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The Scripture represents the visible church of Christ, as a society having its several members united by the bond of christian brotherly love.
Besides that general benevolence or charity which the saints have to mankind, and which they exercise towards both the evil and the good in common, there is a peculiar and very distinguishing kind of affection, that every true Christian experiences towards those whom he looks upon as truly gracious persons. The soul, at least at times, is very sensible and sweetly knit to such persons, and there is an ineffable oneness of heart with them; whereby, to use the scripture phrase, (Acts iv. 32.) “They are of one heart and one soul:” which holy affection is exercised towards others on account of the spiritual image of God in them, their supposed relation to God as his children, and to Christ as his members, and to them as their spiritual brethren in Christ. This sacred affection is a very good and distinguishing note of true grace, much spoken of as such in Scripture, under the name of NOT ENGLISH the love of the brethren, or brotherly love; and is called by Christ, “the receiving a righteous man in the name of a righteous man; and receiving one of Christ’s little ones in the name of a disciple, or because he belongs to Christ;” (Matt. x. 41, 42.. Mark ix. 41..) and a “loving one another as Christ has loved them;” (John xiii. 34; xv. 13-15..) having a peculiar image of that oneness which is between Christ himself and his saints. Compare John xvii. 20, to the end..
This love the apostles are often directing Christians to exercise towards fellow-members of the visible church; as in Rom. xii. 10.. “Be ye kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.” The words are much more emphatical in the original, and represent in a more lively manner, that peculiar endearment there is between gracious persons, or those that look on one another as such; NOT ENGLISH NOT ENGLISH NOT ENGLISH The expressions properly signify, cleaving one to another with brotherly, natural, strong endearment. With the like emphasis and energy does the apostle Peter express himself, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, (NOT ENGLISH; NOT ENGLISH; NOT ENGLISH) see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Again, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” The words in the Greek are much more significant, elegant, and forcible;
NOT ENGLISH The same peculiar endearment the apostle has doubtless respect to in 1 Pet. iv. 8. “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.” And from time to time, he considers it as a note of their piety. Col. i. 4.. “We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all saints.” 1 Thess. iv. 9.. “As touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” So Philem. 5.. “Hearing of the love and faith, which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus Christ, and towards all saints.” And this is what he exhorts to, Heb. xiii. 1.. “Let brotherly love continue.“ 1 Thess. v. 26.. “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.” Compare 1 Cor. xvi. 20.. 2 Cor. xiii. 12.. and 1 Pet. v. 14..
This NOT ENGLISH or love to the brethren, is that virtue which the apostle John so much insists on in his first epistle, as one of the most distinguishing characteristics of true grace, and a peculiar evidence that God dwelleth in us, and we in God. By which must needs be understood 458 a love to saints as saints, or on account of the spiritual image of God supposed to be in them, and their spiritual relation to God; according as it has always been understood by orthodox divines. No reasonable doubt can be made, but that the apostle John, in this epistle, has respect to the same sort of love, which Christ prescribed to his disciples, in that which he called by way of eminency his commandment, and his new commandment, which he gave as a great mark of their being truly his disciples, as this same apostle gives an account in his gospel; and to which he plainly refers, when speaking of the love of the brethren in his epistle, 1 John. ii. 7, 8.; iii. 23.. But that love, which Christ speaks of in his new commandment, is spoken of as between those that Christ loves, or is supposed to love; and which has his love to them for its ground and pattern. And if this NOT ENGLISH this love of the brethren, so much spoken of by Christ, and by the apostles Paul and John, be not that peculiar affection which gracious persons or true saints have one to another, which is so great a part, and so remarkable an exercise, of true grace, where is it spoken of at all in the New Testament?
We see how often the apostles exhort visible Christians to exercise this affection to all other members of the visible church of Christ, and how often they speak of the members of the visible church as actually thus united, in places already mentioned. In 2 Cor. ix. 14.. the apostle speaks of the members of other churches loving the members of the church of Corinth, with this peculiar endearment and oneness of heart, for the grace of God in them; “And by their prayer for you, which long after you, for the exceeding grace of God in you.” The word translated long after, is NOT ENGLISH ; which properly signifies to love with an exceeding and dear love. And this is represented as the bond that unites all the members of the visible church; Acts iv. 32.. “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” This is the same thing which elsewhere is called being of one mind: 1 Pet. iii. 8. “Finally, be ye all of one mind.” And being of the same mind; 1 Cor. i. 10.. “That ye he perfectly joined together in the same mind.” And Philip. iv. 2.. “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” And being like-minded, (the word is the same in the Greek,) Rom. xv. 5, 6.. “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another; that ye may with one mind, and one mouth, glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is reason to think, that it is this oneness of mind, or being of one heart and soul, is meant by that charity which the apostle calls the bond of perfectness, Col. iii. 14.. and represents as the bond of union between all the members of the body, in Eph. iv. 15, 16.. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying itself in love.”
Herein seems much to consist the nature of scandal in the members of a church, viz. such an offence as is a wound and interruption to this kind of affection, being a stumbling—block to a christian judgment, in regard of its esteem of the offender as a real Christian, and what much lessens the visibility of his christian character. And therefore when scandal is removed by visible repentance, the church is directed to confirm their love to the offender, 2 Cor. ii. 8..
Now this intimate affection towards others as brethren in Christ and fellow-members of him, must have some apprehension of the understanding, some judgment of the mind for its foundation. To say, that we must thus love others as visible members of Christ, if any thing else be meant, than that we must love them because they are visibly, or as they appear to our judgment, real members of Christ, is in effect to say, that we must thus love them without any foundation at all. In order to a real and fervent affection to another, on account of some amiableness of qualification or relation, the mind must first judge there is that amiableness in the object. The affections of the mind are not so at command that we can make them strongly to go forth to an object as having such loveliness, when at the same time we do not positively judge any such thing concerning them, but only hope it may be so, because we see no sufficient reason to determine the contrary. There must be a positive dictate of the understanding, and some degree of satisfaction of the judgment, to be a ground of that oneness of heart and soul, which is agreeable to scripture representations of NOT ENGLISH , or brotherly love. And a supposition only of that moral sincerity and virtue, or common grace, which some insist upon, though it may be a sufficient ground of this intimate affection to them as brethren in the family of a heavenly Father,—this fervent love to them in the bowels of Jesus Christ. For gospel-sinners and domestic enemies in the house of God, Christians know, are of all others the most hateful enemies to Christ.
It well agrees with the wisdom of Christ, with that peculiar favour he has manifested to his saints, and with his dealings towards them in many other respects, to suppose, he has made provision in his institutions, that they might have the comfort of uniting with such as their hearts are united with, in some special religious exercises and duties of worship, and visible intercourse with their Redeemer; that they should join with those concerning whom they can have some satisfaction of mind, that they are cordially united with them in adoring and expressing their love to their common Lord and Saviour, that they may with one mind, with one heart, and one soul, as well as with one mouth, glorify him; as in the forementioned Rom. xv. 5, 6.. compared with Acts iv. 32.. This seems to be what this heavenly affection naturally inclines to. And how eminently fit and proper for this purpose is the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the christian church’s great feast of love; wherein Christ’s people sit together as brethren in the family of God, at their Father’s table, to feast on the love of their Redeemer, commemorating his sufferings for them, and his dying love to them, and sealing their love to him and one another!—It is hardly credible, that Christ has so ordered things as that there are no instituted social acts of worship, wherein his saints are to manifest their respect to him, but such as wherein they ordinarily are obliged (if the rule for admissions be carefully attended) to join with a society of fellow-worshippers, concerning whom they have no reason to think but that the greater part of them are unconverted, (and are more provoking enemies to that Lord they love and adore, than most of the very heathen,) which Mr. Stoddard supposes to be the case with the members of the visible church. Appeal, p. 16.
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