« PreviousContinue »
churches of Ephesus, of Smyrna, of Pergamos, of Thyatira, of Sardis, of Philadelphia, of Laodicea, to whom the Spirit spake by the beloved disciple? Gone! all gone! The name of Christian is, indeed, retained in some of those districts; but it is an empty name.
Where are the churches of Carthage and Hippo Regius? Gone! The voices of Cyprian and Augustin find no kindred spirit to prolong their echoes on the shores of north-eastern Africa: even the very name of Jesus has been eradicated from the barbarous soil. Where is the fair daughter of heaven, who, appearing in the hired lodging of Saul of Tarsus, and making her way into Cæsar's household, shone so long with simple beauty in imperial Rome? She retains, indeed, the name of Christian, and usurps the name of Catholic; but, alas! how grievously is she defiled by the vain traditions and superstitious idolatries of fallen man! her native purity is gone, and abomination, yea, Mother of Abominations is written upon her forehead. Where are the churches of Wittemburg and Geneva, those lights from the Lord which burst upon the darkness of Europe by the instrumentality of Luther and Calvin? Gone! Reasoning infidelity, under various well-sounding names, presides over the fountains of instruction, poisoning the streams; while darkness has again covered the land, and gross darkness the people. In our own favoured country what has been the progress of Christianity? Thanks be unto God, the candlestick has not been removed from the churches established in these islands. We have and hold in our articles of faith a true confession: but it is painful to ask and answer the question, Has true Scriptural religion increased among us? For, omitting that portion of our population which is infidel in creed, or openly ungodly in practice, or both, (a portion of fearful magnitude,) and, confining our observation to the more regular, formal, and, apparently, Christian members of our community, what shall we say? Information has indeed increased an hundredfold. Education has spread her benign embrace around the length and breadth of our land. Decency, and order, and harmony, and peace, delightfully prevail. But need you be reminded, brethren, that all these things may be, where true scriptural religion is not? That the Gospel, by its collateral effects, may civilize, and reform, and polish a whole community, while it directly evangelizes and saves only a very small remnant? That (to use the language of Luther) it may produce Reguluses and Fabriciuses, upright and righteous men according to man's judgment, and yet have nothing in it of the nature of genuine righteousness before God? And is it not true, at this moment, that the prevailing tone of Christianity has so subsided into a good-natured quietness, a plausible profession of individual humility, slily praising itself, while, at the same time, it affects too much diffidence to find fault with any other, and an indiscriminate charity which kindly implies that all creeds are equally safe at last? I repeat, is not the prevailing tone of Christianity in this country so infected with the atmosphere of this fashionable liberality, that any thing approaching the spirit, and fire, and zeal, and faith of primitive piety, is denounced as fanaticism; as unholy, because unhumbled impetuosity, or, at least, shrunk from and shunned as enthusiasm, needlessly offensive, and therefore exceedingly injudicious? And is not this the secret of the great apparent increase of religion among us? The church has relaxed in both her doctrine and practice. She occupies a lower and broader platform than is meet; and having laid aside, as ultra and unnecessary, much of what is forbidding to the carnal mind, she has enticed multitudes to join hands with her, whose hearts are not right with her Lord, and who would never have made a show of joining her, had she adhered to the faithfulness of her Lord's truth, and the holiness of her Lord's example. It is not so much that genuine Christianity has increased, as that a spurious mixture, diluted down to the palate of the world, is passing current for the true.
But granting the full extent of what some contend for, as to the increase of true religion in England, still it cannot be maintained that Christianity has been progressive, acquiring and retaining influence over the families of the earth.
And in reference to the promise of universal blessedness, the fulfilment of which is anticipated under this dispensation, it is worthy of remark, that the inspired description of what all the families of mankind shall be, is not yet applicable (neither has it ever been) to even one single family in the most favoured city or village of Christendom; so that, in order to complete the glorious work, the effects produced must not only be enlarged in degree, but also become different in kind.
I do not say that these considerations contain a proof of this dispensation not being the final one; but I certainly think that they are, at least, calculated to excite in unprejudiced minds a suspicion that it may not be, and that, when compared with the histories of former dispensations, they supply strong presumptive evidence that it will not. At least, they should prevent any intelligent man from rejecting, à priori, and without examination, the opinion that it will not.
What say the Scriptures, then,
means of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas; that is, at the commencement of this dispensation, and when a controversy arose at Antioch respecting the circumcision of the Gentile converts; a council of the apostolical church was called together at Jerusalem, to consider and determine the point in dispute. In that council Peter referred to the special revelation by which he had been led, some time before, to go and preach in the house of Cornelius, the Gentile centurion; upon which James made the following remarkable comment: “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, TO TAKE OUT OF THEM A PEOPLE FOR HIS NAME.
»* Now, if we believe (as we profess to do) that this is not merely the opinion of the Apostle, but that he spake these words as he was moved by the Holy Ghost, then we have here a distinct declaration of God himself that the design of this dispensation is to take and save a people out of the Gentiles, which is certainly a very different thing from converting and blessing all the families of the earth. On this point proofs may be multiplied from the experience, the number, and the character of the real disciples of Jesus Christ, as largely described in the New Testament.
Concerning the experience of true believers under this dispensation, we read, 2 Tim. iii. 12, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;" Matt. v. 11, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake;"> Many will
* Acts xv. 14–17. To this agree the words of the Prophets; as it is written, "After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down, and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up; that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”
After this I will return! After what? After a period of desertion, during which the house of David shall be desolate and broken down. After such a period I will return to it, and build it up. But during that period what is to be done? Is God to be without a people on the earth, while he is turned away from the Jewish people, and until he returns to them?
No. In the interim he hath visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. To this agree the words of the Prophets, who say, after this I will return; and I will build again what was fallen down. What is it that is thus described as fallen down and deserted for a season, and asterwards built up again as in days of old? (Compare Amos ix.. 11.) Clearly the Jewish nation, the consequence of whose restoration is immediately added, that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, even all the Gentiles.
Thus there is first a period revealed, during which the Jews would be trodden down; and the characteristic of this period is, a people taken out of the Gentiles. Then, secondly, after this, a period at which the Jews will be listed up again. And, thirdly, a period immediately consequent, when all the Gentiles will call upon the Lord. Such is the apostolical order,
1. The casting away of the Jews.
also, John xv. 19, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you;" Luke xii. 51-53, “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you nay, but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law, and the daughterin-law against the mother-in-law;" Matt. x. 36, “And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.”
Concerning the number of true believers, we read, Matt. xxii. 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen;" Matt. vii. 13, 14, 21, 22, 23, “Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and
many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me ye that work iniquity.”
Concerning the character of true believers, we read, 1 John ii. 15, “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.
any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." James iv. 4, “The friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world, he is the enemy of God.” 2 Cor. vi. 17, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” “And I beseech you, by the mercies of God," saith the Apostle, that ye be not conformed to this world.” Rom. xii. 1, 2.
These passages of Scripture avowedly belong to this dispensation. They have applied in every age, and do still apply to the true disciples of the Lord Jesus. On the supposition, that we have rightly interpreted the language of James, at the council of Jerusalem, and that the design of this dispensation is to take a people out of the Gentiles, these Scriptures will continue to apply till the end of this dispensation; but on the supposition, that the dispensation is to enlarge itself by degrees into the universal blessedness predicted by the prophets, then these Scriptures will not continue to apply. And who is to determine at what point of the progress they cease to be ap
plicable? If the world become Christian, the world will no longer persecute Christians. If all the families of the earth be blessed with eternal life, the way of life will be no longer narrow. If the world become Christian, then Christians cannot separate from the world. It is obvious, that in the passage from our present state to a state of universal holiness, these characteristic sayings of the New Testament must cease to have any application, and become obsolete. And again, I ask, who is to determine at what point of the progress they cease to apply? If it be answered, when the more favourable circumstances of the church cease to require them: the question recurs, who is to judge of those circumstances? Some persons in this country think that already true religion is not thus exposed to hatred and enmity, but only extravagance and enthusiasm, provoking a cross for themselves: while others consider such an opinion as a proof that those who hold it are, themselves, ignorant of what true religion is. We maintain, therefore, that as the statutes of the book of Leviticus continued binding, until another plain and direct communication from the God who gave them shewed that they were superseded, and a better order of things introduced; so these Scriptures, describing the experience, the number, and the character of the Lord's people under this dispensation, must continue applicable, till another plain and direct communication from him who gave them shall show that they are superseded, and a still better order of things introduced. This communication we expect at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, consequently, we conclude that we have no reason to expect, until the coming of the Lord, any such change in the aspect of the church, as would falsify or neutralize these statements of the New Testament.
But then, let us not be misunderstood. While we thus declare our conviction that the present dispensation is for an elect church only, we do not for a moment imagine that God's final purposes of mercy towards the world are to be limited to this election. Far otherwise. To suppose that because this dispensation is for the salvation of a remnant, therefore there will be no subsequent and wider salvation; would be as absurd as it would have been for an ancient Jew to suppose, that because his dispensation was for a particular people, therefore no other people could have true religion extended to them. No, my brethren, we joyfully maintain, that the saving mercy of God in Christ Jesus will eventually extend over the length and breadth of the whole world, and be experienced in the circle of every family then on the earth. We maintain, that the death of Christ is a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, ob