The church of the New Testament called the "Body of Christ," is made up of those andthose only, who have been truly born of God. This is called the invisible church, or "Body ofChrist," because He alone knows its membership. While of the millions of the ransomed, each onemay know himself or herself, to have been thus born, Christ alone knows all who are, and who arenot, of His body. There never was a Christian church which could decide that question, nor a bodyof ministers, without direct revelation from God, who was capable of settling it. "Having this seal,the Lord knoweth them that are His." 2 Tim. 2:19. No man, nor angel, ever received a member intothe invisible church. These are inducted into this spiritual body, by the Holy Ghost, and this churchrecord, is the Lamb's book of life! Human hands cannot meddle with that record, to either write, orerase a single name! These are they who have received Him, and are born, not of blood, nor of thewill of the flesh, nor of the will of man; but of God! John 1:12-13. In their care is left the sacredoracles, and to them is intrusted the human side of the world's salvation. As God's children, theyare to co-operate with Christ, their "Elder Brother," in saving the race. This work, the greatestever committed to finite beings, necessitates the organization of the children thus born, into visiblebodies, distinct from the world; in order to this co-operation with Christ. Hence, the visiblechurch, in contradistinction from the invisible church: the one being the outflow of the other. Thevisible church is therefore, throughout all time, the invisible church in organized form. For this,Christ made provision by calling and ordaining His apostles, and giving them authority to ordainpresbyters, or bishops, to oversee His people, and to establish the relation between pastor andpeople; with all the needed help, to make His church the mightiest aggressive agency of the race.These ministers, of whatever grade, were given, first, to perfect His saints, and through thesanctification of His church, to reach and save the world. John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:11-16. Thevisible Christ declared that after His ascension, He would send the Holy Spirit in person toconvince the world of sin, to lead His people into all truth, and to abide as the indwellingComforter in those who were sanctified.
This great, Divine, Almighty Spirit is the everywhere present, invisible Agent, who is tolead and accompany the visible church to the conquest of the world. The church is Christ's visiblerepresentative and the Holy Spirit His invisible representative. The world is to see Christ in thechurch, and to know Him by the Holy Ghost, when born of God. The deficiencies in this savingprocess, are all on the human side, and relate to failures in the visible church! There never hasbeen a time or place, where the visible church of Christ (by whatever name she may have beencalled) was not liable to contain both unsaved men and ministers. No unsaved soul can creep intothe invisible church because God alone receives its members; but the members of this visiblechurch have to be received by human agency. Our "come out" brethren with great sincerity, andmany of them precious souls, have aimed to avoid this evil by avoiding organization: but in nocase have they succeeded. To illustrate the case we will suppose a host of souls have beenconverted in the city of Mansoul. These will need the care of pastors from the beginning, who willhave to give their time to the care of the church: and God holds the church responsible for theirsupport. But who is the visible church at Mansoul? Why, that church is to be made up of those whowere born of God in that place. Somebody will have to find who they are and gather them together,if they are to be a working body. But here is Mr. A. and Mr. B. and Mrs. C. who report themselvesas converted people, who really have never been born of God; and they are recognized as a part ofthe body. The body is now recognized and organized, whether a record is made or not, and thereare [let us say, in the visible Church in Mansoul] three hundred and thirty-seven, whether any onehas numbered them or not.
Now there is in Mansoul a visible church of three hundred and thirty-seven, but theinvisible church has only three hundred and thirty-four! [after subtracting Mr. A. Mr. B. and Mrs.C. who are not genuinely born again] They have a pastor, deacons, or elders, or both, and thesehave to be recognized by the church, even if they were absolutely appointed of God.
Now of all this, there may not be the scratch of a pen, but before God and man they are anorganized church, and that church is made up of three hundred and thirty-four sheep and threegoats! These brethren with their pastor may all make war on the organization of churches andagainst having any unconverted members, but they are organized, and have three goats among thesheep!
They may put in years of outcry against sects and sectarianism; but they, themselves, are asect, and may easily be the most sectarian sect to be found in the whole country! Any three personswho unite in the belief and advocacy of a set of tenets, or doctrines, is a sect. A holy heart is verybeautiful, but does not do away with the need of an instructed mind. God alone can erase namesfrom the book of life, but human authority can blot names from the church record. This is true nowand was true in the days of the apostles. See 3 John 1:9-10.
Diotrephes surely could not erase names from the Lamb's book of life; but he could and didexpel members from the New Testament visible church. The churches of Corinth, Asia Minor, andin John's day, were therefore visible, organized bodies, as are the American churches today; andthere were unsaved people among them, as there are now.
To avoid this, Mr. Wesley planned a six months' probation for seekers, before they couldbe received as members in full fellowship. This, for the first half century of Methodism, was safeand successful; but of recent years his safeguards are abandoned. The candidate then came into themost intensified spiritual body on the earth; now it is otherwise. Then the fewest possible numberwere allowed in the body, who did not have the direct witness of the Holy Spirit to their adoption;now they may be numbered by the ten thousands! Then no immoralities were allowed in themembership, now there is almost a total absence of discipline!
The requirements of candidates were in fearful contrast then, with the present. Such were atonce put into a class of about twelve members, under the care of a godly class leader, who was tosee each one of his class every week, and inquire into their spiritual state. In case of absence fromthe class meeting twice or thrice, without sufficient cause, they were dropped. Now but few of ourcandidates ever see a class meeting, or are interrogated as to their spiritual condition. They werethen in constant contact with people who with great frequency were triumphantly relating theirChristian experience and inquiring about theirs; now such occurrences are very rare. They wererequired to constantly attend the church prayer meeting; now many of them are not found in theprayer meeting three times in a year!
Then the conversion of such candidates was incessantly looked after, till it was reached.Now they are generally treated as converted people as soon as their church membership issecured. Then they were treated as penitents seeking pardon. Now they are treated as Christians.Then they were compelled constantly to hear preaching on repentance, faith and the new birth.
Now they but rarely hear these subjects discussed. Then were found the fewest possible number ofunsaved people in the church, as associates. Now they can be found by the thousands. It wascomparatively safe then, thus to receive them. Now it is alarming.
It was never the intention of Mr. Wesley, after his eyes were fully opened, to allow oneperson to enter the church, who was not truly born of God; but our clamor for numbers has openedthe floodgates, and worldlings are rushing in! It may be, we never had so many godly people asnow, but the proportion of those not godly, is appalling.
Having ministered with tremendous interest at the altars of Methodism for sixty-threeyears, I have had wide opportunities for observations as to changes which may have taken place. Itcan truthfully be stated that in all these years, not one hour's thought has been given to the questionof leaving her communion: but before I leave her, for the church triumphant, and while rejoicing inthe strength of her bulwarks; to be true to her, to Christ and the race, I must raise some dangersignals.
If the church of Pentecost with her heart of flame and tongue of fire, could so wander fromGod, so lower the standard of His law and gospel, and become so demoralized by taking millionsof worldlings into her fellowship, as to be compelled to hide God's Holy Book for ages from thecommon people, lest her ungodliness should be reproved, and her false teaching and heathenworship should be exposed by its fiery light, -- why not see in the light of history, and the presentworldward trend, impending doom, and avoid it!
What apparent triumph, what shoutings, when the church of Pentecost threw her armswidely open, and took in millions from the Roman Empire in a single revival meeting! Who wouldhave dared to suggest that any victory for truth and Christ's gospel, had equaled it in the annals ofman? He must have been a "croaking pessimist" who could have whispered a doubt as to thecoming glory of the church; when she had doubled her numbers in a single day!
But fifteen hundred years of history has since been written, and what is its verdict?
1. The revival which rushed an empire of unsaved worldlings into the church of God,brought on her, the darkness of a thousand years. Ages of spiritual darkness! Who that is interestedin his race, can think of it, without weeping?
2. It superseded the simple rites and worship of the Pentecostal church by intermixture ofpagan rites and worship, including practically the worship of saints and images; which she has notshaken off till this day.
3. It supplanted Pentecostal ministers by worldlings, who persecuted those who were holyand secured the slaughter of millions of God's elect, who dared to believe and teach the simplegospel of Christ. Today, it is enough to stagnate the blood of a decent man to study the instrumentsof torture invented by those worldling ministers of the gospel to mutilate and murder the holiestpeople God ever had! And even now, were it not for the thundering voice of Protestantcivilization, these instruments would be in use! It is difficult to find in fallen humanity men morefierce and terrible than apostates of the pure religion.
4. These world mixtures of ceremony and in creased ritualism, were so adjusted aspractically to supersede Christ, and the true conditions of salvation. Who can doubt, if intelligentin the Roman religion, that images, and saints, and Mary, are in the thought of such worshipers, andmentioned, five times, to where Christ is mentioned once? There were nearly a thousand yearsafter this ingathering of worldlings, when the Official Church kept buried the doctrine ofjustification by faith, when people could be made holy only through their own works and a roundof ceremonies and self torture! Are we going that way?
5. A close analysis of all cases of spiritual decline will reveal all the features (in greateror less degree) described under the above four headings. What spiritual darkness has struck thepulpit and pew of my own [Methodist Episcopal] denomination in proportion as she has driftedaway from God! Darkness concerning her own doctrines! The Central Doctrines of Methodism!Depravity, sin, the atonement, repentance, justification by faith, entire sanctification! What absenceof the Comforter! What meager fellowship with God! What blind seeking after substitutes for ourglorious gospel! What bewilderments about the resurrection! How fearfully rare, really victoriousexperiences, both in pulpit and pew What going to the world for something to satisfy us! How few,compared with the multitude, who do not die like other people, [how many] who have not oneword of triumph, when soul and body are parting! Is not Wesley's boast that "Our people diewell," largely left in the shadows? Is there not ground for humiliation, confession, and prayer, witha speedy return to her own glorious centers?