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Unity, therefore, was designed to be an essential characteristic of the church of CHRIST; the members of which were to be considered as constituting one body, animated by one spirit, imparted to them by their regular communication with one head, Jesus Christ. Agreeably to which idea, the Apostle addresses himself to his Ephesian converts: “I befeech you (says he) that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” As a reason for their so doing, the Apostle proceeds to remind them, that there is one body; and one spirit; one hope of their calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.” Ephesians iv. 1, &c.
We have 'here a picture of the Christian church in its perfect state; in which, in conformity to Christ's institution, it ought at all times to be found: a fociety joined together by the bond of charity, in the profession of the fame faith; into which tlre members of it are admitted by one and the same baptism; in consequence of which they become partakers of that spirit, which is derived to
them from their union with one head, Jesus Christ; and are supported 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 resemblance to this primitive pats tern, it must be in consequence 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 case, 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 proinises must depend upon his being a member of it; upon the same principle that thofe persons only who have been admitted members of a society, have any claim to the privileges of it.
Hence it becomes a matter of importance with every man, to be satisfied whether he really is a member of the church of Christ; for should he not be such, the fincerity of his profession will not supply the deficiency of those privileges and blessings, of which in that case he may not be in a situation to partake.
The Lord, we read, Acts-ii. 47. at the first opening of the Apostolic commission, “added daily to the church such as should be saved." From whence we understand, that admission into the church is no indifferent thing, but a privilege of an important kind. Let men reason, therefore, as they please upon this subject, the counsel of God still standeth fure. “ Many,” says SOLOMON, “ are the devices of a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel 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, whose office it is to bring forth children unto GOD. And it is from the arms of this spiritual mother, that all the legitimate children of the Father are received. In conformity with which idea was the language of St. AUGUSTINE; where, he says, “ He cannot have God for his Father, who hath not the Church for his Mother."
Was this well considered, it might be supposed, that where an event of such importance is at stake, no wise man would venture to make experiments.
To enable the reader to form some correct judgment upon this matter, it is 'my design to lay before him some plain thoughts on the following important heads :-ist, On the nature, design, and constitution of the Christian church. 2dly, On the fin of schism, or a wilful separation from it. 3dly, On the reasons commonly advanced to justify that separation. And 4thly, On the advantages attendant upon a conscientious communion with the church; together with the disadvantages consequent upon a separation from it. In discoursing upon these subjects, the object is, to enter into them, so far only as may be deemed sufficient for the information of the parties to whom they are immediately addresled.
“The lips of the priest (we are told) should retain knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts." -Mal. ii. 7. Every Christian therefore, before he separates from the church, instead of being governed by his own imagination, or that of some fellowChristian, not better informed perhaps than himself upon the subject, should give himself an opportunity of knowing from the person, whose 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 separation from the church, without having made this previous enquiry, cannot be said to do justice, either to himself or to his minister, and must be answerable for the consequence of his neglect.