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All circumstances concurred to make the time of Christ's appearance the most suitable for the establish, ment and diffusion of his religion; and therefore it miy, with great propriety, be called the fulness of the times.
Let us adore the wisdom of God, who orders all events in the most perfect manner, and accomplishes all his purposes in the most convenient time. Let us rejoice that the world, and all things in it, are under the government of an all perfect being. The wisdom which appears in this dispensation of the fulness of times, encourages us to commit all our ways to him, to trust all our concerns in his hands, to acquiesce in all the disposals of his Providence, and to do his will without murmuring and disputing.
2. The Apostle teaches us, that one end of this dispensation was, that God might gather together in one, all things in Christ: Or, as the Apostle expresses it, in the next chapter, that he might make both Jew and Gentile to be one, might break down the middle wall of partition between them, might abolish the enmity, reconcile both to himself in one body, or one church, and make of the twain one new man.
Though God first admitted the Jews to the peculiar. privileges of his church, yet he promised, that, when the Saviour should come, all nations in him should be blessed. Jesus confined his personal ministry, and he first sent his Apostles to the Jews; for to them the word of God was first to be spoken. But after his resurrection he commanded them to go and preach the gospel to all nations, and to gather into one church all men in Christ, of whatever nation they were.
We see then, and it is worthy to be remembered, that one great design of the Christian dispensation is, to form one body in Christ-to collect one church, one great kingdom under him. The convenience of worship requires Christians to erect particular churchps; but all these are members of one body; for Christ
is not divided. The body which is one hath many members; but all these are one body in Christ. Therefore, as our Apostle says, there should be no schism, no rent or division, in the body. We should regard, as members of Christ's church, all who in . every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. All particular churches ought to own one another as members of the same great body, and have fellowship together as such. Though they meet in different places, entertain different sentiments in the less important things of religion, and adopt some different usages in the forms of discipline and worship, yet, as long as they hold the head and call on the name of the same Lord, they are to treat one another as sister churches, and to cooperate in building up the same grand cause which all profess to regard.
Hence then it appears, that they who break and disunite the church of Christ, and create schisms and divisions in it-they who separate from, and renounce communion with Christian societies without cause, or for small and trivial differences-they who, instead of laboring to reform what they see irregular in churches, endeavor to pull them down, and on the ruins to build up a party of their own; these act in direct opposition to the will of Christ and to the design of his gospel. They serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own passions and lusts. They counteract the Apostolic plan, which was to collect into one all things in Christ.
3. The Apostle farther teaches us, that the gospel is intended to unite in Christ all things, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth.
The church of Christ consists of the whole family in heaven and earth. The saints in heaven were saved in the same way, in which we also must be saved. They are worshipping the same God and the same Redeemer, whom we profess to worship. They are subject to the same Lord, to whom we are subject: Yea, all the angels adore and obey him. They are minis
tering spirits to the church below. They are the servants of the same Lord Jesus, and own themselves to be but fellow servants with the saints on earth. The religion of the saints above and of those below is in substance the same; a religion of piety and benevolence. The chief difference lies in the degrees of perfection. The church in heaven and the church on earth are, in some respects, one church united. Be lievers are fellow citizens with the saints in glory, and of the household of God. The design of the gospel is to form the members of Christ's church on earth to a nearer resemblance of saints and angels in heaven, and to bring them to the general assembly and church of holy beings, to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and thus finally to gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth.
Here, my brethren, is a powerful argument for Christian love. In heaven charity never fails. If we all profess to be seeking the same heaven, and hope to be gathered in one church there, let us exercise that love to one another, which is necessary to prepare us for heaven, and without which heaven would cease to be itself.
Here is also an argument for Christian candor. If the saints, yea, the angels in heaven, who are so exalt. ed in dignity-so improved in knowledge-so perfect in holiness, still own the church on earth, minister to the heirs of salvation, have intercourse with them as one family, and rejoice in the expectation of receiving them to their company above; surely we ought to condescend to our weaker brethren, bear their infirmities, minister to their wants and receive them to our fellowship. If, because we imagine ourselves more pure, more wise, or more sound in faith, than our brethren, we exclude them from our charity, bid them stand by themselves, and warn them not to come near us in acts of holy communion, our temper is utterly
unlike to that of the blessed above. Ye, whose religious zeal runs into bigotry, and whose spiritual pride has rooted out charity, look up to heaven-see the condescension, the love, the humility which is there, and be ashamed of yourselves. Without something of the same spirit, you absurdly claim a relation to the household of Christ.
III. In the words of our text, there is another passage, which we will briefly notice. In him we have obtained an inheritance, that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
These words are spoken to the believing Jews. They were the first who trusted in Christ. The word of God was first sent to the Jewish nation; of that nation were the first believers; and in Jerusalem was the first Christian church. They are said to have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to God's purpose. They were once, as a nation, chosen to be God's distinguished and peculiar people; but because they generally rejected the Saviour, they as a nation were rejected of God. Those, however, who trusted in Christ, had still a place in God's inheritance, and enjoyed a portion in his kingdom. They, with the believing Gentiles, were made heirs of God, not only to the privileges of his church on earth, but to an inheritance also in the heavens. In both these respects
believers have obtained an inheritance.
They enjoy the privileges of God's children on earth, such as his word, worship and ordinances, the presence of his Spirit, the protection of his Providence access to him in prayer, and an interest in his promises. And they are made meet for, are sealed unto, and become heirs of a glorious inheritance in heaven. This is so clearly made over, and so firmly secured to them by God's gracious promise, that they are said to have already obtained it. They are by faith united to Jesus, and are made joint heirs with him, who, as their forerunner, has gone to heaven and taken possession of
the inheritance for them. Their life is hidden with Christ in God-the glory is laid up, and the inheritance is reserved for them-they are risen with Christ, and made to sit together with him in heavenly places.
The Apostle instructs them, that, as they had first obtained an inheritance, and first trusted in Christ, so they should first be to the praise of God's glory.
All Christians are bound to glorify God, and shew forth the praises of him, who has called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. They are to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God. But there are some peculiar obligations on those, who first trusted in Christ. They, who enjoy superior religious advantages-who through grace have been made partakers of the blessings of the gospel-who have felt the power and tasted the pleasures of religion-who have taken on them the Christian profession and characterwho have advanced in age and made proficiency in knowledge, they should remember, that, of all men, they are bound to live to the praise of God's glorious grace. They should use their influence for the conversion of sinners, for the confirmation of weak believers, for the advancement of religion, and for the promotion of Christ's kingdom. If they walk according to the course of the world, they dishonor the name by which they are called, embolden the wicked, and cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of. If they, who profess to have believed in Christ, and to have obtained an inheritance with him, still live, as if their only inheritance and only hope were in this world, they expose the gospel to contempt.
Let us then, as many as call ourselves Christians, walk worthy of our name and character. Let us be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke. Let us have our conversation as it becomes the gospel, that none may speak against us as evil doers,