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Thus the Apostle, in conformity with this idea of the church being a fchool of difcipline, for the purpose of spiritualizing the fallen creature man, tells us; that "He who afcended up on high, that he might fill all things; gave fome, Apoftles; and fome, Prophets; and fome, Evangelifts; and fome, Pastors and Teachers; for the perfecting of the faints, 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 ftature of the fulness of CHRIST." Eph. iv. 11.
After it was determined upon, in the Divine counfels, that JESUS CHRIST fhould lay down his life a facrifice for fin, thereby to render it poffible for man to be faved; the next step taken towards the accomplishment of the great work of falvation was, it should feem, 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 fpiritual principle being fet 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 leaft, confidered as a " building properly conftructed, and fitly framed
together, according to the plan' of its divine Mafterbuilder, might grow into an holy temple in the LORD."
Hence we see the reafon, why those who were to be faved 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 fuch as fhould be faved." Acts ii. 47. And in the cafe of the devout CORNELIUS, He vouchsafed a particular revelation, for the purpose of securing his admiffion into it; a circumstance which leaves us in no doubt with respect to the importance of the object in view upon the occafion.
The advantages and difadvantages confequent, then, upon a communion with, or feparation from,, the church, may here begin to be estimated.
Communion with the church is conformity to the Divine plan for our falvation; feparation from it is fetting up a plan of our own, if not in oppofition to, at least in some degree independent of, the former. The one is putting ourselves under God's training; by becoming difciples in his school, conforming to thofe 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
leaft, taking the work of falvation into our own hands; by fetting up a fyftem of Christian education for ourselves. In the one cafe, we fubmit, as in humility we ought, to the wifdom 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 fomething 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 propenfity to be the carver and contriver of his own happiness; in other words, to be an independent being. ADAM, through the perfuafion of the tempter, would be wiser than GOD; and his fall was the confequence of his folly. The happiness of man must depend upon his obedience to the will of his Maker. But this is a truth not fo generally acted upon, as it is acknowledged. The unregenerate man, feels at all times the fame difpofition 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 Gop. To this end he fets 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 form ing plans and fchemes of his own, which he thinks better calculated to anfwer the purpose in view than thofe which come recommended by an authority, which he feels a natural indifpofition 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 feparate from the church; upon the plaufible, though mistaken idea, of ferving GoD more accceptably in a way of their own: without confidering, that it is not the worshipping GoD in the way they pleafe, but in the way He has appointed, that will fecure to them his bleffing. To judge in fome measure of the confequences refulting from fuch felf-willed conduct, fo far as they belong to our prefent fubject, it may be proper to confider, what we we have in the church, and what out of it; that the reafonable 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 Chriftian facraments are duly administered, by perfons 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 fame authority we learn, that this church is to continue to the end of the world. The unity confequently of the Chriftian church muft mean the fame now that it ever did; and a feparation from it must be attended with confequnces 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 Gofpel are exclufively made to that one church. None confequently but members of that church, can lay claim to an interest in those promises; upon the fame principle, that none but those who have been admitted members of any human fociety, can lay claim to the privileges belonging to it. Thus the direction given to those who were struck with St. PETER'S fermon was this, "Repent, and be baptized in the name of JESUS CHRIST, for the re miffion of fins, and ye fhall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Acts ii. 38. By which we underftand, that admiffion into the church was confidered by the Apostle as a neceffary qualification for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, from the general tenour of fcripture, it is to be concluded, that none but those who are members of the church, can be