The evangelical, then, does not put the external [outward profession of faith], because the Scripture does not put it first. The gospel comes first.

It is by the gospel that election takes effect; that God adds to the church; and therefore where that gospel is obscured or denied, and where the biblical terms of admission and membership are no longer upheld, the external may become “church” in name only. When that happens there are two churches: not the “visible” and the “invisible”, but the true and the false.

Often, however, the issue is not black and white. The true and the false can be mingled together and, where the church neglects Christ’s rule for the admission of men and women, such an outcome is certain. The number of non-Christians will then increase that, in the proverb quoted by Nicholas Ridley, the Marian martyr, “the greater part overcometh the better.” Which situation, as John Foxe, another Reformer writes, brings “great variance and mortal persecution, insomuch that sometimes the true church of Christ hath no greater enemies than those of their own profession and company.”

In the words of the Westminster Confession: “The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan” (XXV: 4). The visible church is glorious to the extent to which she corresponds with the invisible. For her spiritual glory does not lie in the possession of anything external — not buildings, nor numbers, nor place, nor succession of bishops. Wherever such external things are accounted highly, spiritual life has gone. [1]

Iain H. Murray


[1] Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record Of Crucial Change In The Years 1950-2000 [Carlistle: Banner Of Truth Trust, 2000], 275.