The Importance of Joining a Church
DEAR BRETHREN: - You will permit us in our yearly Epistle to present to you some of the leading motives which should govern us in making and sustaining a public profession of religion. A Christian should go into the Church to obey God. Obedience is the fruit of grace - the only acceptable expression of our fidelity to our Maker. There may be partial obedience performed by one who remains out of the pale of the visible Church; but such obedience is the result of secret friendship, rather than the fruit of open-hearted love. How much more honorable, as the disciples of Jesus, did Joseph of Arimathea mid Nicodemus appear, when they went in openly to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus, than when they only manifested a secret attachment to his person and cause, that was half smothered with fear. We ought to be guarded and not express more love than we feel, but it is ungrateful to confer with the flesh, cringe to the Tempter, and thro' fear of the World, withhold an open and public acknowledgment of our love and fidelity to Him who has done so much for us. There is no way in which our love to Christ is so well expressed as by obedience. "Behold to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of Rams." Would we covet, as well as cultivate, the most valuable gifts, the spirit of obedience is the best. It is the spirit of adoption - the spirit of Jesus - and such as possess it have the testimony of Christ himself that they are his disciples. "Then are ye my disciples, if ye do whatsoever I command you." Our knowledge of the glorious things of the kingdom of Christ is proportioned to our obedience. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." But the spirit of disobedience makes the mind cloudy and dark and leaves the soul comfortless and desolate. The spirit of obedience naturally induces us to turn our backs upon a
disobedient World and set our faces towards the Church, that delightful company of saints, who make it the business of their lives, to fear God and keep his commandments.
Another important object to be secured by uniting with the Church, is separation from the world. If our Christian experience is genuine, we are already separated from sinners in our views, feelings, interests and pursuits, and the glory of God and the welfare of the world requires that this change should be manifested by a public, solemn, consecration of ourselves to the service of God. It is also natural we should seek the society of those whose feelings and sentiments harmonize with our own. So it was with the primitive Christians - "being let go they went unto their own company." It makes the right kind of impression upon the minds of the unconverted, when those who are called to the fellowship of Jesus Christ, act promptly in this matter. God says to such, "Come out from, among them and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." When Abraham, the father of the faithful, was called to leave his country and kindred, that he might walk with God, be obeyed at once, and his readiness to forsake all that flesh holds dear, in order that he might obey the heavenly commandment, appears to have been blest to the conversion of his Father Terah, his nephew Lot, and his beloved Sarah: and those who, in this particular, walk in the steps of their Father Abraham, like him are blest and made a blessing to others. We should never delay making a profession of religion for the purpose of waiting for our friends to go with us; for by such a course of human policy we are in danger of hindering those we intend to benefit. The best way in which we can help them and be safe ourselves, is to act on the plan of the Saviour - forsake all and follow Him. We should neither stay with sinners in the world, nor bring them with us into the Church - "Be ye not partakers with them." The act of an individual in uniting with the Church, is represented in the Scriptures by the figure of marriage, which clearly shows that a separation from the world is intended. "Like as a young man marrieth a virgin so shall thy sons marry thee." In this case the union should be hearty as well as exclusive and perpetual.
Another thing, to be regarded, in uniting with a Church of Christ, is usefulness. We are not to go on board of Zion's ship as mere passengers, but are to regard her interests and devote our whole influence to promote her prosperity. Besides, it is a great mistake to suppose a Christian can do as much good out of the Church as in it. "Two are better than one, for if the one fall his brother will help him up." If I am to devote myself to the interests of a family, by day and by night, and under all circumstances, should I not act most effectively by taking up my abode with that family? In that case I should be on the ground to see what was needed, that my help might be seasonable, and that I might sympathise with them in their afflictions. The increase of the Church, by the conversion of sinners, is an important item as connected with her prosperity, and united prayer and joint effort, on the part of Christians, are essential to its accomplishment. - We must agree, as touching the things that we ask, and strive together for the faith of the gospel, if we would benefit mankind extensively, and glorify God in the world. We are continually doing good or evil whether we are in the Church or out of it; and one important object, to be effected in the salvation of God's people is to stop them from doing mischief, and make them a blessing to each other and to the world. If we are Christians, we have been called out of darkness into God's marvellous light, and our great business henceforward is to shine. Jesus does not light candles for their own sake merely, much less to have them put under a bed, or bushel, but on a candlestick that all who enter in may see the light. And how, we ask, are Christians to shine, but by exhibiting the spirit of Christ, and abounding in good works? How much the church is hindered in her onward course, and how many dark clouds brood over her on account of the indolence of her members, it is impossible to calculate. The man, however, who labors in the church, for the promotion of the cause of Christ, may be assured that his labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. It is God who blesses him with a disposition
to work. It it God who gives him strength to work. It it God who works with him when he works, and by his blessing the increase shall be given. Therefore let the individual who knocks at Zion's gates for admission, or who has a residence there, remember that the peculiarity which distinguishes God's people from the world is, that they are zealous of good works.
In the next place, our personal improvement is to be taken into the account; for while we labor for the benefit of others we secure a blessing to ourselves - "A merciful man doeth good to his own soul." To give our individual interest its proper place, is not selfishness, but a duty. We are so very deficient in every thing, that we not only need to be diligent ourselves in seeking our spiritual prosperity, but we need the help of the whole church, together with all the means God has provided for our growth in grace. It is therefore one of the devices of Satan, to make Christians believe that they can prosper as well out of the church as in it. As well might we expect that a tender lamb, that needs to be nursed by its mother, would be as safe and healthful while running in the street with the dogs, as if it had its place in the fold and with the flock. In the church, it is made the special duty of the strong to bare [bear] the infirmities of the weak, and not to please themselves; and of the whole, that by love they should serve one another. We need the counsel, the encouragement, the prayers, and the watch-care of the Church, as well as the benefit of her ordinances; for God has promised that he "will abundantly bless her provision, and satisfy her poor with bread." Christians who remain out of the Church, generally become weaker and weaker until their hearts are faint. But in Zion "they go from strength to strength." God having designated the Church as his house, the residence of his children, as well as the place of his own special abode, it becomes all who love his excellent name to feel and resolve with the Psalmist - "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, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple."
Christians should make a public profession of religion, and unite with the visible church of Christ, in order that they may receive their portion of the reproaches of Christ. Who does not admire that noble spirit possessed by Moses, of whom it is said that he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure in Egypt. It is an unworthy spirit that would stay out of the Church to avoid trouble. It would be just as commendable, for a man to desert his wife and children, because they were sick. It is said of the stony ground hearers, that "immediately when tribulation or persecuation ariseth for the word's sake they are offended," and it becomes such as would refrain from uniting with the church, in order to avoid the afflictions and reproaches that would result from such a course, to mark well the resemblance between the two cases. They would do well also to examine the terms of disciplesbip - "if any man come unto me and forsake not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." If the profession of our faith, in Christ, cost us nothing, we should have no sufficient means for testing the sincerity of our love. But now in proportion as we exercise ourselves unto godliness, and imitate our glorious pattern, we subject ourselves to reproaches for his sake, and if we possess his spirit we shall glory in the sacrifice. The church of Christ has suffered much deserved reproach, and still does, on the ground of her own faults; but we desire and pray that the scene may be speedily changed - that this reproach, God, by his grace, will wipe away, and make his people a praise in the earth.
Finally; we should go into the church for the purpose of making it the business of our lives to imitate the Lord Jesus Christ. In doing which, it becomes us to study his example till we understand it in all its particulars, and in the extent of each particular, and until we feel its binding obligation upon us in all that we do; that we are never to depart from it in any instance without incurring guilt; but should "walk as he walked" all the way from the pit to the throne; and while we are humbled in view of the fact that we come far short of our duty in all things, we should, like the Apostle, "press toward the mark," and never rest satisfied till we "win Christ and are found in him;" that being conformed to his own blessed image, we may "be satisfied when we awake in his likeness."
[From Miami Baptist Association Minutes 1809. Document from the Miami Baptist Association Office, Cincinnati. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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