Page images
PDF
EPUB

bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him."*

But further than this; we ascertained in our inrestigation of the Abrahamic covenant, that it makes provision for a succession of church members; and for the maintainance, until the end of time, of a visible church on earth, to serve as a channel for the transmission of revealed truth, and as a nursery to the church invisible. It was not the design of Jehovah, as we have already remarked, that the church on earth should die with her first members. Eternal truth has declared, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her."+ In spite of all opposition, she shall live and prosper, until all the glorious things spoken of Zion, the city of our God, shall be accomplished, and the last redeemed soul be brought home to glory.

Two ways are pointed out, in the covenant made with Abraham, in which the succession of churchmembers, and the enlargement of the church, are to be secured.

1. By accessions from among adults, previously without the pale of God's church and covenant. It is one of the laws of God's house, that all who embrace the truths of his word, and make a credible profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, be admitted as members of his church. No matter what their former character may have been,-no matter whether they before were Jews, Mahometans, Pa-, gans, or infidels. Such strangers to the covenant of

* Vers. 26, 27.

| Mat, xvi. 18

promise are to be admitted in the way of original connexion, whenever they embrace the religion of the Bible, and make a credible profession of faith in the Son of God, and of subjection to his divine authority. I

say a credible profession of faith, &c. For the Lord of the Church has adapted her government, and her terms of admission, to the capacities of men, constituted by his own authority office-bearers in his house. They cannot search the heart, and they are not required to do it. True; the applicant for church fellowship, in addition to acquaintance with the doctrines of revelation, and a strictly moral deportment, ought to be able to give a rational account of Christian experience. Any examination, which should rest entirely on the knowledge and the morals of the applicant, would certainly be very defective; and defective in the most important point. We well know that the most correct and extensive acquaintance with the system of revealed religion, even when such acquaintance with the truth is connected with the most unexceptionable deportment, will not bring a sinner to glory. The sinner, in order to be saved, must be “ justified and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” The truths of God's word must revolutionize his soul-must teach him that he is a sinner, condemned and helpless, -must bring him to the foot of the cross-must make him anxious for mercy to pardon him, and equally anxious for grace to help him in every time of need, In one word ;

This applicant, to meet the Divine approbation, and to be accepted as a member of the invisible church, must be a new creature in Christ Jesus, created unto good works.

Of this, he is to be apprized. In relation to this, he is to be questioned. And unless he can give a rational account of Christian experience; of the operations of Divine grace, on bis understanding, his heart, and his practice, the door of church-fellowship is not to be opened for his admission. For while nothing short of true faith, and vital piety, can give a right to sealing ordinances in foro Dei, before God; nothing short of the evidence of true faith and vital piety can give a right to sealing ordinances, in foro ecclesiæ, before the Church.

But after all, we are liable to be deceived and imposed on: This is not our fault; neither is it contrary to the intention of the Head of the Church. "He who makes the wrath of man to praise him, and 20ho restrains the remainder of wrath, works out his designs, in part, by allowing to hypocrites and deceivers a place in his visible church.

To answer an important end, Judas was included among the twelve. For some wise design Simon Magus was permitted to enter the church, and receive the sacrament of baptism. It is the will of the Lord of the harvest, that the tares shall mingle with the wheats until the gathering of the harvest, when a perfect and final separation shall take place.* God alone can search the heart; and the constitution of the visible church never contemplated real religion, as a term of fellowship. Every attempt to make the visible church perfect, by confining her limits to true believers, has proved as ineffectual as it has been presumptuous and unscriptural. The idea of a perfect visible church is not to be found in the Bible ; and whenever it has lodged itself in the brains of enthusiasts, who happened to have influence, it has been productive of the most unpleasant consequences. This idea of a perfect church lies at the foundation of the Baptist error; and, as all acquainted with the history of the church, well know, produced the greatest disorder and excesses at the time of the Reformation, when the Menonites, or Anabaptists, as they were called, first made their appearance in Germany.*

* Mat. xii. 28-30.

I therefore repeat it; the evidence of real religion is all that is, or can be demanded, in the admission of adults to the fellowship of the church. The man, who is acquainted with the doctrines of reveBation, who furnishes reason to believe that these

* The Menonites or Anabaptists, of the sixteenth century, were probably the offspring of the Petrobrussians; a small branch of the Waldenses, who, in the twelfth century, denied the propriety of infant baptism, because they contended that infants could not be saved ; and who were the first that presented any thing like combined opposition to the doctrine of infant baptism, since the commencement of the Christian era. Dr. Robertson, in his history of Charles V. (see vol. ii. p. 295 et seq. Phil. Ed. 1812.) gives an affecting account of the extravagance and wickedness of the Anabaptists, in the sixteenth century. See also Mosheim's Eccles. History, vol. iv. p. 484 et seq. Phil. Ed. 1798.

re

doctrines have operated on his experience; who professes faith in the Lord Jesus, and supports that profession by a constant and exemplary discharge of the duties imposed by Christianity, is unquestionably to be received as a member of God's visible church, even though his heart should be as corrupt and unholy, as that of Judas Iscariot, or Simou Magus.

The person thus received, on his own confession of faith, as a member of the church, is to have bis membership confirmed and sealed by the ordinance of baptism. Having been admitted into God's visi. ble church, the token of the covenant is to be put upon him; and he is to wear the badge of Abraham's seed in its evangelical form. Abraham “ ceived circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised.' And when those who were aliens before, give evidence that they are partakers of Abraham's faith, they become entitled to the distinction of Abraharn's children.

Upon this principle the Jews proceeded, in relation to the surrounding heathen. When any one embraced the faith of the Jews, he was received into their communion; and his admission was recognized in the ordinance of circumcision. Upon this principle the church has proceeded in every age. Upon this principle we proceed in our day. Such as have not been baptized in infancy, and who consequently have not the covenant token of relationship to the church, must not be received and bap

[ocr errors]

* Rom. iv. 11.

« PreviousContinue »