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now with St. Paul at Ephesus. The
proper reflection from the fact of his being joined with the Apostle, is the humility of St. Paul. He never tried to make a Party or form a Sect; he never even thought of placing himself above others as an infallible and autocratic Pope.
II. The persons addressed. “ The Church of God which is at Corinth.” The Church! What is the Church? That question lies below all the theological differences of the day. The Church, according to the derivation of the word, means the House of God. It is that Body of men in whom the Spirit of God dwells as the source of their excellence, and who exist on earth for the purpose of exhibiting the Divine Life and the hidden order of Humanity: to destroy evil and to assimilate Humanity to God; to penetrate and purify the world, and as salt, preserve it from corruption. It has an existence continuous throughout the ages; continuous however, not on the principles of hereditary succession or of human election, as in an ordinary corporation, but on the principle of spiritual similarity of character. The Apostle Paul asserted this spiritual succession when he said that the seed of Abraham were to be reckoned, not as his lineal descendants, but as inheritors of his faith. And Christ, too, meant the same, when He told the Jews that out of the stones before Him God could raise
children unto Abraham. There is, however, a Church visible, and a Church invisible; the latter consists of those spiritual persons who fulfil the notion of the Ideal Church; the former is the Church as it exists in any particular age, embracing within it all who profess Christianity, whether they be proper or improper members of its body. Of the invisible Church the writer of the Epistles to the Hebrews speaks; and St. Paul also alludes to this in the description which he gives of the several churches, to whom he writes in language which certainly far transcended their actual state. As, for instance, in this Epistle, he speaks of them as “called to be saints," as "temples of the Holy Ghost," and then in another place describes them in their actual state, as “carnal, and walking as men.” Again, it is of the visible Church he writes, when he reproves their particular errors : and Christ too speaks of the same in such parables as that of the net gathering in fishes both good and bad, and the field of wheat which was mingled with tares.
An illustration may make this plain. The abstract conception of a river is that of a stream of pure, unmixed water, but the actual river is the Rhine, or the Rhone, or the Thames, muddy and discoloured, and charged with impurity; and the conception of this or that river necessarily contains within it these peculiarities. So of the Church of Christ. Abstractedly, and invisibly, it is a Kingdom of God in which no evil is; in the concrete, and actually, it is the Church of Corinth, of Rome, or of England, tainted with impurity; and yet just as the mudded Rhone is really the Rhone, and not mud and Rhone, so there are not two churches, the Church of Corinth and the false church within it, but one visible Church, in which the invisible lies concealed. This principle is taught in the parable, which represents the Church as a Vine. There are not two vines, but one ; and the withered branches, which shall be cut off hereafter, are really, for the present, part and portion of the Vine. So far then it appears, that in any age, the visible Church is properly speaking, the Church.
But beyond the limits of the Visible, is there no true Church? Are Plato, Socrates, Marcus Antoninus, and such as they, to be reckoned by us as lost? Surely not. The Church exists for the purpose of educating souls for heaven : but it would be a perversion of this purpose were we to think that goodness will not be received by God, because it has not been educated in the Church. Goodness is goodness, find it where we may. A vineyard exists for the purpose of nurturing vines, but he would be a strange vine-dresser who denied the
reality of grapes because they had ripened under a less genial soil, and beyond the precincts of the vineyard.
The truth is, that the Eternal Word has communicated Himself to man in the expressed Thought of God, the Life of Christ. They to whom that Light has been manifested are Christians. But that Word has communicated Himself silently to human minds, on which the manifested Light has never shone. Such men lived with God, and were guided by His Spirit. They entered into the Invisible; they lived by Faith. They were beyond their generation. They were not of the world. The Eternal Word dwelt within them. For the Light that shone forth in a full blaze in Christ, lights also, we are told, “ every man that cometh into the world.” Instances that lead us to this truth are given in the Scriptures of persons beyond the pale of the Church, who, before their acquaintance with the Jewish nation, had been in the habit of receiving spiritual communications of their own from God ; such were Melchisedec, Job, Rahab, and Nebuchadnezzar.
But from this digression, let us return to the visible Church of which the Church of Corinth formed
part. It existed, as we have said, to exhibit what Humanity should be to represent the Life Divine on earth, and that chiefly in these particulars :
1. Self-devotion : “ To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
2. Sanctity : “ Called to be saints."
3. Universality : “With all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
4. Unity: “Of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours :" For Christ was their common centre, and every church felt united into one body when they knew that He belonged to all, that they all had one Spirit, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father in Jesus Christ.
First then, the Church exists to exhibit self-devotion. They
“ sanctified in Jesus Christ.” Now the true meaning of "to sanctify” is to set apart, and hence to consecrate to any work. Thus spoke Christ: “For their sakes I sanctify, set apart, devote Myself." His life was a voluntary devotion of Himself even to the death, as well to save others as to bear witness to the truth. It is this attribute of the Divine nature in Humanity that the Church exists to exhibit now on earth. And then it is a Church most truly when it is most plainly devoted. Thus it was in martyr times, when the death and persecuted existence of the saints of God were at once the lifeblood of the Church and a testimony to the truth of its Faith. But then it is not, plainly, the Church, where bishops and priests are striving to aggrandize their own power, and seeking to impress men with the idea of the infallibility of their office. When the ecclesiastical dignity makes godliness a means of gain, or when priestcraft exercises lordship over the heritage of God, then it is falsifying its mission, for it is existing to establish, instead of to destroy, selfishness.
Secondly, the Church exists to exhibit sanctity.
The Church of Corinth was formed, as we have said, of peculiar elements. It arose out of a democratic, and therefore a factious, community. It sprang out of an extremely corrupt society, where pride of wealth abounded, and where superstition and scepticism looked one another in the face. It developed itself in the midst of a Judaism which demanded visible proofs of a divine mission. Ancient vices still infected the Christian converts. They carried into the Church the savour of their old life, for the wine-skin will long retain the flavour with which it has been once embued. We find from these Epistles that gross immorality still existed, and was even considered a thing to boast of. We find their old philosophy still colouring their Christianity, for on the foundation of the oriental idea that the body was the source of all sin, they denied a future resurrection. We find the insolence of wealth at the Lord's
ye not that
Supper. We find spiritual gifts abused by being exhibited for the sake of ostentation.
Such was the Church of Corinth! This is the Early Church so boasted of by some! Yet nowhere do we find,
These are not of the Church ; these are of the Church.” Rather all are the Church-the profligate brother, the proud rich man, the speculative philosopher, the mere partisan, the superstitious and the seeker after signs, all “ are called to be saints." All were temples of the Holy Ghost, though possibly admonished that they might be defiling that temple. Know your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost”-that “Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates ?" In the face of this the hypothetical view of Baptism is impossible. Publicans and sinners may be in the Church, and yet they are called God's children, His children, redeemed though not sanctified ; His people pardoned and reconciled by right, though the reconciliation and the pardon are not theirs in fact, unless they accept it. For it is possible to open the doors of the prison, and yet for the prisoner to refuse deliverance; it is possible to forgive an injury, and yet for the injurer to retain his anger, and then reconciliation and friendship, which are things of two sides, are incomplete. Nevertheless, all are designed for holiness, all of the professing Church are “ called to be saints.” Hence the Church of Christ is a visible body of men providentially elected out of the world to exhibit holiness, some of whom really manifest it in this life, while others do not; and the mission of this society is to put down all evil.
Thirdly, Its universality : “ With all who, in every place, call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."
The Corinthian Church was, according to these words of the Apostle, not an exclusive aútápxns Church, but only a part of the Church universal, as a river is of the sea. He allowed it no proud superiority. He would not permit it to think of