And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.—Acts 4.32.

Church Membership.

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP.

Excerpted from:

THE

CONTENDING WITNESS.

VOL. 3.

JUNE, 1845.

No. 4


——"all my springs are in thee."——Psalm 87.7.


The Church of Christ is usually distinguished as visible or invisible. The members of the invisible church become such by union to Christ the Head. This union is constituted primarily by God the Father's gracious purpose of love, John 17.6; and in his appointed time, by faith on their part;—closing with Christ on gospel terms, Ch. 6.44.—The visible church is composed of all those "who profess the true religion together with their children." [WCF 25.2.]

Of the church visible the inspired penman speaks in this psalm. Among the glorious things spoken of the city of God, this is the last:—all my springs are in thee. Whatever may be the objects presented in the city of the Lord for the contemplation of rational beings; that which furnishes enjoyment to the believer is the circumstance, that all is his own,—he has a lively, because a personal interest in the house of God. The "springs" of the unbeliever are in the things of the world. These will soon run dry, or the worldling be removed from them. And however abundant these may flow at any time; they cannot allay the thirst of the immortal soul. Hence the maxim of the heathen,—"The more a man hath, the more he desireth." Did Crœsis ever say, he was rich enough? did ever Alexander express satisfaction with the extent of his conquests? Such characters will still be saying:—Who will show us any good. Psalm 4.6. Luke 15.16.

Men are accustomed to prize the immunities of civil citizenship; and if not freeborn, they will sometimes give a great sum to purchase its supposed privileges. Acts 22.28. The psalmist, we may suppose, understood and duly appreciated his civil privileges; but knowing that the church of God is the corporation, whose members are alone in the possession of rights, and in the enjoyment of privileges, which are at once satisfying and enduring; he passes by, {380} and with a holy indifference overlooks all others.—One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, Psalm 27.4.

Let us see what are some of the privileges of the church-member.

  1. He is under special protection. Isa. 4.5.—Psalm 125.2.—1 Tim. 4.10. Zech. 12.8.
  2. He enjoys the communion of saints. Acts 2.42. Psalm 55.14.
  3. He has access to the ordinances of God's appointment. Acts 2.39. Psalm 147.19,20.
  4. He has the advantage of corrective discipline. 1 Cor 5.12.—2 Cor. 10.8; 13.10.—in a word, he has a right to all things tending to enjoyment, Rom. 9.4. 1 Cor. 3.21,22. No wonder the believer exclaims,—O, Zion! all my springs are in thee.

Apply these principles,—each one putting the following questions to himself.

Is it so that all spiritual enjoyments are to be obtained only in Zion? Then has it been my supreme desire to have a name and a place among the children of God? Next to the glorifying of God, which ought to be my chief end; have I connected, or do I desire to connect myself, with the church of Christ that I may have access to the springs of grace and consolation, deposited there for the heirs of promise? Can I say from experience with the psalmist,—Blessed are they that dwell in thy house. Psalm 84.4.

Do I relish the communion of saints, esteeming one day in God's courts better than a thousand? Are my delights with the excellent of the earth? Can I take reproof from brethren not only without resentment; but count it as a precious oil to me,—esteeming open rebuke better than secret love? Notwithstanding contrariety of natural disposition and manifold infirmities in brethren; do I make choice of those who fear God for my companions? Psalm 119.63. He that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him. 1 John 5.1.

Have I been diligent in my inquiries after the scriptural constitution of the church of Christ, in her doctrines, laws, and ordinances; that I may not be of the religious persuasion of my parents, merely because of their instruction or example? Have I been giving attendance to reading {381} and walking with the wise, that my knowledge might be increased? Are the towers, palaces, and bulwarks—the laws, forms, goings out and comings in of Zion familiar to my mind: so that landmarks which the fathers have set may not be removed without my detection, or with my consent? In these perilous times, surely it is my duty to cease to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge;—to beware of leaving the springs of Zion to drink of the waters fouled with the feet of false shepherds. Ezek. 34.18.

Do I look upon the discipline of the church as a privilege? Is it indeed an ordinance of my Lord and Saviour? or do I look upon it as an instrument of revenge? Can I distinguish between the tyrannical and partial acts of men, and the chastisements appointed for every child of the covenant? Ezek. 34.21. 3 John v. 10. Seeing many connect themselves with the visible church of Christ from unhallowed motives, and for worldly ends: have my motives and ends been duly pondered as in the sight of God? Was I influenced in this important act of my life by any consideration of mere worldly or temporal advantage?—That it might contribute to my reputation in the community where my lot was to reside,—that it might obtain for me a passport to the confidence of others, so as thereby to add to my earthly possessions? Did I join the church, as many do, out of compliment to such a minister, to please my neighbors, or to gratify any earthly relation? If so, I may calculate upon making shipwreck of my faith, when any or all of these objects fail of accomplishment. Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die, Prov. 15.10. Nothing can be more grievous to unrenewed nature than correction. Jer. 31.18. Those who have not borne the yoke in their youth: will find the law of God exceedingly galling in advanced life, when youthful lusts are matured, and that folly is bound up in the heart, not removed by timely discipline. Is it so with me?—Then let me resort to the means of divine appointment for such a case—cheerfully bearing the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, that I may be prepared to relish the waters of the sanctuary. And since "the rod and reproof give wisdom,"—discipline being in the divine order intended to make way for the word; let me consider duly whether I have found it so in my own experience, {382} and so can adopt the language and sentiment of the psalmist, saying of Zion—all my springs are in thee!