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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 some just and established notion with respect to what is right. An acquaintance therefore with the nature, design, and constitution of the Christian church, becomes a necesa sary preparative to our forming a proper judgment upon the subsequent parts of our subject.
To trace the church through its several progreslive stages; from its original establishment in paradise, 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 subsequent enlargement in the descendants of ABRAHAM; its wandering state in the wilderness; and its more complete settlement in the land of Canaan; down to that fulness of time, when our SAVIOUR came in the flesh to visit it; would
lead into too wide a field. It is our happiness, and to that part of the subject our present attention is confined, that we live in that stage of the church, which may be considered as the completion of every former dispensation. Jesus Christ, the head of the church, by purging it from the corruptions which it had contracted, and restoring its worship to that spiritual standard in which its perfection consists; has, as it were, put his finishing hand to the establishment of it, upon the plan best calculated to secure the purpose he had in view.
It is a matter therefore of importance, that we should be particular in our observations upon this point; because a deviation from Christ's plan, by an attempt to alter the constiution of his church, may make it a very different thing from what it was designed to be; and though, in this case, a man may fatisfy himself, by calling the creature of his own imagination the church of Christ, it certainly does not follow that it really is such; and it may be the most dangerous piece of self-imposition thus to consider it.
To understand the nature and design of the Christian church, we must consider the world at large as lying in wickedness; and consequently in a state of condemnation before God. Out of this wicked
society, of which all are by nature born members, God has been pleased to call men into another society, very different from it; the object of which is to minister to their salvation, by lo purifying them from the corruptions of a fallen world, that they may not be condemned with it. This society, sometimes called the Church of Christ, because CHRIST purchased it with his blood; sometimes his kingdom, because he is the king and governor of it; was set up in opposition to that kingdom of this world, which has Satan for its prince. Into this society, or kingdom, persons are admitted by baptism; which is the seal conveying to them an affurance of their future inheritance: by the regular application of which, they are fanctified or set apart
from the rest of the world, as the peculiar property of the Holy Spirit. Having then, in confequence of their being born anew of the Holy Spirit in baptism, professedly withdrawn themselves from the service of the prince of this world, and entered into that of the living God; they become entitled to those privileges, which the King, into whose service they are entered, has purchased for his subjects.
Whilst therefore those who, in their natural condition, " are strangers from the covenant of promise; living without hope and without God in the world;”.
thofe who have been translated from the world into the church, may thereby be considered as delivered from the powers of darkness, and become heirs with Christ of an eternal kingdom.
The privileges to which the members of the church are entitled, namely, pardon of fin, and eternal life, having been purchased by JESUS CHRIST; the church must of necessity be a society of his forming. For no man can take upon himself to form a church; in other words, to call men out of the world, and by incorporating them into a certain society, thereby to invest them with Gospel privileges; for this plain reafon, because no man can ensure to the members of a society of his own framing those privileges which he has it not in his power to confer. Every thing, therefore, in this matter, must be done in the name, and by commission from Christ; because CHRIST is the fulfiller of that divine engagement, by which alone man is delivered from condemnation with the world, and placed in a state of acceptance with God.
Now nothing can be more obvious to common sense, than that no man can engage for what he is not in a condition to perform, unless particular circumstances authorise him so to do. On the other hand, an engagement entered into on the behalf of another can be binding only upon the party, by virtue of a commission received for that purpose. The application of these two self-evident positions fufficiently point out the difference between: those who have received a commission from the Head of the church, to administer the affairs of his fpiritual kingdom, and thofe who have not.
If it be admitted, then, that the church is a for ciety; as such, it must be posseffed of power necessary to its own prefervation. It must have its rules and orders; and consequently its governors, to carry those rules and orders into effect. Without such a provifion for order and government, no society can fublist.
That such a power was left with the church by its Divine Founder, is to be proved from the commission, by which the governors of it received authority to admit members into the church, and to exclude them from it, according to the qualification or disqualification of the respective parties. And that this power comprehended under it every exertion of authority neceffary to the regulation of the society committed to their management, we conclude (to avoid multiplying proof upon a subject that speaks for itself) from St. Paul's charge to his disciples, that they fhould“ obey them that had the rule over them, and