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for an assembly (church) which was“ confused, and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together,” though they had been called together (ver. 25). But this assembly had not been called by any lawful authority, for the town-clerk appeased the tumult by recommending an appeal to a lawful assembly (church) (ver. 39), and so dismissed that assembly (church). In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word for church is used in a bad, as well as in a good sense : as Psalm xxvi. 5, “ I have hated the congregation (church) of evil doers ;” and in a good sense ver. 12, “ In the congregations (churches) I will bless the Lord.” Hesychius defines it, synod, synagogue or congregation, general assembly. And in the classic writers answers to concio, cætus convocatus, and, like our word church, often denoted the place of meeting as well as the convoked assembly. We state these things but in passing, and to justify the broad sense in which we shall now consider the church, meaning to include in it all the called, out of whom again the election is chosen: “Many are called, but few chosen.
But, to guard against mistake of another kind, we must add, that, although the privileges and powers which we are about to inquire into belong to the universal church, yet, as they will appear in different degrees of vigour in different national or local churches, so do we call these particular churches true or false in proportion to their vigour or decline, down to the degree of total smothering of the truth, when a church becomes wholly false. By a church, therefore, we understand “A religious assembly called out from the world by the preaching of the Gospel.” By a true church, we mean “A congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered, according to Christ's ordinance.” And as the leading idea of a church is the being called, so a congregation thus called may
away into error and apostasy, and then becomes a false church. “As the church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred; so also the church of Rome liath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.” (Art. xix. Ch. Eng.)
Every true church may, as a portion of the church universal, be considered under three aspects : 1. As a visible church of professing Christians, containing both true and false professors, both wheat and tares : 2. As the fold of Christ, the enclosure of Christ's own people; known to God, and predestinated, called, and justified by him (Rom. viii. 29), but necessarily unknown to man ; the chosen of the Father, whose names are written in heaven (Heb. xii. 23): 3. As an ecclesiastical polity or government, set apart by lawful calling and power given to preach the word, to administer the sacraments, and to exercise sacred discipline. To the first of these aspects belong all those expressions of catholic, universal, and unfailing, which do truly apply to the visible church, considered as the body of Christ, as one whole, irrespective of time or place; but which do not apply inalienably, or in their fulness to any one separate portion of the church, whether Greek, Roman, or Protestant; whether at Constantinople, Augsburg, or Trent. To the second aspect belong all those expressions which denote unity, infallibility, and perfection of every kind, whether of love, knowledge, or power; all of which we must apply to the election, the spiritual church within the visible: though it is greatly erroneous to make these the only characters of the church visible, or fix upon these as criteria for determining individual membership: To the third aspect belong those ascriptions of authority to, and claims of reverence towards, the church'; which, though they emanate from the power and dignity conferred by God upon the spiritual within the visible (as the soul of man gives nobility and dignity to the body it animates, and through which it acts), yet are they to be regarded as justly due to the visible church, so long as it contravenes not the spiritual, of which the word of God is the test.
The Romanists have erred in putting these three aspects together, and applying to the aggregate all those characters and attributes which are true and intelligible of the three conditions severally, but which when thus confused not only produce threefold error and obscurity, but necessitate hypocritical semblance of perfection on the one hand, and a debased standard of requirement on the other. The Dissenters, on the contrary, recoge nising but one of these three aspects of the church-namely, the spiritual-stint and debar themselves of the promises and privileges given to the other two aspects; either denying their application to the church altogether, or giving them a figurative meaning, devoid of substance and reality. But if we apply catholicity, and its attendant grace of charity, to the whole visible church; unity, infallibility, and their attendant graces of faith and hope, to the spiritual church; and authority, with the duties of subjection and reverence, to every rightly constituted church, no important truth is lost, and all things are kept in their proper places.
These few remarks will, we trust, be sufficient to shew the sense in which we are now using the word church: we limit not its meaning to any one age of the church, or to any national church, or to any form of polity; but speak of the whole church, apart from time, place, or circumstance; the body of Christ, the bride of the Lamb, wherever its members may be at present scattered; the one thing (nav, John vi. 39) of which Christ shall lose no part; the whole thing (rar) made up of every person (mas, John vi. 40) believing in Christ, whom he shall raise up at the last day. And still less do we mean our remarks to apply to the invisible church,-a term often used to mystify and evade. With the departed members of the church, man has nothing to do; they are in the hand of God: and the church on earth, we maintain, cannot but be visible; “a city set on a hill cannot be hid:" if its light burn, it cannot but shine; or if the light be put under a bushel, it must be quickly extinguished, or burn the thing that hides it. An invisible church on earth we hold to be a contradiction in terms: “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Christ before men, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in his glorious majesty.” Confession is essential to a church.
The church is an unity consisting of many parts: we may not divide the unity, by transferring it to the several parts; nor annihilate the severalty by merging the distinction of the parts in the unity of the whole. The unity now consists in the mutual dependence of the several members upon each other, and all of them on Christ. To the whole church Christ hath, given the glory which he had received of the Father (John xvii. 22). But there is a most important distinction to be borne in mind: Christ himself received the whole, to be manifested in his one person; the church collectively receives the whole, to be manifested in no one member, but in all the members collectively. “The body is not one member, but many:" yet there should be "no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another: and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it ” (1 Cor. xii. 14, 26). This manifestation of the glory of Christ, which is the privilege of the whole body, is by the Father given severally, as he willeth, to each of the members: and as those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary (1 Cor. xii. 22); and as in a great house there are vessels, some to honour, and some to dishonour (2 Tim. ii. 20); so each of us now has his proper office, for the discharge of which God has endowed us amply, and in which we may mani. fest that portion of the glory of Christ in the church for which God has sent us into the world. And though each member may lawfully “covet earnestly the best gifts," "for the edifying of the body of Christ,” there is yet “ă more excellent way," which the lowest members may exercise towards the whole, “charity, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. iii. 14).
And not only must there be of necessity a diversity, and therefore disparity, among the members of Christ's body now,
calling for reciprocal help and mutual forbearance from each other; but no one member can yet discover the full extent of the glory which he himself is preparing, and even working out, in the present time. For not only is it to be remembered, that “ "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them
that love him ;” and not only is it evident that the just proportion of the several members of the body, and the fashion of the lively stones of the temple, cannot be fully appreciated till they shall be seen in the revealed bride, in the finished building, where in the last days they shall be manifested in completed beauty and perfect symmetry : but even those things which to the eye of man seem just the reverse shall in the ages to come work out a “far more exceeding, an eternal weight of glory," not only to the sufferer himself, but to God, whom he had glorified in his sufferings, and to the church, dignified thereby. And this glorious hope, laid up for us in heaven, and to be revealed at the coming of the Lord, might well enable each niemiber to say to his fellow-members, " I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the church.... Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col. i. 24, 27).
But if in the early days such' were the hopes set before the members of the church, when eighteen centuries had to run their course before they could be realized, with how much greater confidence may we appeal to them-we, who live upon the very verge of their accomplishment? And we shall need them too, and all the greater confidence which the nearness of the reward can inspire: for an hour of trial is close at band, such as never has been from the beginning of the world; but which the church may meet without dismay, if she cling to her“anchor, sure and stedfast” (Heb. vi. 19), and even“ lift up her head with joy, as knowing that her redemption draweth nigh.” And in the knowledge of God, who "hath called us to glory and virtue, and given us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the Divine nature,” we call upon our brethren, fellow-members of Christ's body, to give all diligence, and add to their faith virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly kindness, and charity; "for if these things be in us, and abound, we shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ : but he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore, the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you
abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. i. 11).
Christ, as the Alpha and Omega, is the head over all things: by him all things were created, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist (Col. i. 17). But as head of the church he stands in a new relationship. Christ became its “beginning,"as “the first-born from the dead" (ver. 18). For, though
"chosen in him before the foundation of the world, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Be. loved,” yet is it through his blood that we have redemption, at the time when he died for our sins. And " in the dispensation of the fulness of times, when God shall gather together in one all things in Christ,” the church has a nearer and dearer privilege, of which the Holy Spirit of promise is the earnest and the seal, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. By Him, "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead....and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body; the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. i. 4, 7, 10. 18. 23).
At the first advent, of humiliation, Christ laid the foundationstone of the church; at his second advent, in glory, he shall crown the finished building with the chief corner-stone: between these periods lies the day of grace, the accepted time, the day of salvation. If this time be passed without that light and oil which will secure an admission, the door of the church will be shut, and the foolish virgins shall knock in vain. How soon this may be, we know not; how soon it may not be, no man can tell : it may be before the year is out, for all the preceding signs, all the appointed notes of warning, have been accomplished; and we stand now in awful expectation of that tremendous day when “the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the heaven ; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” Believing these things to be so near, and looking at the state of all things around us, especially in the church, our soul is bowed down within us; and we could weep over our brethren, as our Lord did over Jerusalem; and would not only spend and be spent to save them, but be accounted the offscouring of all things for their sakes. But another feeling has come over our soul, for which we were not prepared. We thought that our belief in these things was so strong, and so realizing, that the actual coming of them could not more engross our minds; but that we should be as free to reason with a brother, and lay out the details of Scripture on which our convictions rested, at the near approach of the day of the Lord as when it was seen from a distance. But it is not so: the events of the last