Tuesday, April 27

The True Church - J. C. Ryle, Part 1

Don't overlook the Church. It may seem obvious what it is, but nothing is obvious any more. Or, at least, we should not think it is if for no other reason than it will help us to study honestly. Please do that with this post on the nature of the Church from an old and well-seasoned veteran, J. C. Ryle. I present this in two parts, today and tomorrow. Ryle writes:

"I want you to belong to the one true Church: to the Church outside of which there is no salvation. I do not ask where you go on a Sunday; I only ask, “Do you belong to the one true Church?” Where is this one true Church? What is this one true Church like? What are the marks by which this one true Church may be known? You may well ask such questions. Give me your attention, and I will provide you with some answers.

The one true Church is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus. It is made up of all God’s elect of all converted men and women of all true Christians. In whomsoever we can discern the election of God the Father, the sprinkling of the blood of God the Son, the sanctifying work of God the Spirit, in that person we see a member of Christ’s true Church.

It is a Church of which all the members have the same marks. They are all born again of the Spirit; they all possess “repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” and holiness of life and conversation. They all hate sin, and they all love Christ. They worship differently, and after various fashions; some worship with a form of prayer, and some with none; some worship kneeling, and some standing; but they all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit; they all build upon one foundation; they all draw their religion from one single book, that is the Bible. They are all joined to one great center, that is Jesus Christ. They all even now can say with one heart, “Hallelujah”; and they can all respond with one heart and voice, “Amen and Amen.”

It is a Church which is dependent upon no ministers upon earth, however much it values those who preach the gospel to its members. The life of its members does not hang upon church membership or baptism or the Lord’s Supper, though they highly value these things, when they are to be had. But it has only one Great Head, one Shepherd, one chief Bishop and that is Jesus Christ. He alone, by His Spirit, admits the members of this Church, though ministers may show the door. Till He opens the door no man on earth can open it, . . . Once let a man repent and believe the gospel, and that moment he becomes a member of this Church. Like the penitent thief, he may have no opportunity of being baptized; but he has that which is far better than any water-baptism, the baptism of the Spirit. He may not be able to receive the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; but he eats Christ’s body and drinks Christ’s blood by faith every day he lives, and no minister on earth can prevent him. . . .

It is a Church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates or any act of favor whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. It has often been driven into the wilderness, or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. Its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and His Spirit; and they being ever with it, the Church cannot die.

This is the Church to which the scriptural titles of present honor and privilege, and the promises of future glory especially belong; this is the Body of Christ; this is the flock of Christ; this is the household of faith and the family of God; this is God’s building, God’s foundation and the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven; this is the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the purchased possession, the habitation of God, the light of the world, the salt and the wheat of the earth; this is the “holy catholic Church” of the Apostles’ Creed; this is the “One catholic and apostolic Church” of Nicene Creed; this is that Church to which the Lord
Jesus promises “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and to which He says, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”-(Matthew 16:18; 28:20)."

This is the only Church which possesses true unity. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are all taught by one Spirit. About God and Christ and the Spirit and sin and their own hearts and faith and repentance and necessity of holiness and the value of the Bible and the importance of prayer and the resurrection and judgment to come, about all these points they are of one mind. . . .

Tomorrow, Part 2 . . .

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