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church. Upon the authority of these writings, we have described the church to be, not a creature of the imagination, or a society of human establishinent; but a visible body of people called out of the world by God, and placed by Him under a particular form of government and discipline, calculated to promote the great object for which they are brought together. By direct evidence from the same fountain of knowledge, we have maintained, that the Head of the church originally committed the care of it to his Apostles, investing them with power to manage the concerns of it; and that the Apostles did actually exercise that power, by appointing divers orders in the church, and establishing the plan upon which it was in future to be conducted. In correspondence with this arrangement, we have represented the unity of the church to consist in the conformity of its members to this Divine plan; whereby they become joined together in that brotherly communion and fellowship, necessary to the promotion of that charity, which is “ the bond of perfectness," and the characteristic mark of the disciples of the blessed JESUS.
It now remains that the reader examine this matter for himself. With his Bible in his hand, and prejudice laid aside, let the subject then be brought to an impartial hearing. And if he find, as we are persuaded will be the case, that those parts of the sacred records, to which an appeal has been made in the foregoing discourses, will not, upon fair construction, admit a sense different from what has been annexed to them; if he would maintain the character of an honest man, he will be led to the following obvious conclusion: that a fancied independence on spiritual authority, upon the mistaken idea, that every man is at liberty to make his own church; or to join himself to any society of Christians who may aflume that name, with the view of offering up a more spi. ritual service than, in their judgment, is offered to God in any other way, the plausible ground upon which all modern separations from the church are built; whilst it renders the Apostolic writings destitute of all force and meaning, tends at the same time to the dissolution of that order, which CHRIST, for wise reasons, faw necessary to be established.
In handling this subject, we have laid down two general positions; which, it is presumed, are not to be controverted. The first is, that the Author of man's salvation was best qualified to determine the plan calculated to carry it into effect. The second, that as the salvation of fallen man is the work of free and undeserved grace, man must be thankful to accept it on the conditions upon which it is offered. The conclusion to which these positions lead, seems to be this: that no man, in the ordinary way of salvation, can hope to attain the end of his Christian calling, who neglects to use the means appointed by God to lead him to it.
Such is the ground upon which the argument for conformity to the church is built. The consideration that a certain plan has been set on foot, and certain means of grace appointed by the Head of the church, for the purpose of securing the salvation of its members, tends to render that argument conclusive. For, as it has been already observed, though perhaps in different words, the spiritual life of man must depend upon his spiritual connection with CHRIST. branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine.” But the only revealed way that Christ has appointed for man's obtaining this fpiritual connection with him, is by becoming a member of his body, the church. “ By one spirit (says the Apof- . tle) we are all baptized into one body;" by one and the same spirit, communicated to us at baptism, we are united into one fpiritual society, the church; and “ have been all made to drink into one fpirit:" our spiritual life, as members of CHRIST's body, being preserved to us by our communication with the head of it, Jesus CHRIST; in the use of those means of grace appointed by Him for that purpose; upon the principle laid down by our Saviour himself in this short though comprehensive axiom, “ that without Him we can do nothing.
Hence we have been led to point out the apparent danger of separating from the unity of the church. For, if we reason from analogy, as, from the figure under which St. Paul has described the church, we are obviously led to do, we shall reason thus: that by separating from the body of which CHRIST is the head, we separate from that fpirit which animates it. And if we become partakers of Christ's spirit, in consequence of being admitted members of his church, which the scripture has given us to undera stand, (Acts ii. 38) the continuance of that fpirit with us must, it fhould seem, depend upon our remaining in that connection with Him, which first qualified us for its reception.
We read but of one body and one spirit, Ephef. iv. 4. From whence we are led to conclude, that the spirit of Christ is confined to that body of which he is the head; and that body is the church. A separation from the church consequently, according to the meaning designed to be conveyed by the Apostle, must be regarded as a kind of spiritual death.
From what has been faid at large upon this subject, our object has been to enable the reader to understand the figurative language of the Apostle, confidered as descriptive of the mystical body of CHRIST; the members of which are joined together, and animated by the same spirit, derived to them from their participation in those life-giving facraments, which Christ appointed as the means of forming and preserving to himself a church upon earth. The Apoftolic language thus interpreted furnishes a clear and distinct notion of the Christian church in its original and perfect form; of which the joint communion of its component members constitutes an essential characteristic. If we have been tediously particular on this point, it has been from a conviction, that a want of proper information upon it has been the cause of many well-meaning people going out of the church, who might otherwise have gladly remained in it. For their fakes, therefore, I still feel disposed to say some few words on a subject, which, from its connection with that in which we are immediately engaged, seems to claim fome attention.