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Thus the Apostle, in conformity with this idea of the church being a school of discipline, for the purpose of spiritualizing the fallen creature man, tells us; that “ He who ascended up on high, that he might fill all things; gave fome, Apostles; and some, Prophets; and some, Evangelists; and some, Pastors and Teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of CHRIST; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of CHRIST." Eph. iv. 11.
After it was determined upon, in the Divine counsels, that Jesus Christ should lay down his life a sacrifice for fin, thereby to render it possible for man to be saved; the next step taken towards the accomplishment of the great work of salvation was, it should seem, to prepare and qualify man to reap the benefit of it. To this end, God gave
CHRIST to be head over all things to his church'; that a spiritual principle being set at work, for the purpose of counteracting the effects of that evil principle by which the world had been destroyed, all men might not perish; but that the church, at least, considered as a “ building properly constructed, and fitly framed
together, according to the plan' of its divine Masterbuilder, might grow into an holy temple in the LORD."
Hence we see the reason, why those who were to be saved were first to be made members of the church; the church being, according to the Divine plan, the ordinary road through which they were to travel from this world to the next. - The LORD,” We read, “ added daily to the church such as should be faved.” Acts ii. 47. And in the case of the devout CORNELIUS, He vouchsafed a particular revelation, for the purpose of securing his admission into it; a circumstance which leaves us in no doubt with respect to the importance of the object in view upon
the occasion. The advantages and disadvantages consequent, then, upon a communion with, or separation from, the church, may here begin to be estimated.
Communion with the church is conformity to the Divine plan for our salvation; separation from it is setting up a plan of our own, if not in opposition to, at least in some degree independent of, the former. The one is putting ourselves under God's training; by becoming disciples in his school, conforming to those rules, and making use of those means, which have been appointed by Him for the advancement of our spiritual concerns. The other is, in a degree at
least, taking the work of salvation into our own hands; by setting up a system of Christian education for ourselves. In the one case, we submit, as in humility we ought, to the wisdom of God; in the other we make ourselves wiser than God, by an attempt to travel to heaven in a road different from that which He has graciously marked out for us: a conduct which leads to something like the following impious conclufion—that, in the great work of redemption, God was not the best judge of the manner in which it was to be carried into the most compleat effect.
But, alas! there always hath been in man a strong propensity to be the carver and contriver of his own happiness; in other words, to be an independent being. Adam, through the persuasion of the tempter, would be wiser than God; and his fall was the consequence of his folly. The happiness of man must depend upon his obedience to the will of his Maker. But this is a truth not so generally acted upon, as it is acknowledged. The unregenerate man, feels at all times the same disposition that Adam did, to fallow a will of his own, in contradiction to the Divine will; and to govern himself, rather than be governed by God. To this end he sets out with doubting, then with disbelieving, what God has revealed; and being advanced thus far in his progress towards rebellion, his next step actually commences it by forming plans and schemes of his own, which he thinks better calculated to answer the purpose in view than those which come recommended by an authority, which he feels a natural indisposition to admit. It is a portion of this strong propensity, which man has to judge and act for himself, that prevails with the generality to separate from the church; upon the plausible, though mistaken idea, of serving God more accceptably in a way of their own: without considering, that it is not the worshipping God in the way they pleafe, but in the way He has appointed, , that will secure to them his blessing. To judge in fome measure of the consequences resulting from fuch self-willed conduct, so far as they belong to our present subject, it may be proper to confider, what we we have in the church, and what out of it; that the reasonable man, balancing the advantages of communion with, against those of a separation from it, may judge for himself.
From the authority of the facred writings we conclude, that where the Christian facraments are duly administered, by persons regularly appointed to that facred office, according to the plan originally laid down by the Apostles, there we find the church of Christ. From the same authority we learn, that this church is to continue to the end of the world. The unity consequently of the Christian church must mean the same now that it ever did; and a separation from it must be attended with consequnces as dangerous in the present day as at any former period, For the church of Christ is but one; and all the promises of the Gospel are exclusively made to that one church. None consequently but members of that church, can lay claim to an interest in those promises; upon the same principle, that none but those who have been admitted members of any human society, can lay claim to the privileges belonging to it. Thus the direction given to those who were struck with St. Peter's sermon was this, “ Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus CHRIST, for the re mission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts ii. 38. By which we understand, that admission into the church was considered by the Apostle as a neceffary qualification for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, from the general tenour of scripture, it is to be concluded, that none but those who are members of the church, can be