LORD JESUS, we are gathered in Thy presence, at this time, as Thy believing people, who by Thy Cross are numbered amongst the Glorious Church of Thy Redemption. Make this gathering together, at this time, to be for Thy glory, and make it to be for our profit. Let Thy Holy Spirit guide our thoughts and enable us to sit at Thy feet, whilst the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Jesus, and shows them unto us. Come very near to us, dear Lord Jesus, and let us draw very near to Thee, Make this time and this place a season of refreshment and food to our souls. Show us more of the glories of the Church of the Redeemed. Show us more of the fulness that we possess in Thee. Lift us up, just now, into a higher atmosphere than we generally attain to, and let us catch thoughts, from the Holy Spirit's power, that shall enable us to take up a higher stand before God in Thee.
And now, Lord Jesus, guide and teach, strengthen and feed us for the glory of Thy Blessed Name, Who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I WANT to talk to you about this "Glorious Church" for a little while this afternoon; but before I begin to do so, I should like to make a few remarks on the way in which the word "Church" is used now-a-days.
We are so often met with expressions such as these: "That is not what 'The Church' teaches," or, "We never hear this in 'The Church.' "There are so many ways in which the word "Church" is used now-a-days, that we may well require to be somewhat steadied in our thoughts respecting the use of the word.
I am very sure that those among my hearers who are accustomed to come to our missions, know how thoroughly I believe in the reality of the Visible Church--that I believe that our Lord Jesus Christ organized, by His Apostles, through the power of the Holy Ghost, a Visible Church; and they also know how I believe it to be our duty, and our privilege, as Christians, to belong to this Visible Church.
But what do we mean by the Visible Church? We mean all the baptized who are in the fellowship of the Apostles and who follow the Apostolic worship of "breaking of bread and in prayers;" and who hold the full Apostolic doctrine, as contained in the Creeds. We believe that the Visible Church is the company of men and women, throughout the world, who hold the Creeds of general Christendom, who possess the regular appointed Apostolic ministry, and who also enjoy the privilege of Sacramental worship.
This is the Visible Church; and, from this standpoint, we are obliged to say that our Protestant brethren have separated themselves from the Visible Church.
But when we talk about "The Church "in this sense, is this the "Glorious Church "referred to in our text? Is this Visible Church, which outwardly follows the Apostles' doctrine in the Creeds; which outwardly possesses the Apostles' fellowship in the Apostolic ministry; which enjoys the privilege of Sacramental worship--is this Church the "Glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing?" Why this Church is covered with spots and wrinkles, and plenty of such things!
If we look at the history of the greatest portion of the Visible Church--the Roman Church--we see a shocking picture. We see it split up into different parts, with separate popes at their heads. We see immorality flooding the papal courts and giving the grossest scandal to the name of religion; so that with all the beautiful ceremonies of the Roman Church, and with all her wonderful power and influence, we cannot ascribe to that Church the description of our text: "A Glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." There is no Roman Catholic who would say that all the members of the Roman Catholic Church are in a state of salvation; that they are safe in the Good Shepherd's keeping. No Roman Catholic would make such a statement. The Roman Catholic Church is filled with worldliness and unbelief, and Christians in the Roman Church are the very first to own the truth of this statement.
Here, in London alone, the Christian Roman Catholic can point to particular churches in that Communion, where no Christian can worship with any comfort, because the place is filled with an unconverted congregation and a worldly clergy; though--thanks be to God--on the other hand, they can point to other churches where, owing to the zeal of the clergy in upholding Christ and His teaching, the Gospel message, in its fulness, and the Vicarious Atonement of the God Incarnate, are plainly set forth.
The same with the Church of England. There are churches and churches. You may go to a church of the Church of England where the pure Word of God is simply preached, and souls are being brought to Christ; whereas you may go to another church where Jesus Christ is not preached at all--where, in fact, you will hear a sermon without His Holy Name ever being mentioned!
Neither in the Church of England nor in the Church of Rome, then, is the "Glorious Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing," exclusively to be found.
And are there any of our brethren of the Protestant Church who would declare that their sect or their Church, is this "Glorious Church" referred to? I am sure they would not. Imagine a faithful evangelical dissenting minister telling his congregation: "Our sect is the 'Glorious Church' referred to! We, and we alone, are the 'Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing!'"
No, you will not find any part of the Visible Church, or any single body outside the Visible Church, laying claim to the title in our text.
I am sure, therefore, that you will not think, when you hear what I have now to say about "The Glorious Church," that I am unfaithful to the Church of England because I do not grant that the Church of England is the Church referred to; that I am not faithful to the idea of the Visible Church because I say that no Visible Church comes up to the picture which the Holy Ghost has pourtrayed in the text; that I see no use in Sacraments and Apostolic Worship, because I say that members of Churches which possess all these may not form part of this "Glorious Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing."
Is there such a Church? Is there a Church which is blameless in God's sight? Is there a Church which is white and spotless before the eye of God?
Is there a Church which is the very Temple of the Holy Ghost? Is there a Church of which not one single member can ever fail of being presented before God in Christ? Is there a Church "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing? "Is there such a Church? My dear Christian brothers and sisters, do you believe that there is on earth now, at this present time, a Church of which it can be said: "Jesus Christ will confirm It unto the end, that It may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ? "
St. Peter, in his 1st Epistle, chapter ii. and 5th verse, addresses certain persons whom he calls "elect" and "saints," and he says to them: "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house." And he goes on, afterwards, in the 9th verse, to tell them that they are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people."
Here, then, we have the idea of the building of the Glorious Church. "Ye are built up a spiritual house," "Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone."
Then our Lord Himself speaks of being the "Architect." He says: "Upon this Rock I will build My Church." He will build Her on the Rock which Peter confessed Jesus Himself to be. He will build His Church Himself; and no one but Himself shall build Her. She is to be built of lively, that is living, stones, "a Spiritual House;" and these are to be a Chosen Generation, a Royal Priesthood, a Peculiar People, a Holy Nation.
We are told, also, that "they come behind in no gift; "that "they shall be confirmed unto the end, that they may be blameless; "and in our text they are called "A Glorious Church," whom He will "present" to Himself, "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing."
It seems to me, therefore, from these texts of Scripture, that it is very plain that there is an Invisible Church; that there is a Church which is visible and known only to God Himself; that there is a Church which is united to, and one with, Jesus; and that He is the Head of the Body, over all those who form part of this Church. These living members make up a living Body. If one of these members were missing the Body would be a deformed Body; therefore this Body is a living Body of which Christ is the Life, the Head, the Righteousness, the Salvation, the Treasure, the Beginning, the End, the All in All; and what He is to the whole of them corporately, He is precisely and entirely the same to each one of the living stones individually. All and each of the living stones that make up this Living Body are stones which His own Hand, His own Power, have taken out of the world, and chosen out of the world, and united to Himself, and made partakers of His own nature, and clothed in His own Righteousness; which He holds by His own Power, so that they are "kept by the power of God."
This is the "GLORIOUS CHURCH!" This is the Church without spot or wrinkle. The Blood of Jesus has cleansed, and cleanses, each member of Her, from all sin. She is without blemish, for Christ is Her perfection; and God only sees this Church in Christ, because He Himself hath made each member accepted in the Beloved.
And this Church is "Glorious," for Her Righteousness is a "righteousness which is of God by faith." Therefore this Church is growing up to a perfect Body in the Lord. The Lord is only waiting for the last members of this "Glorious Church "to be ingathered, and then He will come and catch up His Church, "to meet Him in the air;" and so they shall "ever be with the Lord," as the Apostle Paul tells us in the Thessalonians.
And this is the "Glorious Church" of which we long to help our hearers to be members, and for them to be confirmed in the knowledge that they are members of Her in very deed.
Is there any difficulty in ascertaining whether I am a member of this Church--whether you are? You may ask how you can tell, for certain, whether you are a member of this Church. You can tell as certainly as the Word of God is certain, because the Word of God tells us precisely who make up this Church, what Her members are like, and in what their beauty and their family likeness consist.
In this Book (the Bible) is given us a photograph, made by the Holy Ghost, of what this Church is; and by this means we are able to ascertain whether we see in ourselves the portraits which the Holy Ghost has here given of the members of this "Glorious Church."
The very first outline of this Glorious Church is that She is a company of lost sinners! No one can become, and no one will wish to become, a member of this Church, until he has found out that he is a sinner.
I am afraid our own beloved Church of England is to a great extent made up of people who have never yet been under conviction of sin at all. I am afraid that the altars of our Church are thronged with communicants who have never yet been brought, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to know their lost state before God. I am afraid there are numbers of regular communicants who have never yet gone before God in the dust, humbling themselves, under a sense of guilt, before Him, and realising that they deserve nothing but an everlasting hell; because it is only the Holy Ghost Who produces this conviction of sin. No one can know that he is a lost sinner, and can realise the exceeding depravity of his human nature, unless he be taught by the Holy Spirit. Therefore this "Glorious Church" cannot take within Her pale one single human being who has not been brought under conviction of sin.
Have you been brought under conviction of sin, beloved brother and sister? Have you ever been brought, by the Holy Ghost, to realise your lost condition, in the sight of God, and your absolute need of Jesus? If you have not, the sooner you seek this realisation, and this teaching of the Holy Spirit, the better, because you cannot become a member of this Glorious Church on any other plea than that you are a lost sinner, and cannot do without Jesus.
This is the first, the very first, outline of the portraiture of "The Glorious Church." It is a solemn thought for each one of us to take home to our hearts, that we must weep our way to the feet of The Good Shepherd, Who "receiveth sinners and eateth with them."
I cannot do without Thee, Jesus; and as I feel my need of Thee, it is a very sure sign that Thou art "waiting to be gracious "and waiting to call me and receive me. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." "I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst."
If you come hungering for pardon of sin; hungering for a robe of righteousness; hungering for everlasting life; hungering for a conscience at peace towards God; hungering for a certain knowledge of salvation; hungering for "the rest that remaineth for the people of God;" hungering to be partakers of "the peace of God which passeth all understanding;" if you come like this to Jesus, He will receive you; He will not cast you out. He will not go from His Word: "I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out."
Did He cast you out, dear brother or sister now living and resting in Christ? Of course He did not. Your faith took hold of His promise: "I will in no wise cast you out; "and then, when you realised, by faith in His Word, and by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, that He had received you, you looked up in His face, and you heard Him ask: "What would you that I should do for you? "And you told Him all your needs.
And He loves to hear you tell Him of your needs, because He loves to hear the bleatings of His sheep in their distress. Yes, the sheep bleat forth their cry of sorrow, of sin and of restlessness: and the Good Shepherd opens up the treasures of His love, and the unsearchable riches of His grace, while He says: "These are all for you. They are the Gift of God--not the wages of aught you have done." "The gift of God is Eternal Life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
And then, when you realised, from God's own certain Word, and the teaching of the Holy Ghost, that all that Jesus had promised, all that Jesus had done, was for you, you were satisfied; then you were able to say: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." You knew then that you were among the number of the Glorious Church,
The Blood of Jesus Christ His Son has cleansed you from all sin. From what sin? From all sin. All! What does all mean? It means that every single stain has gone. It means that He washed me, and that I am before God "whiter than snow." Therefore I, whom the Father has accepted in the Beloved, am a member of the "Glorious Church."
I might go on to many other outlines of the likeness of the "Glorious Church," and then I might ask again: "Do you, brother, or do you, sister, see this outline in your own case"?
If you do, with the Word of God in your hearts, and the portrait of the Glorious Church plainly drawn before you, you would be able to say: "Thanks be to God, it is just what He has done for me, so that as the Glorious Church is in Jesus, I, individually, am in Him."
Then, if you have received this cleansing pardon of Jesus, you have taken hold of the "Urim and Thummim" of the Great High Priest; if His "Lights" and "Perfections" be on you, and the Spirit of Christ rest on you, you are a member of that Glorious Church which He will present to the Father without spot or blemish.
My beloved brethren, do not Catholics need to make their calling in this Church sure, and do not Protestants need to make their calling sure also? Would not it be a glorious thing if we would make "the belonging to the Spirit of the Church," our first consideration? I am using now the expression used to me by a Roman Catholic clergyman in France; but he was a Christian first and a Catholic afterwards. He put his "Popery," as we caH it, in the background, and he put Christ in the foreground; and that is what all who belong to the Glorious Church will be willing to do--to put their Sectarianism in the background, that Jesus may be put in the foreground. Well, this Christian Roman Catholic said to me: "I have seen numbers of Protestants in England who indeed belong to 'the Spirit of the Church,' by their faith in Jesus Christ, although they do not belong to, what we call, 'the outward body;' whereas how many belong to our outward body of the Church in France, who do not belong to the 'Spirit of the Church!'" Those were the words of a Christian Roman Catholic. He expressed exactly what I want you to understand--that it is very necessary, and very right, and a great privilege to belong to the Visible Church, but that it is a very small privilege to belong to Her unless we belong as members of Christ, in the first instance.
Unless I have made "my calling and election sure," my outward membership will profit me very little, in that day when the Company of the Nations will be divided into two classes, those who are out of Christ, and those who are in Christ--"A Glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing."
I want our dear Church of England to have among Her members many of these glorious men and women.
I have to suffer, not a little, because I put Christ first and Church second. People so misunderstand me and say that I do not respect the Church as I ought. "The Church! "People who talk like that are so very odd. They talk about "The Church "says this, and "The Church "says that, but they do not mean the Church of Christ, the "Glorious Church;" they mean the teachers of, and in, their respective Churches. Dear brethren, the clergy are merely the teaching part of the Church, they are not "The Church." I think it is a very great mistake using words so abruptly and glibly, without really realising what we mean by them.
So many, when they say "The Church," mean the clergy only; and fathers and mothers very ignorantly talk in this way: "Oh! our son is soon going into the Church; "whereas the clergy are a very small part of the Church. The clergy are the teachers appointed for the Church by the Church. I have very often seen members of the dissenting Churches, from whom I could learn fifty times more of the Lord Jesus than I could from our rationalistic Broad Church party; and yet these latter hold their livings, and put their surplices on every Sunday morning, with the bishops' licenses!
And now, may I in conclusion ask: Do you, and do I, really and truly, in the sight of God, at this moment, belong to this "Glorious Church"? Have I taken my place in that Spiritual Building of which Jesus Christ is the Architect, and Who picks out each individual stone? Has Jesus ever taken, and placed me among the number of those who are able to say: "I know Him Whom I have believed? "Can you, at this moment, as you sit there, say: "I know that I have Eternal Life," and "This Life is in God's Son? "Can you, as you sit there, look up in His Face and say: "I am satisfied with Jesus--Jesus has supplied all my needs; Jesus is to me the 'unsearchable riches 'of Heaven; I am satisfied with Christ? "Can you say you 'have taken your place among the number of the people of whom Jeremiah speaks, when he says: "My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, saith the Lord? "
If, dear people, this be your religion, I am sure you are a happy people, and a contented people, for you do not want anything. Jesus Christ is the Fulness of God's beautiful grace and love and power and life, and all that He is, is yours; and "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
But if you do not belong to this Church--if this be not your religion--you may go on with your outward ritualism, either Catholic or Protestant--but your religion will not be a religion that will satisfy you when you come to die.
Beloved brethren, Jesus says: "In Me "you may have peace. If there be one here who has never personally been to Jesus, and tasted Him in His fulness, and trusted Him in His promises; if there be one who has never yet felt his need of Him--who is trying to save himself, but is not certain of his salvation--remember that he will come to the Judgment Seat, at the last day, when he must be certain. God's promises are so simple and plain; God's Word is so easy that a little child can become converted. I say, will you go on any longer in uncertainty? Shall you be content with the Name of Christ, when you might have also the enjoyment, and the reality, and the life, and the righteousness, and the peace, and the rest of the people of God?
Will any of you go away and say: "Father Ignatius preaches such dangerous doctrines; he makes people so 'pharisaical' and 'self-righteous;' he has been telling them that they are a 'glorious' people without 'spot or wrinkle 'in them, and he sends them out a self-satisfied set of Pharisees? "
My brothers, and sisters, people who talk like that do not understand anything about the matter. A Pharisee is a person who is trusting to himself to save himself, whereas this "Glorious Church "is made up of poor sinners who have felt their lost estate, have realised their nothingness, and their exceeding sinfulness. All their glory, and all their beauty, and all they possess of good is of Christ, and in Him. "Not of works, lest any man should boast."
The true believing children of God are the last to be accused of self-righteousness, for they are the first to own that their own "righteousnesses are as filthy rags; "and that is why they come to lay hold of "the righteousness, which is of God by faith."
We must bear the misunderstandings of the mere professors. It cannot be helped. The world never did understand the true believer, and the world never will; but look up in your Lord's face and say: "Thou understandest."
Oh, there is a sweet, mutual understanding between Jesus and His "Glorious Church!"