THE SPIRIT PRESIDING OVER THE CHURCH.
Although the Holy Spirit dwells only in the heart, it is the design of His mission that He should preside over one organization. This is the Church of Christ as a visible institution. There is a spiritual body of which Jesus Christ is the head, sometimes called the invisible church, of which we do not now speak. The two will never exactly coincide so long as fallible men admit and discipline the members of the visible Church. Some will be admitted who are wolves in sheep's clothing, and some genuine sheep will be outside of any human fold. It always has been so, and will continue till the infallible Shepherd shall descend and separate this mixed flock to changeless destinies. The kingdom of heaven in its visible earthly manifestation "is like a drag-net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind" (Matt. xiii. 47, Revised Version, margin), the good to be gathered into vessels, and the bad to be cast away, "at the end of the world" or age.
Yet it is the desire of Christ that His visible Church should be holy. For this end the Holy Spirit dwelling in holy hearts should preside over the visible organization. Saintly members should exercise control. Otherwise the organization will promote unholiness and not holiness in its members. The temptation is strong to attract men of wealth and social influence. To induce them to become members, the standard of spirituality, and even of morals, is sometimes lowered. They can be retained only by being deferred to and put in authority. Thus the Church becomes worldly. The pulpit must please ungodly men, and doctrines promotive of a deep spirituality cease to be preached.
The Church of Christ, forgetting the prohibition, "Love not the world," has, in some instances, not only fallen in love with the world, but has actually married the world, and it seems impossible to secure a divorce. The protest of the spiritual part of the Church is regarded as a disturbance of the peace of captive Zion. Yet they must protest, or be silently assimilated to baptized worldliness, or withdraw. These are unpleasant alternatives. What is the safeguard? A spirit of humility and faith which leans on Christ alone for success, and esteems the fruit of the Spirit abounding in consecrated mechanics as far more ornamental to the Church than godless millionaires in the pews; a faith which regards a church composed of day laborers, washerwomen and shop-girls, all filled with the Spirit, and, as Father Taylor used to say, "on speaking terms with God," as stronger and richer in God's eyes than a church of the same number of wealthy and fashionable people who are nearer to the world than they are to God. There are illustrious examples of consecrated wealth. Would that the few were more numerous! The few who get through the needle's eye prove the truth of the declaration of Christ, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
The presidency of the Holy Spirit in a church, through its most spiritual members, is imperilled by extravagance in the cost of worship beyond the ability of the spiritual worshippers to maintain. This necessitates a deference to rich outsiders, and a resort to various devices and forms of social taxation to fill up the empty treasury. The beginning of the evil is in erecting churches too costly for the members to pay for without long slavery to debt, which in many instances, alas too many, is a long bondage to worldliness. Unconverted men, because of their long purses, are elected as trustees, and schemes of finance for liquidating the debt and paying current expenses are devised which are repugnant to the gospel of Christ, and which dethrone the Holy Spirit from His control of the church by destroying the spirituality of its members. We make no crusade against elegant churches paid for by those who love our Lord Jesus with sacrifices cheerfully laid on His altar. Christianity is not a declaration of war against aesthetics. We do not say, Build as elegant and costly churches as you can pay for without coming under obligation to worldly men, but we do say, Make as large gifts to your local church as you can under the presidency of the Holy Spirit, who also has under His omniscient eye all the other interests of Christ's kingdom on the earth, especially the millions sitting in the darkness of paganism, and prompts all enlightened Christians to evangelize them. The Holy Spirit inspires the missionary spirit, and also general Christian benevolence, which limit and chasten our indulgence of the sense of the beautiful in the adorning of our persons, our homes and our churches.
It is our belief that, in addition to a Pentecostal baptism, two things are needed to restore the control of the Holy Spirit over our churches: first, training in Christian beneficence, or systematic giving, on the basis of a deeper sense of obligation in the matter of stewardship of the Lord's property. When this has been accomplished, the scanty streams of money flowing into the Lord's treasury will have become steadily flowing rivers. Then, in the second place, worldly men and merely nominal Christians in control of the church must be displaced by men and women filled with the Holy Spirit. Thousands of churches now leaning on the world, imagining themselves too poor to be independent of this corrupting influence, will then be surprised at their own ability to build commodious churches and support worship in a becoming manner.
We are not pleading for an ideal church. Churches governed by the Holy Spirit have existed from the beginning and exist now. They are witnessing, growing, evangelistic and full of the missionary spirit. They have escaped the woe predicted by John Wesley when warning his societies against spiritual decay, "Woe be unto you when rich men become necessary to you!" He had in view the spiritual peril of churches too costly of the societies. His advice to build plain edifices is needed today, and always will be so long as there is a tendency to trust more in material splendor than in the power of God. The Christians of the first century escaped this peril by building no churches. There is no account in the New Testament of the dedication of a temple of Christian worship. The disciples in the days of the apostles met for Christian fellowship in some capacious private house. Preaching was probably under the open heavens in a genial climate. The rigorous winter in many countries precludes this method of evangelization. Hence the necessity of buildings.
We confess a strong sympathy with the Plymouth Brethren in their attempt to maintain their worship by receiving the gifts of only those who are professedly regenerate, and refusing the gifts of all others. Their worship is chiefly in private houses. Thus they escape the evils of a worship too costly for their ability. But they are exposed to the danger of constant schism, having no outward bond of union in a temple built by united gifts and sacrifices. When union ceases, the presidency of Him who conserves Christian unity, the Holy Spirit, ceases also. No form of church life is free from perils. Hence the need of ceaseless watchfulness to keep the Paraclete enthroned in the heart and in the Church.
The Holy Spirit will not preside over an organization which magnifies external religious forms and rests in them. So true is this that the term formalist signifies "one who does not possess the life and spirit of religion." The Holy Spirit is free and delights in a variety of manifestations in different believers. There should be room in every church for this variety. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The converse of this declaration is also true — where liberty is not, there the Spirit does not preside. "There are diversities of operations" in nature, in Providence, in the individual soul, and there must be in the Church if it is indwelt by ''the same God which worketh all in all." We believe in the sacraments given for the purpose of holding the person of our adorable Saviour forever in the centre of Christianity, keeping it from becoming a mere system of ethics, after the idea of modern liberalism, deism and agnosticism. We also believe that they are helps to faith, and, in this way, means of grace. But we do not believe that they are the sole method of communing with God. It is possible for us through faith in Christ to have direct and blissful contact of our spirit with the Holy Spirit. This is the central and distinctive doctrine of that modern revival of Christianity called Methodism. The sacraments may be so magnified as to obstruct spiritual communion and foster an offensive and exclusive sacerdotalism. They were never committed to one body of men as a patent right to all the offices of the Holy Spirit.