Do you belong to the one and only true Church? Part 2.

Written by J. C. Ryle
Edited for thought and sense

“On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”
–Matthew 16:18

The Church of our text is made up of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

going_to_churchIt comprehends all who have repented of sin, and fled to Christ by faith, and been made new creatures in Him. It comprises all God’s elect, all who have received God’s grace, all who have been washed in Christ’s blood, all who have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness, all who have been born again and sanctified by Christ’s Spirit. All such, of every nation, and people, and tongue, compose the Church of our text. This is the body of Christ. This is the flock of Christ. This is the bride. This is the Lamb’s wife. This is the Church on the rock.

The members of this Church do not all worship God in the same way, or use the same form of government. “It is not necessary that ceremonies should be in all places one and alike.” But they all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit. They are all really and truly holy. They can all say “Alleluia,” and they can all reply “Amen.” This is that Church, to which all visible Churches on earth are servants. They all serve the interests of the one true Church. They are the scaffolding, behind which the great building is carried on. They are the husk, under which the living kernel grows.

The best and worthiest of them, is that which trains up most members for Christ’s true Church.

But no visible Church has any right to say, “We are the only true Church. We are the men, and truth shall die with us.” No visible Church should ever dare to say, “We shall stand forever. The gates of hell will not overcome us.” This is that Church to which belong the Lord’s precious promises of preservation, continuance, protection, and final glory. “Whatever,” says Hooker, “we read in Scripture, concerning the endless love and saving mercy which God shows towards His Churches, the only proper subject is this Church, which we properly term the mystical body of Christ.” Small and despised as the true Church may be in this world, it is precious and honorable in the sight of God. The temple of Solomon in all its glory was nothing, in comparison with that Church which is built upon a rock.

Men and brethren, see that you hold sound doctrine on the subject of “the Church.” A mistake here may lead to dangerous and soul-ruining errors. The Church which is made up of true believers, is the Church for which we, who are ministers, are specially ordained to preach. The Church which comprises all who repent and believe the Gospel, is the Church to which we desire you to belong. Our work is not done, and our hearts are not satisfied, until you are made new creatures, and are members of the one true Church. Outside of this Church, there can be no salvation. I pass on to the second point, to which I proposed to call your attention.

Our text contains not merely a building, but a “Builder”…

The Lord Jesus Christ declares, “I will build My Church.” The true Church of Christ is tenderly cared for by all the three persons of the blessed Trinity. In the economy of redemption, beyond all doubt, God the Father chooses, and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies, every member of Christ’s mystical body. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three Persons in one God, cooperate for the salvation of every saved soul. This is truth, which ought never to be forgotten. Nevertheless, there is a peculiar sense in which the help of the Church is laid on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is peculiarly and preeminently the Redeemer and the Savior. Therefore it is, that we find Him saying in our text, “I will build—the work of building is my special work.” It is Christ who calls the members of the Church in due time. They are “the called of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6). It is Christ who gives them life. “The Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (John 5:21). It is Christ who washes away their sins. He “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). It is Christ who gives them peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). It is Christ who gives them eternal life. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:28). It is Christ who grants them repentance. “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior, that he might give repentance” (Acts 5:31). It is Christ who enables them to become God’s children. “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

It is Christ who carries on the work within them, when it is begun. “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

In short, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ]” (Colossians 1:19). He is the author and finisher of faith. From Him every joint and member of the mystical body of Christians is supplied. Through Him they are strengthened for duty. By Him they are kept from falling. He shall preserve them to the end, and present them faultless before the Father’s throne with exceeding great joy. He is all things, and all in all to believers.

The mighty agent by whom the Lord Jesus Christ carries out this work in the number of His Churches, is, without doubt, the Holy Spirit. He it is who applies Christ and His benefits to the soul. He it is who is ever renewing, awakening, convincing, leading to the cross, transforming, taking out of the world, stone after stone, and adding it to the mystical building. But the great Chief Builder, who has undertaken to execute the work of redemption and bring it to completion, is the Son of God—the Word who was made flesh. It is Jesus Christ who “builds.”

In building the true Church, the Lord Jesus condescends to use many subordinate instruments.

The ministry of the Gospel, the circulation of the Scriptures, the friendly rebuke, the word spoken in season, the drawing influence of afflictions—all, all are means and methods by which His work is carried on. But Christ is the great superintending architect, ordering, guiding, directing all that is done. What the sun is to the whole solar system—that Christ is to all the members of the true Church. “Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God gives the increase.” Ministers may preach, and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone can build. And except He builds, the work stands still.

Great is the wisdom with which the Lord Jesus Christ builds His Church. All is done at the right time, and in the right way. Each stone in its turn is put in the right place. Sometimes He chooses great stones, and sometimes He chooses small stones. Sometimes the work moves fast, and sometimes it moves slowly. Man is frequently impatient, and thinks that nothing is happening. But man’s time is not God’s time. A thousand years in His sight are but as a single day. The great Builder makes no mistakes. He knows what He is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He works by a perfect, unalterable and certain plan. The mightiest conceptions of architects, like Michaelangelo are mere insignificant child’s play, in comparison with Christ’s wise counsels respecting His Church.
Great is the condescension and mercy, which Christ exhibits in building His Church. He often chooses the most unlikely and roughest stones, and fits them into a most excellent work. He despises no one, and rejects none—on account of former sins and past transgressions. He delights to show mercy. He often takes the most thoughtless and ungodly, and transforms them into polished corners of His spiritual temple.

Great is the power which Christ displays in building His Church. He carries on his work in spite of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. In storm, in chaos, through troublesome times—silently, quietly, without noise, without stir, without excitement—the building progresses. “I will work,” He declares, “and none shall hinder it.” Brethren, the children of this world take no interest in the building of this Church, they care nothing for the conversion of souls. What are broken spirits and penitent hearts to them? It is all foolishness in their eyes. But while the children of this world care nothing, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God. For the preserving of that Church, the laws of nature have oftentimes been suspended.

For the good of that Church, all the providential dealings of God in this world are ordered and arranged. For the elect’s sake, wars are brought to an end, and peace is given to a nation. Statesmen, rulers, emperors, kings, presidents, heads of governments, have their schemes and plans, and think them of vast importance.

But there is another work going on of infinitely greater significance, for which they are all but as the axes and saws in God’s hands. That work is the gathering in of living stones into the one true Church. How little are we told in God’s Word about unconverted men, compared with what we are told about believers! The history of Nimrod, the mighty hunter, is dismissed in a few words. The history of Abraham, the father of the faithful, occupies several chapters. Nothing in Scripture is so important as the concerns of the true Church. The world makes up little of God’s Word. The Church and its story make up much.

Forever let us thank God, my beloved brethren, that the building of the one true Church is laid on the shoulders of One who is mighty. Let us bless God that it does not rest upon man. Let us bless God that it does not depend on missionaries, ministers, or committees. Christ is the almighty Builder. He will carry on His work, though nations and visible Churches do not know their duty. Christ will never fail. That which He has undertaken He will certainly accomplish! 

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0Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. Ryle was born at Macclesfield, and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Craven Scholar in 1836.  The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before choosing a path of ordained ministry. While hearing Ephesians 2 read in church in 1838, he felt a spiritual awakening and was ordained by Bishop Sumner at Winchester in 1842. For 38 years he was a parish priest, first at Helmingham and later at Stradbrooke, in Suffolk. He became a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England and was noted for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings.

jc-ryle-and-charles-spurgeonRyle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. He was a writer, pastor and an evangelical preacher. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), Principles for Churchmen (1884). Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and vigorous in advocating his principles albeit with a warm disposition. He was also credited with having success in evangelizing the blue collar community. His second son, Herbert Edward Ryle also a clergyman, became Dean of Westminster.

The true Church is Christ’s army.

By J.C. Ryle

jesus-returns-with-the-church-saints-at-end-of-the-tribulationThe Captain of our salvation loses none of his soldiers.

His plans are never defeated. His supplies never fail. His roll call is the same at the end—as it was at the beginning! Of the men that marched gallantly out of England a few years ago in the Crimean war, how many never came back! Regiments that went forth, strong and cheerful, with bands playing and banners flying, laid their bones in a foreign land, and never returned to their native country. But it is not so with Christ’s army. Not one of His soldiers shall be missing at last. He Himself declares “They shall never perish.”

The devil may cast some of the members of the true Church into prison.

He may kill, and burn, and torture, and hang. But after he has killed the body, there is nothing more that he can do. He cannot hurt the soul. When the French troops took Rome a few years ago, they found on the walls of a prison cell, under the Inquisition, the words of a prisoner. Who he was, we do not know. But his words are worthy of remembrance. Though dead, he still speaks. He had written on the walls, very likely after an unjust trial, and a still more unjust excommunication, the following striking words, “Blessed Jesus, they cannot cast me out of Your true Church!” That record is true. Not all the power of Satan can cast out of Christ’s true Church one single believer! The children of this world may wage fierce warfare against the Church, but they cannot stop the work of conversion.

What did the sneering Emperor Julian say, in the early ages of the Church,

“What is the carpenter’s son doing now?” An aged Christian made answer, “He is making a coffin for Julian himself.” But a few months passed away, when Julian, with all his pomp and power, died in battle. Where was Christ when the fires of Smithfield were lighted, and when Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake? What was Christ doing then? He was still carrying on His work of building. That work will ever go on, even in troublesome times.

Fear not, beloved brethren, to begin serving Christ.

He to whom you commit your souls has all power in heaven and earth, and He will keep you. He will never let you be cast away. Relatives may oppose. Neighbors may mock. The world may slander and sneer. Fear not! Fear not! The powers of hell shall never prevail against your soul. Greater is He who is for you—than all those who are against you.

Fear not for the Church of Christ, my brethren…

…when ministers die, and saints are taken away. Christ can ever maintain His own cause, He will raise up better and brighter stars. The stars are all in His right hand. Leave off all anxious thought about the future. Cease to be cast down by the measures of statesmen, or the plots of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Christ will ever provide for His Own Church! Christ will take care that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! All is going on well—though our eyes may not see it. The kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
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0Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. Ryle was born at Macclesfield, and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Craven Scholar in 1836.  The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before choosing a path of ordained ministry. While hearing Ephesians 2 read in church in 1838, he felt a spiritual awakening and was ordained by Bishop Sumner at Winchester in 1842. For 38 years he was a parish priest, first at Helmingham and later at Stradbrooke, in Suffolk. He became a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England and was noted for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings.

jc-ryle-and-charles-spurgeonRyle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. He was a writer, pastor and an evangelical preacher. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), Principles for Churchmen (1884). Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and vigorous in advocating his principles albeit with a warm disposition. He was also credited with having success in evangelizing the blue collar community. His second son, Herbert Edward Ryle also a clergyman, became Dean of Westminster.

When You are Thoroughly Chastened and Corrected by Well-Meaning Pastors and Churchmen Who are Wrong.

An Example From the Reformers (Richard Sibbes and Thomas Goodwin).

Richard-Sibbes[I have NOT edited the following letter for thought and content, or even the 16th century grammar, as I usually strive to do. However, you should be mindful that the following is a personal and private letter. And even with the whole of the letter, we are left without the complete context. In this case, I want you to also see the emotional heart of the matter…  Goodwin has poured out his heart and soul to Sibbes and instead of receiving encouragment and support, Sibbes lashes out at Goodwin for “the haynousnesse of this sin.”

thomasgoodwinWith this in mind, I bring this letter to your attention (though it may take a little extra work to read) because it is between two great lights of the early Reformers; Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) and Thomas Goodwin D.D. (1600-1679), who has been designated the Atlas and patriarch of Independency from the Church of England. Sibbes is 25 years older than Goodwin and is acting as a senior pastor with a lot of experience in such matters.  Sibbes is also admonishing Goodwin, who he loves and respects, and so he is doing it to help, strengthen and turn Thomas Goodwin around, not to injure him, and that is important.  But the fact of the matter is, that Sibbes, in this instance, may indeed be grievously wrong. Others have correctly pointed out, that Sibbes would have acted more faithfully as well as more consistently, had he followed the example of his friends, Goodwin, John Cotton, John Davenport, Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and their compatriots. The spirit that pervades his letter is worthier than his arguments.

The letter comes from the Memoir of Richard Sibbes, and it is a letter from him to “An Afflicted Conscience”, taken to be to Goodwin, on very good evidence that we shall not go into here. The letter sheds a fascinating light on the reasoning behind the thinking of the “Stayers” when confronted by the “Separaters” from the Church of England at a time when Popish ceremonies were being introduced by Bishops and King, and the ordained ministers are ordered to administer them, or face banishment, loss of goods, loss of livelihood, and even death.   Sibbes continued to preach the Gospel, did not give in to ritualism, but stays in by the powerful influence of his many friends, and though certainly, summoned before Star Chamber and High Commission, he holds on in his way of preaching the same gospel everywhere by means of his friends and the power of his sermons. That explains his remaining within the church. 

You and I can heartily understand that Goodwin could not have enjoyed listening and acting upon his conscience in opposition to Sibbes; an act which Sibbes describes to Goodwin as a “heinous sin”.  But scholars have pointed out that Goodwin’s reaction to Sibbes does not appear in any of Goodwin’s memoirs, which is much to his credit.  –MWP]

Deare Sir,

I understand by your Letter, that you have many and grevious tryals; some externall and bodily, some internall and spirituall: as the deprivall of inward comfort, the buffetings (and that in more then ordinary manner), of your soule, with Satan’s temptations: and (which makes, all those inward and outward, the more heavy and insupportable) that you have wanted Christian society with the Saints of God, to whom you might make knowne your griefes, and by whom you might receive comfort from the Lord, and incouragement in your Christian course.

Now that which I earnestly desire in your behalfe, and hope likewise you doe in your owne, is that you may draw nearer to God, and be more conformable to his command by these afflictions; for if our afflictions be not sanctified, that is, if we make not an holy use of them by purging out old leaven of our ingenerate corruptions, they are but judgments to us, and makes way for greater plagues: Ioh v. 14. And therefore the chiefe ende and ayme of God in all the afflictions which he sends to his children in love is, that they may be partakers of his holinesse, and so their afflictions may conduce to their spiritual! advantage and profit, Heb. xii. 10. The Lord aymes not at himselfe in any calamities he layes on us, (for God is so infinitely all-sufficient, that we can adde nothing to him by all our doings or sufferings) but his maine ayme is at our Melioration and Sanctification in and by them. And therefore our duty in every affliction and pressure, is thus to thinke with our selves: How shall we carry and behave our selves under this crosse, that our soules may reap profit by it? This (in one word) is done by our returning and drawing nearer to the Lord, as his holy Apostle exhorts us, Iames iv. 8. This in all calamities the Lord hath speciall eye unto, and is exceeding wroth if he finde it not.

The Prophet declares That his anger was not turned from Israel, because they turned not to him that smote them, Isa. i. 4, 5. Now it is impossible that a man should draw nigh to God, and turne to him, if he turne not from his evil wayes: for in every conversion there is Terminus a quo, something to be turned from, as well as Terminus ad quod, something to be turned to.

Now, that we must turn to, is God; and that we must turne from, is sinne; as being diametrally opposite to God, and that which separated betweene God and us.

To this purpose we must search and try our hearts and wayes, and see what sinnes there be that keepe us from God, and separate us from his gracious favour: and chiefly we must weed out our special bosom-sine. This the ancient Church of God counsels each other to doe in the time of their anguish and affliction, Lam. iii. 89, 40, Let us search and try our wayes, and turne againe to the Lord: for though sinne make not a final divorce betwixt God and his chosen people, yet it may make a dangerous rupture by taking away sense of comfort, and suspending the sweet inference of his favour, and the effectual operation of his grace.

And therefore (deare Sir) my earnest suit and desire is, that you would diligently peruse the booke of your conscience, enter into a thorow search and examination of your heart and life; and every day before you go to bed, take a time of recollection and meditation, (as holy Isaac did have private walkes, Gen. xxiv. 68), holding a privy Session in your soule, and indicting your selfe for all the sins, in thought, word, or act committed, and all the good duties you have omitted. This self-examination, if it be strict and rigid as it ought to be, will soone shew you the sins whereto you are most inclinable (the chiefe cause of all your sorrowes), and consequently, it will (by God’s assistance) effectually instruct you to fly from those venomous and fiery serpents, which have so stung you.

And though you have (as you say) committed many grievous sinnes, as abusing God’s gracious ordinances, and neglecting the golden opportunities of grace: the originall, as you conceive of all your troubles; yet I must tell you, there is another Coloquintida in the pot, another grand enormity (though you perceive it not) and that is you separation from God’s Saints and Servants in the Acts of his publike Service and worship. This you may clearly discern by the affliction it selfe, for God is methodical in his corrections, and doth (many times) so suite the crosse to the sinne, that you may reade the sin in the crosse. You confesse that your maine affliction, and that which made the other more bitter, is, that God tooke away those to whom you might make your complaint; and from whom you might receive comfort in your distresse. And is not this just with God, that when you wilfully separate your selfe from others, he should separate others from you? Certainly, when we undervalue mercy, especially so great a one as the communion of Saints is, commonly the Lord takes it away from us, till we learne to prize it to the full value. Consider well therefore the haynousnesse of this sin, which that you may the better conceive, First, consider it is against God’s expresse Precept, charging us not to forsake the assemblies of the Saints, Heb. x. 20, 25. Again, it is against our own greatest good and spirituall solace, for by discommunicating & excommunicating our selves from that blessed society, we deprive our selves of the benefit of their holy conference, their godly instructions, their divine consolations, brotherly admonitions, and charitable reprehensions; and what an inestimable boon is this? Neither can we partake such profit by their prayers as otherwise we might: for as the some in the naturall body conveyes life and strength to every member, as they are compacted and joyned together, and not as dis-severed; so Christ conveyes spiritual life and rigour to Christians, not as they are disjoyned from, but as they are united to the mysticall body, the Church.

But you will say England is not a true Church, and therefore you separate ; adhere to the true Church.

I answer, our Church is easily proved to be a true Church of Christ: First, because it hath all the essentialls, necessary to the constitution of a true Church; as sound preaching of the Gospel, right dispensation of the Sacraments, Prayer religiously performed, and evil! persons justly punisht (though not in that measure as some criminals and malefaetors deserve:) and therefore a true Church.

2. Because it hath begot many spiritual children to the Lord, which for soundnesse of judgemcnt, and holinesse of life, are not inferiour to any in other Reformed Churches. Yea, many of the Separation, if ever they were converted, it was here with us: (which a false and adulterous Church communicated.)

But I heare you reply, our Church is corrupted with Ceremonies, and pestered with prophane persons. What then? must we therefore separate for Ceremonies, which many think may be lawfully used. But admit they be evils, must we make a rent in the Church for Ceremonious Rites, for circumstantial evils? That were a remedy worse than the disease. Besides, had not all the true Churches of Christ their blemishes and deformities, as you may see in seven Asian Churches? Rev. ii. and iii. And though you may finde some Churches beyond Sea free from Ceremonies, yet notwithstanding they are more corrupt in Preachers, (which is the maine) as in prophanation of the Lord’s day, &c.

As for wicked and prophane Persons amongst us, though we are to labour by all good meanes to purge them out, yet are we not to separate because of this residence with us : for, there will bee a miscellany and mixture in the visible Church, as long as the world endures, as our Saviour shewes by many parables: Matth. xiii. If therefore we should be so overjust as to abandon all Churches for the intermixture of wicked Persons, we must salle to the Antipodes, or rather goe out of the world, as the Apostle speaks: so it is agreed by all that Noah’s Arke was a type and embleme of the Church. Now as it had been no lesse then selfe-murder for Noah, Sem, or Iaphet to have leapt out of the Arke, because of that ungracious Gains company; so it is no better then soule-murder for a man to cast himself out of the Church, either for reall or imaginall corruptions. To conclude, as the Angell injoyned Hagar to returne, and submit to her Mistris Sarah, so let me admonish you to returne your selfe from these extravagant courses, and submissively to render your self to the sacred communion of this truly Evangelicall Church of England.

I beseech you therefore, as you respect Gods glory and your owne eternall salvation, as There is but one body and one spirit, one Lord, one Baptisme, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all; so endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, Eph. iv., as the Apostle sweetly invites you. So shall the peace of God ever establish you, and the God of peace ever preserve you; which is the prayer of

Your rernembrancer at the Throne of Grace

R. SIBS.

As scholar and editor, Rev. Alexander Balloch Grosart points out, “Who doubts for a moment, that, if his mouth had been shut, as was Goodwin’s, on the ‘one thing,’ that Sibbes would have placed himself beside his friend. Perhaps there would have been more of lingering effort on Sibbs part to get Goodwin above the difficulties.  Perhaps, Goodwin would have had more pain in sundering of the ties that bound him to the church, more sway given to heart than head. Still the final decision, beyond all debate, would have been the same as that of the ‘two thousand’ that were oppressed of 1662. The more shame to those in power who compelled such loyal lovers of ‘the church’ to leave her.” 

From “Works of Richard Sibbes” Volume One. 
Pub. James Nichol, Edinburgh 1862

Do you belong to the one and only true Church?

Church-on-Rock

 

By J.C. Ryle

…to the Church outside of which there is no salvation?

I do not ask where you go on Sunday; I only ask, “Do you belong to the one true Church?”

Where is this one true Church? What is this one true Church like? What are the marks by which this one true Church may be known? You may well ask such questions. Give me your attention, and I will provide you with some answers.

The one true Church is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus.

It is made up of all God’s elect-of all converted men and women of all true Christians. In whomsoever we can discern the election of God the Father, the sprinkling of the blood of God the Son, the sanctifying work of God the Spirit, in that person we see a member of Christ’s true Church.

It is a Church of which all the members have the same marks. They are all born of the Spirit; they all possess “repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” and holiness of life and conversation. They all hate sin, and they all love Christ. They worship differently and after various fashions; some worship with a form of prayer, and some with none; some worship kneeling, and some standing; but they all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit; they all build upon one foundation; they all draw their religion from one single Book-that is the Bible. They are all joined to one great center-that is Jesus Christ. They all even now can say with one heart, “Hallelujah”; and they can all respond with one heart and voice, “Amen and Amen.”

It is a Church which is dependent upon no ministers upon earth, however much it values those who preach the Gospel to its members. The life of its members does not hang upon church membership, and baptism, and the Lord’s Supper-although they highly value these things, when they are to be had. But it has only one great Head one Shepherd, one chief Bishop-and that is Jesus Christ. He alone, by His Spirit, admits the members of this Church, though ministers may show the door. Till He opens the door no man on earth can open it-neither bishops, nor presbyters, nor convocations, nor synods. Once let a man repent and believe the Gospel, and that moment he becomes a member of this Church. Like the penitent thief, he may have no opportunity of being baptized; but he has that which is far better than any water-baptism-the baptism of the Spirit. He may not be able to receive the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; but he eats Christ’s body and drinks Christ’s blood by faith every day he lives, and no minister on earth can prevent him. He may be excommunicated by ordained men, and cut off from the outward ordinances of the professing Church; but all the ordained men in the world cannot shut him out of the true Church.

It is a Church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates, or any act of favor whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it; it has often been driven into the wilderness or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. Its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and His Spirit; and they being ever with it, the Church cannot die.

This is the Church to which the Scriptural, titles of present honor and privilege, and the promises of future glory, especially belong; this is the body of Christ; this is the flock of Christ; this is the household of faith and the family of God; this is God’s building, God’s foundation, and the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is the Church of the first-born, whose names fire written in heaven; this is the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the purchased possession, the habitation of God, the light of the world; the salt and the wheat of the earth; this is the “Holy Catholic Church” of the Apostle’s Creed; this is the “One Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the Nicene Creed; this is that Church to which the Lord Jesus promises, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, and to which He says, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” Mat_16:18; Mat_28:20.

This is the only Church which possesses true unity. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are all taught by one Spirit. About God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and sin, and their own hearts, and faith, and repentance, and necessity of holiness, and the value of the Bible, and the importance of prayer, and the resurrection, and judgment to come-about all these points they are of one mind. Take three or four of them, strangers to one another, from the remotest corners of the earth; examine them separately on these points; you will find them all of one judgment.

This is the only Church which possesses true sanctity. Its members are all holy. They are not merely holy by profession, holy in name, and holy in the judgment of charity; they are all holy in act, and deed, and reality, and life, and truth. They are all more or less conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. No unholy man belongs to this Church.

This is the only Church which is truly catholic [universal]. It is not the Church of any one nation or people; its members are to be found in every part of the world where the Gospel is received and believed. It is not confined within the limits of any one country, or pent up within the pale of any particular forms or outward government. In it there is no difference between Jew and Greek, black man and white, Episcopalian and Presbyterian-but faith in Christ is all. Its members will be gathered from north, and south, and east, and west, in the last day, and will be of every name and tongue-but all one in Jesus Christ.

This is the only Church which is truly apostolic. It is built on the foundation laid by the Apostles, and holds the doctrines which they preached. The two grand objects at which its members aim are apostolic faith and apostolic practice; and they consider the man who talks of following the Apostles without possessing these two things to be no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.

This is the only Church which is certain to endure unto the end. Nothing can altogether overthrow and destroy it. Its members may be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, burned; but the true Church is never altogether extinguished; it rises again from its afflictions; it lives on through fire and water. The Pharaohs, the Herods, the Neros, the bloody Marys, have labored in vain to put down this Church; they slay their thousands, and then pass away and go to their own place. The true Church outlives them all and sees them buried each in his turn. It is an anvil that has broken many a hammer in this world, and will break many a hammer still; it is a bush which, often burning, yet is not consumed.

This is the Church which does the work of Christ upon earth. Its members are a little flock, and few in number, compared with the children of the world; one or two here, and two or three there. But these are they who shake the universe; these are they who change the fortunes of kingdoms by their prayers; these are they who are the active workers for spreading the knowledge of pure religion and undefiled; these are the life-blood of a country, the shield, the defense, the stay and the support of any nation to which they belong.

This is the Church which shall be truly glorious at the end. When all earthly glory is passed away then shall this Church be presented without spot before God the Father’s throne. Thrones, principalities, and powers upon earth shall come to nothing; but the Church of the first-born shall shine as the stars at the last, and be presented With joy before the Father’s throne, in the day of Christ’s appearing. When the Lord’s jewels are made up, and the manifestation of the sons of God takes place, one Church only will be named, and that is the Church of the elect.

Reader, this is the true Church to which a man must belong, if he would be saved. Till you belong to this, you are nothing better than a lost soul. You may have countless outward privileges; you may enjoy great light, and knowledge-but if you do not belong to the body of Christ, your light, and knowledge, and privileges, will not save your soul. Men fancy if they join this church or that church, and become communicants, and go through certain forms, that all must be right with their souls. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not members of Christ’s body who profess themselves Christians. Take notice, you may be a staunch Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Independent, or Baptist, or Wesleyan, or Plymouth Brother-and yet not be long to the true Church. And if you do not, it will be better at last if you had never been born.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of jc-ryleLiverpool. Ryle was born at Macclesfield, and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Craven Scholar in 1836.  The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before choosing a path of ordained ministry. While hearing Ephesians 2 read in church in 1838, he felt a spiritual awakening and was ordained by Bishop Sumner at Winchester in 1842. For 38 years he was a parish priest, first at Helmingham and later at Stradbrooke, in Suffolk. He became a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England and was noted for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings.

Ryle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. He was a writer, pastor and an evangelical preacher. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), Principles for Churchmen (1884). Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and vigorous in advocating his principles albeit with a warm disposition. He was also credited with having success in evangelizing the blue collar community. His second son, Herbert Edward Ryle also a clergyman, became Dean of Westminster.

Excerpts from Wikipedia, source material from ilyston