The Duty of Every Believer to Join a Church by Wilhelmus à BrakelArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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“Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people…” (Isaiah 56:3).
It is the duty of everyone who desires to be saved to turn to the church, making diligent effort to be accepted as a member of the church community.
First, this is God’s way whereby He leads the elect unto salvation. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47); “Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from His people” (Isa 56:3).
Secondly, this has been the task of the apostles in accordance with their commission (Matt 28:19), as is to be observed in the entire Acts of the Apostles.
Thirdly, this is consistent with the nature of God’s children. As soon as they are converted, they cannot rest until they have been received into the bosom of their spiritual mother (Gal 4:26).
Fourthly, this is the consistent confession of the church of all ages, and particularly of churches of the Netherlands. In article 28 of the Belgic Confession we read: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it.” We have elaborated on this in chapter 24.
Fifthly, the church is the glory of Christ. It is there that Christ is confessed and proclaimed throughout the world, being held forth as a banner upon a hill around which one must gather himself. This is the city upon a hill, and a light shining in the darkness. She is the means whereby the truth is made known and preserved, and the means unto the conversion of souls. Everyone is therefore obligated to facilitate this by joining himself to the church.
Motives for Joining the Church
In order that you may be stirred up and be active concerning this, calmly consider first of all that there are but two kings in this world, each having a kingdom: the kingdoms of Christ and of the devil, which are mortal enemies to each other. A third kingdom does not exist. Every person upon earth is either a subject of King Jesus or of the devil, the prince of darkness. No matter who you are individually, you are truly a subject of one of these two kingdoms. You are neither neutral nor a subject of both kingdoms simultaneously. Therefore, to which kingdom do you presently belong? What do you have to say for yourself? If you neither know nor have ever given this any thought, come and sit next to me for a moment; let us consider this matter, and then make a heartfelt and eternal choice. Whose subject do you wish to be? Whom do you choose to be your king?
If you choose the devil to be your king and to be subject to him—to do his will, to indulge in your lusts, to wallow in your sins as a swine in the mire, to seek those things which are upon earth, to satisfy your lusts, as well as for leisure and entertainment—o let it be. Enjoy it to the fullest as long as you have the opportunity. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes” (Eccles. 11:9); “…love the world…all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life…” (1 John 2:15-16). If therefore by your very deeds you reveal yourself to be a subject of the devil, be also not ashamed to bear the name of such a subject. Own, acknowledge, and confess the devil to be your lord and master. Trust in him, and delight yourself in the fact that you will eternally be with him in the lake that burns with brimstone, where the smoke of torment will ascend forever and ever.
Someone may think, “This is stated too blatantly. Christ must be our King. Even if we seek our own pleasure, conform to the will of Satan, and live a distinctly worldly life, the devil is not therefore our king.” To this we respond, “He most certainly is!” If you in turn respond, “Christ is nevertheless our King,” we reply, “He most certainly is not!” Listen to what Paul says: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness” (Rom 6:16).
Therefore, if in truth you neither wish the devil to be your king nor to have your portion with him in outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 25:30), then resolutely, without reservation, and without recantation resign from his service, and with all your heart bid the devil’s kingdom farewell, forsake all sin and the lusts of the flesh, and enter into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Receive Him as your sole and sovereign King. Do this not only verbally, externally, by way of approximation or by way of sudden impulse, but consciously and in truth.
Sit down and take time to count the cost. Consider whether, for the sake of the Lord Jesus, you are willing to part with all your fleshly thoughts and lusts, all your worldly pleasure, your friends, and your life. Consider whether you would be willing to follow Him in hunger, nakedness, and shame, being steadfast unto death—and be obedient to Him in all things. If your heart has been illuminated, and in the presence of God you can truthfully answer in the affirmative, come to a full resolution and turn to this King. Bow before Him, offer yourself to Him, enter into covenant with Him, and thus become His subject. In order that you may be exercised in this in a more clear and heartfelt manner, give further consideration to the following matters.
Love itself towards the Lord Jesus ought to motivate you to do so, since He is so precious, glorious, and full of salvation for all who come to Him. It has pleased God that all fullness should dwell in Him; He is a complete ransom. He is mighty to reconcile enemies with God, to make peace, to purify the conscience, to deliver the soul from all guilt and punishment as well as from the devil and hell, to unite her with God, to give her the Holy Spirit, and to sanctify, preserve, and lead her to eternal felicity.
If all this does not motivate you, and you cannot think of one reason which would make you active in this regard—if only then you would reflect for a moment! Would that it were your heartfelt inclination and joy that all men would bow down before Jesus, acknowledge Him as King, and surrender to His rule! This would be suitable to exercise a desire in you that He who is worthy to rule would also rule in your heart, that you would also belong to those who exclaim, “Jesus is King!” and that with you the number of His subjects would be increased.
The Glory and Elegance of the Church
In this church there is both glory and elegance. For a moment give attentive consideration to the glorious state of that kingdom and its true subjects. The earth and the nations are enveloped in darkness; however, wondrous light is to be found in the church. The glory of the Lord illuminates this city of God and the Sun of Righteousness enlightens it with His light. Outside of her is nothing but pollution, abominations, and ungodliness; however, within her there is holiness, purity, and glory. The church is called, “The perfection of beauty” (Ps 50:1-2); “an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations” (Isa 60:15); “a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God” (Isa 62:12); “The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord” (Isa 62:12); “the Lord … will be the glory in the midst of her” (Zech 2:5); “And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through My comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God” (Ezek 16:14). Consider attentively how delightful and desirable each true subject is to God. “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee” (Isa 43:4); “Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee” (Isa 62:4); “Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child” (Jer 31:20). Therefore we must exclaim with Moses, “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!” (Deut 33:29). There is reason to exhort one another, “Walk about Zion, and go around about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces” (Ps 48:12-13). Ought not everyone therefore to delight himself in Zion, and be desirous to be a member of this church, a fellow citizen of the saints, and a member of the household of God? Should not everyone be desirous to submit himself to the protection and government of this King? For not only are all of these things said concerning this kingdom and this King, but all are most certainly true.
There is safety in this kingdom. Consider the faithful protection which this King affords to all His subjects in general, and to each subject in particular. The Lord speaks thus: “I have laid help upon One that is mighty” (Ps 89:19); “He is just and having salvation” (Zech 9:9); “And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain” (Isa 4:5-6); “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about” (Zech 2:5); “I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day” (Isa 27:3). Here we may behold these truthful promises and the actual protection afforded. Is not he then entirely secure who enjoys the protection of such a King, and who may belong to a people upon whom the eye of the Lord is continually? “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps 91:1). You therefore, whoever you may be, flee to this strong tower and join yourself to Zion, for “the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of His people shall trust in it” (Isa 14:32). Seek refuge under the wings of this King who will redeem the souls of His subjects “from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in His sight” (Ps 72:14).
In this kingdom there is truth, light, life, joy, and whatever else may rejoice a soul and make it happy. Furthermore, the blessings with which this King favors His subjects are inexpressibly glorious. He fully forgives all their iniquities. “And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity” (Isa 33:24). He is the “fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech 13:1). He gives them peace and joy. “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth” (Ps 72:6-7) His name is “the Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6); “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27); “For the kingdom of God … is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom 14:17). God Himself is their portion and complete joy. “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him” (Lam 3:24). He gives them His Holy Spirit who quickens, teaches, guides, and sanctifies them. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father” (John 15:26); “But if I depart, I will send Him (the Comforter) unto you” (John 16:7).
Yes, if I had to relate to you all blessings, I would have to enumerate all the benefits of the covenant of grace. In a word, the Lord blesses them “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). The Lord says, “All My springs are in thee” (Ps 87:7); “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High” (Ps 46:4); “For there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Ps 133:3); “Oh how great is thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!” (Ps 31:19).
He who may be acquainted with these benefits, and who may have tasted or anticipated their sweetness, cannot but with utmost urgency make haste to become a subject of this King, and to rejoice if he may be a subject of this King. Apply these matters to your heart, and act wisely and in uprightness. Enter into the covenant, or rather, by faith embrace this covenant of grace which is offered to you, and join yourself to the church.
Taken from Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pp. 55-60.