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The Church Mystically Considered

William Ames (1576-1633) - One of the Greatest Theological Puritans and Writers

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“The first act of religion, therefore, concerns those things which are communicated to us from God. The other concerns those things which we yield to God.”

The application of the work of God in the church.

So much for the application of redemption considered in itself. Now we take up the matter of the subject to which and the way in which it is applied.

1. The subject is the church. Eph. 5:25-27, Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, that he might sanctify her, being purified by him with the -washing of water through the word, that he might make her glorious to himself, that is, a church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but rather holy and blameless. Therefore, election, redemption, vocation, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification properly pertain to the same subject, i.e., to the individual men who make up the church. John 17:9—10, Those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; Rom. 8:29, 30, For those whom he foreknew he oho predestined.

2. The church is both the subject and an effect of redemption. For it is not first actually a church and later joined in union and communion with Christ; it is the church of Christ because it is united to Christ.

3. And this is the reason why we can neither explain nor understand the nature of the church unless we first perceive and explain the things which have to do with the application of Christ.

4. The elect, before they are grafted into Christ, are in themselves not of the church except in terms of that potentiality which in its own time will surely become actual because of God’s intention and transaction with Christ. This remote potentiality in which all men are involved will certainly be made actual for the elect by God’s determination.

5. Therefore, the orthodox who define the church as a company of the elect mean either those who are called according to election or the church not only as it exists now but also as it will exist hereafter.

6. The church is first of all constituted by calling, whence both its name and definition.

7. The church is indeed the company of men who are called. 1 Cor. 1:24 and 10:32, Those who are called, both Jews and Greeks … to Jews, to Greeks, and to the church of God. Because the end of calling is faith and the work of faith is a grafting into Christ, and this union brings with it communion with Christ, the church can be defined at once as a company of believers, a company of those who are in Christ, and a company of those who have communion with him.

8. Faith looks to Christ and through Christ to God; likewise the church which exists by faith looks to Christ as its head and through Christ to God. Therefore, the church is called the Body of Christ, Col. 1:24; the Church of God, 1 Cor. 10:32; the Kingdom of Christ, Col. 1:13; and the Kingdom of God, Rom. 14:17.

9. It is called a Company because it consists of a multitude joined in fellowship or a community of many (not a single person who is called), thus Eph. 4:16 where it is named a Body joined and made up of diverse members. Hence it is often called in Scripture a House, family, city, kingdom, or flock.

10. This company is limited to men because the good angels, although in a way they belong to the church because of their union with Christ and the saving grace communicated by him, are not the same as the members of the redeemed church.

11. The form or constituting cause of this church must be something found alike in all those who are called. This can only be a relationship, and the only relationship which has this power is that which comes from a primary and intimate affection toward Christ. In man this comes only by faith. Faith, therefore, is the form of the church.

12. Inasmuch as faith is in each believer individually it is the form of those that are called. But seen collectively in all, faith is the form of the company of those that are called, or the church.

13. The same believing men, on the one hand, are individuals called by God; on the other, they are collectively the company which is the church of God.

14. Therefore, all the promises of God containing essential blessings which are made to the church in Scripture belong to each believer.

15. The relationship is so intimate that not only is Christ the church’s and the church Christ’s, Song of Sol. 2:16, but Christ is in the church and the church in him, John 15:4; 1 John 3:24. Therefore, the church is mystically called Christ, 1 Cor. 12:12, and the Fullness of Christ, Eph. 1:23.

16. The church is metaphorically called the bride and Christ the bridegroom; the church a city and Christ the king; the church a house and Christ the householder; the church the branches and Christ the vine; and finally the church a body and Christ the head.

17. But these comparisons signify not only the union and communion between Christ and the church but also the relation showing Christ to be the beginning of all honor, life, power, and perfection in the church.

18. This church is mystically one, not in a generic sense, but as a unique species or individual — for it has no species in the true sense.

19. It can, therefore, be called catholic, not as catholic signifies a genus of something general, but as it describes something uniquely universal (as when we speak of the world). This is so because it embraces believers of all nations, of all places, and of all times.

20. No part of the church can truly be called catholic unless it professes the faith of the catholic church. Thus the ancient authorities called not only that part of the church at Rome catholic but other churches as well. Our church at Franeker may rightly be called catholic since it professes the faith which belongs to the catholic church.

21. The church is divided according to the degree of communion it has with Christ. In this sense it is called either militant or triumphant.

22. The church militant is that which knows only of a communion begun and so still struggles with enemies in the battlefield of this world. 1 Cor. 13:9, 12, We know in part and prophesy in part. For we see through a glass darkly; 2 Cor. 10:4, The weapons of our warfare; Eph. 6:12, 13, We wrestle . . . Therefore take the whole armor of God.

23. The church triumphant is that which is already perfected. Eph. 4:13, Until we all come … to a perfect man, to the measure of the full stature of Christ; 1 Cor. 15:46, Afterwards comes that which is perfect.

24. The militant church is both invisible and visible (that is, to outward sight or sense).

25. This distinction is not a division of genus into species, as if there were one church visible and another invisible, or of the whole into the members, as if one part of the church were visible and another invisible. It relates to phases of the same subject: Invisibility is a condition or mode of the church having to do with its essential and internal form; visibility is a condition or mode of the church having to do with its accidental or outward form.

26. The essential form is invisible both because it is a relation which cannot be perceived by the senses and also because it is spiritual, and so farther removed from sense perception than many other relations.

27. The accidental form is visible because it is an outward profession of inward faith, easily perceived by sense.

28. The visible profession is the manifest communion of the saints which they have with Christ and among themselves.

29. Their acts of the communion with Christ are those by which they present themselves to God in Christ to receive his blessings and to glorify him for those blessings.

30. Their acts of communion among themselves are all those in which they strive to do good to each other. These acts are especially those which directly further their communion with God in Christ.

31. Many acts of this kind are to be performed towards those who are not yet members of the church, for they ought to be judged as belonging to it potentially.

32. The church visible in itself, in comparative relation to others, is divided into the church hidden and manifest.

33. The manifest church is found where a greater number of saints exist and profession is freer and more public.

34. The hidden church is found where the number is fewer and profession less open. This is likely to occur in time of heresies, persecutions, or godless morality.

35. In the same way, the church is more pure or less pure as profession is more or less perfect.

36. Profession depends not only upon confession and the preaching of the word, but also upon the receiving of it and devout obedience to it.

37. Although the church is subject to changes of this kind and may relinquish any part of the world, yet from its gathering it never has totally failed nor shall it fail to the end of the world.

38. For Christ must always have his kingdom in the midst of his enemies until he makes his enemies his footstool.

39. The church never wholly ceases to be visible. Although sometimes there is scarcely a church pure enough to offer the same pure worship at all points, yet the church is still somehow visible in the very midst of the impurity of worship and profession.

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