This is the great term selected, or rather coined, by the Holy Ghost. The people of Antioch did not give believers this name. “The disciples were called of God Christians at Antioch.” That is to say, the word translated “called,” occurs eight times throughout the New Testament. In each of the other cases, it is at once evident that God is the speaker—e.g., “Warned of God in a dream” (Matt. 2). Moses was “admonished of God” (Heb. 8). Similarly, in Acts 11:27. But it is objected, What is then the use of the words “at Antioch?” I answer, if we cannot find their use, the Greek word Chrematizo ought to settle the matter. But a little reflection will show the value of the mention of the place where the disciples first received, doubtless through the inspired Barnabas and Paul, the appellation Christian; for, on turning to the passage, we observe the word “Antioch” there occurs six times. Then chapter 12 is a parenthesis. Then in chapter 13, the great movement of the Spirit of God on the Gentile world, emanates from Antioch, which word is repeated now for the seventh time.
2. The language is equally strong in 1 Peter 4:16: “If any man suffer as a CHRISTIAN, let him glorify God in this name.” Here again the bad translation spoils the sense.
3. Also compare James 2:7:—“The beautiful (Kalon) name by which you are called.” What is this beautiful name, to which reference is here so pointedly made?
4. “All the family,” or rather “every family,” in heaven and earth get their name from the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:15). So high up are God’s children, that they can behold all these. And shall the innermost circle, the highest in position of all, disown Him who placed them there?
5. The name of each of us until we believed in Christ, was in God’s account “sinner.” “We were sinners” (Rom. 5:8). If this word is to be regarded as in any wise applicable to us after we have believed, it is only as used not by others, but as uttered in self-abasement by our own souls (1 Tim. 1:15). We who believe have “died with Christ,” have passed utterly out of our old condition, and now, we are “risen together with Him.” Here in this new world into which we are brought, everything is new, and we ourselves are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The cross is behind us, and has cut us off quite from the old world, and from all that we were by nature. The Morning Star is before us. Christ at the right hand of God is our High Priest and coming Bridegroom. Is it any wonder that with everything new, and ourselves having put on the new man, we should get a new name, which the mouth of the Lord has named?
6. Now, this new life of a believer is out of Christ risen. For this cause did the Lord, after His resurrection, breathe on His disciples, like as the Lord God had breathed into Adam. In the latter case, immortality was conferred on man; in the former, incorruptibility (Aptharasian; Rom. 2:7, and 2 Tim. 1:10) was given to those that are Christ’s. Therefore, Christ lives in us. In fact, He is our life. No separate existence has Christ from us, or we from Him. We are partakers of the divine nature (1 Peter 1). We are identified with Christ. “Christ is all.” Seeing, then, that we are thus the expression of His love, it is comely that our new name should declare all this. And it does so. That name is “Christian,” and obtains its divine explanation in 2 Cor. 1:21— “He who hath Christed us (or christened us) is God.” It is He who hath made us one with Christ: it is He who hath sealed us with the Holy Ghost: it is He who thus gives us the Earnest of the inheritance. So in the ceremonial law, only healed lepers and priests were anointed with oil: only healed lepers and the high priest were anointed with oil on the head. The Holy Ghost thus signifying that a new order of priests was to arise, who should be one with the Great High Priest, but who yet were recovered lepers.
7. It is encouraging to observe here, the importance attached in Scripture to divine nomenclature. There, a name is not that unmeaning thing, which it oft is with us. It defines what is one’s actual being. Surely, if the Word is appealed to as to “What’s in a name?” it would be found everywhere to teach “much every way.” Observe, for instance, how the names of God are there varied. Those variations are never without design. Occasionally God argues from those very variations of His name (Exod. 6:3; Psa. 68:4). So in the New Testament, God’s usual names are “God” and “Father.” But why? Because such two terms exactly define the two relationships in which He stands to Christ in His two natures, and therefore such precisely are the identical two, in which, through union to Christ, He stands to us. Besides, we learn from His Word, that when He gives any one a name, or when He changes the name of any individual, He invariably, in that gift or change, refers somewhat to His own name, as in the case of Abraham or Peter “a piece of the rock” (from petra, a rock, Matt. 16). But if affection ever, loves to call by some fond epithet the object of that affection, and if He to express His love does likewise, and in that beautiful way, too, giving us our new name from His own, even as our all is from Him, shall we be so insensate as not even to glory in this love of His, and expressed in this beautiful way of His, excelling as it does that other beautiful way of His, of calling Himself after His chosen, as the God of Abraham, &c. “What is His name, and what is His Son’s name?” He asks us in Prov. 30. In the apostacy, it is no slight mark of the darkness there, that the first question asked of the catechumen is, “What is your name?” Thus is the sinner thrown back miserably upon himself! But I began with Christ. I am a Christian. Then, when He comes, my individual name, expressive of my spiritual character, already written in heaven, I shall fully know; and certainly, too, I shall know this, what is His new name (Rev. 2:17, 3:5 and 12).
8. Then in the great church epistle, setting forth the responsibility of the assembly as such upon the earth, the Holy Ghost carries out the thought much further; for He shows us that when these individual Christians come together in assembly, their Head also being with them, they are the body and viewed together, He calls the whole Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). What an honour put upon the church! Eve’s first name, that which was hers in the old creation, was woman, or Isha, “because she was taken out of man,— Ish.” But we stand with Christ our life in the new creation, and thus have here even His very name.
9. So far from the heathen conceiving such a grand idea, as to call believers after the name of God’s Son in glory, we find that when the world first heard this new designation, they could not understand what was meant thereby, and in the ignorance of the signification, they called them Christians—i.e, useful people. Learn hence now, when unbelievers meant to be complimentary, their thoughts soared no higher than that believers claimed to be “of use,” or “useful people.”
10. It is not denied that people oft use the word Christians, specially when pressed. But neither can it be denied, that in general parlance they prefer some term by which they are separated from their fellow-Christians, than to keep to that word by which they are reminded of their union to Christ, and so with each other, and of their separation from the world. And whereas some call themselves Christians and “Churchmen;” others Christians and “Baptists;” others Christians and “Brethren;” each class thus plainly admits the value of that one and higher term which all lay claim to, whilst the rejection by each of them of all the second epithets but their own, furnishes us impliedly with their own judgment as to the uselessness of the additional word altogether. I grant you that the word “brethren” is a Bible term. But I contend that the word is only adjectival, and was never designed to be our full and characteristic name. So “peculiar people” is equally a Bible term, as some sectarians remind us. If we are to make a party out of each such term that may be produced from the New Testament, we shall be able to add several more still to those already existing.
2. Jew was the earthly name once recognised. But now we are done with earthly nationalities and party distinctions; we are one in Christ, and everyone members one of another.
Lastly. How thoroughly the arch-foe has succeeded in getting this word to be despised. But fas est ab hoste doceri,—“It is lawful to be taught by an enemy.” Does Satan hate this word? Then will I glory in it; yea, and more, “glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:16).
Corollaries From The Above.
1. “The true ground” on which to assemble is a living Christ. “To WHOM coming, ye ARE (‘not ought to be,’ but ‘are’) built up” (1 Peter 2:4, 5). Much do I read in the Word of God about coming to Christ; but nothing do I find there once about coming to others too. Only to imagine such a sentence as “Come to Christ, and to Mr. A. B.; or Come to Christ, and to Messrs A. & B.” How absurd! Behold, two rays of light. Where do they converge? At the sun! Therefore, let A. B. and myself both cling to Christ. Thus are we joined to each other. Then as we live in Christ are our hearts drawn together. “All other ground is sinking sand.” Test the working of the opposite plan. Suppose you are among some who belong to a party. Let them see that you are a Christian. Are they satisfied with you? No; they want you to be something besides— i.e, to be “one of them.” Themselves they call “the saints.”
2. Those to be received into fellowship are such, and only such, as hold (not the Body, but) the HEAD” (Col. 2:19). It is sometimes forgotten that this Body, with its many members, is a new creation in Christ. No two members therefore are joined together by the sitting on the same bench; but by oneness of spirit with a glorified Christ. That is to say, the shortest—yea, the only—route to that which is of God in another Christian, is by Christ, and thus and then to reach out by the Spirit unto His people. If you seek to reverse this divine order, and commence by cementing the various members bodily, as if the union to be desired were a union in the flesh, then you ignore the Head, and act as if the family’s place of worship and blessing were earth first instead of heaven. God works from within to without. His order is spirit, and then soul, and then body, and not otherwise. “All that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” “Did not our heart (not hearts) burn within us, whilst He talked with us.” Test the working of the opposite plan, and behold the feuds, the slander, the heart-burnings promoted thereby—even among those outwardly united. Whereas, beginning with Christ, I am then consciously drawn to what is of God in Christians whom I have never even seen.
3. Those to assemble together for worship, are “ourselves”—Christians (Heb. 10:25). Those only are to be separated from, who are unsound in cardinal points of doctrine (2 John); or disorderly in their walk (2 Thess. 3:6). There, again, we must begin with Christ. Exclusion is scriptural if it be of real evil. But it is wicked if it be of the really godly, and through the precepts of men. It is also hypocritical, if conjointly therewith, there is the large inclusion of the ungodly, though they pronounce “Shibboleth” rightly.