The Church as a Divine Institution

[T]he Church is a Divine institution, owing its origin not to man, but to Christ, and associated together not in consequence of human arrangement, but by Christ’s appointment.

No doubt there is a foundation laid in the very nature of the religion which Christ came to promulgate, for the union of His disciples in one body or society. The faith which each man holds for the salvation of his own soul is a faith which joins him to every other believer. The close and mysterious union which is constituted by faith between him and his Savior, is a union that connects him through that Savior with every other Christian. In becoming one with Christ, he becomes at the same time, in a certain sense, one with all who are Christ’s. The spiritual fellowship that a believer enjoys with his Redeemer, is not a solitary or a selfish joy, but one which he cannot possess alone, or except in common with other believers. It is the very nature, therefore, of the Gospel to be not a solitary religion, but a social one. When Christ, through the mighty operation of His Spirit, brings a sinner into reconciliation and communion with Himself, He ushers him also into the fellowship of reconciliation and communion with all other Christians. When the work of grace is done upon the soul of man, and the barriers of separation between him and his Savior are cast down, and the sinner who was afar off is brought near to God, the very same work of grace removes the obstacles that hindered his union to his fellow-believers. Were there no positive command or appointment, therefore, requiring Christians to unite together and to form on earth a society joined together by the profession of the same faith, the very nature of Christianity would force such a result.

– James Bannerman, The Church of Christ, pp. 19-20 (emphasis added).

Two Things That Will Keep Us from Christ

Therefore, if we would give ear to Christ’s call, away with all arrogance and complacency! Arrogance arises form a foolish persuasion of our own righteousness, when man thinks that he has something meritorious to commend him before God. Complacency can exist even without any belief in works. For many sinners are so drunk with the sweetness of their vices that they think not upon God’s judgment but lie dazed, as it were, in a sort of drowsiness, and do not aspire to the mercy offered to them. Such sloth is no less to be shaken off than any confidence in ourselves to be cast away in order that we may without hindrance hasten to Christ, and empty and hungering, may be filled with his good things. For we will never have enough confidence in him unless we become deeply distrustful of ourselves; we will never lift up our hearts enough in him unless they be previously cast down in us; we will never have consolation enough in him unless we have already experienced desolation in ourselves.

Therefore we are ready to seize and grasp God’s grace when we have utterly cast out confidence in ourselves and rely on only the assurance of his goodness – “when,” as Augustine says, “forgetting our own merits, we embrace Christ’s gifts.” For if he sought merits in us, we would not come to his gifts. Bernard is in agreement with this when he neatly compares to faithfulness servants the proud, who claims even the slightest thing for their own merits because they wrongfully retain the credit for grace that passes through them, as if a wall should say that it gave birth to a sunbeam that it received through a window. Not to halt any longer with this, let us hold it as a brief but general and sure rule that prepared to share the fruit of God’s mercy is he who has emptied himself, I do not say of righteousness, which exists not, but of a vain and airy semblance of righteousness. For to the extent that a man rests satisfied with himself, he impedes the beneficence of God.

– John Calvin, Institutes, III, xii, 8.

Christianity without the Holy Spirit

Without the Holy Spirit, God is distant, Christ is in the past, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organization, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, worship is the summoning of spirits, and Christian action is the morality of slaves.

– Ignatius Hakim (Patriarch of Antioch), quoted in What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael Bird, pp. 182-183.

One Measurement of Our Growth in Christ

Let us, however, consider this settled: that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection. Paul, too, distinguishes all believers by this mark [Titus 2:13; cf 2 Tim. 4:8], and Scripture habitually recalls us to it whenever it would set forth proof of perfect happiness. “Rejoice,” says the Lord, ” and raise your heads; for your redemption is drawing near.” [Luke 21:28 p.] Is it reasonable, I ask you, that what our Lord meant to be sufficient to arouse us to rejoicing and good cheer should engender nothing but sorrow and dismay? If this is so, why do we still boast of him as our Master? Let us, then, take hold of a sounder view, and even though the blind and stupid desire of the flesh resists, let us not hesitate to await the Lord’s coming, not only with longing, but also with groaning and sighs, as the happiest thing of all. He will come to us as Redeemer, and rescuing us from this boundless abyss of all evils and miseries, he will lead us into that blessed inheritance of his life and glory.

– Calvin, Institutes, III.ix.5.