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them from their union with one head, JESUS CHRIST; and are fupported by the lively hope, that where that Head of the body is, there, in the fulness of time, shall the members of it be also.
If the church, as it is now circumstanced in the world, bear little refemblance to this primitive pattern, it must be in confequence of men either having formed mistaken notions with respect to the nature of it, or deviated from the plan upon which it was originally established. In either cafe, they are deceiving themselves. For as the church is but one, and the promises of God are maade only to that church; man's covenanted title to those promises must depend upon his being a member of it; upon the fame principle that thofe perfons only who have been admitted members of a fociety, have any claim to the privileges of it.
Hence it becomes a matter of importance with every man, to be fatisfied whether he really is a member of the church of Chrift; for fhould he not be fuch, the fincerity of his profeffion will not supply the deficiency of those privileges and bleffings, of which in that cafe he may not be in a fituation to partake.
The Lord, we read, Acts ii. 47. at the first opening of the Apostolic commiffion," added daily to the church fuch as fhould be faved." From whence we understand, that admiffion into the church is no indifferent thing, but a privilege of an important kind. Let men reason, therefore, as they please upon this fubject, the counfel of GOD ftill ftandeth fure. Many," fays SOLOMON," are the devices of a man's heart; nevertheless the counfel of the LORD, that shall stand." Prov. xix. 21. According to the general tenour of Scripture, from which alone any fafe conclufion can be drawn in this matter, it appears, that the only appointed road to heaven lies through the church of CHRIST upon earth. For the church is the spouse of CHRIST, whofe office it is to bring forth children unto God. And it is from the arms of this fpiritual mother, that all the legitimate children of the Father are received. In conformity with which idea was the language of St. AUGUSTINE; where, he fays, "He cannot have GOD for his Father, who hath not the Church for his Mother."
Was this well confidered, it might be fuppofed, that where an event of fuch importance is at stake, no wife man would venture to make experiments.
To enable the reader to form fome correct judg ment upon this matter, it is my design to lay before him fome plain thoughts on the following important heads: ft, On the nature, defign, and conftitution of the Christian church.dly, On the fin of schism, or a wilful feparation from it. 3dly, On the reasons commonly advanced to justify that feparation. And 4thly, On the advantages attendant upon a confcientious communion with the church; together with the difadvantages confequent upon a feparation from it. In difcourfing upon these fubjects, the object is, to enter into them, fo far only as may be deemed fufficient for the information of the parties to whom they are immediately addrefled.
"The lips of the priest (we are told) should retain knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the meffenger of the LORD of Hofts.” -Mal. ii. 7. Every Christian therefore, before he separates from the church, instead of being governed by his own imagination, or that of fome fellowChristian, not better informed perhaps than himself upon the subject, fhould give himself an opportunity of knowing from the perfon, whofe office it is to inform him, whether the reasons advanced for his quitting the communion of the church are stronger
than those which are to be produced for his continuing in it. Whoever determines upon a feparation from the church, without having made this previous enquiry, cannot be faid to do justice, either to himself or to his minifter, and must be anfwerable for the confequence of his neglect.
On the Nature, Design, and Constitution of the CHRISTIAN CHURCH, considered as
a visible Society.
EFORE we can be qualified to determine what
is wrong, we must have acquired fome just and established notion with refpect to what is right. An acquaintance therefore with the nature, defign, and conftitution of the Christian church, becomes a neceffary preparative to our forming a proper judgment upon the subsequent parts of our subject.
To trace the church through its feveral progreffive ftages; from its original establishment in paradife, where the good news of a Saviour was first delivered to fallen man; through its infant condition; and days of contraction in the ark, when it was confined to one fingle family; to its fubfequent enlargement in the defcendants of ABRAHAM; its wandering state in the wilderness; and its more complete fettlement in the land of Canaan; down to that fulness of time, when our SAVIOUR came in the flesh to visit it; would