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What is any pain of mind; any fear, anguish, sorrow, compared to the
worm that never dieth ?” That never dieth! This is the sting of all! As for our pains on earth, blessed be God, they are not eternal. There are some intervals to relieve, and there is some period to finish them. When we ask a friend that is sick, How he does? “I am in pain now," says he, “ but I hope to be easy soon.” This is a sweet mitigation of the present uneasiness. But how dreadful would his case be if he should answer, “I am all over pain, and I shall be never eased of it. I lie under exquisite torment of body, and horror of soul ; and I shall feel it for ever!” Such is the case of the damned sinners in hell. Suffer any pain, then, rather than come into that place of torment!
I conclude with one more reflection, taken from Dr. Watts :-" It demands our highest gratitude, that we, who have long ago deserved this misery, are not plunged into it. While there are thousands that have been adjudged to this place of punishment, before they had continued so long in sin as many of us have done, what an instance is it of divine goodness, that we are not under this fiery vengeance! Have we not seen many sinners, on our right and our left, cut off in their 'sins ? And what but the tender mercy of God, hath spared us week after week, month after month, and given us space for repentance ? What shall we render unto the Lord, for all his patience and long suffering, even to this day? How often have we incurred the sentence of condemnation by our repeated rebellion against God? And yet we are still alive in his presence, and are hearing the words of hope and salvation. Oh let us look back and shudder at the thoughts of that dreadful precipice, on the edge of which we have so long wandered! Let us fly for refuge to the hope that is set before us, and give a thousand thanks to the divine mercy, that we are not plunged into this perdition !"
SERMON LXXIX.-of the Church. "I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowli ess and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,” Ephes. iv, 1-6.
1. How much do we almost continually hear about the church! With many it is matter of daily conversation. And yet how few understand what they talk of: how few know what the term means ! A more ambiguous word than this, the church, is scarce to be found in the English language. It is sometimes taken for a building, set apart for public worship; sometimes for a congregation, or body of people, united together in the service of God. It is only in the latter sense that it is taken in the ensuing discourse.
2. It may be taken indifferently for any number of people, how small or great soever. As, “ where two or three are met together in his name," there is Christ; so, (to speak with St. Cyprian,) “ where two or three believers are met together, there is a church.” Thus it is that St. Paul, writing to Philemon, mentions “the church which was in bis house:" plainly signifying, that even a Christian family may be termed a church.
3. Several of those whom God hath called out of the world, (so the original word properly signifies,) uniting together in one congregation, formed a larger church; as the church at Jerusalem : that is, all those in Jerusalem whom God had so called. But considering how swiftly these were multiplied, after the day of pentecost, it cannot be supposed that they could continue to assemble in one place; especially as they had not then any large place, neither would they have been permitted to build one. In consequence, they must have divided themselves, even at Jerusalem, into several distinct congregations. In like manner, when St. Paul, several years after, wrote to the church in Rome, (directing his letter, “To all that are in Rome, called to be saints,'') it cannot be supposed that they had any one building capable of containing them all; but they were divided into several congregations, assembling in several parts of the city.
4. The first time that the apostle uses the word church, is in his preface to the former epistle to the Corinthians: “Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, unto the church of God which is at Corinth:" the meaning of which expression is fixed by the following words: “ To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus; with all that, in every place,” (not Corinth only; so it was a kind of circular letter,) "call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both yours and ours." In the inscription of his second letter to the Corinthians, he speaks still more explicitly: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in all Achaia.” Here he plainly includes all the churches, or Christian congregations, which were in the whole province.
5. He frequently uses the word in the plural number. So, Gal. i, 2, “Paul an apostle, -unto the churches of Galatia;” that is, the Christian congregations dispersed throughout that country. In all these places, (and abundantly more might be cited,) the word church or churches means, not the buildings where the Christians assembled, (as it frequently does in the English tongue,) but the people that used to assemble there; one or more Christian congregations. But sometimes the word church is taken, in Scripture, in a still more extensive meaning; as including all the Christian congregations that are upon the face of the earth. And in this sense we understand it in our liturgy, when
“Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's church militant here on earth.” In this sense it is unquestionably taken by St. Paul, in his exhortation to the elders of Ephesus, Acts xx, 28, “ Take heed to the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.” The church here, undoubtedly, means the catholic or universal church; that is, all the Christians under heaven.
6. Who those are that are properly " the church of God," the apostle shows at large; and that in the clearest and most decisive manner, in the passage above cited: wherein he likewise instructs all the members of the church, how to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called.”
7. Let us consider, first, who are properly the church of God? What is the true meaning of that term ? " The church at Ephesus,"
"as the apostle himself explains it, means," the saints," the holy persons, “that are in Ephesus;" and there assemble themselves together to worship God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ : whether they did this in one, or (as we may probably suppose) in several places. But it
is the church in general, the catholic or universal church, which the apostle here considers as one body: comprehending not only the Christians in the house of Philemon, or any one family; not only the Christians of one congregation, of one city, of one province, or nation ; but all the persons upon the face of the earth, who answer the character here given. The several particulars contained therein, we may now more distinctly consider.
8. “There is one Spirit” who animates all these; all the living members of the church of God. Some understand hereby the Holy Spirit himself; the Fountain of all spiritual life : and it is certain, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Others understand it of those spiritual gifts and holy dispositions which are afterwards mentioned.
9. “ There is," in all those that have received this Spirit, “one hope;" a hope full of immortality. They know to die is not to be lost: their prospect extends beyond the grave. They can cheerfully say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”
10. “There is one Lord,” who has now dominion over them; who has set up his kingdom in their hearts, and reigns over all those that are partakers of this hope. To obey him, to run the way of his commandments, is their glory and joy. And while they are doing this with a willing mind, they, as it were, “ sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.”
11. “ There is one faith ;" which is the free gift of God, and is the ground of their hope. This is not barely the faith of a heathen : name ly, a belief that "there is a God,” and that he is gracious and just, and, consequently, “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Neither is it barely the faith of a devil: though this goes much farther than the former : for the devil believes, and cannot but believe, all that ie written both in the Old and New Testament to be true. But it is the faith of St. Thomas, teaching him to say with holy boldness ; " My Lord, and my God.” It is the faith which enables every true Christian believer to testify with St. Paul, “ The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
12. “There is one baptism;" which is the outward sign our one Lord has been pleased to appoint, of all that inward and spiritual grace, which he is continually bestowing upon his church. It is, likewise, a precious means, whereby this faith and hope are given to those that diligently seek him. Some, indeed, have been inclined to interpret this in a figurative sense; as if it referred to that baptism of the Holy Ghost, which the apostles received at the day of pentecost, and which, in a lower degree, is given to all believers : but it is a stated rule in interpreting Scripture, never to depart from the plain literal sense, unless it implies an absurdity. And beside, if we thus understood it, it would be a needless repetition, as being included in, “there is one Spirit.”
13. “ There is one God, and Father of all ;" that have the Spirit of adoption, which “crieth in their hearts, Abba, Father ;" which“ wita nesseth" continually “ with their spirits," that they are the children of God: “who is above all,"—the Most High, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Governor of the whole universe : " And through all,”—pervading all space; filling heaven and earth:
Totam Mens agitans molem, et magno se corpore miscens :• And in you all,”-in a peculiar manner living in you, that are one body, by one Spirit :
Making your souls his loved abode,
The temples of indwelling God. 14. Here, then, is a clear unexceptionable answer to that question, What is the church? The catholic or universal church, is, all the persons in the universe, whom God hath so called out of the world, as to entitle them to the preceding character; as to be “one body," united by “one Spirit;" having “one faith, one hope, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all."
15. That part of this great body, of the universal church, which inhabits any one kingdom or nation, we may properly term a national church; as, the church of France, the church of England, the church of Scotland. A smaller part of the universal church, are the Christians that inhabit one city or town; as the church of Ephesus, and the rest of the seven churches mentioned in the Revelation. Two or three Christian believers united together, are a church in the narrowest sense of the word. Such was the church in the house of Philemon, and that in the house of Nymphas, mentioned Col. iv, 15. A particular church may, therefore, consist of any number of members, whether two or three, or two or three millions. But still, whether they be larger or smaller, the same idea is to be preserved. They are one body; and have one Spirit, one Lord, one hope, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.
16. This account is exactly agreeable to the nineteenth article of our church, the church of England : (only the article includes a little more than the apostle has expressed.)
Of the Church. “ The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered.”
It may be observed, that at the same time our thirty-nine articles were compiled and published, a Latin translation of them was published by the same authority. In this the words were" Cætus credentium;' a congregation of believers ; plainly showing that by faithful men, the compilers meant, men endued with living faith. This brings the article to a still nearer agreement to the account given by the apostle.
But it may be doubted, whether the article speaks of a particular church, or of the church universal ? The title, “Of the church,” seems to have reference to the catholic church; but the second clause of the article mentions the particular churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. Perhaps it was intended to take in both : so to define the universal church, as to keep in view the several particular churches of which it is composed.
17. These things being considered, it is easy to answer that question, “ What is the church of England ?" It is that part, those members of the universal church, who are inhabitants of England. The church of England is that body of men in England, in whom “there is one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith ;" which have “ one baptism," and " one God and Father of all.” This and this alone is the church of England, according to the doctrine of the apostle.
18. But the definition of a church, laid down in the article, includes, not only this, but much more, by that remarkable addition : "In which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered." According to this definition, those congregations in which the pure word of God (a strong expression) is not preached are no parts either of the church of England, or the church catholic: as neither are those in which the sacraments are not duly administered.
19. I will not undertake to defend the accuracy of this definition. I dare not exclude from the church catholic, all those congregations in which any unscriptural doctrines, which cannot be affirmed to be " the pure word of God," are sometimes, yea, frequently preached; neither all those congregations in which the sacraments are not“ duly administered.” Certainly if these things are so, the church of Rome is not so much as a part of the catholic church: seeing therein neither is “the pure word of God” preached, nor the sacraments “duly administered.” Whoever they are that have "one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father of all;" I can easily bear with their holding wrong opinions, yea, and superstitious modes of worship: nor would I, on these accounts, scruple still to include them within the pale of the catholic church: neither would I have any objection to receive them, if they desired it, as members of the church of England.
II. 20. We proceed now to the second point. What is it to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called ?"
It should always be remembered, that the word walk, in the language of the apostle, is of a very extensive signification. It includes all our inward and outward motions; all our thoughts, and words, and actions. It takes in not only every thing we do, but every thing we either speak or think. It is, therefore, no small thing “to walk,” in this sense ot the word," worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called :" to think, speak, and act, in every instance, in a manner worthy of our Christian calling.
21. We are called to walk, first, “ with all lowliness :" to have the mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus; not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think ; to be little, and poor, and mean, and vile in our own eyes : to know ourselves as also we are known by him to whom all hearts are open : to be deeply sensible of our own unworthiness, of the universal depravity of our nature ; (in which dwelleth no good thing ;) prone to all evil, averse to all good; insomuch that we are, not only sick, but dead in trespasses and sins; till God breathes upon the dry bones, and creates life by the fruit of his lips. And suppose this is done, suppose he has now quickened us, infusing life into our dead souls; yet how much of the carnal mind remains! How prone is our heart still to depart from the living God! What a tendency to sin remains in our heart, although we know our past sins are forgiven! And how much sin, in spite of all our endeavours, cleaves both to our words and actions! Who can be duly sensible, how much remains in him of his natural enmity to God? Or how fai he is still alienated from God, by the ignorance that is in him ?