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FROM THE VISION OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES.
From this vision, upon which we have spent so much sweet labour, and brought forth so much of what hath been to our own soul profitable discourse, we have several conclusions, which we would express with all brevity and comprehensiveness.
First. Concerning the church, which is the main subject of the vision, we conclude, that it is an infinite promotion above our standing as creatures, yea even as redeemed creatures, to be made members thereof. The whole world is redeemed, and every man who dwelleth thereon; all the children of Adam are redeemed out of death, and in virtue of this redemption shall stand up out of death again. But they are not therefore all made members of the church, which is purely and solely of the election of God, who alone hath a right to adopt whom he would into the name and degree of sons. For to be a churchman is to be a son of God, born not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. This church is to be for ever, in all ages and in all places, the activity of God, his abode, his manifestation, by which he doeth every thing, and without which he will not do any thing; his fulness, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. It is the last pre-eminence of creature being, compared with which the highest name in heaven among the creatures is but as a servant's humble place. To set forth the glory and excellency, the privileges and prerogatives of the church, is the subject of this vision.
Secondly. The church consisteth of an election made by God from the common mass of redeemed men. And because redemption out of death's hand is first necessary, in order to obtain from God this body of living activity, wherein he may express all the riches of his glory, fulfil all the purposes of his goodness, and put forth all the actings of his power unto all men and other creatures for ever; he amongst men who is able to remove the let of death and corruption out of the way, and the antecedent let of sin, is the Man under whose headship it must all be constituted, because without such an one there cannot be a church : without his victory over death, and the devil who hath the power over death, God's purpose to have a church, and to work in and by a church, must utterly fail. The Person who wrought this work of redemption for the whole creation of God fallen under sin was Jesus of Naza. reth, who in virtue of this work is exalted both Christ and Lord, above every name that is named, whether in this world or in that which is to come; is given to be Head over all to the church, which is his body. And besides him there is not nor can be any other Head, because no one but he had any hand in the work of redemption; by which he procured for himself this solitary and sublime height of place, to be the Head of the body in which God makes all his delights to be felt, and by which he expresseth all his actions of power and goodness unto all men, and other creatures, for ever and ever. If there be a right inalienable and indefeasible, it is Christ's right to be the Head of the church; and if there be a name which should not have been appropriated by angel or man, or by any creature, it is that name; and th it was a good thing for our king to negative the pope's pretensions, I do solemnly protest against it as an evil thing to have done so by appropriating this name, however the evil signification may be explained away.
Thirdly. Because Jesus, the Son of Man, who ensured to himself the title Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, though he had it also by inheritance as the only begotten of the Father, is the Christ and Lord, and only Head of the church; it is necessary that the election of the Father should proceed upon the admission of this prerogative of Christ. For, seeing that to become a member of the church presupposeth redemption out of death, and Christ as the only Redeemer of every man, the Father will surely acknowledge, and cause to be acknowledged, the other Persons without whom his purpose of a church must have stood unaccomplished. And so it is, that only
as many as receive Christ for their Redeemer, both acknowledging that they need such a Redeemer, and receiving him as such, receive power to become the sons of God; only those whose sins for his sake are remitted, receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. And there is no other condition towards becoming a child of God but faith in the love of God, who hath sent his Son to redeem us, faith in the righteousness of Christ by which we are redeemed. But this is a condition which cannot be departed from, and never was in the case of any member of the church, who have all acknowledged their privilege to be due, not only to the free grace of God, but also to the finished work of redemption. The church, therefore, is founded on the basis, and ariseth sublime from the floor of redemption, as the cherubim stood upon the propitiatory or mercy-seat, and were indeed beaten out of the same piece of gold. In one word, it is impossible that there can be a churchman who doth not first believe in his redemption by Christ.
Fourthly. God brings his own right of electing from among the redeemed, and Christ's prerequisite of redemption, to meet together in the one act of baptism, which seals us members of the church : forasmuch as the actor .of baptism is Jesus Christ, whose twofold function, as pointed out by his witness, was : (1) The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world ; (2) He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost : the former, the act of redemption to the whole world ; the latter, the act of bringing the redeemed into the infinitely higher standing of members of his church. And as Christ is the actor of baptism, surely the Holy Ghost alone is He through whom he accomplisheth the work of bringing a redeemed man into the membership of the church. The workmanship of the Holy Ghost standeth in three things; the destruction of the sense of guilt, and the introduction of the sense of grace, which ever crieth Abba, Father ;
the purification of the inward man, his perfection in the image -of God, and complete mastery over the members of the body; the manifestation of the supernatural gifts for an earnest of that government which we shall hold, that influence which we shall exert over all men, and all other creatures whatsoever. And thus it is that the three persons in the Godhead work together in the constitution of the church.
Fifthly. The church thus gathered together of redeemed men must have visibility ; inasmuch as it consisteth of embodied men, and not of disembodied spirits only ; and also it must have invisibility, inasmuch as it consists of disembodied spirits, as well as embodied men. Yet is it essentially and indissolubly one, and that an unity like to the Divine unity, wherein many persons subsist. its unity ariseth from the one sustaining Head, the one informing Spirit, and the one inworking God. To the Divine persons it is the one creature form through which their existence, power, and goodness is communicated to the knowledge and enjoyment of the creation. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite; and therefore the infinite must take a limited form, in order to be seen, known, and possessed. That form is the church; constituted by the three persons of the incomprehensible Godhead, as is said above: and because the three persons of the Godhead are essentially one, the church must be one. Yet this unity, like the unity of a man, consisteth of two parts; the spirit and the body; not dissevered indeed, though distinct substance, but made for one another, and working together the one great end of demonstrating God's one being and attributes. These two parts are in existence apart; the one a company of departed spirits, and the other a company of living men. But they are one not the less, and as one working together the work of one God, one Christ, by the one Spirit. Concerning the invisible part of the church, we have no light in this vision, but not a little in the next. Christ is the only invisible person of all his church which in this vision is presented to our view. It is the vision of the church as existent in the several places of the world, under the sole inspection, ministry, and support of the great High Priest in the heavens. Neither angel nor disembodied saint comes between him and us in all this vision. The Holy Spirit alone, besides himself, hath part or lot in our preservation. This is a most important conclusion to establish, inasmuch as it sets the church into immediate communication with Christ; and teacheth every member thereof, that he needeth no intercession of blessed virgin, or of saint, between him and his own flesh, which is Christ. We know not what place or function in the body the disembodied spirits may occupy. No doubt they continue of the body still a constituent and integral part ; for there is no separation from Christ, when we have been once joined to him by the Holy Spirit. Whatever it be, it is swallowed up in Christ : their's is only a subsidiary portion of his action: occupied they may be by the Spirit for carrying on his ministry, but not seen in any way, though they may be seeing.
Sixthly. The one church, inspected by the one Shepherd and inspired by the one Spirit, subsisteth in various places upon the earth, without having its unity at all disturbed thereby, and likewise in all times from the departure to the coming of Christ. Nor is there the least hint given as to the numbers necessary in any place, or in any time, to constitute the church. Time, place, and number of persons are of no account in respect of these integrant portions of the church. It would seem to say, that in every place upon the wide earth, where there is any number of believers, however few, or however numerous, they should consider themselves as forming one church: the church in London for example, the church in Edinburgh. To this idea the original scheme of the Church of Scotland seems to have striven to conform itself by uniting the churches of a town under one eldership. But it doth seem to want some point of conformity, in not having one angel over all the churches in one place. This the Church of England seems to have better preserved, in appointing one bishop over the church in the cities. But then we are nearer the truth in the smaller towns and villages, having there an angel, whereas the Church of England hath only one of inferior dignity. But it is manifest that these angels over the churches were all of co-equal and co-ordinate dignity. Upon the whole, we have the advantage; though, in the cathedral towns, the Church of England seems to have the advantage, in this respect.
Seventhly. No church is without an angel, whose office it is to bear the church upon his heart continually, and to be between them and Christ. I know not whether the Romish superstition, of every village, town, and city having its guardian angel, be not derived from the true Christian idea, that