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christian race, not only with patience, but even with joy!
The term • CHURCH,” which our Saviour himself introduced in a very solemn manner“, is of most extensive signification, and is used, in various senses, even by the inspired writers. In the theological acceptation, now to be treated of, it is a term which may be applied in general to all who are purchased with the blood of Christ, who are called by his word, and who, by these means, are put in the way of being saved by his merits. These are very properly denominated the CHURCH OF CHRIST. In the more precise and definitive sense of the term, it may be said to import a regular and compacted society ; founded by the Redeemer of mankind upon the ‘ ROCK’ of his own promises ; directed and ruled by laws of his own enacting ; entitled to sacramental privileges of his own institution ; governed by officers of his own positive appointment-and that, in a continued succession to the end of the world ; whereby they become internally united, in the necessary communion of • Lord, one faith, and one baptism. In short, to define the terms still more briefly, the church is a mystical body, connected with, and depending upon Christ, as its great and glorious Ilead, for care and protection, for government and discipline; for nourishment in grace here, and for advancement in glory hereafter. Ii2
i Rom. xiv. 17.
Gal. v. 22.
1 Thess, i. 6. 2. St. Matt. xvi. 18.
In this light, and from this sanctifying connection, the Church' is acknowledged in all our creeds, to be • holy,' by being called with an holy calling, and by being solemnly separated from the world (as the name
Exxa noice' bears) to God, by having the instituted means of grace and holiness committed to its administrations, by its sworn engagements of obedience to the holy precepts delivered to it; and especially by the operations of the Spirit of holiness, promised to all within its pale; and which operations will ever be effectual in those who are wil. ling to comply with, and be wrought upon by them. It is on all tbese accounts, tbat we acknowledge the church of Christ to be, in general, a holy society, viz. with respect to the Author, to the end, to the institutions and administrations of it; but with peculiar respect to the individuals who compose the church, who are under an obligation to be holy here, in order that they may constitute a society, perfecliy and completely holy hereafter.
The church of Christ' is also acknowledged to be catholic ;' not contined to one nation, as was the Jewish church, but universal, as being, by the appointment and command of Christ, and by the efficacy of his assisting power, intended for all nations, and tor containing (as worthy of being extended to all places, and of being propagated in all ages) every truth necessary to be known on the subject of our eternal salvation ; furnished at the same time with power to exact unlinited obedience to all the commands of its glorious Head, and dispense all graces requisite for making the persons of christians acceptable, and their actions wellpleasing in the sight of God.
This church of Christ, thus declared to be a holy and catholic society, is acknowledged by every well informed member of it, to have powers deposited in it by its sovereign Institutor, and by him entrusted, with its regular governors and office-bearers, for the maintenance of the true faith 'once deliver• ed to the saints ;' for the admission of members into this the mystical body of their Lord; for the exclusion of heinous and contumacious offenders ; for absolving, in their master's name and authority, returning and submissive penitents; for ordaining . decent' and ' orderly' rites and ceremonies; and, in general, for establishing, for preserving, and for renewing, unity, and peuce, and harmony, and good order, among persons of all ranks and conditions, professing themselves • members of Christ, and * children of God :' provided always, that what is positively commanded, or expressly forbidden in the word of God, be in nowise iniringed, or matters merely circumstantial and ornamental, put on the same footing of conscience-binding observance, with matters of essential and fundamental obligation.
Yet these, according to the opinion of many calling themselvès christians, “are hard sayings
• who can hear them ? The consequence has been, that no one article of the Christian faith has excited greater controversy than this very
articleOf the CHURCH.' One thing, however, this controversy seems to proclaim, as undeniably certain, viz. that in proportion to the keenness displayed by the several claimants to the title of THE TRUE • CHURCH,’ in the same proportion ought we to estimate the value and importance which attach themselves to the possession of a privilege, so inestimable as that which this title, when justly due, must convey.
A distinction is commonly made between the VISIBLE church, and the INVISIBLE, which however, upon examination, will appear to be of no material consequence. The promises of Christ are confessedly made to a visible society; and whatever invisible blessings “the author and giver of every good and ' perfect gift' may be pleased to confer upon it, in general, or upon any of its individual members, it is still in the character of a visible church, and in our character as visibly connected with it, that we are to consider the nature of our relation to it. It is indeed to be feared, that the loud boastings of many, with regard to the church's invisibility, is no better than an enthusiastical pretext for discarding all respect for apostolical order and decency, and for throwing off that wholesome discipline, which the visible church must occasionally exercise, or cease to exist as a society. One thing is indisputable, that every privilege and advantage, real or imaginary, which belongs to the invisible church, may be enjoyed in that which is visible, with this additional advantage on the part of the latter, that, besides the general promises of its divine Founder, the visible church has the benefit of his particular institutions, as working their designed effect, in perfecting the gracious scheme of man's salvation.
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There is another distinction made use of in discussing the article of the CHURCH,' when this blessed society is characterized by the terms • mi• litant' and ' triumphant'— militant here on earth,' triumphant in heaven. The first of these epithets I hold to be strictly proper. The second merits no such commendation, by reason of its expressing more than scripture warrants; and of its being, on this account, attended with certain difficulties, in my idea, not easily surmounted.
That the church upon earth is in a militant state, is the acknowledged language of revelation. • Put • on the whole armour of God,' exhorts St Paul, • that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of 'the devil',' &c. In conformity with which exhortation, every member admitted into the church by baptisın is, by that adınission, taken bound to
confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully * to fight under his banner, against sin, the world,
Ephes, vi. 11-18.