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Behold, then, brethren, what exalted blessings are conveyed and pledged to us through the church. The merits of the Redeemer's blood is applied to us, and thus we are assured of the forgiveness of our sins; the influences of his Holy Spirit are bestowed upon us, by which we are renewed to holiness, and strengthened to resist temptation, and to overcome in our Christian warfare; and it is as faithful members of Christ's church militant on earth, that we become heirs of the glory and bliss of his church triumphant in heaven.
It would be great presumption, indeed, to confine salvation to the Christian church. God is not "a hard master, reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strewed;" and therefore, where the Gospel is not proclaimed, he will not exact, as the condition of salvation, communion with that church into which men have no opportunity of entering. The influences of that grace which Christ hath purchased for all men, may extend where it is not made known, or conveyed, by visible signs and pledges; and those who endeavour to act according to the dictates of reason and conscience, will finally be judged according to what they have, and not according to what they have not but the rewards conferred on them will not be as great as those adjudged to those faithful members of Christ's mystical body, who, through their communion with the church, enjoy the means and pledges of his grace and mercy.
Still, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, the church is the appointed mode of salvation; for it is that mystical body, of which Christ is the Head and Saviour, to which he applies the merits of his blood, which he sanctifies by his Spirit, and which
he will exalt, with its faithful members, to immortal glory.
II. In this view of the Christian church, great is the importance of our obtaining a correct knowledge of it, and highly momentous our being in communion with it: it will therefore be necessary and proper to point out the means by which we are made members of the church, and by which our communion with it is to be maintained.
The appointed mode of admission into the church, by which, on the express or implied conditions of repentance and faith, we receive a title to the blessings of salvation, is baptism. It is the express declaration of Christ-" Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It was his commission to the apostles, to "go and baptize all nations ;" and it is the unequivocal declaration of the apostle" By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." And that children may thus be admitted into covenant with God is evident, from our Lord's declaration"Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."
By baptism, then, we are made members of Christ, admitted into his church, and united to him as our divine Head and Saviour, from whom alone we must derive pardon, holiness, everlasting life.
It is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as the characteristic of the primitive disciples, that "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer." By steadfast faith in the apostolic doctrine; by steadfast submission to apostolic authority; by
breaking of bread," by which is meant the participation of the holy eucharist; and by joining in the public prayers and worship, the first disciples maintained their communion with the church; and surely these, brethren, must be the means by which our communion with the church is to be maintained.
1. By steadfast faith in the apostles' doctrine. The foundation of this doctrine is the declaration, that "God, having raised up his Son Jesus Christ from the dead, sent him to bless us, in turning away every one of us from his iniquities." Redemption from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ, and from its power by his grace, was the consoling doctrine which the apostles proclaimed to a fallen world. That there is but one God, subsisting, in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner, in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; that Jesus Christ is the Son, the only-begotten and eternal Son, of the same nature with the Father; that for us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, and having suffered in our fallen nature, finally shed for us on the cross his precious blood; that, raised from the dead by the power of God, he is now exalted in his human nature to power and glory; that having sent the Holy Ghost to guide and sanctify us as the members of the church, that spiritual body of which he is the Head and Saviour, he will finally exalt us to everlasting life in his heavenly kingdom-these are the great outlines of that evangelical doctrine which, expressly and clearly delivered in the inspired writings, has been preserved in the creeds of the universal church recited in the church of which we are members.
Brethren, it is our duty to receive and cherish this system of doctrine, by faith in which only we can be assured that we are in communion with the church, and of course entitled to the blessings of Christ's death and passion, conveyed and pledged to us through this his mystical body; but let our faith be that lively principle which works by love, and purifies the heart, and leads us to keep the commandments of God; for this is the only faith which, in the communion of his mystical body, will vitally unite us to the Redeemer, and assure to us the privileges of his church, the blessings of pardon, of grace, and of everlasting life.
2. Our communion with the church must be maintained by submission to the apostolic ministry.
From Jesus Christ, as the Head of the church, the Saviour of the body, must all power in it necessarily proceed. From him to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth, must the authority of the spiritual officers of his church be derived— the authority to proclaim the terms of acceptance, to bless the people in his name, and to administer the sacraments, ordinances, and discipline of that mystical body of which he is the Head and Ruler. And his ministers must be called by a divine commission; for "no man," saith the apostle, "taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." We find that Christ sent his apostles, as the Father had sent him, to be the instructors, the priests and rulers of his church; and they were to prescribe the mode by which their spiritual authority was to be continued "alway, even to the end of the world." That the apostles instituted divers orders of the ministry, and reserved to the first order the power of transmitting,
by ordination, the ministerial authority, we have not only the testimony of Scripture, (in the cases of Timothy at Ephesus, and Titus at Crete,) but the unequivocal testimony and usage of the universal church. As, therefore, the first Christians maintained communion with the church by continuing in the apostles' fellowship, we must maintain this communion by fellowship with those orders of the ministry which the apostles constituted, and which, therefore, are vested with apostolic authority; and attending devoutly, according as we may have opportunity, on their ministrations, we shall continue living members of that spiritual building "which, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord."
3. We must maintain our communion with the church by the devout participation of the Lord's supper.
The ordinance of confirmation, or laying on of hands, which is ranked by the apostle among the principles of the doctrine of Christ, has been practised from the apostles' times, for the purpose of confirming, to baptized Christians, the privileges of the baptismal covenant, on their confirming or renewing their baptismal engagements. They are then prepared, in the exercise of penitence and faith, for the participation of the symbols of the body and blood of Christ, in that holy supper which he instituted. He gave himself to be the life of the world; and the cup of blessing is the communion of the blood of Christ, and the bread is the communion of the, body of Christ. By the participation of the symbols of his body and blood in that holy supper which he instituted, his merits and grace are applied to us, to renew, and strengthen,