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with erroneous opinions; which, from prejudice of education or incapacity, they are prevented from bringing to the test of reason and Scripture. Deriving their natural growth in error from their parent stock, they have by years acquired an habitual attachment to it; at the same time that the earnest zeal even of those who might be qualified for the purpose, will not let them stop to examine the source from which it has been derived. men may be considered as not far from the kingdom of God; and it must be the earnest wish of every minister of that kingdom to bring them into it. Could these men be but once brought acquainted with the nature of Christ's Church, they would never separate from its communion; because they would be convinced that the plan upon which Christ has established that church, must be conformed to by all, who expect to enjoy the privileges annexed
On looking into the writings of the Apostles, we find frequent mention made of the unity of the Christian Church, as necessary to the preservation of that peace which Christ left with his followers; and repeated and earnest cautions against those divisions, by which it must be unavoidably disturbed. The Founder of this Church is emphatically stiled the Prince of Peace; because he is not only the maker of peace between God and man, but also the author of a religion calculated to promote that blessing upon earth. The mark or distinction, therefore, by which the professors of this religion ought to be known, is, that love and harmony by which they are joined together in the same mind
and in the same doctrine; agreeably to the description given of them in the earliest stage of their connection, before the prince of this world, that destroyer of peace, had sown his seeds of division among them; when, as we read, "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul."*
As the time of our Saviour's departure from the world drew near, the future establishment of his Church appears to have constituted the most interesting subject of his thoughts. That most earnest and solemn prayer addressed to his Father almost immediately before his suffering, strongly marks out to us his dying wish upon it; where, after having first prayed for those particular disciples, to whose immediate care and direction he thought fit to commit his Church, that they might be duly sanctified for the great work of their ministry, he thus proceeds :-"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me."+
Unity, therefore, was designed to be an essential characteristic of the Church of Christ; the members of which were to be considered as constituting one body, animated by one spirit, imparted to them by their regular communication with one head, Jesus Christ. Agreeably to which idea, the Apostle addresses himself to his Ephesian converts: " I beseech you (says he) that you ↑ John xvii. 20, 21.
*Acts iv. 82.
walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." As a reason for their so doing, the Apostle proceeds to remind them, that "there is one body, and one spirit; one hope of their calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all."*
We have here a picture of the Christian Church in its perfect state; in which, in conformity to Christ's institution, it ought at all times to be found a society joined together by the bond of charity, in the profession of the same faith; into which the members of it are admitted by one and the same baptism; in consequence of which they become partakers of that spirit, which is derived to them from their union with one head, Jesus Christ; and are supported by the lively hope, that where that Head of the body is, there, in the fulness of time, shall the members of it be also.
If the Church, as it is now circumstanced in the world, bear little resemblance to this primitive pattern, it must be in consequence of men either having formed mistaken notions with respect to the nature of it, or deviated from the plan upon originally established. In either
which it was
Case they are deceiving themselves. For, as the Church is but one, and the promises of God are made only to that Church; man's covenanted title
Eph. iv. 1, et seq.
to those promises, must depend upon his being a member of it; upon the same principle that those persons only who have been admitted members of a society, have any claim to the privileges of it.
Hence it becomes a matter of importance with every man, to be satisfied whether he really is a member of the Church of Christ; for should he not be such, the sincerity of his profession will not supply the deficiency of those privileges and blessings, of which, in that case, he may not be in a situation to partake.
The Lord, we read, at the first opening of the Apostolic commission," added daily to the Church such as should be saved." From whence we understand, that admission into the Church is no indifferent thing, but a privilege of an important kind. Let men reason, therefore, as they please upon this subject, the counsel of God still standeth sure. "Many," says Solomon, "are the devices of a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."+ According to the general tenour of Scripture, from which alone any safe conclusion can be drawn in this matter, it appears, that the only appointed road to heaven lies through the Church of Christ For the Church is the spouse of upon earth. Christ, whose office it is to bring forth children unto God. And it is from the arms of this spiritual mother, that all the legitimate children of the Father are received. In conformity with which idea was the language of St. Augustine, where he + Prov. xix. 21.
* Acts ii. 47.
says, "He cannot have God for his Father, who hath not the Church for his Mother."
Was this well considered, it might be supposed, that where an event of such importance is at stake, no wise man would venture to make experiments. To enable the reader to form some, correct judgment upon this matter, it is my design to lay before him some plain thoughts on the following important heads:-1st, On the nature, design, and constitution of the Christian church. 2dly, On the sin of schism, or a wilful separation from it. 3dly, On the reasons commonly advanced to justify that separation. And 4thly, On the advantages attendant upon a conscientious communion with the church, together with the disadvantages consequent upon a separation from it. In discoursing upon these subjects, the object is, to enter into them so far only as may be deemed sufficient for the information of the parties to whom they are immediately addressed.
"The lips of the priest (we are told) should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts." Every Christian, therefore,
before he separates from the Church, instead of
* Mal. ii. 7.