Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Lord Jesus Christ : Even as it is meet for me to think this of YOU ALL," (that is, all singly taken, not collectively, according to the distinction before observed.) So Gal. iv. 26. “ Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us ALL.Rom. vi. “ As MANY OF us as have been baptized into Christ, have been baptized into his death." Here he speaks of all that have been baptized ; and in the continuation of the discourse, explaining what is here said, he speaks of their being “ dead to sin ; no longer under the law, but under grace ; having obeyed the form of doctrine from the heart, being made free from sin, and become the servants of righteousness," &c. Rom. xiv. 7, 8. NONE OF us liveth to himself, and NO MAN “ dieth to himself” (taken together with the context); 2 Cor. ül. 18.“ We all with open face, beholding as in a glass," &c. and Gal. iii. “ Ye are all the children of God by faith."

(5.) It is evident, that even in those churches where the greater part of the members were not true saints, as in those degenerate churches of Sardis and Laodicea, which we may suppose were become very lax in their admissions and discipline ; yet they looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and had with others the reputation of such.

(6.) If we should suppose, that by reason of the extraordinary state of things in that day,the apostles had reason to think the greater part of the members of churches to be true Christians, yet unless profession and appearance of true Christianity was their proper qualification, and the ground of their admis-sion, and unless it was supposed that all of them esteemed themselves true Christians, it is altogether unaccountable that the apostles in their epistles to them never make any express particular distinction between those different sorts of members. If the churches were made up of persons who the apostles knew looked on themselves in so exceeding different a state, some the children of God,and others the children of the devil, some the high favorites of heaven and heirs of eternal glory, others the children of wrath, being under condemnation to eternal death, and every moment in danger of dropping into hell : I say, if this was the case, why do the apostles make no distinction in what they say to them or of them, in their manner of addressing them, in the things they set before them, and in the counsels, reproofs and warnings they gave them? Why do the apostles in their epistles never apply themselves or direct their speech to the unconverted members of the churches, in particular, in a manner tending to awaken them, and make them sensible of the miserable condition they were in, and press them to seek the converting grace of God? It is to be considered, that the Apostle Paul was very particularly acquainted with the circumstances of most of those churches he wrote to ; for he had been among them, was their spiritual father, had been the instrument of gathering and founding those churches, and they had receive ed all their instructions and directions relating to Christianity and their soul concerns from him ; nor can it be questioned but that many of them had opened the case of their souls to him. And if he was sensible, that there was a number among them that made no pretensions to being in a regenerate state, and that he and others had no reason to judge them to be in such a state, he knew that the sin of such who lived in the rejection of a Saviour,even in the very house of God, in the midst of gospel light, and in violation of the most sacred vows, was peculiarly aggravated, and their guilt and state peculiar. ly dreadful. Why should he therefore never particularly and distinctly point his addresses to such, applying himself to them in much compassion to their souls, and putting them in mind of their awful circumstances ? But instead of this, continually lumping all together, and indifferently addressing the whole body, as if they were all in happy circumstances, expressing his charity for them all, and congratulating them all in their glorious and eternal privileges ; and instead of speaking to them in such a manner as should have a tendency to alarm them with a sense of danger, on the contrary, calling on all without distinction, from time to time, to rejoice ? Philip. iii. 1. “ Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” So, 2 Cor. xiii. 11. “ Finally, brethren, be of good comfort.” Philip. iv. 4. “ Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice.” The matter is insisted upon, as though rejoicing were a duty especially proper for them, and what they had the highest reason for. The apostle not only

93

did not preach terror to those whom he wrote to, but is cares ful to guard them against fears of God's wrath ; as in 1 Thess, v. at the beginning, when the apostle there observes how that Christ will come on ungodly men as a thief in the night ; and when they shall say, peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come upon them, as travail on a woman with child, and they shall not escape ;" he immediately uses caution, that the members of the church of Thessalonica should not take this to themselves, and be terrified, as though they were in danger ; and says, in the next words, “ But

ye,

breth ren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief; ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day.” And says, in the 9th, 10th, and 11th verses, " For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ; who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another ; even as also ye do.” And ver. 16, he says, “ Rejoice evermore." How diverse is this way of treating churches, from the method in which faithful ministers are wont to deal with their congregations, wherein are many that make no pretence to true piety, and from the way in which Mr Stoddard was wont to deal with his congregation. And how would he have un, doubtedly judged such a way of treating them the most direct course in the world eternally to undo them ? And shall we determine that the Apostle Paul was one of those prophets, who daubed with untempered mortar, and sewed pillows under all arm holés, and healed the hurt of immortal souls slightly, crying, Peace, peace, when there was no peace. These things make it most evident, that the primitive churches were not constituted as those modern churches, where persons knowing and owning themselves unregenerate, are admitted, on principle.

If it be here objected, that the apostle sometimes exhorts those that he writes to, to put off the old man, and put on the new man, and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds, &c. as exhorting them to seek conversion : I answer, that the meaning is manifestly but this, That they should mortify the

remains of corruption, or the old man, and turn more and more from sin to God. Thus he exhorts the Ephesians to be renewed, &c. Eph. iv. 22, 23, whom yet he had before in the same epistle abundantly represented as sayingly renewed already ; as has been before observed. And the like might be shewn of other instances.

(7.) It is a clear evidence, not only that it happened and the greater part of the members of the primitive churches were to appearance true Christians; but that they were taken in under that notion, and because there appeared in them grounds of such an estimation of them ; and when any happened to be admitted that were otherwise, it was beside their aim ; in as much as when others were admitted, they are represented as brought or crept in unawares. Thus the matter is represented by the apostles. Jude, verse 4. « There are certain men crept in unawares....ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” Gal. ii. 4. “ False brethren, unawares brought in.”

If it be said, These here spoken of were openly scandalous persons and heretics : I answer, they were not openly scandalous when they were brought in ; nor is there any reason to think they were heretics when admitted, though afterwards they turned apostates. Mr. Stoddard says, it does not follow that all hypocrites crept in unawares because some did. (Appeal, p. 17.) To which I would humbly say, it must be certainly true with respect to all hypocrites who were admitted, either that the church which admitted them was aware they were such, or else was not. If there were some of whom the church was aware that they were hypocrites, at the time when they were taken in, then the church, in admitting them, did not follow the rule that Mr. Stoddard often declares himself to suppose ought to be followed in admitting members, viz. to admit none but what in a judgment of rational charity are true Christians.... (Appeal, p. 2, 3, 10, 28, 33, 67, 73, 93, 94.) But that not only heretics and designing dissemblers crepit in unawares, but that all false brethren, all church members not truly gracious did so, appears by such being represented as bastards in a family, who are false children and false heirs, brought into it unawares, and imposed upon the disposers of those privileges by stealth. Heb. xii. 8. “ If ye are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons."

Thus it is abundantly manifest, from the apostolical writings, how the visible church of Christ, through the whole world, was at first constituted and ordered, under the direcs tion of the apostles themselves, who regulated it according to the infallible guidance of the Spirit of their great Lord and Master. And doubtless, as the Christian church was constituted then, so it ought to be constituted now. What beiter rule have we for our ecclesiastical regulations in other respects, than what was done in the primitive churches, under the apostles' own direction ; as particularly the standing officers of the church, presbyters and deacons, the method of introducing ministers in their ordination, &c. In this matter that I have insisted on, I think the Scripture is abundantly more full than in those other things.

IX. Another evidence, that such as are taken into the church, ought to be in the eye of a Christian judgment truly gracious or pious persons, is this, that the Scripture represents the visible church of Christ as a society having its several members united by the bond of Christian brotherly love.

Besides that general benevolence or charity which the saints have to mankind, and which they exercise towards both the evil and the good in common, there is a peculiar and very distinguishing kind of affection, that every true Christian experiences towards those whom he looks upon as truly gracious persons ; whereby the soul, at least at times, is very sensibly and sweetly knit to such persons, and there is an ineffable oneness of heart with them; whereby, to use the Scripture phrase (Acts iv. 32.) “ They are of one heart and one soul :" Which holy affection is exercised towards others on account of the spiritual image of God in them, their supposed relation to God as his children, and to Christ as his members, and to them as their spiritual brethren in Christ. This sacred affection is a very good and distinguishing note of true grace, much spoken of as-such in Scripture, under the name of Qiradengia, the love of the brethren, or brotherly love;

« PreviousContinue »