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being really godly persons and heirs of eternal life,nor with any respect of such a character appearing on them ; and that they themselves joined to these churches without any such pretence, as having no such opinion of themselves !
But it is particularly evident that they had such an opinion of themselves, as well as the apostles of them, by many things the apostles say in the epistles. Thus, in Rom. viii. 15, 16, the apostle speaks of them as “ having received the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of God bearing witness with their spirits, that they were the children of God.” And chap. v. 2. Of their rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”.... In 1 Cor. i. 7. He speaks of them as waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus.” In chap. xv. 17, the apostle says to the members of the church of Corinth, “ If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins :" Plainly supposing that they hoped their sins were forgiven.... In Philip i. 25, 26, the apostle speaks of his coming to Philippi, to increase their joy of faith, and that their rejoicing in Christ might be more abundant :" Implying (as was observed before) that they had received comfort already, in some degree as supposing themselves to have a saving interest in Christ.... In 1 Thess. i. 10, he speaks of the members of the church of Thessalonica as “ waiting for Christ from heaven, as one who had delivered them from the wrath to come.”.... In Heb. vi. 9, 19, he speaks of the Christian Hebrews as having that “ hope which was an anchor to their souls.”.... The Apostle Peter, 1 Epist. 1. 3....6, 8, 9, speaks of the visible Christians he wrote to, as being “ begotten to a living hope, of an inheritance incorruptible, &c. Wherein they greatly rejoiced,” &c .... And even the members of the church of Laodicea, the very worst of all the seven churches of Asia, yet looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and made that profession ; they said, “ they were rich, and increased in goods, and knew not that they were wretched and miserable," &c. Rev. iii. 17.
It is also evident, that the members of these primitive churches had this judgment one of another, and of the members of the visible church of Christ in general.... In 1 Thess, iv. 13, &c. the apostle exhorts the Christian Thessalonians, in mourning for their deceased friends who were visible Christians, not to sorrow as the hopeless Heathen were wont to do for their departed friends ; and that upon this consideration, that they had reason to expect to meet them again in glorious circumstances at the day of judgment, never to part more. The ground of comfort concerning their dead friends, which the apostle here speaks of, is evidently something more than such an hope as it may be supposed we ought to have of all that profess Christian doctrines, and are · not scandalous in life, whom we must forbear to censure, be.
cause we do not know but they are true saints. The members of the church of Sardis, next to Laodicea, the worst of the seven churches of Asia, yet had a name that they lived ; though Chris!, who speaks of these seven churches from heav. en, in the character of the Searcher of Hearts (see Rev. ii. 23) explicitly tells them that they were dead ; perhaps all in a dead frame, and the most in a dead state.
These things evidently shew, how all the Christian churches through the world were constituted in those days; and what sort of holiness or saintship it was, that all visible Christjans in good standing had a visibility and profession of, in that apostolic age ; and also what sort of visibility of this they had, viz. not only that which gave them right to a kind of negative charity, or freedom from censure, but that which might just, ly induce a positive judgment in their favor. The churches that these epistles were written to, were all the principal churches in the world ; some of them very large, as the churches of Corinth and Ephesus. Some of the epistles were directed to all the churches through large countries where the gospel had had great success, as the epistle to the Galatians. The epistle to the Hebrews was written to all the Jewish Christians in the land of Canaan, in distinction from the Jews that lived in other countries, who were called Hellenists or Grecians, because they generally spake the Greek tongue. The epistles of Peter were written to all the Christian Jews through many countries, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythynia ; -where were grcat numbers of Jews, beyond any other Gentile countries. The epistle of James was directed to all Christian Jews, scattered abroad through the whole world. The episiles of John and Jude, for ought appears in those epistles, were directed to all visible Christians through the whole world. And the Apostlo Paul directs the first epistle to the Corinthians, not only to the members of that church, but to all professing Christians through the face of the earth : 1 Cor. i. 2, and chap. xiv. 33, speaking of the churches in general, he calls them all churches of the saints. And by what Christ says to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea in the Apocalypse, of whom more evil is said than of any Christian churches spoken of in the New Teştament, it appears that even the members of those churches looked on themselves as in a state of salvation, and had such a name with others.
Here possibly some may object, and say, it will not follow from the apostles speaking to, and of the members of the primitive church after the manner which has been observed, as though they supposed them to be gracious persons, that therefore a profession and appearance of this was looked upon in those days as a requisite qualification for admission into the visible church ; because another reason may be given for it, viz. Such was the extraordinary state of things at that day, that it so came to pass, that the greater part of those converted from Heathenism and Judaism to Christianity, were hopiefully gracious persons, by reason of its being a day of such large communications of divine grace, and such great and unavoidable sufferings of professors, &c. And the apostles knowing those facts, might properly speak to, and of the churches, as if they were societies of truly gracious persons, because there was just ground on such accounts, to think the greater part of them to be so ; although no profession or visibility of this was requisite in their members by the constitution of those churches, and the door of admission was as open for others as for such.
But it will appear, this cannot be a satisfactory nor true account of the matter, if we consider the following things.
(1.) The apostles in the very superscription or direction of their letters to these churches, and in their salutations at the beginning of their epistles, speak of them as gracious persons. For instance, the Apostle Peter, in the direction of his first letter to all professing Jewish Christians through many countries, says thus, “ To the strangers scattered through Pontus, &c. elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” And in directing his second epistle to the same persons, he says thus, « Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us," &c. And the Apostle Paul directs his epistle to the Romans thus, “ To them that be at Rome beloved of God." So he directs his first epistle to the Corinthians thus, “ Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In what sense he means sanctified, his following words shew, ver. 4, 7, 8,9. The same was before observed of words annexed to the apostle's salutations, in the beginning of several of the epistles. This shews that the apostles extend this character as far as they do the epistles themselves. Which surely would be very improper, and not agreeable to truth, if the apostles at the same time knew very well that such a character did not belong to members of churches, as such, and that they were not received into those churches with any regard to such a character, or upon the account of any right they had to be esteemed such manner of persons. In the superscription of letters to societies of men, we are wont to give them that title or denomination which properly belongs to them as members of such a body. Thus, if one should write to the Royal Society in London, or the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, it would be proper and natural to give them the title of Learned ; for whether every one of the members truly deserve the epithet, or not, yet the title is agreeable to their profession, and what is known to be aimed at, and is professedly insisted on, in the admission of members. But if one should write to the House of Commons, or to the East India Company, and in his superscription give them the title of Learned, this would be
very improper and illjudged ; because that character does not belong to their profession as members of that body, and learning is not a qualification looked at or insisted on in their admission of members : Nor would it excuse the impropriety, though the writer might, from his special acquaintance, know it to be fact, that the greater part of them were men of learning. If one man should happen once thus to inscribe a letter to them, it would be something strange ; but more strange, if he should do it from time to time, or if it should appear, by various instances, to be a custom so to direct letters to such societies ; as it seems to be the manner of the apostles, in their epistles to Christian churches, to address them under titles which imply a profession and visibility of true holiness.
(2.) The Apostle John, in his general epistle, does very plainly manifest, that all whom he wrote to were supposed to have true grace, inasmuch as he declares this the qualification he has respect to in writing to them, and lets them know he writes to them for that reason, because they are supposed to be persons of the character of such as have known God, overcome the wicked one, and have had their sins forgiven them. 1 John ii. 12, 13, 14, 21.
(3.) The apostles, when speaking of such as they write to, viz. visible Christians, as a society, and representing what belongs to such a kind or sort of society as the visible church is, they speak of it as visibly (i. e. in profession and reputation) a society of gracious persons. So the Apostle Peter speaks of them as a spiritual house, an holy and royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, a chosen or elect generation, called out of darkness into marvellous light. 1 Pet. ii. The Apostle Paul also speaks of them as the family of God. Eph. ii. 19. And in the next chapter he explains himself to mean that family, a part of which is in heaven ; i. e. they were by profession and in visibility a part of that heavenly and divine family.
(4.) The Apostle Paul speaks expressly, and from time to time, of the members of the churches he wrote to, as all of them in esteem and visibility truly gracious persons. Philip. i. 6. “ Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of the VOL. I.