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SERMON XXIII.

EPHESIANS iv. 3.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

WHEN our blessed Lord intimated to his disciples his design of bringing the Gentile world, together with the Jews, into the Gospel-covenant, he emphatically declared that there should then be "ONE fold and ONE "Shepherd." The Jews were no longer to enjoy exclusively the privilege of being the chosen people of God; but all nations, kindreds, and tongues, were to have the offer of salvation, and to be united in one universal church, under one head, Jesus Christ. The Gentiles were no longer to worship, as heretofore, "gods many and lords many";" but in the glory of the eternal Trinity to worship the Unity, and to acknowledge that only Lord and Saviour, whose coming the

a John x. 16.

b 1 Cor. viii. 5.

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prophets and the patriarchs had foretold, and who was now to be generally revealed to mankind. Thus was the foundation laid for the unity of religious belief, which preeminently distinguishes the Christian dispensation; a dispensation, not partial or temporary, like that of the Jews, nor undefined and multiform, like the discordant systems of heathen superstition; but comprehending the whole human race; yet at the same time so clearly circumscribed as to the terms and conditions on which its benefits were to be received, that none could avail themselves of those benefits who would not keep within the fold, and obey the voice of the good Shepherd, who "knoweth his sheep, and is "known of them."

Conformably with this representation, our Lord elsewhere describes the connection between himself and his disciples, and their connection also with each other, under a similitude implying the closest and most inseparable kind of union :-"I am the vine, and ye are the branches. He that abideth in 66 me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth "much fruit: for without me ye can do "nothing"." He prays also for the Apostles, and for all that should believe on Him d John xv. 5.

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c John x. 14.

through their word, that "they all might be "one with Him and the Father, as He was "in the Father and the Father in Hime." The Apostles themselves, in the writings they have left for the instruction of the Church, abound in representations to the same effect. Their expositions of doctrine and their injunctions of practical duty are seldom unaccompanied with exhortations to unity and concord; not only inculcating in general terms the unbounded exercise of mutual love, forbearance, peace, and good-will; but more especially, unanimity in faith, in worship, in every thing that concerns the Church of God as a visible community, bound together by common interests and obligations. So faithfully did these preachers of the word enforce the injunctions of their Lord, and endeavour to infuse into all his professed disciples some portion of that spirit by which they themselves were actuated in the discharge of their high and sacred calling.

The effect of these admonitions on the first converts to Christianity appears to have been very conspicuous, notwithstanding the exceptions which occasionally called forth strong animadversions from the Apostles, and

e John xvii. 21.

led to a reiteration of their injunctions. So great indeed was the change wrought in this respect among those who thoroughly embraced the Gospel, as strikingly to verify our Lord's prophetic saying, "By this shall all "men know that ye are my disciples, if ye "have love one to another."

But to what later period of Christian history can the same observation be faithfully applied? Does not every succeeding age furnish but too abundant proof that the profession of the Gospel has been made the instrument, or the pretext, of strife and confusion? Has it not brought in divisions and offences of various kinds, "giving occasion to the ene"mies of the Lord to blaspheme,” and making the Gospel itself a subject of reproach and contumely to the libertine and the scoffer? -That the records of the Christian Church in early times, and still more those of later ages, have called forth such representations, is not to be denied.-What shall we say then? Does this holy, this this blameless system contain within itself the seeds of disunion and disorder? Has it, from any inherent defect or imperfection, failed of its intended purpose, the purpose declared moreover by

pure,

f John xiii. 35.

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