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BY REV. A. T. CHESTER,
FASTOR OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, SARATOGA SPRINGS..
THE WHOLE FAMILY OF CHRIST.
*Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named."-EPH. chap. 3, verse 15.
This is one of the incidental remarks with which the word of God abounds, conveying to our minds more instruction, than it was the direct purpose of the sacred writers to communicate. Such hints, easually thrown out as it may appear to us, though all is under the direction of the spirit of inspiration, are exceedingly interesting, and the arguments which are thus furnished in support of doctrines, are exceedingly weighty.
The apostle in the context is assuring the Ephesian christians that he remembers them in his prayers before God. "For this cause," says he, "I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,"-this is merely the introduction to what he designs to say ;-he proceeds to set before them the purport of his prayer," that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his spirit in the inner man ;"-but let us now stop at the introduction: in it there is set forth a most interesting truth, upon which it may be profitable to dwell.
The Church of Christ, in heaven and on earth, constitutes one great family.
The religion of Jesus Christ has instituted new relationships among mankind. It has connected Christians with heaven even while they remain on earth. It has made, in the highest sense, God their father, Jesus Christ their elder brother, and all the company of the glorified saints their kindred in the skies,-while at the same time, it has bound them by ties stronger than household love, to people of every nation and tongue under the whole heaven, among whom the love of Jesushas been shed abroad with its redeeming power. Some of us belong to this great family; and as when a circle is formed in their father's
house, of a portion of the members of a family widely scattered, the conversation must relate in part to those who are still absent, but who bear the endearing name of brother or sister, so, as we have come up to-day, from various parts of the land, to this house of our common father, as we are enjoying the common blessings of his presence, and these exalted privileges of his grace, let us regard the nature of this relationship, the extent of the family circle and the condition of the absent ones, and seek to feel and to cherish those emotions in our own souls, which must arise from such communion with each other and with God.
I. The relation of Christians to each other is a family relation. The term which is employed in the text to represent it is derived from the word, father. It thus declares that the Church is a family in this sense, that its members have all the same father. This is true indeed of all the children of men by creation. Have we not all one father? But the wicked have denied and broken up this relationship, and now are to be considered not as united to God by this tender tie, but as condemned criminally in the presence of their Judge. The disciples of Christ, however guilty they may have been-however long they have wandered as prodigals from their father's house, have come backhave listened to the call of mercy from their gracious God, and have received as a free gift the pardon of their sins, which secures the salvation of their souls. They have received as the first-fruits of their reconciliation with God, adoption into his family, and the spirit of adoption also, whereby they cry, with child-like confidence and love, Abba, Father. There may have been many different circumstances connected with their conversion; they may have been awakened by various instrumentalities; they may have come into the kingdom of the Redeemer at different periods; their words of penitence and faith may have been in various languages,-but whether the "God be merciful to me a sinner" was uttered in the polished tones of a Castilian, or the rough breathings of a Hottentot, it has been heard in heaven, and the penitent has become a child of God.
This is recognized as a family relationship in the word of God. "I will be a father unto you and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord." "Whosoever," says Christ," shall do the will of my father who is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother." The spirit of obedience unto God is the distinctive mark of a real Christian, and this binds him to Christ in these endearing relations. The union with Christ which is thus formed is represented by the most significant language. It is the union of the branch with the vine, of the husband with the wife,-of the members with the body. Such is the measure of the Savior's love for those whom he has redeemed that he permits the use of such terms to express it. Surely then those who are thus joined to Christ are related to each other, as brothers and sisters. In the Scriptures the word "brethren" is frequently employed to denote the relationship existing among the children of God. It is once used in connection with the statement of a
duty, growing out of this relationship, which is startling. "We," says the Apostle, "ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." And he uses the same word in bringing to view a test of Christian character-"We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren."
This relationship has ever been recognized among the disciples of Christ. One of the common expressions among the ancient saints in speaking of each other was, brethren ;-and in later times, even down to the present day, brother, and sister, are the affectionate terms by which those address each other who are united in Christian love. Every departure from the spirit of ardent affection, all neglect of brotherly regard and sympathy is seen and felt to be unworthy of a follower of Christ. Love to God the Father, love to Christ the Savior, and not least in importance, love to the children of God wherever they may be found, is an essential element of Christian character; and this burning in purity and power in each Christian's heart, makes his union with his fellow Christians delightful and profitable, and gives to all, thus united, the character of a happy family.
There is another point presented to view in the text which exhibits the nature of this relationship. "Of whom, the whole family in heaven and earth is named,”—all have received a name from Jesus Christ. Each one has this proof of connection with the great family, that he bears its name. We know what this name is on earth. It is Christian. "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Before and in other places they had received different names, generally opprobrious and insulting epithets. But at Antioch, and at all other places, since the apostolic age, they have been called Christians, from the great founder of their religion. And this is their common name all over the earth. The other words in which grace and mercy are made known to men are translated into the languages and dialects of all who hear the gospel. But this word, the distinctive name of God's people, is not changed. It is the same word, though written in the various characters of almost all the languages of the earth; it has the same sound in all, as nearly as the different tongues will admit. Have we not reason to suppose that this is the very name of the redeemed ones above-that this word is not translated even into the dialect of heaven-that Christ is the name, at which every knee shall bow even in eternity, and Christian the name of the family on high.
II. Let us regard the extent of this family, and the condition of those who are absent from us.
A portion, as we are taught by the text, are in heaven. Yesthere is the Father, and the first-born at his right hand, upon their glorious thrones, and around them are gathered those which have been saved from among men, and washed in the blood of Christ. These are called the Saints. These have been our fellow men,-some of them our particular friends and kindred. They have once been subject to all the infirmities of our human nature. They have sinned and suffered-they have sickened and died. The ties by which we were
bound to them on earth were broken, and we seemed to be bidding them farewell for ever, as we wiped the death-dew from their brow and closed their eyes in darkness,-as we placed them in the grave and left them to its silence. But these have not perished,-these if they have died in the Lord have joined that portion of the family which is on high. Yonder-not far off-much nearer than we sometimes suppose, are these glorified spirits, the family in heaven. Look upon the scene, as described by one who saw it in vision. There is a great multitude, of all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palms in their hands. Hear their cry, as with loud voice they say, "Salvation to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." See, all the angels around the throne are falling upon their faces worshipping Gcd, as they join in the song, and say, "Amen: Blessing, and glory, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might be unto our God, for ever and ever, Amen." Do you ask, "what are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" A heavenly voice answers, "these are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he that sitteth upon the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat, for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Here they are in the presence of God, perfectly holy, perfectly happy, and they shall go no more out for ever. This is the condition of that portion of the family already in heaven. Who of us has not contributed to make it up? Have you given up an aged father or mother, who has been cut down as a shock of corn fully ripe-whose spirit has been cheerfully resigned into the arms of Jesus at the bidding of death? See amid the worshipping throng is that revered parent, now arrayed in immortal youth, and striking with vigorous hands the harp of praise. This is your father, your mother still. Has the mourning wife, or husband committed to the grave the cold body of the one most beloved on earth ?one who could say amid the bitterness of such a separation, "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better." See that dear friend is clothed in white before the throne, and is joining in the anthems of heaven. Do you grieve to know that the cherished object of your earthly affection is in such company and enjoying such bliss? You may love still-for however remote heaven may be from earth, yet these are a portion of the same family to which you belong. Have you children in heaven? Have you been called to give up those who in their tender years were consecrated to Christ? whose early affection was fixed upon the Savior of sinners? These precious spirits are in heaven, ripening for immortal joy. Mother! the laughing babe which has been called from your embrace before it could comprehend the
power and warmth of your affection, has not lived in vain; Baptized with the blood of Jesus, it has been admitted to heaven; and while you are shedding bitter tears amid the sin and misery of earth, it is raising its infant voice in the chorus of the skies ;-nursed by older saints, reposing in the bosom of its Savior, it shall be forever safe and happy. It has not been cast out from the care of the family,-before you placed its cold clay in the dust, angels had borne its glowing spirit to its home in heaven. Is it not happiness amid our wo, to have such assurances as these from the word of God? Is it not honor to be connected with such spirits in the brighter world?
Nor are these unwilling to acknowledge the relationship. If ever the exalted might look down with contempt upon those who are beneath them and deny all acquaintance with them, surely these who are in heaven may forget and neglect their brethren of the earth. But so it is not. "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" Think you they come not most willingly, on such an errand, to those with whom they have dwelt in love on earth, and from whom they are separated only for a little time?
This is the family in heaven-already numerous. In it are all the holy men that have lived and died; the patriarchs, and their pious children; the leaders of Israel, and the faithful of the people; all the godly kings of antiquity, and those of their subjects who worshipped Jehovah; the prophets, and those who listened with believing hearts to their prophecies; the good of all ages and countries, who have depended upon the merits of a crucified Savior for salvation, whether they looked forward to him through the types and ceremonies of the Jewish ritual, or back to Calvary, to behold in Jesus of Nazareth the Lamb slain for sin, from the foundation of the world. There are the martyrs who have defended the faith, and sealed their confession with their blood; the pilgrims who have preferred "freedom to worship God" to every other blessing; the heralds of the cross to the ends of the earth, each with his company of redeemed ones from the north, the south, the east and the west, the first-fruits of missionary labor, already harvested, gathered safely into the garner of God. This is the family in heaven; a portion of the great family which is named from Christ. How numerous it is we cannot tell. What it shall at length be, when all are gathered home, we are told;-" an exceeding great multitude which no man can number." It will be large enough to fill the desires of the benevolent heart of Jesus. "He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied."
But as yet a multitude of the redeemed are left on earth. To these we turn-the family on earth. Do we ask, who are they? Is not the whole human race one great family? "Hath not God made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth?" Can we ever be insensible to the ties which bind us to the whole human family? Yet the relationship which christianity originates, is higher than this natural connection of man with his fellows. The