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ON THE CHURCH.
EPHESIANS V. 23.
Christ is the Head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body.
THIS declaration of the apostle conveys to us a most clear and forcible idea of the intimate connexion which subsists between Christ and his church-and Christians, as members of this church. Not more close the union between the head and members of a natural body, than that which subsists between Jesus Christ and the members of the church, that spiritual body, of which he is the Head and Saviour.
It is, indeed, a truth established by the whole tenour of the apostolic writings, that the blessings of salvation are ordinarily conveyed through the instrumentality of a church, of which Christ is the Head and Saviour; and that, by union with this church, penitent believers are made partakers of all the benefits of his death and passion. "The Lord added to the church such as should be saved." -"Christ is the Head of the church: the Saviour of the body."-"We are one body in Christ; members of his body."
To inquire why God hath instituted a church with officers, sacraments, and laws, and made this
church the ordinary channel of his mercy and grace to a fallen world, cannot be necessary or proper. It is our duty, as creatures and as sinners, to submit to the institutions of our Almighty Sovereign and Judge, and to repress that arrogance which would address to the Lord of heaven and earth the expostulation-" What doest thou?"
Let me direct your attention to the inquiries, in which we are deeply interested
What are those blessings which Christians derive from Christ by virtue of their union with the church, which is his body? and,
What are the means by which this union is maintained?
I. The blessings which Christians derive from Christ by virtue of their union with the church, which is his body, may be summed up in the following
1. Pardon of sin, through the merits of his blood. 2. Spiritual life, holiness, and protection, through power of his grace.
3. A title to that inheritance of glory to which the church will finally be exalted.
1. By their union with the church, Christians become entitled, in the exercise of penitence and faith, to the pardon of sin, through the merits of Christ's blood.
In the inscrutable plan which God has provided for the salvation of man, the sufferings and death of an Almighty Victim are appointed, as an atonement for our sins, and as a satisfaction to his justice, and a vindication of the honour of his violated laws. Jesus Christ is, in a certain sense, as the
apostle declares, "the Saviour of all men;" that is, through the efficacy of his atonement, all men are put into a capacity of salvation; and, through the merits of his blood, those, in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, will be accepted with him. But still Christ is emphatically "the Saviour of them that believe :" "the Head of the church: the Saviour of the body." Where the Gospel is revealed, man, in order to be saved, must not only renounce and forsake his sins, and earnestly endeavour to serve God in holiness of life; but he must exercise a lively faith in the merits and grace of him who is set forth as the Saviour of the world. Faith is the principle by which we must be interested in the blessings of salvation, and by which we must produce those fruits of evangelical righteousness which will render us acceptable to God.
Yet, when we are thus qualified by lively repentance and faith, in order to be assured of an interest in the Redeemer's merits, we must become members of that church to which, as its merciful Saviour and Head, he communicates the efficacy of his precious blood. Christ, we are told, "gave himself for the church," and "purchased it with his own blood." "The Lord added to the church such as should be saved."
In union with the church, then, we are assured of our interest in the merits of that blood which was shed as an atonement for sin-in the merits of the death and passion of him who is "the Head of this church, the Saviour of this body."
2. The church is the mean and pledge of the sanctifying, consoling, and strengthening succours of divine grace.
Through this grace, indeed, which extends to all men, they are all quickened to the principles and powers of a spiritual life. But, by union with the church, the body of the Redeemer, must the spiritual life which they derive from him, and for which they are dependent upon him, be preserved, and advanced in strength and perfection. "By one Spirit," saith the apostle, "we are all baptized into one body," and thus enjoy the spiritual influences which proceed from the divine Head of this body. It is as members of his body that we are united to him, its Head; and from him, in the exercise of prayer, and in the participation of the ordinances of his mystical body, we derive the influences of that grace by which all sinful affections are made to die in us, and all things belonging to the Spirit to live and grow in us; by which we shall be guided through all difficulties, succoured under all temptations, and finally exalted to an inheritance of glory that never fades away.
3. This everlasting inheritance of glory is the consummation of all those blessings of which the church is made the mean and pledge to us.
"The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." By his transgressions, man has forfeited the favour of his Maker, and become obnoxious to death. "Dust he is, and unto dust he must return." But, "by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, we are begotten again to a new and lively hope." The immortality which was lost in Adam, is regained in Christ. The Son of God, the Redeemer of our fallen race, having vanquished death and triumphed over the grave, ascended into heaven, and took possession of a kingdom of glory and bliss that shall never have an end, in order VOL. II, 40
that to this same state of glory and bliss he might finally exalt the church, his mystical body: and as members of this church, therefore, Christians are styled "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, of everlasting glory:" and where the Head is, there the faithful members shall finally be also. United by faith to Christ, in the communion of that body of which he is the Head and Saviour, we are said to have "come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and unto God, the Judge of all; and unto Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant; and to the spirits of the just made perfect; and to the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven."
It is in virtue, then, of our union with our divine Head and Saviour by the participation of the ordinances of his mystical body, that we can triumph in the glorious hope of being finally exalted to those seats of immortal glory which our Saviour hath gone before to prepare for us. And though, as strangers and sojourners upon earth, sorrow and calamity may now assail us, and the course of our pilgrimage may lie through difficulties and temptations; yet we can rejoice in that blessed hope, which the world knows nothing of, of being for ever with the Lord, in the enjoyment of the inestimable bliss of his presence. Mighty in power, the Judge of quick and dead, he will come to exalt the church, which is his body, from its present suffering and militant state, to the glories of his heavenly kingdom; and all its faithful members shall then partake of its triumphs, and in its immortal strains celebrate the grace and power of that Almighty Saviour through whom they have vanquished the adversaries of their salvation.