« PrécédentContinuer »
sign and the instrument of the sanctification of the church. Baptism is the sign; the word is the instrument; and I need scarcely remark, that, of the two functions, that assigned to the word is by far the more important.
Under the preceding head, we have seen that the state in which Jesus Christ finds those who are to compose his church, is a state of guilt and of moral pollution. "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." "We all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away." We have seen, further, that Jesus Christ, by "giving himself for his church" " an offering and a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice," has expiated her guilt, and procured, for her, deliverance from the curse of the law and the punishment of sin. But wonderful as such a deliverance is, and more wonderful still as is the price by which it has been purchased, what could that deliverance avail the church if nothing more were done for her? Can it be supposed that he who is "glorious in holiness, and of purer eyes than to behold what is evil," will view with complacency or admit to his fellowship creatures contaminated and debased by sin, and, as such, utterly unfit for his communion, and utterly averse to it? Surely not. Unless they are renovated and transformed, they cannot enjoy his intercourse. "Can two walk together except they be agreed? What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness ?"
But let us not impute to him who is "perfect in wisdom" so great an incongruity, as to imagine that he could absolve his church from guilt and save her from misery, and not at the same time adopt effectual measures to purify her from pollution, and qualify her for the enjoyment of his love. He loved the church in
her original state of guilt and vileness with a love of benevolence and pity; but in that love it was his design to render her a society which he could regard with a higher love, even with a love of complacency and delight a society in which he could take pleasure, and who would take pleasure in him. In other words, it was his intention to "sanctify and cleanse her."
In itself, sanctification is a blessing not inferior in dignity and value to pardon. Both were contemplated by Jesus Christ when he gave himself for his church; both result from that great event; for by it he not only made expiation for her guilt, but opened a way for the communication of the sanctifying Spirit : gave himself for his church that he might sanctify and cleanse her. He gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
In the process of sanctification the Spirit of Christ is the immediate agent; faith is the internal, and the word is the external instrument; and it is more especially by the revelation which the word contains of Christ's love in dying for sinners, that the process is commenced and carried forward. Let any person be brought to understand correctly, and to believe cordially, that part of the divine testimony, and, as the necessary consequence, his soul must experience a most momentous moral transformation. He will learn to love God, and confide in him as his reconciled Father; he will feel emotions of unfeigned and fervent gratitude to Jesus Christ his Saviour, and he will feel sincerely desirous to testify his gratitude by putting on the moral image of Christ, which he now sees to be the beauty and dignity of the soul, and by obeying the divine law, which he now sees to be "holy, and just, and good."
Such, then, is the instrumentality by which the Lord Jesus dispels the guilty doubts and fears of men, infuses sentiments of hope and love into their souls, and wins back their alienated affections. Such, then, are the "cords and bands" by which he draws them, from their state of estrangement and apostacy, and betrothes them to himself for ever: yea, betrothes them "in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies."
As it is through the word, rendered effectual by the Spirit, that Jesus Christ regenerates the souls of men, and imbues them at first with, the love of holiness; as it is through the word, too, that he cleanses them more and more from the filth of sin, and carries forward the process of sanctification: that part of the divine word which relates to the method of pardon through his sacrifice, and which constitutes the essence of the gospel, is pre-eminently powerful in its sanctifying tendency; but every thing in it is less or more impregnated with the same healing virtue. Think of its discoveries relative to the "resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment;" to the glories of heaven, and the horrors of hell; of the omnipotent succours which it promises to the believer; of the picture which it exhibits of the conduct and character of Jesus Christ, the great ex emplar of moral excellence. Examine, further, its pure, and simple, and sententious precepts, its narratives and doctrines, its promises and threatenings and warnings, and you will perceive that it is admirably calculated to infuse a dread and a detestation of sin, to impel you to love whatever is excellent, and to pursue it with strenuous and unwearied efforts, notwithstanding all the impediments that you may have to
2d, The glorious destiny for which the church is
intended. He purifies her "that he may present her to himself a glorious church."
In the preceding part of this discourse, we have had occasion to contemplate the members of the church as existing in two successive states-their original state of guilt and pollution and misery; and their renewed state, in which they are actually united to the Saviour, and are undergoing a process of preparation for their final condition. We are now to contemplate the church, as existing in a third state -a state of sinless purity and consummate perfection.
In her renewed and intermediate state, the church is a society widely different from the world lying in wickedness; yet even in that state her lustre has often been tarnished not only by the misconduct of her children, who are still compassed about with infirmity, but by the grievous defections and transgressions with which she has been chargeable in her public and corporate capacity. She has often formed unhallowed alliances with the kings of the earth; her liberties and immunities have been trampled in the dust; "the faith committed to her" has been adulterated by an admixture of damnable heresies; she has been rent by furious controversies and divisions; multitudes who are utterly unworthy have been admitted to her communion; the simplicity of worship prescribed by her infallible Head has been exchanged for a multiplicity of superstitious ceremonies and observances; and thus, to use a scripture comparison, the betrothed bride of him who is fairer than the sons of men, instead of presenting the aspect of a chaste and modest virgin, has but too much resembled " a woman decked in the attire of an harlot.”
Considering these innumerable provocations, it may
seem strange that the Son of God has not long ago withdrawn his affections from the church.
His is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above;
Free and faithful, strong as death.
"He has graven her on the palms of his hands and the tablets of his heart;" and though he may sorely correct her iniquities, though he may give her the "bread of adversity and the water of affliction," his loving kindness he will not utterly take from her, nor suffer his covenant to fail. Even on earth she is destined to a degree of prosperity and purity far surpassing aught she has yet attained; and she shall be elevated eventually to a state of consummate perfection. She shall be rendered "a glorious church;" adorned with an excellence and invested with a nobility transcending all earthly dignity. She shall be "without spot," without the slightest speck of sin to deface her beauty, or impair her loveliness; and "without wrinkle," without any vestige of age or weakness or decay. She shall be "holy and without blemish” in the sight not only of created intelligencies, whether friends or foes, but of him who is infinite in knowledge and in holiness, and " who is of purer eyes than to behold evil."
Such will be the state of the church at the last day. Her numbers, too, will then be completed; and her Saviour, having conducted her to that state, "will present her to himself." The expression contains an evident allusion to a marriage, and intimates that the presentation here mentioned will form, as it were, the solemnization of the nuptials of the church. But is there not something incongruous in the husband pre