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A CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS A VOLUNTARY
ASSOCIATION OF BELIEVERS. One of the leading principles of the congregational system is, that every church is a voluntary association of believers. In this we agree with many other bodies of christians, and are opposed only to those who are the supporters of civil establishments of religion.
The sources from which this principle is derived are the practice and writings of the apostles, the genius of christianity, the adaptation of the principle to the extension and conservation of the truth, and the early practice of the first christians. The great founder of our religion declares, “ My kingdom is not of this world.” In his life he exhibited and enforced the principles, in his death he laid the foundations, in his ascension he assumed the sceptre, of this spiritual kingdom, which is one of “ righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” It was the divine purpose, as we gather from the Old and New Testaments, to collect a body of men from the world at large, whose principles, profession, and conduct, should be different from those of other men.
The name by which they were in all times to be distinguished are such as to admit of no doubt respecting their character. They are termed • disciples,' 'servants, children,' friends, elect,' saints, holy and beloved'-names wholly inappropriate when applied to all men indiscriminately. This sameness of character was to be the basis of a holy fraternization. Hence the uniform language of the apostles when addressing the churches established by their labours. “Such were some of you ; but ye are washed, ye are sanctified,” &c. “ You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and in sins." “ You who were enemies, and alienated in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.” Hence also the language of the Redeemer to the seven churches of Asia Minor. They were addressed on the understanding that they had at first embraced and maintained the pure principles of religion, but had afterwards relapsed more or less into their former worldliness. The grounds of union amongst christians are distinctly laid down by the apostle in the following words :-"For
there is one body, one faith, one Lord,” &c. Feeling alike on all these points, christians in the apostolic age united voluntarily -they met together “ with one accord.” The attraction and the cohesion of the entire body was spontaneity. Unity of sentiment was the basis of their social intercourse. In some cases a false profession gained admission to hypocrites and dissemblers, but this was no reason for compelling such to join them. All societies are liable to be imposed upon in a similar way; but instead of being a reason for opening the door so wide that all parties may enter, it is one for closing it altogether with a firm hand, until the character of the candidate has undergone a thorough examination and endured the test. This was the principle on which the primitive Christians entered into church fellowship, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the principle on which our congregational churches are formed
None are compelled to join our number—none are persuaded to join our number, but such as afford unequivocal evidence that they sympathize with us in the faith and hope of their calling. The association is a voluntary one, both on the part of those who are admitted and those who admit. There is room for deception with us, as there was in the primitive churches. But instead of making this a ground for less strictness in the admission of members, it is a ground for more; and when cases of deceit are made palpable by a corrupt practice, the apostolic injunction is obeyed : we separate ourselves from such, or (which is the same thing) exclude them from our society by a general vote.
These remarks will afford a ready answer to the question, " Why do we dissent from the Church of England ?” However varied in its practical exhibition may be the principle of a civil establishment of religion, it is essentially at variance with ours. With the supporters of establishments, spontaneity, if it exist at all, is only an accident: with us, it is the source of vitality. An established religion is a religion of the state : ours is the religion of faith and feeling. The former, even when true as to the doctrines which it involves, makes slaves of servants, and compels its adherents to be friends. The latter, by leaving it to every man's free choice, does all that may be done in such a world as ours towards gathering together such, and such only, as are worthy of christian fellowship. An established religion
VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATION OF BELIEVERS.
is, in fact, an anomaly, and its very name a solecism. For religion is on the part of man the fulfilment of a relation existing between himself and God. The essence of religion is therefore the unbought, unbidden, voluntary homage of the soul to the precepts, promises, and discoveries which such a religion involves. “ God is a Spirit, and they who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
MORNING AND AFTERNOON LESSONS FOR EVERY
SUNDAY IN THE MONTH.
Morning Reading, 2 Sam. xii. 1—23.
Morning Lesson, Matt. xi. 25–27.
NOTES ON THE LESSON.
VERSE 25. What was the feeling of Christ when he uttered these words ? Luke x. 21. What “time" is referred to ? Luke x. 17— 20. How is God “ Lord of heaven and earth ?” Gen. i. 1, 2; Gen. xiv. 19. What is meant by “these things ?” The truths of the kingdom of heaven. Could not the “wise and prudent' discover these truths for themselves ? Matt. xvi. 17. Who are meant by " babes ?” The ignorant and poor.
What instances have we of their being revealed to babes ? Mark iv. 10, 11. Matt. iv. 18—22. Why were they revealed first to these ? 1 Cor. i. 25, 29. Ps. viii. 2.- VERSE 26. What did Christ mean by these words ? That he approved of the will of his Father, in revealing his mercy first to the poor and ignorant.--VERSE 27. What things had God delivered to his Son ? John v. 20—27. What is meant by man knoweth the Son ?" No man can fully understand his nature, how he is God manifest in the flesh, &c. Do any naturally understand the things of God ? Ps. xiv. ii. 3. What is meant by knowing the Father ? Having a just view of his character as infinitely holy, wise, powerful, good, &c., and a feeling of love to him. Can any one reveal his character besides Christ? John i. 18; xiv. 6; 2 Cor. iv. 6.
IMPROVEMENT. Dwell on the natural ignorance of man respecting divine things—the condescension of Christ in sending his gospel first to the poor--and the importance of receiving gladly what Christ has revealed.
Afternoon Reading, Gen. xxii. 1-19. Afternoon Lesson, Matt. xi. 28-30.
NOTES ON THE LESSON. VERSE 28. Who are the weary aud heavy laden ? Sinners who feel the sadness and heaviness of spirit arising from guilt. What does Christ mean by saying, “Come unto me?" Believe that I am, as I am represented, the Saviour of the world : believe the testimony of my Father respecting me. What is the rest promised ? Rest from the guilt of sin, from the fears of despair, from hell itself. Jer. vi. 16. What will exclude men from this rest ? Unbelief. Heb. iv. 11; iii. 19. Will any who come to Christ be rejected ? John vi. 37.–VERSE 29. What is meant by the expression “take my yoke upon you ?” Obey my precepts, be guided by my rules. Refer also to Lam. iii. 27; Acts xv. 10; Gal. v. l; 1 Tim. vi. 1. How did Christ show his meekness ? 1 Peter ii, 21, 23. Why did Christ say, rest unto your souls ?" To show that it was not rest of body; and that he did not promise idleness or sloth to his disciples.-VERSE 30. Is not self-denial connected with religion ? Yes. Matt. xvi. 24. How then is its yoke easy ? Its pleasures are greater than its trials, and obedience becomes easy in proportion as it is persevered in. Prov. ii. 17, 18.
IMPROVEMENT. Dwell upon, 1, the willingness of Christ to receive sinners ; 2, the fulness of joy which all who serve Christ will experience; 3, the pleasures connected with religion even in this world.
NOVEMBER 19. Morning Reading, 2 Sam. xiv. 1—24. Morning Lesson, Matt. xii. 1—8.
NOTES ON THE LESSON.
VERSE, 1. What Sabbath was this ? Luke vi. 1. Was it not sin. ful in the disciples “ to pluck the ears of corn,” since they were the property of others ? No. Deut. xxiii. 25.–Verse 2. Have we any instance of any one being punished for breaking the Sabbath? Num. xv. 32, 36.--Verse 3. Where was David at the time referred to ? 1 Sam. xxi. 1.-Verse 4. What directions were there con. cerning the shew-bread ? Ex. xxv. 30 ; xxix. 32, 33. Lev. vü. 31 ; xxiv. 549. Where is this act of David's mentioned ? I Sam. xxi. 3, 6. Mark ü. 25, 26. Luke vi. 3, 4.-Verse 5. What duties had the priests to perform on the Sabbath ? Lev. xxiv. 8. Num. xxviii. 9, 10. 1 Chron. ix. 32. Why did Christ bring forward these cases ? To show that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath.–Verse 6. Where else is it said that Christ should be greater than the temple ? Hag. ii. 9.—VERSE 7. Did Christ ever quote this passage before? Matt. ix, 13. Whence is this passage quoted ? Mic. vi. 6, 8. Hos. vi. 6.-Verse 8. How was Christ Lord of the Sabbath ? He, as the author of the Sabbath, had a right to act on it as he pleased, and to change it, as he afterwards did at his resurrection.
Improvement. Dwell on the duty of spending the sabbath, not as the Pharisees did, in outward acts of devotion merely, but also in devout meditation and prayer.
Afternoon Reading, Gen. xxiii. Afternoon Lesson, Matt. xii. 9—13.
NOTES ON THE LESSON. Verse 9. Was this the same Sabbath as that on which he plucked the ears of corn ? No. Luke vi. 6.-Verse 10. Is this miracle related by any of the other evangelists ? Mark iii. 1-3. Luke vi. 6-10. Do we read of any one who was punished with a withered hand ? 1 Kings xiii. 4–6. Do you recollect any other instance of their accusing Christ in this manner? Luke xx. 22, 23. Did Christ ever ask them this question ? Luke xiv. 3.–Verse 11. Did Christ at any other time adopt this mode of reasoning ? Luke xiv. 5. Was kindness to animals inculcated by the Jewish law Ex, xxiii. 4, 5.–Verse 12. What was Christ's reasoning? If, as the Pharisees affirmed, it was lawful to benefit a mere animal on the Sabbath, was it not lawful to benefit man, who is of so much higher value ?-Verse 13. With what feelings did Christ utter these words ? Anger and grief. Mark iii. 5. Did Christ heal any others on the Sabbath day ? Luke xiii. 10-13. John v. 5-9; ix. 13, 14. If the hand was withered, how could it be stretched forth? Such power accompanied the words of the Redeemer that it was not only healed, but could be stretched forth even as the other.
IMPROVEMENT. Show how Christ is our pattern in benevolence, how the Sabbath is to be employed in doing as well as getting good-how Christ is able to heal our spiritual diseases.
Morning Lesson, Matt xii. 14–21.
NOTES ON THE LESSON. Verse 14. Did any agree with the Pharisees in their designs ? Mark iii. 6. What other instances have we of their desire to destroy Jesus? John v. 18; x. 39; xi. 53.—Verse 15. Where did Christ go to? Mark iii. 7. From what parts did the multitude come ? Mark üïi. 7, 8–Verse 16. Why did Christ give them this charge ? Because he wished to shun applause and to keep himself hid from those who hated him until “ the hour” should come.-Verse 17. Who was Esaias? Isa. i. 1.-Verse 18. Where is this prophecy?