THE Lord says, "On this rock I will build my Church."--Matthew xvi. 18. Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word."--Ephesians v. 25. The Church spoken of in these Scriptures is not simply a church, among many more of the same kind, but is "the Church." It is "the Church of God," and so styled in Scripture, "the Church of the living God. Our Lord gave himself for it; be built it; he loved it; he "sanctified and cleansed it with the washing of water by the word." It is called in Scripture, "his body," "the body of Christ," "one body." It is also called "the kingdom," "the kingdom of God," "the kingdom of heaven," "the kingdom of God's dear Son." This body, or kingdom, as differently phrased in different expressions in Scripture, is of God, and all the exceeding great and precious promises are to those who compose this body. It is styled in Scripture, "God's building," "the temple of God." God himself dwells in it; Christ dwells in it; the Holy Spirit dwells in it. To be in this body is the same as to be "in Christ," in a state of justification or acceptance with God; or the same as to be reconciled to God, adopted into the heavenly family, justified, sanctified, saved from all past sin. It is, then, no unmeaning and empty ceremony, but a reality, a matter of fact, to be made a member of this body, that a man can know, as certainly as he can know anything of which he is assured in Scripture.
The body of Christ is not, then, a mere imagination, a kind of ideal representation, mere poetical imagery, but a reality, as much so as the Kingdom of Great Britain, or the Republic of the United States of America. It is an actual existence, with its limitations, law and citizens. There is a without and a within to it. It has a real, an actual, and a living Head, that leads, controls and governs it, though that Head is invisible to us. The Head of that body is an absolute monarch. His will is the law, and from it there is no appeal. He is the rightful Sovereign; in him is vested all authority in heaven and on earth; we come to him as the source of all light, and life, and everlasting consolation, blessed forever and ever. There is no other name but his given under heaven, and among men, whereby we can be saved.
Among all the bodies of people that now exist in the world, can we find the one styled in Scripture, "the body of Christ"--the one of which the Lord is the Head? Can we find and identify the "temple of God?" Is the Church of God in existence? Can it be identified? Is the kingdom of God in existence? Can it be identified? If these questions must be answered negatively, then no man knows whether he is "in Christ" or not; in "the body of Christ," or out of it; whether he is justified, adopted, or not. Then the whole matter of man's reconciliation to God, and acceptance with him, is in the dark. Here, then, is matter of most momentous importance for our meditation. We all talk about "the Church;" but where is it? What is it? Can it be identified? Can an honest man, who desires to become a member of the body of Christ, find that body, so as to become a member?
The matter in hand is not to find something like the Church of God, or resembling it; nor yet to find something as near like it as any other body, or even nearer like it; but can we find the "body of Christ" itself; "the Church of the living God; the pillar and support of the truth?" This is the matter of investigation now. It is a matter of no importance now to find any other church or body. The Lord did not love any other body. He did not give himself for any other body. He did not say, "I will build" any other church. He did not give Peter the keys of any other kingdom. He is not the Head of any other body. God does not dwell in any other temple; Christ does not dwell in any other body; the Holy Spirit does not dwell in any other body; the "exceeding great and precious promises" are not to those in any other body. No other body is called in Scripture, or is in reality, the "whole family in heaven and on earth."
Is there, then, any fact universally admitted that we can reason from in reaching any certain conclusions in this matter? There certainly is one thing admitted, a matter of fact, universally admitted, that is of momentous importance in reaching certain conclusions. That fact is that the body in question existed in the time of the apostles. This is simply undeniable. It is not called in question by anybody. We need not argue it, but may accept it as a settled matter. It follows, then, with the force of demonstration, or we may say, of actual certainty, that any body of people, or party, whose entire history is found, and exhausted, before we reach back to the time of the apostles, is not the body in question--the body of Christ. We have several works, aimed to be histories of religious parties, or denominations. Some of these are written by their friends, indeed, nearly all of them. Some of them are in distinct volumes, a volume containing the entire history of a party, or a "denomination," as generally phrased; and a few of them extended works, aiming to give a history of all of them, devoting a certain space to each one. There need, then, be no prejudice in the case; no excitement; no noise about logic, fairness or unfairness; no party feeling, or strife; no crimination or recrimination; but simply an inquiry into matter of fact.
That any one may see what we mean, take the history of Mormonism and Mormons, and all the allusions to Mormonism and Mormons, whether in distinct history, or allusions in one way or another interspersed through the literature of the world, wherever found, and it is all exhausted before we get back to the beginning of this century. Tracing back through the literature of the times, allusions, in one form or another, are found to Mormonism and Mormons. It matters not whether these allusions are friendly or unfriendly, so far as our purpose is concerned. Before the time of Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormon Prophet, and before the Book of Mormon was written, no one ever heard of Mormonism or Mormons. When we trace the history, and all the historic allusions, touching Mormonism and Mormons, back to Joseph Smith, Jr., and the time in which he lived, we reach the origin of the concern. Before Joseph Smith, Jr., there was not a Mormon, and before the Book of Mormon there was no Mormonism in the world. Eighteen hundred years of the Christian era passed away before there was any Mormonism, or a Mormon on earth. There is nothing in this to wrangle over or dispute about It is simply the most undeniable matter of fact. The Mormon body was born eighteen hundred years too late to be the body of Christ.
The Methodist body encounters the same difficulty. Its own historians, who evidently aim to make the case as favorable as possible, exhaust its history before they reach back a century and a half. Before we trace back through the literature in which allusions to that body are found, one hundred and fifty years, we come to where there is not a trace of it. There was no Methodist body on earth before the time of John Wesley. There was no Methodism before that time. It has not a trace in history of any sort, friendly or unfriendly, in the literature of the world; not even a historic allusion, written one hundred and fifty years ago. Before that time the Methodist body did not exist. It was born too late. It is not the body of Christ. This is simply matter of fact, too plain for argument. We are not asking for succession, or any history of succession, but history about it of any sort, before the time we have described. Its whole history is exhausted inside of one hundred and fifty years. Before that time there was nothing of it.
The Presbyterian body is liable to the same objection, only it is a little older. Before the time of John Calvin there was no Presbyterian body. When we go back to John Calvin we have exhausted the history of Presbyterianism. It has no history back of that. In the literature of the world it has not a historic trace beyond the time of Calvin, and beyond that time the Presbyterian body did not exist. Presbyterian history itself finds not a trace of it back of the birth of John Calvin.
The Baptist body is in the same row. Its entire history is exhausted in tracing back some two hundred years. In all the literature written from the time of the birth of Christ down to some two hundred years ago, there is no trace of the Baptist Church, or body, or, as they sometimes phrase it, of the "Baptist denomination." Nor do we find during that long period, in all the writings produced, friendly or unfriendly to that body, any allusions to the Baptist Church. It is sufficient to defeat forever any claim of that church to the body of Christ, that there is not a trace of it in Scripture; but when we add to this the simple matter of fact that there is not a trace of it, or all allusion to it, in the history, or any of the literature produced during the long period from the time of the apostles down to some two hundred years ago, it becomes painful to hear any one talk of tracing the history of the Baptist Church back to John the Immerser! It simply leaves the Baptist Church out of the question. It is useless to look any more for it.
But what of the great apostasy, the falling away, the man of sin, now styled the "Church of Rome," or sometimes the "Papacy," or, incorrectly, the "Catholic Church?" In this we find something different from all we have alluded to. We find it not only now a distinct and organized body, but we find it with a thousand years' history, as distinct, clear and definite as the history of any nation or people, or even any civil government of the same antiquity. For one thousand years back the literature of the world, or a large portion of it, is interwoven with it. There is not the least trouble in tracing it in all those countries and among all those peoples where it has had a footing. In one particular it is unlike all others, as it appears in history, in that its history runs to no definite period, no distinct time nor person in which it had its origin. It did not originate with any one man, nor at any one definite time, any Councils. As the reader traces back, one feature after another of the Church of Rome, or the Papacy, is wanting, till the last one is lacking. When he reaches the time of the apostles, and finds an account of the only true, the holy and Apostolic Church, all that is Romish and Papistical has entirely disappeared from the pages of history, and not a vestige of it is to be found, except in the prophetic descriptions of the coming apostasy, which was demanded to fulfill the word of God. All the leading features of the Antichrist gradually disappear, and the features of the true Church begin to appear more and more, till we reach the time of the apostles, where we find not only the features, but the true Church, as she came from the hand of God, and was approved of him by sublime displays of miraculous power. This Church is the body of Christ, and fills the whole space. All these others that we have alluded to have disappeared from the records of the time, in the Bible or out of it. All those which we have mentioned, and all others not mentioned, whose entire history is exhausted before we reach back to the apostles, no matter what they are called, are out of the question. We need not wrangle over them, or dispute about them, as to which is the preferable, or the more nearly resemble the original. We are in search of the original itself.
Now for another item universally admitted, that we may have something to reason from about which there is no dispute. All agree that the original Church was established in Jerusalem. We need no argument on this. It is not denied, or held in the least doubt by anybody of any note. The original Church, the Church of God, or, the body of Christ, had its rise, or was established, in Jerusalem. No matter where, then, any church began--in what country, province, or city; nor is it any matter for anything else about it, if it did not begin in Jerusalem; if it did not take its rise there; was not founded there, it can not be the body of Christ, or the true Church. If a church originated in Rome, that is enough--a final settlement of the question; we need no further argument. It can not be the true Church--the true Church did not originate in Rome, London or Geneva. It was not founded in England, Germany or France. There stands the fact, and nobody denies it--the true Church originated in Jerusalem. It did not originate in two places, but one. This point is too plain to need, or even admit of any comment that can make it plainer. We have plenty more plain and easy arguments that all can understand.
We then proceed to another item universally admitted. Christ is the Author of the true Church. He founded it, or built it. "On this rock I will build my Church." In tracing back through history, we generally complete the work by finding some man who was the originator, or founder, of a body of people, as a church. When we reach that man we reach the end of the history of it. The history is exhausted when we reach him, and terminates in him. The history of the Lutheran Church is plain and clearly marked till we get back to Luther. There is the end of it. There is no account of it; not a trace of it; nor an allusion to it beyond that. The history of the Lutheran Church, as we pass back, ends with Luther. There is not a trace of it beyond him. The Lutheran Church originated in the wrong person. The body of Christ originated with Christ. In the same way, for further example, in tracing the history of the Friends' Church, we come to George Fox; but there the history is exhausted and ends; Back of George Fox we find not a trace of a Quaker Church. He was the origin of that body, but he did not originate the body of Christ. In like manner, Methodism has a distinct and clearly traceable history back to John Wesley; but back of him there is not a trace of a Methodist Church. When we reach Wesley, Methodist history is exhausted, and with him it ends, tracing back. The Swedenborgian body originated with Swedenborg. Before his day that body had no existence. Mohammedanism originated with Mohammed. In the same way, the body of Christ originated with him. When we go back through history to Christ, we find the rise of the body of Christ. It originated in him, and the history of that body is not exhausted till we go back to him. In tracing back to Christ, we reach the first end of the history of the body of Christ; and continuing on back we find no further trace of it, only in the prophetic Scriptures pointing forward to the good things to come. The religion, and the religious body, that originated in our Lord, is the true religion and the genuine body. This is, or ought to be, an end of all controversy.
The true Church, the body, or the kingdom of God, is governed by the law of God. It has no other law. It is under Christ as its only Head, and his law as its only law. Any body of people, under any other king but the Lord Messiah; any law but his; or any other religious head, is not the body of Christ. His law is the only creed; the absolute rule and authority in his body. The Koran is not the law of Christ; and the people under it are not under the law of Christ, or under Christ at all. The Papists are not under the law of Christ, but under the unwritten traditions of Rome, as executed or administered by the Papacy. These unwritten traditions are no law of Christ, nor of God, in any sense; nor are the papistical priesthood ministers of Christ, to administer his law; and the body under these is not the body of Christ. The same is true of all the written traditions, or opinions of uninspired men, put down in modern creeds, styled "articles of faith," or "articles of religion," of the sects of our time. No one of them is the law of Christ, nor all of them together; and those under any one of them are not under the law of Christ, nor are they the body of Christ.
We need not, then, look to any of these creeds for the law of Christ, nor to those under them for the body of Christ. Nor need we look to any Council, Conference, General Assembly, Association, Annual Meeting, or Convention, for the body of Christ; or to any other aggregations, confederations, etc., now generally known and talked about. Nor need we look to any succession of officers, ministers, ordinances, or bodies of people, in trying to find the body of Christ. All these successions have two objections lying against them. First there is no authority for them in Scripture; second, they are all too dim in history ever to be followed, even if they were demanded. They are of no value--nothing can be determined by them.
Again, nothing can be the true Church, or body, not built on the foundation that God laid. Now we are coming to something tangible--to the foundation of the building of God. "On this rock I will build my Church,", says the Lord. He does not mean by "my Church"--my meeting-house, or my synagogue; but my Church, congregation, or assembly. The congregation of the Lord has a foundation, and any congregation not built on that foundation is not the "building of God," the "temple of God," or the "body of Christ."
What, then, is the foundation? Paul says," I, as a wise master-builder, have laid the foundation."--1 Corinthians iii. 10. He is very exclusive, for he adds: "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid." We need look for no other--there is no other. Then follows the statement that tells what that foundation is: "Which is Jesus Christ." There is no circumlocution in this language--it is most explicit and direct. The foundation is not some opinions of men concerning Christ, or their views of him; but JESUS THE CHRIST HIMSELF. He is the Rock of which we sing, that is "higher than I," or, as Paul says, in reference to Him that followed the Israel of God in the wilderness, and gave them water--"That Rock was Christ." He is the foundation of the Church. The building of God rests on him. He walks in the midst of the assembly, and the whole congregation give praises to him. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by him. He said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me."
The building of God, or the body of Christ, is, then, built on Christ, as their foundation. Where, then, is that building that is built on Christ--the building of God? Can we find it? Can we identify it? Is it on earth? It has no geographical lines, limiting it to any one country. The command to the prime ministers was to "Go into all the world." The field in which the seed of the kingdom, the word of God, is sown, is "the world." The Lord taught his followers to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth." This locates this building on earth, in this world, but limits it to no particular part of it. It had a certain locality for the place of beginning; but from that time forward it was not limited or restricted to any particular country, but was for all the world. Nor was it limited to any one nation, or blood, but was given to "all nations." "In every nation, he who fears God and works righteousness is accepted with him." One religion and one Savior for the whole world, and all nations; one kingdom of God, or body of Christ, and but one for all; one foundation for this one body, or building of God, and that foundation is Christ.
We need not, then, trouble ourselves about any long lines, or, as Paul has it, "endless genealogies;" about any blood or local limits. These have nothing to do, then, in identifying the body of Christ. Nor need we trouble ourselves about any succession of churches, ministers, officers, or ordinances, for the Bible requires none of these, and not one of them has a clear and reliable history. Nor need we look to Councils, or their decisions; for their history all ends before we get back to the apostles, and their decisions have no divine warrant. They amount to nothing. How, then, is this wonderful matter to be settled? Recollect, we are not obliged to settle it for all nations, or for everybody. The important matter is for a man to settle it for himself. Each has the following question to solve for himself: Am I in the body of Christ? This is the main thing for each man and woman to know.
Our Lord says the seed of the kingdom is the word of God. What we should do, then, is to o back to the apostles, to the instances in which they sowed this seed--the word of God. We have already seen where they were to sow this seed. They were to "go into all the world," to sow the seed, or, literally, to preach the gospel, for that is precisely the meaning of it--"preach the gospel to every creature." We are simply to follow them, in the history, and inquire into the facts. What resulted from sowing this seed--preaching the gospel? What kind of fruit came from this seed? What was the product from this sowing? It is no trouble to learn what grew up from it. Churches were built up, and set in order. In them we have the building of God, the body of Christ. In the work of the apostles, as set forth in the sacred history, we learn how the apostles did the work; how they sowed the seed, or preached the gospel; what effect it had on the people; that some received it joyfully, believed it with all their hearts; that they obeyed it; that they received it into good and honest hearts, understood it and brought forth much fruit; that many repented, confessed Christ, and were "immersed into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;" that they were "added to them," "added to the Lord," "added to the Church."
"Added to the Lord, "added to them," and "added to the Church," are three ways of expressing the same, in substance. The amount of it is, that they were added to the body of Christ. That body, to which they were added, originated with Christ, the right person; in Jerusalem, the right place; in the time of the apostles, the right time; and was built on the right foundation, Christ. It had the right creed, the law of Christ. Here we identify the true Church, the body of Christ. God acknowledged this body by the most grand and awful displays of supernatural power. We trace through the sacred record to learn all about it---what its creed was; how it was designated; what its worship was; its practice, and everything in reference to it. Here, then, we identify the true Church. In regard to this there is no dissent. All admit that it was the true Church--the body of Christ.
Is that Church in existence now? Some man is ready to say, There is not a church in the world that can trace its history back to that Church. Suppose we can not, but can find the same thing--the identical same body now; in all respects the same--that is, identifying it, no matter if there is a thousand years out of its history utterly lost. It is not its history we want, but its identity. Can we identify it? We have read of seeds that lay buried in ancient ruins three thousand years, and when brought to the air, and placed under suitable conditions, they grew as well as if they had been last year's seed. They brought their kind, and were identified as the same thing, though they had been buried three thousand years, during all of which time we have no history of them. In the same way, if the seed of the kingdom, the word of God, has been long buried in the rubbish of Popery, but has been finally dug up, and sown in good ground, as Jesus explains, in "good and honest hearts," and results in turning them to the Lord, and adding them to the saved--to the body--they are, then, in the body, and are precisely the same kind of product as came from the same kind of seed in the time of the apostles. No matter about their history, or genealogy, or whether we ever know where this seed of the kingdom was for ages while it was dormant, or not.
The circumstance that seeds of different kinds, and, it may be, of all kinds, will lay in the earth dormant, if deep enough, and then grow, when brought near enough to the surface, has led many to think that some kinds of vegetation come without seed. But it never comes without seed. The seed was in the ground, but too deep to grow, while it lay dormant and when brought near enough to the surface to receive the light, warmth moisture, and air, it grew. In this way the farmer sometimes finds a beautiful stand of clover where he did not expect it. Several years before he had broke a clover sod quite deep, thus burying an abundance of seed six and eight inches deep, where it lay dormant for several years, when he broke it again, as deep as before, thus bringing the dormant seed to the surface, and in a short time he had a beautiful stand of clover. He does not prove it to be clover by telling all about where it had been, and what it had been doing all the time while he saw nothing of it, but by its own qualities and characteristics. It is a certain article that can be identified, whether we can tell where it has been all the time or not.
More than eighteen hundred years ago the Lord commanded men to sow the seed of the kingdom in good and honest hearts of men and women. This seed of the kingdom, as he called it figuratively, is the word of God. It grew; brought a certain product then; built up a body of people styled "the body of Christ." This body of people had a law, a worship, a life, a practice; it had a character. Now, that eighteen hundred years have passed away, this same seed of the kingdom has been dug up, sown in the same soil--good and honest hearts--been understood, and brought forth much fruit; the same fruit it did in the time of the apostles. It has made believers, led them to repentance, to confess Christ and be immersed; brought these together, and added others to them, and thus formed a body. On close inspection we find this body to be the same precisely as that in the time of the apostles--as clearly so as the plant that comes from the same seed is the same as the original. It is the identical same thing.
It matters not that philosophers and theologians can not tell where this seed has been all this time; nor how God has kept the same life in it; nor how be has now caused it to grow again, and give us the same product. Here it is--the same thing, the same seed, and the same body. God gives, in the natural world, "to every seed its own body." He has done so in this instance. He has given us the same body from the seed of the kingdom--the word of God.
We care not that the philosophers can not tell us how wheat buried in ancient ruins has been preserved so many ages; nor how it is, that, when brought to the surface, it will grow, thus demonstrating that the original life was preserved in it all the time, and that the product from it is precisely the same as the original. But the man that grew it brings the article, and shows that it is wheat as certainly as the original--the same article in every particular. This settles the question of identity.
Is there now in the world the same seed of the kingdom of God--the word of God? There certainly is; and there is no dispute about what it is, nor where it is. We have no trouble in identifying it. No matter about how long it has been buried among the rubbish of human traditions and superstitions; nor where it has been all this time; nor how the life has been preserved in it--we now have it, have identified it, and are perfectly agreed about it. We can not be mistaken about the "good ground," in which this seed should be sown, and from which it will spring up, grow, and bring forth much fruit. The Lord explains what this ground is. It is "a good and all honest heart" in a man "who receives it, understands it, and brings forth much fruit." That is the good ground. There is no trouble in identifying it.
When this seed of the kingdom springs up, grows, and produces fruit, we examine it, in all its stages, and compare it with the original, and identify it at every step as the same. When the seed is sown, many, on hearing, believe. Believe what? Believe the word--that which they heard. This was precisely the case eighteen hundred years ago, when this seed was sown, or the word was preached. "Many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed." As they believed the same thing. their faith was the same; and it being the same thing believed in the time of the apostles, it identifies their faith as the same. This being the same faith they had in the time of the apostles, leads to the same repentance, and thus identifies the repentance. This is traveling on safe ground. Following the history in the time of the apostles, and the effect produced now, we are led to the same confession. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God bath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." This identifies the confession, and shows precisely what it was, and what it is. We follow the history, to learn what came next in the time of the apostles, and learn that they were buried with Christ in immersion, and rose with him to a new life. We look now to the results--where the seed of the kingdom is sown; where the word of God is received into good and honest hearts, and understood, and find that it leads to the same result. They are buried with Christ in immersion, and rise to a new life. So far the work is identified, and found to be the same as that in the time of the apostles.
But how were they designated in the time of the apostles? There were some people called disciples of Moses--that is, learners, or scholars, of Moses. There were others called "disciples of John." They were learners, or pupils, of John the Immerser. Then we read of "Christ's disciples." They were students, or learners, under Christ, and followed him. These became numerous, and sufficiently noted, so that they were frequently called "the disciples," or, in some, instances, simply "disciples;" not as a proper name, or a religious designation, but to indicate whose students they were, who was their Teacher, or whom they followed. But as Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, in one figure, styled Head over all things to the Church; and, in another figure, the foundation on which the Church is built--he is really the Great Teacher, in the highest sense; and the highest religious sense at that. His disciples are, then, religious students, or learners, learning of Jesus, their Teacher.
But, subsequently, as the Anointed, or the Christed, was their Leader, they were called "Christians first at Antioch," after Christ their Head. Among the scholars there has been a sharp controversy over the question, whether they were thus called by divine appointment; or whether the Lord thus first called them, or their enemies; and whether they were thus called as the name the Lord intended them to wear, or a name given them through derision. But we do not see that much rests on this dispute, and we certainly shall not here undertake to decide on the merits of the argument; but one thing we can see, and that is, that the name is proper any way, and it makes no difference whether the Lord thus called them because the name was proper, or the enemies gave them a name through derision, which proved to be proper. It is certain that the name did not become very current in the time of the apostles, or, at least, in their writings. Still, it is equally certain that it was recognized as proper in the time of the apostles.
It is a fact in history that their persecutors put many of them to death on the charge of their being Christians. They did not even have to prove the charge, but simply to make it, and the person thus charged had to prove himself clear--that is, prove himself not a Christian, or die. While matters were in this shape, their enemies had no objection to their being called Christians, nor had they any hesitation in thus calling them. But now it has come round, that, to say the least of it, there is no odium attached to the name Christian; but, on the other band, it is, abstractly, indorsed by all as right. The enemy is not willing to call those Christians who are simply the followers of Christ. They do not now desire to allow them the very name for which their brethren anciently died. But if they are built on the same foundation, have the same Head, the same creed, the same law, the same faith, repentance, confession, immersion, and are the same throughout, they can be designated in the same way. They may be called Christians, after Christ, their Head; disciples, in view of their being learners of Christ, and his being their Teacher; or they may be called children of God, in view of their being born of God, and belonging to his family; or they may be called saints, in view of their being holy ones; or citizens, in view of their relation to the kingdom; or members, in view of their relation to the body of Christ. As individuals they can be designated in the same way, and by the. same terms, as in the time of the apostles.
As a whole, they were called "the Church," "the Church of God, the Church of the living God," "the kingdom," "the kingdom of God," "the kingdom of heaven," "the body," "the body of Christ," etc., in the time of the apostles. If we have the same body now it can be designated in the same way, and by the same terms. If any body Of people now found can not be described and designated by the same terms, it must be because it is not the same body. The same body can always be described and designated in the same terms, no matter where you find it. When we find a body that has the same name, is described and designated in the same words, by all the same terms as the original body, or the body in the time of the apostles, it is a strong indication that it is the same body.
The original body met on the first day of the week to break broad, in memory of their Lord, and of his great sufferings for their sins, to carry out his commandment: "Do this till I come;" "Do this in memory of me." This is one mark by which the same body may be identified now. Is there a body that meets on the first day of the week to break bread; to commemorate the sufferings of Jesus--that do this in remembrance of him? If there is, it is a strong evidence that it is the same body.
Is there a body now that walks by the same rule, that minds the same thing the original body did? Is there one now that pleads for the same rule, the same in all things? If there is, it must be the same. Is there a body now that pleads for observing all things, whatever the Lord commanded the original disciples and churches to follow? If there is, and one that not only pleads for thus observing all things whatever the Lord commanded, but that does all things that he commanded, that is the body of Christ. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples: if you do whatever I command you," says the Great Teacher. This identifies the followers of Christ wherever they may be found, and the body of Christ--to find them doing all things whatever he commanded them to observe.
But there is yet another mark by which the followers of Christ, as a body, may be identified. Some chief men among the Jews said of the original body: "We know, as concerning this sect, that everywhere it is spoken against." Is there any church, or body of people, in our time--a religious body--that bears this mark? Is there any one religious body that is everywhere spoken against? There is certainly one religious body that bears this mark. No matter how many differences there may be among the various parties of these times, nor how great their differences, nor what their nature may be, there is one point on which they all agree--that is, to speak against the religious body that takes Christ as their only Head, and his law as their only rule; who acknowledge no authority but him. They are all very lenient toward each other, frequently conceding that "whatever a man thinks is right, is right to him;" but this does not hold good all around. If a man thinks the law of God is right; that to follow that law is right; that the law of God is the absolute authority in all matters of religion, they will not admit it to be right, no matter how much he thinks it is right. But the plain truth is, that the law of God, as set forth in Scripture, is right, whether men think it is right or not. All other religious law is wrong, no matter how many men think it is right, or try to prove that it is right.
We rejoice that thinking that the truth is a lie, can not make it such; nor can thinking that the true Church is false, make it false. Men can, and do, think wrong, about as often as they do anything else wrong. Indeed, it is almost invariably the case that thinking wrong leads to doing wrong. But we stop not here to discuss matters of this sort, but proceed to sum the whole matter up. There is, as a reality, now existing one body, called in Scripture "the Church;" or sometimes since we have bodies that are not the true. Church, styled "the true Church;" and these are now, in reality, "Christians." The main matter, then, that concerns us now, is not successions of priests of any sort, ordinances, or religious bodies, but simply two matters: First, how a man became a Christian in the time of the apostles; second, what were those Christians when assembled in the time of the apostles, as a whole, or in their congregated capacity? They were the Ekklesia in that place. This is the Greek word for "church, " or generally translated "church" in the Common Version. It occurs one hundred and sixteen times in the New Testament, and is translated church in all but three places. In those three places the word has the same meaning it has in all the other places. Those three places are Acts xix. 32, 39 and 41. In these places it is translated "assembly." But any one can see that it means assembly in all the other places, as certainly as it does in these places. It is true, in those places the assembly was very different from the assemblies in the other places; but that difference can not be learned from the word Ekklesia. That word simply means assembly, or congregation, and we must learn what kind of a congregation, or assembly, is meant from the connection, and not from that word, or from any peculiar translation of that word.
The Christians met, or assembled, in any city, town, or community, are the congregation, or the Church there, or the body of Christ there. Hearing the gospel, then, believing it, and obeying it, brought a man to Christ; made him a Christian, and he was then added to the saved--to the others, who had in like manner been saved. These, by faith in Christ, are one with all the other Christians in the world; or, we may say more, with "the whole family in heaven and on earth." Here, then, ends the whole matter of identifying the body of Christ, and the union of Christians. When we are turned to the Lord, reconciled to God, made one with him, we are united with all that are united with him. This is the genuine union, the genuine religion, and the genuine body in which to meet and worship.
Look carefully into the Scriptures, and there learn how to come to the Lord, and be united with him, and you will have no trouble about uniting with those that have come and been made partakers of the divine nature. How precious and glorious to know that he loved us, and has provided for us, so that we can come and worship him acceptably. To Him be glory in the congregation now and ever.