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Neither, in the first place, in our own, nor in any other existing church, do we see the real body of which Jesus Christ is the head. Its members consist of all true believers, and are dispersed over the wide lands of Christendom. Then, what are the best churches, at the best, but gold mines? Some may be, some certainly are, richer than others in the precious metal, yet all have their dross and rubbish. Nor, to continue the figure, shall the true church become visible, appear as a distinct and separate body, till the gold, gathered from a hundred mines, and purified by a Spirit whose emblem is fire, and presenting to the divine Refiner a perfect image of himself, is run into a common mould. Besides, while the materials of this church are widely scattered, and much of the ore yet lies buried in the mine, none of them are pure; none perfect. Who can say that he has no sin? There is no man that sinneth not. Nor is there any, though he has come in contact with the finest specimens of piety, and has been happy enough to breathe the holiest atmosphere of Christian society, who is not ready with the wise man to say, I have seen an end of all perfection.
To change the figure, the materials of the heavenly temple are now under the hammer, and by hard strokes of fortune and rough providences, as well as by the ordinary means of grace, God is preparing these living stones to be removed by the hand of death, and set in a temple where no sound of hammer is heard. The church is in process of building. And no more than any other builder is Christ to be judged by his work, till he has brought his
labours to a close. Then, when from the most excellent majesty, the voice once heard on the cross cries again, "It is finished," when he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings of "Grace, grace unto it," when the scaffolding of present ordinances is removed, when the heavens which concealed it are rolled up like a curtain, how shall that temple, of such proportions and surpassing splendour, stand forth the admiration of the universe, its greatest wonder, and God's brightest glory! Then, to take up the metaphor of my text, the body will be worthy of the head, as the head is the glory of the body.
I. As Head of his church, our Lord Jesus Christ is the life of its members.
You do not need to be anatomists to know that, as the head is the highest, it is the noblest, most important part of our whole frame. Seat of the senses and shrine of the soul, it is more than any other part connected with life and its various functions. From this great source and centre of vital power the other organs draw all their energies. Paralyse those nerves which connect them with the brain, as the wires of the telegraph connect the different stations with the electric battery, and their powers are gone, instantly gone. Their functions cease; the eye has no sight; the ear no hearing; the lips no voice; the tongue tastes neither sweetness in honey nor bitterness in wormwood; the strong arm of labour hangs powerless by the side; nor is there power left to lift a foot, though the lifting of it were to save your
life. The whole machinery of this wonderful frame stops, like that of a mill when you shift the sluices, and turn the water off its dashing wheel. Indeed so intimately connected are the head and the body, that one cannot exist without the other. In her freaks, no doubt, Nature does produce strange monsters, which, though deficient, some of this and some of that part, contrive to live; and it is marvellous to see what formidable lesions the body can suffer, of what valuable members it may be maimed, and yet survive. the loss of life. Death descends on the knife of the guillotine. A bullet whistles through the parting air, the lightning flashes, the sword of the headsman gleams in the sun, and—there is a corpse! before the eye has winked, the man is dead, stone dead.
But the loss of the head is
In illustrating the doctrine and figure of my text, this leads me to remark
1. As head of his church, Jesus Christ, by means of the connection which grace establishes between him and the believer, maintains our spiritual life. Without me, he says, ye can do nothing. As all our wishes, words, and works, however they may be expressed in looks, and sounds, and bodily movements, are born in the brain, there is not a good wish we ever formed, a good word we ever spoke, a good work we ever did, but Christ was its fountain-head. Separated from him, a believer were no better than an eye plucked from its socket, a cold dead hand severed from the bleeding arm.
Suppose that, by some strange chance, this connection
were dissolved, what a deadly paralysis would seize the soul! There are few sights more pitiful than to see a man of robust strength, of eloquent lips, of eagle eye, of majestic port, of stalwart step, by a stroke of paralysis suddenly turned into a poor, stammering, tottering, impotent object, whom the touch of a child can prostrate in the dust. Yet he is only a feeble image of what we should become were the gracious communications of the Holy Spirit suspended. Deprived of the strength I draw from Christ, I could not stand a buffet from Satan's hand. How should I be able to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, or fight the good fight of faith? However strong the hand of faith had been, it would now shake like an aspen leaf; and, now but the wreck of other days, gone were my power to sing the praises of God, gone my power to walk, or run in the way of his commandments. And this impotency, whether it spread over our souls like a creeping palsy, or came with the suddenness of a stroke, were but the dismal prelude to eternal death.
I have supposed, for illustration's sake, that the connection were dissolved, but, blessed be God! that cannot be. They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." With such an assurance from his lips, how may we say to Jesus, Thou hast set my feet upon a rock? Standing on its sunny summit, far above the surging waves of doubt and fear, what hinders us to exclaim with Paul, I am persuaded that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is through Jesus?
2. As head of his church, Jesus Christ is the source of our spiritual life. We must not confound the means of life with its first cause. The chamber in Shunam, where a pious woman had lodged the man of God, presents us with a fair and striking picture of what we may do in communicating the blessing of spiritual life to a soul dead in sins. Let us in fancy open the door, and, with feelings of awe and wonder, enter that room where Elisha, having left the mother below, has shut himself up with the cold unconscious corpse. The dead boy is lying in the prophet's chamber, and on the prophet's bed; as if, like a drowning one who catches a passing straw, the poor woman had thought, when she laid him there, that there might be something not only sacred, but life-restoring, that clung to the walls which had been hallowed by the good man's prayers. He gazes fixedly and fondly on the pale placid countenance; and having waked up his tenderest affections for the little dead creature he had often carried in his arms, and kissed, and blessed, Elisha turns from the lifeless clay to the living God. He kneels beside the
dead. He prays for the dead.
And in prayers a
mother may hear, as, with beating heart, she sits silent, and listening, and hoping below, he pours out his very soul to God. The prayer ceases. It has been heard. The prophet knows it; and now rises to employ other means, nor doubts of their success. As one who, seek