EXPLANATION OF THE MARKS OF THE CHURCH.
Q. What are the marks of the Church of Christ laid down in the scriptures?
A. These four, as declared in the Nicene creed, that she isOne, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
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THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS ONE.
Q. How does it appear that the Church of Christ is one?
A. This we have seen in the preceding chapter, where the Church is shown to be one body, of which Christ is the head, and that all her members are united to him in his body, by having all one and the same faith, being all in one communion, and subject to one supreme church authority. It also appears manifest, from the manner in which the Church is constantly represented to us in scripture, for there she is called the kingdom of God, "that shall never be destroyed, that shall not be delivered up to another people - but shall stand for ever," Dan. ii. 44. It is also called, "the city of the living God - the Church of the first born," Heb. xii. 22.; of which God says, by his prophet David, "The Lord hath chosen Sion, he hath chosen it for his dwelling. This is my rest for ever and ever, here will I dwell, for I have chosen it," Ps. cxxx. 13. St. Paul also calls it "the house of God, the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth," 1 Tim. iii. 15.
Seeing therefore, that this kingdom, this city, this house of God, shall never be destroyed, but shall stand for ever, it necessarily follows that it can never be divided against itself, cannot possibly consist of jarring sects, or separate communions, contradicting and condemning one another, but must always be one body, and all its members must be perfectly united in one faith, and one communion; for Christ himself expressly declares, "That every kingdom divided against itself shall be made desolate; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand," Matth. xii. 25. St. Paul also shows this unity of the Church, when he affirms, that "We being many, are ONE body in Christ," Rom. xii. 5.; and that there is but "one body, one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism," Eph. iv.; and Christ himself, in plain terms, says, that "there shall be one fold and one shepherd," John x. 16. which clearly shows, that all the members of the Church of Christ make up but one body, having all one faith, and are governed by one shepherd.
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THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS HOLY.
Q. How is it proved that the Church of Christ is Holy?
A. By holiness is understood that the Church of Christ teaches nothing but what is holy or tends to holiness; that she proposes to her children the most powerful motives to induce them to become holy; that she affords them the most efficacious means to enable them to be holy, and that great numbers of her children, by following her instructions and using these means, do actually become holy. Now, that all this is essential to the true Church of Christ is manifest from many texts of scripture:
First, The prophet Isaiah, foretelling the glories of the Church, as the way or rule to conduct us to eternal happiness, says, "And a way shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way," Is. xxxv. 8.; and that "the unclean shall not pass over it," to show that it is both holy in itself and conducts to holiness all those that walk therein, and brings them at last to eternal happiness; for it is added, "they shall walk there that shall be delivered; and the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and shall come to Sion with praise; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away," ver. 9. 10.
Second, David also foretells the holiness of the Church, when he says, "Holiness becomes thy house, O Lord, for length of days," Ps. xcii. 5.
Third, St. Paul assures us, that Christ died for this very purpose, to purify his Church and make her holy: "Christ loved the Church," says he, "and delivered himself up for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing; but that it shall be holy and without blemish," Eph. v. 25.
Fourth, The same apostle also teaches, that Christ died for the sanctification of her members, and that he "gave himself FOR US, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works," Tit. ii. 14.; and hence St. Peter says, "You are a chosen generation, a holy nation, a purchased people," 1 Pet. ii. 9.
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THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS CATHOLIC.
Q. How does it appear that the Church of Christ is Catholic?
A. The word Catholic signifies Universal, and means that the Church of Christ is not confined to one corner of the world, or to one nation, as the Jewish church was, but is made for all nations and for all countries, so as to embrace the whole world; which is explained in the following manner, from the scripture:
First, That the Church was instituted by Jesus Christ, to be diffused through all nations, and propagated to the utmost bounds of the earth. Thus he gave the pastor of the Church express commission to carry the light of his Gospel every where; "Go ye," says he, "and teach all nations," Matth. xxviii. "Going into the world, preach the gospel to every creature," Mark. xvi. "And you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost parts of the earth," Acts i. 8. Yea, Christ himself assures us, that he suffered for this very end; "Thus it behoved Christ to suffer," aid he to the eleven, "and to rise again from the dead the third day; and that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," Luke xxiv. 46.
Second, That the Church being intended for his purpose, and being of this diffusive nature, must possess in herself those means and qualifications, which are necessary for propagating the faith of Christ among all nations, and for converting all mankind to Christianity. These in the beginning were apostolical men, men burning with zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, who, leaving all to follow Christ, cheerfully sacrificed their own comforts, and underwent all dangers and difficulties, in order to convert souls to Christ: men eminent for their holiness of life, on whom God bestowed the gift of miracles, as proofs of their mission, and to confirm the truth of what they taught. Apostolical men of this kind then must never be wanting in the true Church of Christ, as the means appointed by him for converting the world to the Church. Thus the prophet Isaiah foretells the perpetuity of apostolical pastors in the Church, and their continual zeal for the propagation of the gospel, in these words: "Upon thy walls O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen all the day and all the night; they shall NEVER hold their peace. You that are mindful of the Lord hold not your peace," Is. lxii. 6. The success of their labors is thus described, "The gates shall be open continually: they hall not be shut day or night, that the strength of the Gentiles may be brought unto thee, and their kings may be brought," Is. lx. 11. That the gift of miracles shall not be wanting to many of these apostolical laborers, Christ himself assures us; for when he conferred upon the apostles and their successors the mission of teaching all nations, he immediately added, "And these signs shall follow them that believe in my name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick and they shall recover," Mark xvi. 17. And that this gift of miracles was chiefly promised to those who preach the word, in confirmation of what they taught, is plain, from the first performance of the promise; for it is immediately added, that "they going forth preached every where, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed," verse 20. Upon another occasion, he says, with an oath, "Amen, amen, I say unto you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do he shall do also, and greater than these shall he do, because I go to the Father," John xiv. 12.
Third, In consequence of this the Church must, from the beginning, be propagating the faith of Christ, and, from time to time be converting nations, till at last she is spared over the whole universe; thus, "from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, my name is great among the Gentiles," Mal. 1. 11. "All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the lord, and all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight; for the kingdom is the Lord's, and he shall have dominion over the nations," Ps. xxi. 28. "Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for they possession," Ps. ii. 8. In the New Testament, to omit many others, St. Paul says to the Colossians, "The truth of the gospel is come to you, as also it is in the whole world, and bringeth forth fruit and groweth," Col. i. 6. From all which it is evident, that to be catholic or universal, is an essential quality of the Church of Christ; that she is not, and cannot be confined to one corner or nation, but is more or less spread over all the known world, and in the Church of all nations.
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THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS APOSTOLICAL.
Q. How does it appear that the Church of Christ is Apostolical?
A. By the word Apostolical is meant, that the Church of Christ is ruled by the apostles, and the doctrine of faith was taught by them as they received it from Christ, the powers of priesthood were exercised by them, and that she must continue to the end of the world in the profession of the same faith and doctrine, and in a continual uninterrupted succession of priesthood, so that the apostolic doctrine, priesthood, and mission remain with her for ever. That the Church shall always preserve the apostolical doctrine, we have seen above, when explaining the rule of faith; and that she shall never want a succession of true pastors, inheriting the same priestly powers and mission which she received at first form the apostles, ins manifest form these considerations:
First, Because true pastors, properly empowered, and lawfully sent, are a necessary part of the Church, and instituted by Jesus Christ, "for the perfecting the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ," Eph. iv.; consequently, such pastors will never be wanting in her, according to that of the prophet: "Upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never hold their peace," Is. lxii. 6.
Second, Because the scripture assures us, that "no many taketh the honour of the priesthood upon himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was," Heb. v. 4.; much less can any man possess the powers of priesthood, unless they be given to him by those who have power to give them. Thus St. Paul writes to Titus, "For this cause I left thee at Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldst ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee," Tit. i. 5.
Third, That none who have these priestly powers can lawfully exercise them, unless they be authorized and commissioned to do so by being lawfully sent. Thus the apostles received their mission from Christ, who said to them, "As my Father sent me I also send you," Jo. xx. In like manner they send others to succeed themselves, with power also to send others after them, as St. Paul and Barnabas were sent by the chief pastors of the Church at Antioch, and their doing so was declared to be the work of the Holy Ghost," Then they, fasting and praying, and imposing their hands upon them, sent them away. So they being sent by the Holy Ghost, went to Selucia," Acts xiii. 3.
St. Paul himself sent Titus, as above, that is, authorized and commissioned him to govern the Church in Crete, and ordain pastors in it under him; and he says, in another place, "How can they preach unless they be sent?" Rom. x. 15. This, then, is the door by which the true pastors of Christ's flock enter, to wit, when lawfully ordained and sent, or commissioned by the chief pastors of the Church. For all who take that office upon themselves, without entering by the door, are declared by Christ himself to be "thieves and robbers," John x. 1. From all which it is manifest, that as true pastors are an essential part of the Church of Christ, and will never be wanting in her, therefore, there will be in the Church a continued uninterrupted succession, of the priestly powers and mission given at the beginning by Jesus Christ himself to his apostles, to the end of time.
Q. Are there any other proofs to show that these four marks belong to the true Church?
A. There are several other texts of scripture, besides those mentioned above, which show it; and it is also proved from the creeds: For the Apostles' Creed contains, as an article of divine faith that the Church is Holy and Catholic. "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church." And the Nicene Creed contains all the four; and I believe "One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."
Q. Are there any other marks of the Church of Christ besides these four contained in the creed?
A. There are also two others which deserve particular notice, because they serve, in a most convincing manner, to distinguish the true Church of Christ from all separate congregations; and these are, that she is perpetual in her duration, and infallible in her doctrine. We have seen in the chapter on the rule of faith, that the Church of Christ is infallible in what she teaches; that "the words once put in her mouth at the beginning shall never depart from her from henceforth and ever;" that Jesus Christ is "with her pastors to the end of the world," and that the "Holy Ghost," the spirit of truth, abides with her for ever," to teach her all truth."
All which not only show her infallibility, but also her perpetual duration to the end of time. But, besides these, we have also many testimonies of scripture, which, directly prove that the Church of Christ can never fail, but will continue being upon earth, as long as the world endureth. Thus, Christ "shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end," Luke i. 32. This was foretold long before by the royal prophet in these words, spoken by God himself: "Thy seed will I settle for ever, and I will build up thy throne unto generation and generation - I will make him my first bon high above the kings of the earth, and I will keep my mercy for him for ever, and my covenant faithful to him. And I will make his seed endure for evermore; and his throne as the days of heaven. And if his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgment; if they profane my justice, and keep not my commandments, I will visit their iniquities with a rod, and their sins with stripes; but my mercy I will not take away from him, nor will I suffer my truth to fail; neither will I profane my covenant, and the words that proceed from my mouth I will not make void. Once have I sworn by my holiness: I will not lie unto david; his seed shall endure for ever; and his throne as the sun before me; and as the moon perfect for ever, and a faithful witness in heaven," Ps. lxxxviii. 5. 28. What this covenant is which God makes with Christ, the true David, of whom this prophecy is made, and about the keeping of which God shows so much earnestness and concern, we are told by the prophet Isaiah as follows: "And there shall come a Redeemer to Sion, and to them that return from iniquity in Jacob, saith the Lord. This is my covenant with them, saith the Lord. My spirit that is in thee, and my words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of they mouth, nor out the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever," Is. lix. 20. In which texts we see a most solemn promise of Almighty God, both that the seed of Christ, his holy Church, shall continue for ever, and that he shall never fail to teach the true doctrine once put in her mouth.
The prophet Daniel also declares the perpetuity of Christ's kingdom upon earth in these strong terms: "In the days of those kingdoms, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and his kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people; and it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and itself shall stand for ever," dan. ii. 44.
Q. In which of all the Christian societies, which at present divide the Christian world, are all these marks of the Church of Christ found?
A. The smallest attention will immediately show that they are all to be found in the Roman Catholic Church, and in no other society of Christians whatsoever, and, therefore, that she alone is the true Church of Christ.
First, The Roman Catholic Church is one body, whose members are all united together in one and the same faith, in being all of the same communion, and governed by one and the same supreme authority. This is the more to be remarked when we consider, that, though those of her communion be exceeding numerous, and spread throughout the whole known world, and differ from one another almost in every thing else, in their country, in their language, in their customs, in their government, and in their worldly interests, yet they are all most perfectly united in religion; they every where believe the same divine truths, profess the same faith, teach the same doctrine, preach the same gospel; so that, wherever any one of that Church goes, throughout the whole world, he always finds himself at home, with those of that communion, as to religion.
Second, With regard to Holiness: This shines forth in the Roman Catholic Church in the most eminent degree. The whole body of her doctrine is bonded together with such most perfect symmetry, like the stones in the arch of a bridge, every part supporting and supported by each other, that the smallest flaw or shadow of contradiction can never be found in it. Every article of her faith is holy in itself, and so conducive to true holiness, that she challenges her greatest adversaries to show the smallest stain in any part of what she really teaches; and the most convincing proof of their being unable to do so is, that, not daring to attack her true doctrine, they, by calumny and misrepresentation, lay things to her charge which she detests and condemns. As for holy persons, she justly glories in having great numbers of such in her communion, whose eminent virtues have been the admiration of all who know them, and have been frequently attested by innumerable miracles wrought through their means, and at their intercession.
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THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE GLORIOUS CHARACTER OF CATHOLIC.
Third, The Roman Catholic Church alone possesses, as her undivided property, the glorious character of Catholic. In her communion alone great numbers of holy apostolical men have abounded, in all ages, who leaving all they possessed, or could expect in this world, and burning with zeal for the conversion of souls to God, have dedicated themselves entirely to carry the light of the gospel to those who "sat in darkness and in the shadow of death," and to bring heathen nations to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. in consequence of this, from the very beginning, the Church has always been extending the sacred standard of the gospel: and by her alone were all the heathen nations converted, that have as yet been ever brought to the Christian faith; and though, in different ages, several who had enjoyed the happiness of being in her communion, have, through the unsearchable judgments of God, been cut off from it; yet scarce did this ever happen, but other nations, in much greater numbers were called in their place, to her bosom.
In many flourishing countries, no other religion is known, and in others where a different religion is established, great numbers of her communion are generally to be found; by all which, the very name of Catholic is so appropriated to her, that no other sect pretends to assume it.
On the other hand, all the various sects which are separated from her, are seldom to be found entire throughout one whole nation; they are generally confined to one province or corner, they take particular names from their founders, or tenets, or some particular circumstances regarding them; and, in several parts of Christendom, their very names are unheard and the majority of them in time disappear.
Fourth, The Roman Catholic Church along is truly Apostolical, not only in the continual preservation of the sacred doctrine delivered by the apostles to her at the beginning, which, by the very rule of faith, can never be altered; but also in the constant uninterrupted succession of lawful pastors, with all the sacred powers of the priesthood and mission, derived from the same source.
This is so palpable a truth, that the Church of England (which alone, among the modern religions that have been separate form the old way, claims the power of ordination) acknowledges, that, whatever she has of the priestly powers, she received them all from the Roman Catholic Church, in whom alone they have been transmitted to the present time, without interruption, from the apostles.
It is true, indeed, that the Church of England claims the power of holy orders in her ministers, but this is at best but a very dubious point, and absolutely denied by the Catholic Church. As for all the other different sects, they do not so much as pretend to it; and their first beginners, conscious of their own total want of the priestly powers, endeavored to turn the whole into ridicule, rejecting the very name of Priest from their communion, and taking upon themselves an authority to which they could show no title; much less could they derive their assumed authority from the apostles.
They paid no regard to the words of St. Paul, "How shall they preach unless they be sent?" Rom. x. 15.; but taking this upon them out of their own head, they classed themselves with these false prophets, of whom Almighty God complains, "I have not sent these prophets, of whom Almighty God complains, "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied," Jer. xxiii. 21. They did not enter by the door appointed by Jesus Christ, and used by the apostles; what then can they say, to show they are not the thieves and robbers, mentioned in St. John x. 1, instead of true pastors?
Fifth, The Roman Catholic Church alone has had a perpetual being from the times of the apostles to this present day, without the smallest alteration or innovation of her faith, in any one article of revealed truths. Her most inveterate adversaries are forced to acknowledge her existence for many ages before the reformation; but they could never possibly show any period when she first began to be what she now is. Some carrying her up to the fifth, fourth, third, or second ages; and some allowing her to have begun to put on the form she now has, even in the time of the apostles.
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THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH ALONE PERPETUAL.
But the justly laugh at all their jarring systems against her; and as she certainly was the true Church of Christ, when St. Paul wrote his epistle to the faithful of the city of Rome, and declared, that "their faith was spoken of through the whole world," Rom. i. 8.; so she holds that she has never ceased to be so since that time. The very rule of faith she follows, the promises of Jesus Christ, the history of all ages, the writings of the great lights of Christians, commonly called the Holy Fathers, in every age of the Church, which remain to this day, the numbers of heresies which have always broke off form her, and the fruitless attempts of her adversaries to show the contrary, convincingly prove that she is still the same, and that her faith has never varied.
On the other hand, all the separate communions that ever have been, or are at present in the Christian world, can never carry up their existence beyond a certain period long after the apostles. They all went out from the great body of Christians that was before them, and had been from the beginning. Those who began in the earlier ages of the Church, are long since sunk into oblivion, and have now no being at all. Those of more modern date were many ages after Christ, before they were so much as heard of in the world, and their authors, separation, and particular tenets, the opposition they met, their subsequent divisions and subdivisions among themselves, are all recorded in the histories of their times, and show how far they all are from having even the shadow of any claim or pretence to a perpetual existence from the times of Christ and his apostles.
sixth, As for infallibility in preserving the sacred truths of faith once delivered to the saints, the Roman Catholic Church is the only body of Christians which not only lays claim to it, but has always exercised it, and acted, upon all occasions, as alone possessing that high prerogative. All others, separated from her communion, are forced not only to reject all claim to it themselves, but even to deny that Christ left that privilege to his Church; and they make their separation upon no other pretence, but that the Church before them had actually fallen into errors.
So that the very groundwork of their defection is, that of gates of hell have prevailed against the Church of Christ; that the "words gone put in her mouth," have gone out of her mouth; that "Jesus Christ has not continued with her pastors, in teaching all nations," that the "Spirit of truth has failed to teach her all truth;" that she is no more "the pillar and ground of truth;" in a word, that God Almighty has abandoned his Church, and broken his covenant with her, and failed to perform all these sacred promises he made her.
While they thus deny infallibility to the Church of Christ, they reject, indeed, all claims to it themselves: but tell us, that we must take their fallible word for it, and in opposition to all God's sacred promises, must believe, because they say so, that the Church of Christ has fallen even into damnable errors, and that they are sent to reform her!
Therefore all the marks and characters of the true Church of Christ are to be found in the Roman Catholic Church, and in her alone; therefore, we justly conclude, that she alone is the true church of Christ, the house of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth, out of whose communion there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, and, consequently, that from her we are to receive the true faith of Christ, that is, the knowledge of those great truths of eternity which he revealed to the world, and the belief of which, he requires of all, as an essential condition of salvation.
Q. Is this true faith, or the belief of those sacred truths which Christ revealed, sufficient alone to save us?
A. On charity, or the love of God, which must be the motive of our obedience, according to that of our Savior, "If you love me, keep my commandments," John xiv. 15.; and hence St. Paul declares, that in Christ Jesus nothing will avail us without these two essential conditions of faith and love that shows itself by works: "In Christ Jesus," says, he, "neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by charity," or love, Gal. v. 6. Again he says, Though I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing," 1 Cor. xiii. 2. St. James also declares, that "faith without works is dead, being alone," and that, "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," James ii. 17. All which clearly shows that these two conditions, faith and obedience through love, are both expressly required by Almighty God as conditions of salvation; and these two include the whole sum of all our duties.
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