bargain for, no such calls as render “a larger sphere” synonymous with “a higher stipend,” with no monetary inducement beyond confidence in the Lord and in his people that need would be supplied, none save men of faith would find any temptation to give themselves wholly to the work. But so long as “the ministry” is made a trade or profession, so long as “its money value” is put forth as a consideration to the acceptance of a charge, so long will men confound gain with godliness, and make merchandise of souls.
31. And the purity of the church and of the doctrine taught will also ever be affected by this question. How few men who have entered a situation, induced in part at least by its worth in money, have grace or fortitude sufficient to correct the errors, and rebuke the sins, of those on whose contributions themselves and families depend! How few such have the moral courage to reject all who ought to be rejected, when their reception or retention would certainly add to the emoluments of the office held!
32. The church is the one divinely ordained institution for the forth-carrying of the Lord’s cause on earth, its one treasury is the Lord’s store for the reception of all contributions for that end, and its membership the only parties privileged to offer gifts therefor. As I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye, On the first of the week let each lay by in the store as he hath prospered, 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2. This was a general order, and from the funds thus simply, easily, unostentatiously, conscientiously raised, all the need of the Lord’s servants and poor was supplied. It did not supersede the personal kindness of the brethren as occasion offered, as in the case of Lydia, Phebe, and many such, but it did certainly supersede the need of any other “scheme.”
33. And much the more successful also in this simple, unencumbered, unpretending method. Principle is ever better than policy; a right principle is ever the most expedient. But a motive so incomparably potent as that of the love of Christ, is as superior to all the inventions of men as is the light of the sun to that of a candle. We know this is not believed. Men have more faith in their own political systems than in the wisdom of God. The teachers they have heaped up to themselves make it no unimportant part of their teaching, to give the people to imagine that the simple arrangements of heaven will not work. But facts are against them. Wherever the scriptural injunctions and examples have been followed, they have approved themselves as the power of God. The weak and beggarly elements under which churches have been so long held, have proved anew that the folly of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Everywhere that the disciples of Jesus have faithfully followed the primitive model––everywhere that they have eschewed the expedients of men, and on the first day of the week deposited their offerings in the Lord’s treasury, as to the Lord, and as in his sight, and only in his sight, a larger revenue has accrued than could have been raised from the same number of persons in the same circumstances under any other rule. We know what little bands of faithful men have gathered in this way, and we have before us the boastful reports of popular ecclesiastical bodies, and with all the advantage of prestige, popularity, and wealth on their side, the difference of average per individual is immensely in favour of the former. Add to this the enormous waste of time, labour, and money, inseparable from the complicated machinery of modern scheming; take into consideration the fact that in many cases a third of the whole sum collected is spent on collectors, offices, clerks, secretaries, travelling, printing, and speechifying; be it remembered that all thus engaged might themselves be employed in rendering actual service according to opportunity and ability, supposing them to be the people of God, and who does not see that the balance immeasurably preponderates in favour of the scriptural method.
34. The primitive customs of the washing of feet, the salutation, fasting, the laying on of hands, and the love-feasts, the letters of commendation, and the Amen, merit some attention. There is not much recorded respecting them, yet what is written is sufficient to indicate the usages in question. They were all more or less occasional practises, and depended for their observance on the circumstances in which the disciples were placed. Excepting the agapai, the love-feasts, there is no evidence to shew a stated observance, as in the case of the first-day gathering, the Lord’s feast, the teaching, and the worship. The washing of feet, though exemplified by the Saviour to the eleven, was not enjoined by the apostles upon the churches as an ordinance incumbent on them. The injunction to teach the disciples to observe all things whatsoever the Lord had commanded, means, not that the apostles were to instruct their converts to do whatever the Saviour had instructed the eleven to do, but what he had enjoined them to command the disciples to do: that is, the apostles did as apostles what was not required of the disciples as disciples. They did not command the washing of the saints’ feet. When Paul, speaking of the qualifications of the widows to be relieved by the church, says, If she have washed the saints’ feet, he intimates the exceptional character of the practise. The salutation varied according to circumstances; it was not confined to the phileema or kiss of love. It is not in evidence that this was a stated weekly ordinance. The manner of acknowledging brotherhood was by the right hands of fellowship. The kiss was a parting salute as in the case of Paul in his last interview with the disciples at Troas, who fell upon his neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke that they should see his face no more. To churches suffering persecution, and liable instantly to be scattered like sheep on the mountains, the injunction to greet one another with a holy kiss was given, and the propriety of this appears when it is considered that the kiss is the highest token of affection, and that the persecutions to which the disciples were exposed never failed to draw out their love in unusual degree. It is invalid to argue that the kiss was the common salutation of the age and country; it is a universal salutation: it is that which betokens love in highest degree: it would be as appropriate with us under persecution, and in farewell greeting, as in apostolic days, Acts xx. 36-38. Fasting was also an exceptional and occasional usage. The Saviour speaking of it simply says, When ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. On occasions of particular moment, as the sending of brethren on a preaching mission, and in seasons of affliction and humiliation, it was observed. But the modern practise of publicly proclaimed fasts at stated seasons is a direct inversion of the Lord’s injunctions, and a caricature rather than a copy of primitive use. At modern ordinations the difference is simply this: primitively the business was done fasting, now it is done feasting, for now has the offence of the cross ceased. The laying on of hands was indicative of the communication of gift and charge, and of commendation to the favour of God. This usage will be noticed in the chapters following. The feasts of love were occasions of social enjoyment among the brethren. The disorder in the church in Corinth was such, that the love-feast was confounded with the Lord’s feast, and received from the apostle the well merited rebuke of 1 Cor. xi., which shews that it was a first-day observance. Properly kept, as they ought to be in every church, they afford a fine opportunity for fraternal intercourse and kindness among the brethren, for enquiry respecting the sick and absent, and for the communication of interesting intelligence. The modern soiree is a poor substitute, remarkable chiefly for those blemishes which called forth the reprobation of Peter and Jude when, describing the first indications of the defection from the faith in the appearance of unworthy characters among the believers, they said, Spots and blemishes are they, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you...These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear. Let Christians have their love-feasts among themselves, if they would avoid the corruption of their good manners by the evil communications of the ungodly. Letters of commendation were given to brethren travelling either on personal or church business, for introduction to the disciples in the locality visited. Well-known brethren, such as Paul, did not, of course, require them, but to those less known, or carrying the message of any church, they were needful; and here we suggest how much better it is in this, as in all things, to conform to the familiar warm-hearted style of the apostle, I commend unto you Phebe, our sister, rather than to the cold unfraternal, “This is to certify.” See Rom. xvi. 1, 2; 1 Cor. xvi. 3; 2 Cor. iii. 1. The Amen is the expression of assent to the sentiment of the speaker in prayer or teaching. Paul enjoined the prophets not to speak in the church in an unknown tongue, unless an interpreter were present. Else, says he, when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned (in the tongue spoken) say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest. For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. The non-understanding, and thereby the non-edification of the brethren, and their consequent non-ability to say Amen to the eulogeo, blessing, or eukaristeo, thanksgiving being assigned as reason for speaking in understood language, shews the primitive usage of the Amen by the brethren, and shews also the needlessness of the objection of some Christians to “the benediction,” who suppose it to be a piece of clerical assumption, which it unquestionably is, in the case of such as presume, by mere church or official authority, to bless and curse, but not at all so when, as Christians ought to understand it, the benediction, i.e., the good word, is simply the expression of the wish of the speaker for good to the brethren, or for glory to God. With such a word the Saviour closed his farewell address to the disciples, and Paul his to the elders, and in like manner all his letters. See Luke xxiv. 50; Acts xx. 32; 2 Cor. xiii. 14; Heb. xiii. 20. We know of no more fitting sequel to a Christian address, letter, or gathering, and we know of no law which it violates.