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1. The distinctive characters of the Invisible Churoh. 2. The distinctive characters of the Visible Church. 3. The Authority of the Invisible Church. 4. The Authority of the Visible Church. 5. The Authority of Clergy over the Visible Church. 6. The Connection of the Visible Church with the State.
1. What are the distinctive characters of the Invisible Church ; that is to say, What is it which makes a person a member of this Church, and how is he to be known for such ?
Wide question—if we had to take cognizance of all that has been written respecting it, remarkable as it has been always for quantity rather than carefulness, and full of confusion between Visible and Invisible: even the article of the Church of Eng. land being ambiguous in its first clause: “The Visible Church is a congregation of Faithful men.” As if ever it had been possible, except for God, to sco Faith I or to know a Faithful man by sight. And there is little else written on this qnestion, without some such quick confusion of the Visible and Invisible Church ;-needless and unaccountable confusion. For evidently, the Church which is composed of Faithful mon, is the one true, indivisible, and indiscernible Church, built on thc foundation of Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. It includes all who have ever fallen asleep in Christ, and all yet unborn, who are to be saved in Him; its Body is as yet imperfect; it will not be perfected till the last saved human spirit is gathered to its God.
A man becomes a member of this Church only by believing in Christ with all his heart; nor is he positively recognizable for a member of it, when he has become so, by any one but God, not even by himself. Nevertheless, there are certain signs by which Christ's sheep may be guessed at. Not by their being in any definite Fold-for many are lost sheep at times: but by their sheep-like behavior; and a great many are indeed sheep which, on the far mountain side, in their peacefulness, we take for stones. To themselves, the best proof of their being Christ's sheep is to find themselves on Christ's shoulders; and, between them, there are certain sympathies (expressed in the Apostles' Creed by the term “communion of Saints”), by which they may in a sort recognise each other, and so become verily visible to each other for mutual comfort.
2. The Limits of the Visible Church, or of the Church in the Second Scriptural Sense, are not so casy to define; they are awkward questions, these, of stake-nets. It has been
ingeniously and plausibly endeavored to mako Baptism a : sign of admission into the Visible Church, but absurdly enough;
for we know that half the baptized people in the world are very visible rogues, believing neither in God nor devil; and it is flat blasphemy to call theso Visible Christians; wo also know that the Holy Ghost was somctimes given before Baptism,* and it would be absurdity to call a man on whom the Holy Ghost had fallen, an Invisible Christian. The only rational distinction is that which practically, though not professedly, we always assume. If we hear a man profess himself a believer in God and in Christ, and detect him in no glaring and wilful violation of God's law, we speak of him as a Christian; and on the other hand, if we hear him or see him denying Christ, either in his words or conduct, we tacitly assume him not to be a Christian, A mawkish charity provents us from outspeaking in this matter, and from earnestly endeavoring to discern who are Christians and who are not; and this I holdt to be one of the chief sins of the Church in
• Acts X. 44.
+ Let not the reader be displeased with me for these short and apparently insolent statements of opinion. I am not writing insolently, but as shortly and clearly as I can; and when I seriously believe a thing, I say so in a few
the present day; for thus wicked men are put to no shame; and better men are encouraged in their failings, or caused to hesitate in their virtues, by the example of those whom, in false charity, they choose to call Christians. Now, it being granted that it is impossible to know, determinedly, who are Christians indeed, that is no reason for utter negligence in separating the nominal, apparent, or possible Christian from the professed Pagan or enemy of God. We spend much time in arguing about efficacy of sacraments and such other mysteries; but we do not act upon the very certain tests which are clear and visible. We know that Christ's people are not thieves-not liars—not busybodies—not dishonestnot avaricious—not wasteful—not cruel. Let us then get ourselves well clear of thieves—liars-wasteful people—avaricious people-cheating people—people who do not pay their debts. Let us assure them that they, at least, do not belong to the Visible Church; and having thus got that Church into decent shape and cohesion, it will be time to think of drawing the stake-nets closer.
I hold it for a law, palpable to common sense, and which nothing but the cowardice and faithlessness of the Church prevents it from putting in practice, that the conviction of any dishonorable conduct or wilful crime, of any fraud, false. hood, cruelty, or violence, should be ground for the excommunication of any man :—for his publicly declared separation from the acknowledged body of the Visible Church: and that he should not be received again therein without publio confession of his crime and declaration of his repentance. If this were vigorously enforced, we should soon have greater purity of life in the world, and fewer discussions about high and low churches. But before we can obtain any idea of the manner in which such law could be enforced, we have to consider the second question, respecting the Authority of the Church. Now Authority is twofold: to declare doctrine and to enforce discipline; and we have to inquire, therefore, in each kind,
words, leaving the reader to determine what my belief is worth. But I do not choose to temper down every expression of personal opinion into courteous generalities, and so loso space, and time, and intelligibility at once. We are utterly oppressed in these days by our courtesics, and considerations, and compliances, and propricties. Forgive me them, this once, or rather let us all forgive them to each other, and learn to speak plainly first, and, if it may be, gracefully afterwards; and not only to speak, but to stand by what wo bave spoken. One of my Oxford friends heard, the other day, that I was employed on these notes, and forthwith wrote to me, in a panic, not to put my name to them, for fear I should "compromise myself." I think we are most of us compromised to some extent already, when England has gent a Roman Catholic minister to the second city in Italy, and remains herself for a week without any government, because her chief mon cannot agree upon the position which a Popish cardinal is to have leave to oocupy in London
3. What is the authority of the Invisible Church ? Evidently, in matters of doctrine, all members of the Invisiblc Church must have been, and must ever be, at the time of their deaths, right in the points essential to Salvation. But, (A.) we cannot tell who are members of the Invisible Church.
(B.) We cannot collect evidence from deathbeds in a clearly stated form.
(C.) We can collect evidence, in any form, only from some one or two out of every sealed thousand of the Invisible Church. Elijah thought he was alone in Israel; and yet there were seven thousand invisible ones around him. Grant that wc had Elijah’s intelligence; and we could only calculate on collecting the yo'rith part of the evidence or opinions of the part of the Invisible Church living on earth at a given moment: that is to say, the seven-millionth or trillionth of its collective evidence. It is very clear, therefore, we cannot hope to get rid of the contradictory opinions, and keep the consistent ones, by a general equation. But, it has been said there are no contra
dictory opinions; the Church is infallible. There was some talk about the infallibility of the Church, if I recollect right, in that letter of Mr. Bennett's to the Bishop of London. If any Church be infallible, it is assuredly the Invisible Church, or Body of Christ; and infallible in the main sense it must of course be by its definition. An Elect person must be saved, and therefore cannot eventually be deceived on essential points: 80 that Christ says of the deception of such, “If it were possible,” implying it to be impossible. Therefore, as we said, if one could get rid of the variable opinions of the members of the Invisible Church, the constant opinions would assuredly be anthoritative: but for the three reasons above stated, we cannot get at their constant opinions: and as for the feelings and thoughts which they daily experience or express, the question of Infallibility—which is practical only in this bearing -is soon settled. Observe St. Paul, and the rest of the Apostles, write nearly all their epistles to the Invisible Church :-Those epistles are headed,-Romans, “To the beloved of God, called to be saints;" i Corinthians, “To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus;" 2 Corinthians, “To the saints in all Achaia ;" Ephesians, “To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus ;” Philippians, “To all the saints which are at Philippi ;” Colossians, “To the saints and faithful brethren which are at Colosse;" 1 and 2 Thessalonians, “To the Church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father, and the Lord Jesus;" 1 and 2 Timothy, “To his own son in the faith ;” Titus, to the same; 1 Peter, “To the Strangers, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God;" 2 Peter, “To them that have obtained like precious faith with us ;” 2 John, “To the Elect lady;" Jude, “To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ and called.”
There are thus fifteen epistles, expressly directed to the members of the Invisible Church. Philemon and Hebrews,