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shocks they experience on account of sin. Thus we find it in our own world. There is presented before us an ever-shifting scene; and from the solitary spire of grass, to the noblest combination of human beings, nothing can be found exempt from change.
From this fatality the church of the first-born cannot be freed. One age presents us with a little handful faithful to the covenant of their God. In another we see her spread abroad through every land, and proudly towering above the kingdoms of the earth. In a little while cor. ruption seizes upon the mighty mass, and almost every vestige of her existence is destroyed. Again the Spirit is sent forth and she revives. One age is rendered illustrious for piety, knowledge and decorum; a succeeding becomes notorious for ignorance, profligacy and superstition. One while it is accounted indispensable to decency to hail her as the common mother; and anon the million shout against her, and the earth becomes purpled with her childrens blood.
That which applies to the church Catholic, holds equally good when applied to particular sections of the church. Every denomination, every small district of country where the gospel is preached at all; nay, every individual congregation, have their times of adversity and prosperity, their seasons of revival and decline. They are exposed to innumerable changes, and often suffered to go on from bad to worse, till at length the judgments of the Eternal are made manisest, and their memorial is blotted out from under heaven.
Even within the short period of apostolic ministrations this evil was sadly felt. The churches of Corinth and Galatia, fou nded by the labors of the apostle Paul, were distinguished for piety, for zeal, for knowledge; yet, long ere the testimony of that man of God was finished, we find party spirit embittering, wild confusion roaring, and soul destroying errors abounding in a strange degree. That very apostle who had been to them the messenger of grace; that Paul whom they had once “received as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus," was afterwards suspected, misrepresented and reviled.
It is to one of these seasons of decay that our attention is directed in the context. Sardis is acknowledged as one of those churches which the Lord's own right hand had planted. But though it could bave been but a very short time since the gospel was introduced, yet it appears her day of prosperity was gone by; she had then but "a name to live,” and was threatened with utter desolation in case she did not make use of the means still within her
power. What was the result of this message sent to Sardis we do not know. One thing however, is certain; though once known as a church of Jesus Christ, she is known as such no more. Her sanctuary has long been desolate, and her children are at this moment wandering in heathen darkness, and dropping one by one into that world where knowl.. edge cannot profit and where repentance comes too late. That this may never be our case, or the case of them who follow after us, should be among the most anxious wishes of every christian heart. That we may be the better qualified both to discover and eradicate the growing evil, let the following things be attended to.
1. The marks of approaching dissolution in any portion of the christian church.
II. The duty of all those connected with the disordered system.
III. The means that must be resorted to for a recovery.
1. The fact of a church being in a state of decline is the first thing to be ascertained in order to her recovery. To the marks of such a state your attention is first called.
We may begin where society itself commences, in the domestic circle. If in the families of the faithful there appear little of the spirit of vital godliness, a church is disordered in her vital parts; unless that thing be remedi. ed, nothing will save her from perdition. The danger is seldom greater than when a profession of religion becomes a very popular thing. If her ministry te popular, if her assemblies be crowded, if their contributions for the support of the gospel be large, we are very apt to conclude that affairs are in a most prosperous state. And no doubt it often is so. But the case is as often otherwise. If this great parade of godliness be laid aside when men retire from the worshipping assembly; if the youth be reared up in ignorance; if habit, not principle, fashion, not affection, produce all that is flattering in these appearances, then the forerunners of death pervade the system; and it will not be surprising, if after an age of general profession, the next should be an age of general scepticism. It is in the little circle of the family that we may look for the surest signs of revival and decay. There men commonly act without constraint; and there, especially, is laid in every youthful breast the foundation of his future character. God has generally built up his church out of materials already belonging to her. He seldom puts the seal of his Spirit upon the alien or the outcast; but from the children of those who are his servants be has promised to se lect, and he ordinarily does select, those who sball bear testimony to his gracę, when their fathers are no more. To
these parental instruction and parental correction are the appointed mean of grace. And if parents be negligent of the trust committed to them, if children are suffered to grow up with little cultivation; though nothing else could be faulted in a church-though she had never appeared in so prosperous a state, yet she has in reality little to hope, the springs that fed her are dried up, and she must ere long wither to the root.
2. Contempt of ecclesiastical authority is another and a most alarming evidence of decline. Order and energy are absolutely indispensable to prosperity in every association. But in a body like the church of Christ, where there is so much opposition from every quarter without, and where all depends upon an energy not her own, they cannot be dispensed with for any length of time without the most disastrous consequences. Accordingly the scriptures have marked it as a token of a man's approaching perdition that he despises dominion and speaks evil of dignities. And if it betoken ruin to the individual that he tramples under foot the authority of Zion's King, and speaks evil of the officers acting in his name; what must be the issue when the evil becomes prevalent in a church of Christ. If men will set themselves in opposition to the collected wisdom of our Master's counsellors, convened in his name and aided by his Spirit; if they will bring the officer into disrepute because they dissent from any of his measures; if they flee from censure, and triumph in the thought that the sword cannot be ansheathed against them; if to screen their own conduct they revile their rulers; or to cherish their improper practices disseminate discontent; in one word, if a spirit of disregard or disrespect to the courts of the Lord Jesus once creep in among a people
we may rest assured that this evil does not stand alone. And unless his grace prevent it by a speedy reformation, nothing can be looked for but that the outrage should be followed with mildew and blasting to the utter extirpation of the name of christian. The curse may operate but slowly; so slowly as to be hardly perceptible; but nevertheless it shall operate till their children's children find that the issue has been sure.
3. Weak and careless ministrations are another token of decay. There is a striking analogy in all the constitutions of God; and with all of them it holds good that where the necessary provision is not made, the end of the constitution, whether natural or moral, is at hand. This analogy the scriptures have stated most clearly as it subsists between the human body and that moral constitution we denominate the church. Each of them are composed of members mutually dependant, and mutually helpful to each other. Each of them depend for their very existence upon the due supply of suitable nourishment. We know that if this be withheld from the body of man, or if it be exchanged for such things as are not well adapted to bis constitution, weakness-decay---and finally death, must be the consequence. So too if the church have not her food prepared and administered in a manner adapted to her constitution, she too must perish. Weak, irregular, or careless ministrations will infallibly bring on a decline, though every member should be healthy and every spirit willing. No church can remain in a fixed state, any more than an individual. She must be increasing or diminishing. And if she have not "able workmen that need not to be afraid," "pastors and teachers after God's own heart, capable of building her up in knowledge and in understand