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The Nature, Foundation and Design of the Christian Church.
EPHESIANS ii. 19-23.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers, but fellow citizens with the Saints and of the household of God, and are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
THESE Ephesian Gentiles, as the Apostle observes, had in times past been aliens from the commonwealth or citizenship of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, without Christ, and afar off from God. But by the gospel there was a great change made in their condition. They were brought near to God, and the enmity between the Jews and them was abolished by the blood of the cross, so that both were now reconciled to God in one body, and were become one new man. "Therefore," says the Apostle in the text, "ye are no more strangers and foreigners," as ye were formerly, "but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.??
He describes the Christian church as a city or household-He teaches us the nature of that foundation on which the building stands-He signifies that the build. ing, for its permanence and security, must be united to the foundation-and, finally, that it may grow into an holy temple, and become an habitation of God; all the parts must be framed into, and incorporated with one another.
. I. The Apostle represents the church of God under the figure of a city, and a household.
1. A church must resemble a family or city, in respect of order and government; for without these a religious society can no more subsist, than a civil community, or a household.
In a city there must be laws to regulate the manners of the citizens, and officers to publish and administer the laws. So it must be in the church of God. The laws of this sacred community are immediately instituted by God himself; and by him officers are appointed to explain these laws, inculcate obedience to them, reprove the violations of them, and hold up to general view the solemn sanctions annexed to them. Though he does not directly indigitate the persons, who are to act as officers in his church, yet he has prescribed the necessary qualifications for, and the mode of introduction to the instituted office; and without a regular call and induction, no man has a right to assume a sacred, any more than a civil function. As in a civil community every appointment to office must be agreeable to the constitution; so in the church, every appointment must be agreeable to the gospel, which is the great charter of its privileges. If in a state every man, who pleased, might usurp the powers of magistracy, and demand obedience from his fellow citizens, there would be nothing but riot and confusion: So it would be in the church, if every person, at his option, might officiate as a public ruler or teacher. In this case, a church would resemble Babel, rather than a
well regulated city. Officers in Christ's church are to act, not as having dominion over the faith and con. science, but as being helpers of the knowledge and comfort of their fellow Christians. They are to apply the threatenings, and, in some cases, the censures of Christ their Lord, for the conviction and reformation of the unruly; but they are not to act as Lords over Christ's heritage: Whatever authority they have, they.. are to use it only for edification, not for destruction.
Now as God has instituted government in his church, for the promotion of holiness and good works, so to this government every one is bound to submit. What would you think of a man, who should profess himself a citizen of the state, and yet should claim an exemption from its jurisdiction ?-Just the same must you think of a man, who professes to be a Christian, and yet lives at large, without subjecting himself to the discipline of any Christian church.
There are those who pretend to believe the gospel, and who have much to say about the church, and yet never own themselves subject to Christ's authority in it. They never have explicitly covenanted to walk in communion with this, or that, or any other church of Christ. They consider themselves as totally exempt from Christian jurisdiction. Now why is not this as great an inconsistency in the religious, as the same. conduct would be in the civil life. The truth is, every man who believes the gospel is bound to submit to all its plain institutions; and since Christ has ordained, that his diciples shall unite in societies for mutual. watchfulness, edification and comfort, every man is obliged to comply with this institution, by walking in fellowship with some Christian church. And they who imagine, they are not under the same obligations as others, or are not subjects of Christian discipline equally with others, because they never have joined themselves to any particular church, should consider, that they have no right to live in this loose and discon
nected manner, and therefore, their excuse is of no avail.
2. In a city, or household, all the members have a mutual relation, and partake in the common privil eges; and, though they are placed in different stations and conditions, they must all contribute to the general happiness. So Christians are called fellow citizens, brethren, and members one of another. They are all related to the same universal parent, who is above all, through all, and in them all. They dwell in the same house, the church, meet at the same table, and eat of the same bread. They should therefore regard one another as brethren, feel for each other's welfare, and, according to their respective abilities, promote the general edification and comfort.
3. In a city, and also in a family, there is a common interest. Though each member has certain separate rights, yet there are some great concerns, which belong to the whole, and which are the object of the union. So it is in the church of Christ. We are called into this sacred kind of society, that we may be fellow helpers in the same great design, the promotion of religion and the common salvation. Every Christian in his private capacity, is to work out his own salvation; but, as a member of the church, he is to regard the salvation of others. The gospel directs us to consider one another, that we may provoke unto love and good works-to study the things wherewith one may edify another-to seek not merely our own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
As all the members of a particular church should cooperate in advancing her spiritual interest, so all churches should concur in building up the common interests of Christ's kingdom. A particular member is never to disturb the peace, and obstruct the edification of the church, under pretence of personal edification: Neither ought a collection of Christians to take such measures for building up themselves, as tend to
the disquietude or dissolution of other churches. But all should act as fellow citizens in one grand community, and as brethren in one affectionate family. The common edification is one principal end of social wor ship; and for this end every Christian ought to attend upon it, even though he should find but little benefit accrue to himself.
If a member of civil society should renounce every useful employment, and give himself up to pleasure or indolence, because he had acquired a fortune adequate to all his own exigences, he would be thought unworthy the name of a good citizen. We should tell him, Whatever affluence he enjoyed, he was bound to employ his abilities for the benefit of his fellow citizens ; and he had no right to live merely to himself. So if a professor of religion should discontinue his support of, or attendance on the social worship of God, under pretence of such superior religious attainments, as raised him above the need of public instruction, he would forfeit the character of a good Christian; for every one is bound to consult the common edification, as well as his own.
4. In a well ordered city, or household, there will be peace and unity: So there ought to be in a Christian church. Neither a civil, nor a religious community can long subsist, when it is divided against itself. Christians are therefore required to study the things which make for peace-to forbear one another in love ---to be likeminded one toward another, that they may with one mind and one mouth glorify God.
The Apostle, having compared the Christian church to a house, continues the allusion by representing, in the second place,
II. The manner in which it is founded. As every building must have a basis on which to rest; so likewise, must the church of God. "This," our Apostle says, "is built on the foundation of the apostles and