An Address to a Newly Formed Church of Christ
James Smith, 1865
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, as you have covenanted to walk together as a Christian Church, in obedience to his commands — allow the word of exhortation. You profess to be Christians, and if you are so indeed — you possess "the Spirit of Christ," for, "if any man has not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his." You are called "The light of the world," "The salt of the earth," "The epistles of Christ," "The temples of the Holy Spirit," "The children of the living God."
You have a relation to God — and a relation to man: you are bound to glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God's. You are commanded to "do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith;" to "give no offence to any man, neither to the Jew, nor to the Greek, nor to the church of God."
You are united to Jesus, whose fullness is opened to supply you, and who is exalted at God's right hand to bless you. You are united to one another, you have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism;" and have pledged yourselves to seek each other's good. You profess to seek the glory of God, your own edification, and the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, by this your union. Ever keep these things in mind — for your peace, prosperity, and comfort, in a great measure depend thereon.
You are not your own; you are not at liberty to seek your own gratification — but in subordination to the great ends you profess to seek. Jesus bought you with his blood, he claims you as his own, and commands you to walk according to his word. His eye is always upon you, and he is either glorified or dishonored by every action you perform. Your privileges are great, and your duties are many; and ever remember, privileges are to be enjoyed in the performance of the duties required. You have received a kingdom, you are entitled to grace, and you are exhorted to have it, Hebrews 12:28, 4:16. You can only serve God acceptably, as you serve him — under the influence of his own grace, according to his word, with a view to his glory. Receive then with meekness, and with a desire to walk according to them, the commands of Jesus.
He bids you to love one another; even as he has loved you. Indulge no evil surmisings in reference to each other; charity thinks no evil. Beware lest you encourage a spirit of jealousy or envy — it will disturb your peace and destroy your usefulness, Guard against speaking evil one of another. Brethren, the Lord says, "Speak evil of no man." Watch against an unforgiving spirit — but as "God for Christ's sake has forgiven you — so also do you." Be ever ready to assist one another, according as God has given you ability,both in temporal and spiritual things. Avoid a consorious, caviling, captious turn of mind; it is the bane of spirituality, and a pestilence in a Church. Love one another, for you are — brethren, the friends of Jesus, the foes of Satan, and the representatives of the Savior to the world.
Jesus bids you to strive together. Strive together in prayer to God for your officers and fellow-members. Strive together to support and extend the cause of God. Strive to exhibit the Christian character, and to show forth the praises of him who has called you by his grace. Cleave to one another and to the Lord, with full purpose of heart; and provoke one another to love and to good works. Satan will endeavor to disunite you, and sow discord among you; he hates to see saints in union, and employs every stratagem to prevent it.
Guard against a spirit of pride and self-importance — as it will render you miserable, useless, and barren; you will be uncomfortable in yourselves, and a plague to all about you. Endeavor by all means, at all times, to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Never allow yourselves to carry into the world, the concerns of the church; carry them to the Lord in prayer — but never tell them to any other. It is tale-bearing, and a breach of your church-covenant; a disgrace to the person who practices it, and a trouble to the church that permits it.
Do all things to edification When you meet at your houses, or in the house of God, always aim to edify one another. You do one another good or evil — every time you meet; therefore let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, that you may be able to comfort, admonish, and advise one another. Be present if possible when your brethren meet together for prayer and praise, and never absent yourself from any ordinance except lawfully detained. The diligent soul shall be made fat — but the idle soul shall suffer hunger.
Let everything be done with charity. Never put a bad construction on an action — if you can put a good one. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." "Exhort another daily." Imitate God as dear children. "Be clothed with humility." "Let each esteem others better than himself." Put on "affections of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering." "Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, giving honor, one to another. "Let the same mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
Consider one another as compassed with like infirmities, exposed to like temptations, and possessing like passions with yourselves. "Receive one another — as Christ also received you to the glory of God." "Receive those who are weak in the faith." You are not at liberty to reject the lambs of the flock; those who through timidity say least, often are the best.
A knowledge of sin, faith in Jesus, and a willingness to observe his commands — is all you can consistently require in order to qualify others for membership with your church. Never set your standard too high, or think that the Lord will work by your rule; he is a Sovereign, and does according to his will, requiring you to walk according to his word.
Submit to the discipline prescribed in God's word; never wish to keep any in the church — whose spirit and conduct say they ought to be out of it. Consult the honor of Christ and the good of the gospel upon these matters — not your own feelings. Jesus requires you to pluck out a right eye — if it is an offence, an hindrance, or a stumbling block; and to cut off a right hand. Strive and pray that the church may be kept pure — sound in doctrine and holy in practice. The door out of the church should be exactly of the same dimensions as the door in; and there is sinful partiality if it is not so.
Never make private differences public, except it be absolutely necessary. Observe the rule given by the Savior, Matthew 18:15-20. Never report a quarrel publicly — until you have reproved and prayed for the offender privately. Offences will come, always endeavor to remove them out of the way as quickly as possible. Be sure that you never encourage any fellow member who tattles the saints' faults; the Lord tells you, an angry countenance will drive away a back-biting tongue. If you refuse to receive their gossip — they will soon leave off their practice. Make all due allowance for your brethren, remember you also have your infirmities, and are exposed to temptations.
If God leaves you — sin will soon appear on you. If you see a brother about to sin — reprove him; if he fell — pray for him; this is the way to convert him, and hide a "multitude of sins" (James 5:18, 19). Never sanction sin in any — nor condemn rashly. Strive against a hasty spirit — and study to live a quiet life. Always aim to act in every place and under every circumstance, that observers may be obliged to say: That person is a Christian! Let your light so shine, and your good works be seen — that God may be glorified.
Be very careful over your spirit and conduct at church meetings; these are either the honor or disgrace of the church. Remember you are in God's house; you profess to be concerned for his honor; his eye is upon you; and the peace, prosperity, and comfort of the church greatly depend upon your conduct and spirit. Let it be lovely, praiseworthy, and holy. Keep your mouth as with a bridle if you feel your nature rise; crucify the old man; mortify the flesh; follow peace and the things which make for peace. Edification and the growth of spirituality, should be the great object of all church-meetings; if it is not so, they are carnal and will become a curse!
Aim to be useful in the church — sympathize with the poor, the sick, the tempted, the young, the aged, the backsliding, the penitent, your pastor and deacons; all have a claim upon you, and may be benefitted by you. Encourage seekers, exhort the lukewarm, caution the rash, invite the backslider to turn again to the Lord, visit the sick and dying, speak comfortably to the tempted and sorrowful, and pray for all. Bring all whom you can under the word, and beseech God to meet with them when there.
Always bear in mind, you must give an account of yourselves to God. You are accountable for all you that say, do, or occasion to be done; Jesus "will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Your actions are permanent, though they appear but transient. Be not a great talker — aim to be a holy, humble, useful walker. Shun the company of those who sow discord among brethren. Keep a good conscience. Give honor to whom honor is due. Beware of the spirit of the world. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God," either by lightness, looseness, or bitterness; but sow the seeds of righteousness, sow to the Spirit and you shall reap life everlasting. Avoid the appearance of evil. "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise." "Walk worthy of God." "Be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
Endeavor to carry out your principles in your families, let family prayer be regular, serious, and fervent. Recommend religion by your spirit and conduct to your children. They will take more notice of what you do — than of what you say. So walk before them that you may be able to say to them without blushing, Be followers of me, even as I am of Christ.
"Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." They are a trust committed to you, and their sanctification and salvation should lay nearer to your hearts than anything else.
"Husbands love your wives;" are they unconverted? Endeavor to win them by a lovely spirit and holy conduct.
"Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands," study their comfort in all things. Are they unsaved? Strive by kindness, a manifest desire to make them happy, and a word in season — to bring them to Jesus. "God is able to make all grace to abound toward you, so that you having all sufficiency may abound in every good work."
You who are children — be kind, attentive, and ready to assist your parents; gospel privileges do not dissolve natural relations, or free you from moral obligations.
Servants, let religion shine in your conduct before your fellow servants, your masters and mistresses: they will keep their eyes upon you, and expect great things from you. Be strictly honest; never take away behind your mistress's back, what you would not before her face. Be very industrious; you are hired to work, not to be idle. Be clean; cleanliness is an honor to a Christian, dirt is a disgrace. Never be pert; God's word says, you are not to answer back (Titus 2:9). Guard against eye-service; you are directed to act towards your masters, as you would toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:5-9). Godly, consistent servants, are very useful members in a church — but idle, gossiping, pert, dirty, talkative ones — are a great mischief and disgrace.
The Lord takes notice of all these things, and gives directions about them in his word; therefore they cannot be unimportant.
Be particular as to the connections you form; many have been robbed of their simplicity, spirituality, and humility, through associating with proud, censorious, licentious professors; or from going too far and too frequently with the worldly.
If you are single, be very careful to whom you give up your company, or allow to entangle your affections; you are at liberty to marry "only in the Lord." If you dare to unite with an unregenerate person, you despise the authority of God the Father, reject the command of the Lord Jesus Christ, grieve the Holy Spirit, and ensure to yourselves misery and sorrow. Your bodies are "the temples of the Holy Spirit," "the members of Christ," and should not be united to the enemies of God, the servants of Satan. Resist Satan when he comes with such a temptation, for many have been entangled and overcome; and as the consequence have spent their days in misery and their years in sorrow.
Make God's word your guide, keep the Savior's company, imitate the most holy of the saints, and keep yourselves unspotted from the world. Strive to be useful to the world; if you are going to Heaven, and believe it to be a holy happy place, endeavor to take some one or more with you. Be upon the watch for opportunities to do good. Usefulness in God's church is a great honor, uselessness a sad sign: barren fig trees are cumberers of the ground. You will either do good or harm in the church. You will either glorify God or please Satan. Always speak truth, never lie on any account; never allow yourselves to color anything you relate. God's ear listens to every word you speak. Punctually perform your promises, never make positive, unconditional ones; but use caution in all your dealings, that you may preserve a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. Reverence old age and spirituality, pity weakness, and always loathe sin under every form.
Ever view yourselves as the property of God, for his glory; as the property of the church, for her good. You are debtors to God for his grace, for pardon, righteousness, and eternal life. You owe a debt of gratitude and obedience. You are in debt to the church; she has a right to your presence, your prayers, your sympathies, and your influence. A Christian has no private property, all is lent him with this command, "Occupy until I come." By love, then, serve one another. "Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin," and unto the world; "but alive unto God," and to the interests of his church, "through Jesus Christ our Lord."
A Christian spirit is a public spirit; and a consistent Christian will always aim to lay himself out for the extension of the Redeemer's cause, and the glory of Jehovah's name. Happy must be that church, of whose members it may be said, They have done what they could! They have done what they could to support, establish, and increase the cause: they have done what they could to add to the spirituality, to maintain the peace, and extend the usefulness of the church. Brethren and sisters, have you done what you could? Does the love of Christ constrain you? Does zeal for his glory impel you? Is it your heart's desire that sinners may be saved, that saints may be consistent, and that Zion may be made a praise in the whole earth? If it is, let your conduct and conversation prove it beyond a doubt; and so live and so walk, that you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Jesus has been grievously wounded in the house of his friends, religion now suffers from the conduct of its professors; if therefore you have any concern for the good of souls, if any love to Christ, if any zeal for God, if any desire to be useful — think on these things, "So speak, and so do — as those who shall be judged by the law of liberty." Show your faith — by your works; the holiness of your principles — by the consistency of your practice. Live not unto yourselves — but unto him who died for you and rose again; and whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do — do all to the glory of God.
View your Pastor as God's servant, sent with the Lord's message to you. Expect to receive from him not only comfort but reproof; not only instruction but exhortation. Never take offence at God's word as delivered by him; he must give an account of what he delivers — you must give an account of the use you make of it. Beware how you apply to others — what belongs to yourself. "Receive with meekness the engrafted word." Look more at the message, than the manner in which it is delivered: take it as coming from God, and be sure to put it to a good use. If Satan can get you to despise, cavil, or quarrel with the preacher — he can effectually prevent your edification. Esteem God's servants "very highly in love for their work's sake, and be at peace among yourselves."
Finally, brethren, endeavor to keep up constant fellowship with God, seek personal holiness, and give yourselves up unreservedly to the Lord. Look upon one another as brethren, united by ties more sacred and more close than any natural bond. View one another in Christ, as members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
Be concerned to know that the Spirit dwells in you and among you, as the glorifier of Christ, the sanctifier of his people, the expounder of the scriptures, and the author of edification and peace. Bring every gift, and talent you possess, and consecrate them to the church's service and the Redeemer's praise. Wrestle with God for his presence in your assemblies, and his blessing on your souls. Realize your responsibility, and let self be denied; while patience, forbearance, and brotherly kindness have their perfect work. And may the God of all grace, who has called you unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered awhile, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!