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build their nests, the spider to weave his web, and instructs the communities of bees, and insignificant emmets, to form their admirable policies and government among themselves. If we speak of intelligent beings, He does what he pleases in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.' He directs and over-rules the counsels and purposes of men, so that, though they act freely, the event of all their different interfering schemes is only the accomplishment of his purposes. When they are employed as his instruments, from small beginnings, and in defiance of difficulties apparently insuperable, they succeed beyond their own expectations. When unhappily engaged against his designs, in vain they rage and plot. He takes the wise in their own craftiness, pours contempt upon their power and policy, and all their great preparations melt like a mist, or like snow before the sun, and leave no trace behind. Still more wonderful, to the eye of faith, is his control over Satan and the powers of darkness. Whatever, for wise reasons, though unknown to us, he may permit them to do, they cannot, with all their subtilty or strength, detain one soul in their bondage longer than till his appointed time of release; nor recover one soul back to their dominion, of which he is pleased to undertake the care. On the contrary, he breaks the heads of these Leviathans in pieces, turns their counsels against themselves, and makes them instrumental in purifying his people, and extending his church, by the means they employ for the destruction of both. Thus they who dwell under his shadow are safe; for all things are in his power, and he always careth for them, and keepeth them, as the pupil of his eye; and therefore, though they are exercised with trials, and suffer many things for their good, his eye being always upon them, and his ear open to their prayer, they are supported, supplied, relieved, delivered, and at last, made more than conquerors.
II. He has a peculiar kingdom, which he has established distinct from the kingdoms of this world, though diffused and extended among them, and which, in due time, like leaven, will pervade and assimilate them all to himself. This is the kingdom of the Gospel, his church. It is founded upon a rock, and though the gates of hell continually war against it, they cannot prevail. For he is a wall of fire round about it, and a glory in the midst of it."
Here he reigns upon a throne of grace. He possesses and exercises unlimited authority as a sovereign, to save whom he pleases, to pardon all manner of sins and offences, and to admit rebels and enemies, when they submit themselves and bow to his golden
* Zech, ii. 5.
sceptre, into the number of his children and his friends.
do the kings of the earth publish an act of grace in the favour of those who have been guilty of rebellion, without clogging it with exceptions. Either they feel a resentment against some of the delinquents, which they have not magnanimity sufficient to conquer, or they dare not trust them. But his mercy is infinite; and he knows how to change their hearts when he pardons their sins.
Perhaps it may not be a digression wholly unuseful and impertinent, if I take this occasion to point out the several senses in which the word church may be understood agreeably to the Scripture.
1. It denotes, in the aggregate, the mystical church, the whole body of that spiritual kingdom, of which the Redeemer is the living and life-giving head.* A succession of these has appeared upon earth in every age, from the days of righteous Abel, whom Cain slew; and we have reason to believe, that the far greater part of them are yet unborn. They will all be assembled together before the throne, in the great day of his final appearance, and inherit the kingdom of glory prepared for them. This is the church which God hath bought with his own blood.'t Happy are they who belong to this society of the redeemed, whose names are written in heaven.'
2. The visible church contains all those who bear and acknowledge the name of Christians, and who admit and enjoy the Gospel revelation. The church, in this sense includes many nations. But it is a small thing to belong only to the visible church, for it is compared to a corn-floort on which chaff is mingled with the wheat; to a field in which tares grow promiscuously with the good seed; to a fisher's net enclosing a great multitude of fishes, both good and bad. But a time of discrimination will come. The chaff and the tares, and whatever is evil, will be consumed. Alas! what will it avail at last to say, 'Lord, we have eaten and drank in thy presence,' at thy table with thy true disciples, and thou hast taught in our streets,'|| and we have heard in our own language of thy wonderful works, if you can say no more? My heart is pained with the apprehension, lest some of you who have joined in the same public worship with true believers, have sat in the same seat, and lived in the same families, should at last see them, with whom you have been very nearly connected in this world, received into the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves be shut out.
3. The catholic church, in any one period, is that part of the
* Col. i. 18.
|| Luke, xiii. 26, 27.
+ Acts, xx. 28. Matth. iii. 12.
Matth. xiii. 24, 47.
visible church which is united to the Lord by living faith. It comprises all who agree in the profession of the fundamental truths of the Gospel, and whose conversation is regulated by its precepts, or, in the apostle's words, All who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity:* This catholic church, through the policy of Satan and the deceitfulness of the heart, is too much divided against itself. Prejudice, bigotry, and remaining ignorance, greatly prevent that desirable union amongst true Christians, which would promote their peace, comfort, and increase, and would contribute more than a thousand arguments to put their adversaries to shame and to silence. That shameful contention for denominations, parties, and favourite preachers, for which the apostle reproved the Corinthians,† is still greatly to be lamented." But, though they are too backward in acknowledging and assisting each other, the Lord is merciful to their weakness, and bears with them all. And as they grow in grace, and drink more into his Spirit, their hearts are enlarged, and they approach nearer to his pattern of long-suffering, patience, and tenderness.
4. The word church is applied to particular societies of Christians, who are connected by a participation in the ordinances of the Gospel, and who maintain a Scriptural separation from the sinful spirit and customs of the world. And though there may be pretenders among them, as there were among the apostolic churches, they are denominated by the better part. They belong to the catholic church by their profession of the truth-of course they are a part of the visible church; and those of them who are, in deed and in truth, what they profess to be, are living members of the mystical church, to which all the promises are made. By whatever name they are known or distinguished among men, they are 'branches of the true vine,' they have their fruit unto holiness, and their end everlasting life.' But to return :
In this his church, or spiritual kingdom, he rules by wise and gracious laws and ordinances. He releases his subjects from all authority, in point of conscience, but his own, and enjoins them to call no one master but himself. If they stand fast in the liberty wherewith he has made them free,' they will not give themselves up implicitly to the dictates of any man, nor follow him further than he follows their Lord. And consequently, if they are influenced by his royal law of doing to others as they would that others should do unto them, they will not attempt to exert an undue authority, or wish to be called masters themselves, so as to assume a dogmatical carriage, or to expect a universal and absolute submission. But it must be owned that, in
* Eph. vi. 24. + 1 Cor, iii. 4.
‡ Matth. xxiii. 8—10., § Gal. v. 1,
our present state of infirmity, this privilege is not sufficiently prized, nor this command duly complied with, there being scarcely a man who does not either arrogate too much to himself, or allow too much to others. A fault in the one or the other of these respects, may be assigned as a principal cause of most of the evils which deform the appearance, or injure the peace of the church. But the design of his Gospel is to set his people at liberty from the yoke of men, from the fetters of custom and tradition, of superstition and will-worship, that they may enjoy, in his service, a state of perfect freedom.
For it is the principal glory of his kingdom, that he reigns in the hearts of his people. There he writes his precepts, impresses his image, and erects his throne; ruling them, not merely by an outward law, but by an inward secret influence, breathing his own life and spirit into them: so that their obedience becomes, as it were, natural, pleasurable, and its own reward. By the discoveries he affords them of his love, he wins their affections, captiyates their wills, and enlightens their understandings. They derive from him the 'spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind,'* and run with alacrity in the way of his commandments.
It is impossible, therefore, to make this song our own, and cordially to rejoice that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,' unless we are the willing subjects of his government; unless we are really pleased with his appointed way of salvation, approve of his precepts, and, from a view of his wisdom and goodness, can cheerfully submit and resign ourselves to the disposal of his providence. In all these respects we are by nature at variance with him. We are too proud to be indebted to his grace, too wise in our own conceits to desire his instruction, too obstinately attached to the love and practice of sin, to be capable of relishing the beauty and spirituality of his commandments. And our love of the world, and the things of it, is too strong and grasping to permit us to be satisfied with the lot, and with the dispensations he appoints for us. We wish, if possible, and as far as possible we attempt, to be our own carvers. We are unthankful when he bestows, impatient if he withholds, and if he sees fit to resume the gifts of which we are unworthy, we repine and rebel against his will. This enmity must be subdued before we can be pleased with his government in other words, we must be changed, we must be made new creatures. To produce this change, this new creation, the Gospel is the only expedient; and when revealed and applied to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, the miracle is wrought. The sinner who is first convinced of his
* 2 Tim. i. 7.
guilt and misery, and then reconciled to God by faith in the great atonement, willingly yields to his administration. He owns and feels the propriety of his proceedings, is ready to acknowledge, in his sharpest afflictions, that the Lord is gracious, and has not dealt with him according to the desert of his iniquities. He considers himself as no longer his own, but bought with a price, and brought under the strongest obligations' to live no longer to himself, but to him who loved him and gave himself for him.' And what was before his dread and dislike, becomes now the joy of his heart, the thought that the Lord reigneth, and that all his concerns are in the hands of him who doeth all things well.
Are there any among us who say in their hearts, We will not have this' Saviour' to rule over us?' The thought is no less vain than wicked. He must, he will reign, till he has subdued all enemies under his feet.' You must either bend or break before
THE EXTENT OF MESSIAH'S SPIRITUAL KINGDOM.
REVELATION xi. 15.
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
THE kingdom of our Lord in the heart, and in the world, is frequently compared to a building or house, of which he himself is both the foundation and the architect.* A building advances by degrees,† and while it is in an unfinished state, a stranger cannot, by viewing its present appearance, form an accurate judgment of the design, and what the whole will be when completed. For a time, the walls are of unequal height, it is disfigured by rubbish, which at the proper season will be taken away; and by scaffolding, which, though useful for carrying on the building, does not properly belong to it, but will likewise be removed when the present temporary service is answered. But the architect himself proceeds according to a determinate plan, and his idea of the whole work is perfect from the beginning. It is thus the Lord views his people in the present life. He has begun a good 1 Cor. ii. 9. Eph. ii. 20-22.
* Isa. xxviii. 16. liv. 11, 12.