James Nisbet Commentary - 1 Timothy 3:15 - 3:15

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James Nisbet Commentary - 1 Timothy 3:15 - 3:15

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‘The Church of the living God.’


What does it mean when it is said so expressly, ‘the Church of the living God’?

I. Is it in contrast to the temples of the heathen, whose gods are dead, and cannot hear, or speak, or see? Or does it mean more expressly that it is ‘the Church of God’ Who is ‘living’ to keep, and guide, and bless, and give life to His people; and, therefore, because it is ‘the Church of the living God,’ it can never die? This is only a part of what it means. ‘The Church of the living God.’ It must, like its great Author and Proprietor, if it is a Living Church, show signs of life.

II. What are the signs and evidences of life?—Let us take the analogy of the human life.

(a) To make human life there must be the breath. It is with ‘the Church,’ and with every member of the Church. There is a breath. The Holy Spirit is the breath.

(b) But the breath requires feeding with words which look and express this inward feeling. Can there be life without expression? If it be not in speech, will it not be by some other way? Therefore, the breathing of the Holy Spirit leads to our Liturgy.

(c) And can it go on without growth? The growth can be of different kinds, but there must be growth of some sort; and if the man be a man of God, and if the Church be ‘the Church of the living God,’ there must be growth. A Church which does not grow may doubt whether it is a Church at all!

(d) And with the growth and the breathing will come action! Everincreasing action. Action in accordance with the principle which is working within us. There must be action in a Church. It must depart, it must go out of itself, it must multiply itself.

(e) There must be expansion. Is it not the mark, the test of a real ‘Church of the Living God’? Expansion! It is the principle of all true religion, and of every Church.

Rev. James Vaughan.


‘The Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their Message (1909) on the world-wide mission of the Church said: “There are in our midst many striking signs of a new interest in the great cause of the missions of the Church; but there are still many of its members who have not appreciated the claims alike of our opportunity and of our responsibility. We specially ask the men of the Church to realise that this is a matter which has a right to demand their intelligent interest and co-operation as citizens both of the Empire and of the Church of Christ. We therefore call upon all members of our Church here in England and Wales to unite in a more resolute determination to place and keep the mission of the Church to the whole world in the forefront of its thought and prayer and action. The cause of missions must no longer be merely an occasional object, however zealously supported, of our prayers and offerings, but an essential element in the corporate life of the Church.” ’



I. What the Church is.—It is the house, the temple, the body, the congregation of Christ.

II. The reason why the Church exists.—Is it not to witness for Christ and to work for Christ?

(a) Witnessing does not consist in a narrow and vain repetition of His name; it is not in saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in teaching men to do His will. All who have stood before guilty things and corrupt societies, and not been ashamed, have been witnesses for Christ in being witnesses for righteousness. The splendour of a Church which is on too good terms with the world is but an iridescence that gleams over stagnation; it is but the glittering scum over the barrenness of the Dead Sea. No age can do without the Church’s witness for righteousness.

(b) Christ specially pointed to great regions of toil in which the Church could carry out her witness of Him and His righteousness. He Who commanded, ‘Go ye and teach all nations,’ also said, ‘Feed My sheep, feed My lambs.’

Dean Farrar.


‘Vast is the work of the Church at home and abroad. The battle of good and evil is going on all over the universe, but all that you see, and all for which you are responsible is the little corner of the vineyard in which you are placed. The secret of successful conflict is the same now as it has been in all time: it is faith and self-devotion. “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and they loved not their lives unto death.” ’


‘The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.’


The Bible is not one book; it is a library of books, written by different men, of different ages, climes, and periods of history To understand the Bible we need a guide.

I. The Church is the divinely constituted guide.—Her twofold mission is to war against the world, and to preach and teach the truth. ‘The Church hath authority in controversies of faith’ (Art. XX.). What does this mean? That where differences as to interpretation exist, the Church, through the declaration of the undivided councils, the teaching of the Fathers and her formularies, is the final authority, and must act as Umpire. The Church cannot, of course, teach anything contrary to the Word of God. The Bible is the rule of faith; the Church is the witness, keeper, and interpreter.

II. But certain objectors maintain that

(a) No authority is necessary. This objection may be met with a direct negative. On what authority does such an objector receive the Bible as the Word of God? Not on his own, not on mine. He really receives it on the authority of the Church.

(b) Holy Scripture is its own sufficient interpreter.—This objection must also be met with a distinct negative. It is nothing of the kind. Are any, holding such an opinion, prepared to act up to it?

(c) The Church’s teaching creates a prejudice or prepossession; and if you go to the Bible with certain prejudices, of course you will find there what you seek. Don’t be frightened by words. Prejudice means an opinion which we have not examined for ourselves—an opinion based on the authority of another. But we are all led by authority from the beginning of life.

III. Observe how the Christian faith was first propagated—not by Scripture. The New Testament, in its present form, could not possibly have circulated through the world for some two hundred years after the birth of Christ. How were the primitive Christians taught? Orally. ‘Hold fast the form of sound words.’ ‘O Timothy, take heed to what thou hast heard, and commit the same’—not to writing—‘commit the same to faithful men, who shall teach others also.’ The Gospel was taught by tradition. Again, the Fathers and the Reformers accepted this principle of tradition. The question they asked themselves was not what interpretation can be infused into that text or passage, but what has been the invariable teaching of the earliest writers, derived from the oral teaching of the Apostles and their successors? We believe God has committed His truth to two guardians: not the Bible without the Church, nor the Church without the Bible. The two stand and fall together. Not the Bible and the Bible only, not the Church and the Church only, but the Bible and the Church, side by side, and hand in hand.

Rev. Prebendary J. Storrs.


‘How is it the Papist gets one thing out of the Bible, the Calvinist another, and the Quaker something different from either? Because they approach it with prepossessions—of education, environment, associations of the past. Without such, where would their opinions be—their belief and creed? The Ethiopian approached it with a mind open and void, and he was right in his reply to the question, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” “How can I, except some man should guide me?” ’