G. B. F. (Gerard Benjamin Fleet) Hallock.

The English pulpit : collection of sermons online

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improve his residence there for that purpose. He opened the conver-
sation, which he there held with them, by the important question,
" "Wliom do men say that I the Son of man am ? " What is the
general opinion which men entertain and express concerning me ?

Many propose a similar question concerning themselves from motives
of vanity and of overweening self-conceit, in the hope of hearing in
reply something that will minister to their pride, and prove as grateful
incense offered at the shrine of their self esteem. But of such a mo-
tive as this, the Redeemer was incapable ; and the question he thus
proposed to the disciples, was for their sakes, rather than his own, —
that from their answer he might take occasion more aptly and impres-
sively to " expound to them the things concerning himself: " his mys-
terious nature, his mediatorial character, and his spiritual kingdom.

And then they told him — " Some say that thou art John the Bap-
tist ; some, Elias ; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets ; " for
there was a controversy respecting him at that day, as well as now.
Some regarded him us an impostor and a deceiver of the people ; some
said, " He hath a devil, and is mad," and marvelled that such multi-
tudes should flock to hear him ; some even dared to affirm, that he was
in league with the powers of darkness, and wrought his stupendous
miracles by Satanic agency.

And this appears to me to be that very " sin against the Holy
Ghost " which shall never be forgiven, " neither in this world, nor in
tliat which is to come " — to ascribe to infernal influence those mighty
works which he wrought by the immediate agency of the Spirit of
God ; for immediately after the utterance of this blasphemy, " He
casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils," our Lord
pronounced these tremendous words, " Verily, I say unto you, all
sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith
soever they shall blaspheme : but he that shall blaspheme against the
Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damna-
tion ; " and it is added — " Because they said, He hath an unclean
spuit."

5



QQ THE ENGLISH PULPIT.

But among those who entertained better opinions, a general impres-
sion was, tliat he was John the Baptist, or one of the ancient prophets
risen from the dead. And when thej thus told him the various opin-
ions men entertained respecting him, he added, " But whom say i/e
that I am ? " What is your opinion ? And Peter, always prompt,
ever ardent, instantly responded, " Thou art the Christ " — the Mes-
siah, the Anointed — " the Son of the living God." Now it was in
reply to Peter, and as suggested by his answer, that our Lord gave
utterance to the memorable announcement of the text : " And I say
also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my
Church ; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

There are two things, to which our attention is demanded in the
text ; first, the edifice of which the Redeemer speaks — the " Church,"
and, secondly, the relation in which he himself stands to that edifice :
"my Church." "Upon this rock I will build my Church ; and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

I. First, the edifice of Avhich the Redeemer speaks — the Church —
" my Church." What does he mean by his Church ?

Not any material building, of whatever form or dimensions, however
costly the materials of which it is composed, however approved the
style of architecture in which it is constructed, however vast the pro-
portions by which it is distinguished, however exquisite the skill with
which it is wrought, however gorgeous the ceremonial, however appro-
priate the rites by which it is consecrated. Though there may be the
long-drawn aisle, and the fretted vault, and the pealing anthem, and
the measured chant — all this does not constitute a church, according
to the New Testament acceptation of the term, nor, assuredly, in the
sense in which our Lord is to be understood in the passage before us.
Nor are we to understand by it any building of humbler kind, or of
worse materials, or of inferior workmanship.

No mere collection of material things, then, whether stone, or clay,
or wood, is a church, in the scriptural acceptation of the word. Cus-
tom has, indeed, so applied the terai to such edifices, that there are
multitudes who affix to it no other idea ; but not a solitary instance of
such an application of the term occurs in the whole compass of the
sacred volume. But very few passages will suffice to show, that
where the word " church" is used, whether by Christ or by his apos-
tles, persons, and not things, are intended by it. Thus, in that well-
known passage, which has been so notoriously perverted from its right
meaning, referring to the exercise of Christian discipline, our Lord
says — "If he" — that is, the offending brother — "if he will not



chuist's church. 67

hear thee," when thou hast told his fault iu the presence of ono or
two others, (taken with hiin as witnesses bj the offended party,) then
" tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let
him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." To suppose
that our Lord meant, iu this case, any material edifice, such as a
chapel or a church, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, were, you
know, an utter absurdity ; for, then must bricks and stones be endowed
with intelligence, and have eara to hear, and tongues to speak.

But if by the word " church " persons are meant, the question is,
who are the persons that thus compose the church, and under what
circumstances do they so compose it? 'ihe literal meaning of the
word " church" is an assembly ; but every assembly is not a church.
The tumultuous mob gathered together in the streets of Ephesus, of
which we read in the Acts, and of whom it is said, the greater part
knew not wherefore they were congregated — that is termed an assem-
bly, and the word translated " church " is employed to express it ;
but that is not a church.

The circumstances under which persons constitute a church, are two-
fold. To express the first, I will use the language employed by one
of the thirty-nine articles of the Church of England — for I cannot find
language, to my apprehension, better fitted for the purpose : " A
church," saith the article, " is a congregation of faithful men," (mark
you that,) " in which congregation the pure word of God is preached,
and the sacraments be duly ministered, according to Christ's ordinance
in all those things which are requisite unto the same." This is the
first sense in which the word " church " is to be understood. Every
assembly of professing Christians, associated or convened for the pur-
poses of religious worship, the celebration of the divine ordinances, the
maintenance or administration of Christian discipline, or the enjoyment
of Christian communion, in any of its acts or forms, in one place, is a
church. The external circumstances, under which such an association
or society exists, may be various, but they in no wise, and in no degree
affect its essential character. It may be large, or it may be small ; it
may be rich, or it may be poor ; it may be learned, or it may be illit-
erate ; there may be many such societies, or more than one, or only
one, in a village, in a hamlet, in a town, in a city, in a district, but
each and every one, as the case may be, is a church. The Church at
Jerusalem was so large that three thousand were added to it in a sin-
gle day ; wliilst we read in the New Testament of churches so small
that they could meet in a private house. Such a church there was in
the house of Priscilla and Aquila, and in the house of Nymphas ; whilst,
when more churches than one existed in a district, we do not find that



68 THE ENGLISH PDLPIT.

they were reckoned as one church, and called the church of that dis-
trict or country, as the Church of Judea, the Church of Asia, the
Church of Macedonia, but each maintained its distinctive and individ-
ual character ; and they were designated accordingly, the churches
of Judea, the churches of Asia, the churches of Macedonia. And
thus, though they were associated in the bonds of fraternal affection,
and recognized each other as the churches of Clu:ist, and dehghted to
enjoy communion with each other — as such being all in one — each
maintained an independence of the rest, and administered, with unfet-
tered freedom, its own affairs, presenting a lovely example of indepen-
dence and of union —

" Distinct, as the billows ; but one as the sea."

The other sense in which the word " church " is used, is that which
embraces all the true and genuine believers in Christ, of every age and
of every dispensation, of every color and of every clime, of every coun-
try and of every region, from the beginning to the end of time, wheth-
er in visible connexion with any portion, or section, or society, or de-
nomination of professing Christians, or not. This is the true, spiritual,
universal, catholic Church ; the spiritual body of Christ, of which every
believer is a living member ; the true vine, of which every believer is
a living branch ; the spiritual building, in which every believer is a
living stone ; " the general assembly and church of the first-born, writ-
ten in heaven."

Brethren, here let us pause ; and ere we pass to the second article
of our discourse, let us gaze upon this wondrous edifice, as it rises
through successive ages to its completion. What goodly stones com-
pose it ! — countless myriads of ransomed and regenerated men. What
mingling colors adorn it ! — from the purest white of Europe, to the
deepest jet of Africa. How does every grade of civilized or barba-
rous life, every age of the world, and every dispensation of the Church
furnish its due proportion of materials for the glorious edifice ! — from
the burning Asiatic to the shivering Esquimaux — from the turbaned
sultan to the tattoed savage — from the monarch on his throne, to the
negro in his chains. There is the Jew, no more a devotee to rites
and ceremonies, that have long since passed away ; and there is the
Pagan, now happily emancipated from the cruel superstitions by which
he and his fathers have been so long enslaved ; " the goodly fellowship
of the prophets," and " the noble army of martyrs," shine conspicuous
there ; and there are all that love the Savior, and that bear his image,
and that taste his grace, whatever the name by which they may be
known, or whether known by no name at all. The Episcopalian is
there, with the Presbyterian ; the Wesleyan is there, with the Luther-



Christ's church. 61

an ; the Independent is there, -with the Baptist ; each rejoicing to re-
cognize his essential union with all the rest, and each regretting that
they were ever otherwise than one. And each, according to his car
pacity, contributes to the perfect symmetry, the exquisite beauty, the
imperishable glory, the surpassing loveliness of this most august and
stately temple of the living God. That is his church, which be " will
build upon the rock, and against which the gates of hell shall not pre-
vail."

II. "We now proceed, in the second place, to consider the relation in
which Jesus Christ stands to this edifice. " Upon this rock," he says,
" I will build my church ; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against
it."

1. In the first place, Jesus Christ is its foundation. It is built on
him. " On this rock I will build my church." Some say, that by
" this rock," he meant Peter ; for that he says, " Thou art Peter " —
alluding to the meaning of his name — " and on this rock " — that is,
on thee, Peter — " I will build my church." But then he should have
said — (I speak it with all reverence ; I am constrained so to speak,
for the argument requires it ; I speak with reverence) — but then he
should have said, if such had been his meaning, " Thou art Peter ; and
thy nature, or thine oflBce, or the place that I will assign to thee, or
the honor that I will confer upon thee, in connexion with my church,
corresponds with the meaning of thy name ; for as thy name signifies
a rock or a stone, and a rock or a stone is the best foundation, so upon
thee, Peter, as on an immovable rock, I will build my church ; and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it." But did he say this ? No,
nor anything like it. For what was there in Peter to justify it ? Was
he omnipotent ? See him sinking amidst the waves, and hear him cry,
" Lord, save, or I perish." Was he infallible ? Listen to his Master's
sharp reproof, addressed to him almost immediately after this very con-
versation : " Get thee behind me, Satan ; thou art an offence unto me :
for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of
men." Was he perfect ? Alas ! for him ; for he denied his Lord, and
notwithstanding his solemn pledge, that he would die with him rather
than deny him, ere the cock that morning crew, he had set the seal of
an oath to the thrice repeated declaration — "I know not the man."
Is it on such an one as Peter, then, that Christ will build his church ?
Nay, if on any being inferior to himself he will build his church, it must
be on Gabriel, the strongest, or on Michael, the fairest of the archan-
gels that bow before the eternal throne. But neither are they either of
them fit to be the foundation of the Christian Church ; for though they



70 THE ENGLISH PULPIT.

" excel in strength," they are not omnipotent ; and nothing less than
omnipotence Avill suffice to bear up the mighty edifice, rising through
successive ages in majesty and beauty, or secure its stabihty against
the furious and combined and i^eiterated attacks of earth and of hell.

So it is not Peter that he means, when he says, " On this rock I will
build my church," but it is himself; it is not to Peter that he refers,
but to his own Messiahship — that great fact which Peter's testimony
had embraced, which '' flesh and blood had not revealed " to him,
" which none of the princes of this world knew " — for " no man can
thus call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." " Thou art the Christ,
the Son of the living God " — the anointed one, the desire of all na-
tions, the hope and expectation of Israel ; " on this rock " — on my-
self, on my own mysterious person, on my mediatorial character, on my
work, on my obedience unto death, as the exclusive ground of hope for
a perishing world ; on myself, the only foundation which God has laid,
and beside which there is, there can be no other — " on this rock I
will build my clmi'ch ; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Let us hear no more of creeds and canons and confessions of unin-
spired and therefore fallible man ; let us hear no more of councils and
convocations, and fathers and founders of the Christian Church ; let
us hear no more of names and authorities, of popes and patriarchs, of
Peter and of Paul, of Luther and of Calvin, of Wesley and of Whit-
field, as the foundations of the church. Away with all this Popery
of Protestantism. For who is Peter, and who is Paul, and who is
Luther, and who is Calvin, and who is Wesley, and who is Whit-
field, but servants, ministers, instruments, by whom the great Archi-
tect condescends to build ? But the foundation, and the head, and
the chief corner stone, and the top-stone of the building, is Christ ; and
the Church is " built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself" — and Jesus Christ alone — " being the chief
corner-stone ; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth
unto an holy temple in the Lord : in whom ye also are builded together
for an habitation of God through the Spirit."

2. Secondly, as Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church, so is
he its architect ; " on this Rock," he says, " /will build my Church."
but he builds rather as a master-builder, than as a workman, though it
is by virtue of influence derived from him that the workmen he em-
ploys are fitted for their work, and rendered efficient operatives in the
performance of it.

(1.) As the architect of it, then, he selected its site. He had the
Tange of the universe where to choose, and he fixed on our earth as
the favored spot on which he would display the wonders of redemption,



Christ's church. 71

and rear, through a long succession of ages, the gloiious structure of
the Church. What may be the liistory of other intelligences, — the
inhabitants of other worlds, if, indeed, there are other worlds, peopled
like our own, we cannot tell ; but we know that there is a world where
rebellion arose, that there is a race like our own, who " kept not their
first estate." Yet he did not choose to build his Church in heaven,
the scene of rebellion, nor construct it amid the ransomed spirits,
selected from among them. The angels who " kept not their first
estate, and left their own habitation " — for them no provision of mercy
is made, no atoning sacrifice is offered ; and they are reserved in
chains and in darkness, until the great day. God verily took not on
him, he did not lay hold on the nature of angels, but he took on him
the seed of Abraham ; he took our degraded nature into mysterious
and indissoluble union with his own ; he came down to our polluted and
accursed world, and there, at Calvary, laid deep and broad, in the
death of the cross, in the shedding of his blood, the foundations of
his Church. Hence it is that all eyes, throughout the universe, are
directed to this spot ; hence it is that this little speck — scarcely more
in the vast system of worlds with which it stands connected — concen-
trates within itself the profoundest interest of the loftiest beings in the
celestial world. Into the histories involved in the rise and progress of
the Church, " the angels desire to look," and all the wonders of re-
demption which it displays are unknown to " principalities and powers
in heavenly places ; " they may be known, not by the visible universe,
glorious as it is, but by the Church, infinitely surpassing that in glory
— " the manifold wisdom of God."

(2.) As the architect of the Church, he drew the plan. In his
own infinite mind, in the arrangements of the council of peace, ere he
" clothed himself with light as with a garment," ere he had given
being, beauty, and harmony to the system of a material universe, ere
" the morning stars had sung together," or " the sons of God shouted
for joy," he had conceived the idea, and formed the plan of the Chris-
tian Church. And having settled, in its magnificent outline, and
minutest details, the plan thus formed in his infinite mind, he has con-
descended to lay it down in the sacred volume, that it may be clearly
understood, and no man presume to disturb its order, or interfere with
its arrangements. In all that relates to its visible form, its internal
economy, its scheme of doctrine, or its platform of discipline, we must
be guided by the principles announced or the order sanctioned by the
Divine architect, as these are revealed and recorded in his word.
And woe unto him, who wilfully immolates them on the one hand, or
thanklessly abandons them on the other. It is not, brethren, for any



72 THE ENGLISH PULPIT.

mere fallible men to frame laws for the government of the Church ; it
is not for the princes and the potentates of this world to assume to
themselves the headship of the Church, and in this capacity, by and
with consent of their councils and their parliaments, to decree rites and
ceremonies in the Church ; and still less is it for them to impose them
on the consciences of their subjects, and by pains and penalties, and
fines and imprisonments, to force obedience to them. They may,
indeed, do this, but it is at their peril ; for though superior to all hu-
man tribunals in the possession of that power, which is too often in the
hand of the oppressor, they must one day answer for it at the tribunal
of Jesus Christ — answer for their daring assumption of his authority
and invasion of his sacred prerogative. In all matters of doctrine
and discipline, then, our first and last and final appeal is "to the law
and to the testimony," as contained in the sacred volume ; and if the
things required to be believed or to be performed are evidently at vari-
ance with the letter or the spirit of that book, we are bound to reject
them as mere human inventions, be the consequences to ourselves what
they may.

(3.) Again, as the architect of the Church, Jesus Christ selects
and prepares the materials of which it is composed. And these are
" living stones," ransomed sinners, redeemed men, immortal spirits,
hewn from the quarry of a common and desperate depravity, snatched
from the ruin of a universal apostacy, renewed, justified, sanctified, and
fitted each for the place assigned to it in the building, by the eternal
Spirit, whose life-giving power, whose quickening influence, whose puri-
fying grace, are essential to the efficiency, the beauty, and the perfec-
tion of the building. Other materials there may be in the visible
sanctuary; and hence so many faults and defects of the Christian
church appear even to the human eye ; for men build upon the foun-
dation " wood, hay, stubble," base materials, destined finally to be
consumed. But when the Lord himself adds to the church, it will be
"such" — and only such — "as shall be saved." Nor shall any
other stones be suffered to occupy a prominent place in the building,
when " the top-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings of Grace,
grace unto it."

(4.) Still further ; as the architect of the church, Jesus Christ em-
ploys the workmen and pays them their wages. " Go ye into all the
world," said he to his disciples, " and preach the gospel to every crea-
ture." This was the high commission, under which the first body of
workmen employed in the erection of this spiritual building acted.
That commission we own to be in force at the present hour ; and to it all
faithful preachers of the gospel must refer as their authority, to the end.



Christ's church. 73

That the Christian ministry is a Divine institution, no man, I appre-
hend, can doubt, \fho regards the Bible as the word of God. But who
are authorized to act under that commission, and what is a sufficient
authority for their acting, are questions, about which there is no small
stir in the present day. Some hold that ordination of a particular
kind, involving a direct, lineal, ecclesiastical descent from the apostles,
is essential to constitute a duly authorized preacher of the gospel and
pastor in the Church, and that all beside are intruders into the sacred
office, only pretenders to holy orders, and that the ministrations and
ordinances of such are invalid. But with regard to this chimera of
apostolical descent, it would be no very difficult task to show that to
trace it is a thing all but impossible ; that to do it, you must include in
the line some persons of no very apostolic character ; and that- after
all, a lineal descent of this description is little worth, unless it secure
along with it a transmission of " the truth as it is in Jesus, " in all the
simplicity and power of its essential principles and sanctifying influ-
ence. What good is it, that a man has received ordination after the
fashion or within the pale of this church, or that, if his doctrine is un-
sound, if his life is unholy ? Better, sure, be conducted to heaven by
the instrumentality of one who preaches and who lives the truth, how-
ever unauthorized and irregular his ministrations in the estimation of
some, than be dragged down to perdition by the false doctrine and pes-
tilential example of a man who boasts a valid ordination, an apostolic
descent.

But is it irrelevant, on such a topic as this, to appeal to the test
which our Lord has announced — " By their fruits ye shall know
them ? " If the validity and efficiency of a ministry be in souls sav-
ed unto God, in sinners repenting, and " bringing forth fruits meet
for repentance," then are there multitudes who neither claim for them-
selves, nor desire for themselves, nor grudge to others, the credit of
such apostohcal descent, whose ministry is honored by seals of this de-
scription, as abundant in number and decided in character as many by
whom they are disowned can boast.

We hesitate not to say, then, that all who are duly qualified with
gifts and graces for the work, and are laboring simply and zealously,
with a single eye to the Divine glory, in erecting this spiritual building,
adding immortal and living stones to this building, are duly authorized



Online LibraryG. B. F. (Gerard Benjamin Fleet) HallockThe English pulpit : collection of sermons → online text (page 8 of 45)