Duties and Privileges of Church Members
An address (possibly by Simeon Burns) to the church of Christ meeting in the Particular Baptist Chapel, Lower Gornal, near Dudley, many years ago. The whole address is in scriptural language, sometimes quoted exactly, sometimes just the substance — so quotations marks have been omitted as in the original.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, as you have covenanted to walk together as a church of Christ in obedience to his commands, suffer 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 have 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 Ghost.
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 them which 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 fulness is open 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 your 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 by 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 dishonoured 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 (Heb. 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 love one another, even as he has loved you. Indulge no evil surmisings in reference to each other; charity thinketh 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 ye. Be ever ready to assist one another, according as God has given you ability, both in temporal and spiritual things. Avoid a censorious, cavilling, captious turn of mind. It is the bane of spirituality and a pestilence in a church. Love one another, for ye are brethren, the friends of Jesus, the foes of Satan and the representatives of the Saviour to the world.
Jesus bids you 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 his praises who hath 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 endeavour 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-consequence; it will render you miserable, useless and barren. You will be uncomfortable in yourselves, and a plague to all about you. Endeavour 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 practises 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 or praise, and never absent yourself from any ordinance unless lawfully detained. The diligent soul shall be made fat, but the idle shall suffer hunger.
Let all your things be done with charity. Never put a bad construction on an action if you can put a good one. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Exhort one another daily. Imitate God as dear children. Be clothed with humility. Let each esteem others better than himself. Put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering. Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, giving honour one to another. Let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Consider one another as compassed with infirmities, exposed to temptations, and possessing like passions with yourselves.
Receive ye one another as Christ also received you to the glory of God. Those who are weak in the faith receive ye. You are not at liberty to reject the lambs of the flock; those who through timidity say least often wear the best. A knowledge of self, faith in Christ and a willingness to observe his commands is all that you can consistently require in order to membership with you. Never set your standard too high or think the Lord will work by your rule. He is a Sovereign, and doeth 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 honour of Christ and the good of the cause upon these matters, and not your own feelings. Jesus requires you to pluck out a right eye if it is an offence, a hindrance or a stumbling block, and to cut off a right hand.
Strive and pray that the church may be kept pure and sound in doctrine and holy in practice. The door out of the church should be 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 Saviour (Matt. 18:15-20). Never report a quarrel until you have reproved and prayed for the offender. Offences will come; always endeavour to remove them out of the way as quickly as possible. Be sure you never encourage any fellow-member who retails the saint’s faults; the Lord tells us an angry countenance will drive away a back-biting tongue. If you refuse to receive they will soon leave off their practice. Make all due allowance for your brethren; remember you also have infirmities, and are exposed to temptations. If God leave you, sin will soon appear on you. If you see a brother about to sin, reprove him; if he fall, pray for him. This is the way to convert him, and hide a multitude of sins (James 5:19, 20). Never sanction sin in any, nor condemn rashly; strive against a hasty spirit, and study to be quiet. 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 your conduct at church meetings; these are the honour or disgrace of the church. Remember you are in God’s house, you profess to be tender of his honour, 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, sympathise with the poor, the sick, the tempted, the young, the aged, the backsliding, the penitent, your pastor and deacons. All have a claim on you, and may be benefited 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 you can under the Word, and beseech God to meet with them when there.
Always bear in mind, you must give account of yourselves to God. You are accountable for all you 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 honour to whom honour 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 ye shall reap life everlasting. Avoid the appearance of evil. Walk circumspectly. Walk worthy of God. Be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
Endeavour 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 without blushing, Be ye 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 your hearts than anything else.
Husbands love your wives. Are they unconverted? Endeavour 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 without? Strive by kindness, a manifest desire to make them happy, and a word in season, to bring them within. God is able to make all grace to abound toward you, so that ye 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 honour to a Christian, dirt a disgrace. Never be pert [i.e. forward, impertinent]. God’s Word says you are not to answer again (Titus 2:9). Guard against eye-service. You are directed to act towards your masters as you would towards the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 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 a 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 Ghost, the members of Christ, and should not be united to the enemies of Christ, 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 Saviour’s company, imitate the most holy of 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, endeavour 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 honour, uselessness a sad sign; barren fig trees are cumberers of the ground. You will either do good or harm in the church, glorify God or please Satan. Always speak the truth, never lie on any account; never allow yourselves to colour 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 age and spirituality, pity weakness, and loathe sin under any 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 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 to him with this command: ‘Occupy till 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 Zion may be 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 ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. Show your faith by 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 ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye 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 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, endeavour 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 band. 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 everything 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. Realise 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 hath called you unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen and settle you. To him be the glory and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen.
Taken with permission from the Gospel Standard, May 2012.
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