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The Church.....as it was, as it is, as it ought to be.
124, Washington Street.
MATTHEW xvi. 18.
ON THIS ROCK WILL I BUILD MY CHURCH.
It has lately been remarked by a continental writer, that the great Theological Question of the present century will be the Church Question. “For," says he, “it is the only one which remains. The first three centuries were occupied with questions of Theology proper ; that is, concerning God-his nature, attributes, character-the Trinity, the Incarnation. The succeeding centuries were occupied in discussing the question of Anthropology; that is, concerning Man—his condition, sinfulness, weakness, limitations, and needs. With the Reformation came the question of Soterology; that is, concerning justification, regencration, salvation. Now,” says he, 6 there remains but this question of Ecclesiology; that is, concerning the Church-its idea, methods, and organization.”
Whether this mode of proof be convincing or otherwise, the fact I believe to be certain. The CHRISTIAN
CHURCH—as it was—as it is—as it ought to be ;—this subject becomes more and more interesting every year. The tendency of the age draws our minds toward it; for in all things the present century tends toward union, harmony, synthesis, as plainly as the last century tended to division, individualism, analysis. We see this in the material world, in those inventions which make the inhabitants of the Atlantic coast a neighbor to the dweller on the Andes. We notice it in science, in the universal disposition to look at the analogies and harmonies of the Universe, and to trace one Plan running through the thousandfold varieties of Nature. In industrial life we seek for Combined Labor, where formerly Division of Labor was the watchword. So in religion, the Church Question ; that is, the question of Christian Union and Coöperation is beginning to have an especial interest. Men are growing weary of an excessive Individualism. They feel the loneliness of a merely independent thought and action. They say with the Poet,
“ Me this unchartered freedom tires."
They feel also the need of sympathy and support under the responsibilities of life. So some would turn back to a Mother Church, and sit at her feet, and rest their overstrained conscience by accepting duties from her hands, instead of seeking them for themselves. They find a pleasure in limits instead of liberty. Others, again, taking up this Church Question, on the
other side, seeking a larger union than that of any existing denomination, would make a new Church out of the whole Human Race. All Christian Churches which exist are so inadequate, that they will not allow that they are even steps, by which to reach a better, but regard them rather as impediments and stumbling blocks, to be removed as soon as possible.
Let us also look at this question. First, Historically; then, Critically; then, Prospectively.
Jesus is reported to have referred to a Church, by name, only on two occasions - once when speaking of difficulties between brethren, when he says, “ Tell it to the Church”; and again in our text. Here he places the Confession of Peter — the deep conviction which Peter had and uttered, that his Master was God's Christ ; he places this as the solid foundation on which his Church should rest. He therefore believed that his disciples were about to constitute an Association - a united body, whose principle of union would be faith in him; and his prophetic mind looked down the far distances of the future, and saw this Association deepening its roots and spreading abroad its branches until the birds of the air — the wandering and homeless spirits — should find a home in it.
Instead of asking whether Jesus founded a Church, ask whether he did not evidently foresee that his disciples would unite together in an Association, the object of which should be to spread his gospel from