« PreviousContinue »
communication. In exercising this solemn function, this highest prerogative, they are to come into the presence of Christ as the fountain of their power: he declares that he will descend to be a party in the final, awful transaćtion; that as they discharge the painful task, he will ratify it; that as they pronounce the sentence charged with the terrors of Sinai, he will adopt it as his own, and re-echo it, as if
many thunders uttered their voices' in the conscience of the doomed offender. And this appeal to himself he appoints as final, as the ne plus ultra of church discipline; to appeal elsewhere would be an impeachment of his authority, and treason against his throne.
And let no one speak lightly of this power of rebuke and expulsion. The omnipotence of public opinion, for instance, has almost become a proverbial expression. The world at present acknowledges nothing so mighty, though silent, in its operations. Its slightest whisper is law to a nation. It utters a prediction, and all the powers of society rush to accomplish the prophecy. Unable to endure its censure, numbers seek the asylum of the grave;
and rather than encounter its denunciations, even thrones have trembled and hid themselves in the dust. But in uttering rebuke, the voice of the church is public opinion in its most concentrated form, borrowing mysterious efficacy from the presence and co-operation of an invisible Agent, and gathering tones of alarm by passing through the avenues of an affrighted soul. As the necessity of punishing the offender springs from the first principles in the divine nature, so the sentence of punishment harmonizes with the first principles of his own nature, meets and coalesces with all the remorse in his bosom, finds a ready and loud response from his conscience, and arms him against himself. Sharper than any two-edged sword, it inflicts a wound on the spirit for which earth has no remedy. It is a flash of that consuming lightning, which, leaving the outward man unscathed, passes direct to its mark within, scorching the conscious soul, and turning all its joys to ashes. It is even an anticipation of the last day, a foretaste of that consummation of terrors; flashing the fires of the lake that burneth on the face of the soul; cutting it off from God, delivering it over to Satan as a sealed anathema, an eternal outcast from hope and grace. Such is its efficacy when impartially administered, in connexion with the other branches of christian discipline, to preserve the purity of the church, that were it sufficiently known, christians would no more think of calling temporal aid into the church, than they would of deputing an arm of flesh to guide and assist the bolt of heaven to its destined object.
3. The severe denunciations which Jesus uttered against the Pharisees, for teaching as doctrine the commandments of men ;' discharging all his thunders on the intrusion of human authority into the worship of God, and on the sanctimonious hypocrisy which naturally ensued, indicated clearly the spiritual nature of the church which he designed. He found the world in the church; but he determined to reverse their relative position, to construct and perpetuate his new society as a church in the world. Every plant,' said Christ, and he spoke prospectively, as well as in reference to existing evils, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.' The church is a sacred enclosure taken in from the world; brought into cultivation by the Divine Husbandman; and intended to be filled exclusively with the plants of right
On the outside of this enclosure is to be found the spontaneous produce of evil, bringing forth fruit unto death ; but all within are meant to be plants of the Lord's right-hand planting,' exhibiting in the fruits they bear the essential difference between sin and holiness, and the infi. nite superiority of his transforming grace over the deadly produce of depraved nature. But if, in defiance of this arrangement, the hand of the world be allowed to interfere, his design is defeated; plants are brought in which are not of his selection; his Eden is degraded into a spot for human experiments, in which the produce of grace is supplanted by poisonous exotics, and overrun with the noxious weeds of human tradition. He designed the church to be his own peculium : it is the only fortress which he holds in a revolted world; and he intended, therefore, that no authority should be known in it, no laws acknowledged, but his own; that no parties should obtain admission but those who are called, and chosen, and faithful;' so that to open its gates for the entrance of any of the revolted, however specious the pretext, is a betrayal of the most sacred trust, and treachery to the great cause of Christ. His high design is, that as Satan has a church (he himself speaks of the synagogue of Satan) consisting of the children of sin; a church in which men have been always laboring to cast off the divine law, and to confound the distinction between good and evil; so he would have a church in which these essential distinctions should again be restored and exemplified, and in which the beauties of holiness, seen in their native lustre, should attract the notice, and extort the admiration of the universe. These are the fruits by which its members were to glorify God; these the unearthly marks by which all men should know them as his disciples.
But then, in order to the success of this grand design, it is essential that man should not intermeddle—the process is divine throughout. Had Christ taken up his residence visibly and permanently on earth, the impertinence and impiety of interfering with the arrangements of his church would have been too palpable to be attempted. But though he has departed, he appointed the Spirit as his successor, and promised him as more than his equal in the superintendence of the church; the Spirit has come, and in the scriptures of his own dictation has presented the church with its only code and charter; so that for man to interfere, is either to impugn the divine sufficiency of the Spirit, or to convict himself of presumptuous impiety. To every such intruder the language of Christ is decisive, ‘My kingdom is not of this world;' it has no principle in common with the kingdoms of earth; it refuses all human patronage; rejects, and casts off from itself as alien to its nature, the aid of temporal pains and penalties; and for a man to put forth his hand with a patronizing air to support it, is to endanger its safety, or to peril his own.
Whether personally present or absent, our Lord designed his church to exhibit to the world an image of his own sufficiency; to furnish to it a standing representation of another world, of other laws than earth obeys, and of a higher order of enjoyment and power than man possesses, derived from a source independent of all created means. But in order to answer its original intention, its heavenly Founder must be left unimpeded to work out his great idea. If his church is to resemble a temple, let it be built after the pattern of things in the heavens; let it have the exacts dimensions and proportions assigned by the angelarchitect, who brought to the work his golden measuring rod from heaven, and it will lift up its head into the light of day, and tower towards heaven, a stately and magnificent fabric, visibly inhabited by the shekinah of the divine presence, made transparent by the enshrined glory, and radjating around in all directions its dazzling beams, so as to invite admiration, to repel the presumptuous approach, and smite with blindness the profane gaze of irreligionfinding in its own glory its ustre and defence. If the
church is to attain the fair proportions, and to reach the immortal stature of the body of Christ, let her be fed with the manna which his own hand supplies, and grow as the in-dwelling life shall expand, and be left to the sole guardianship of his own grace, and she shall move in her own light, clad in more than complete steel, having the robes of divinity about her, frowning impurity from her path with a look, suprising curiosity into blank awe, into involuntary and prostrate adoration by her noble grace and bearing, and passing on in unblenched majesty, she shall perform the heroic works and exploits assigned her by God;-a wonder! astonishing heaven and earth ;-'a woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars;' being adorned with celestial attire, and crowned with light; instead of seeking to enhance her glory by sublunary ornaments, she evinces her spiritual nobility by treading them under foot. Oh! had men revered the evident intention of the Great Head of the church ; instead of encumbering religion as they have, and weighing her down to the dust with a load of earth-made armor, they would have seen her equipped in the light, but indestructible panoply of grace, advance to her appointed conflict, terrible as a bannered host; carrying with her the sympathies of the groaning creation, whose champion she is; trampling her enemies under foot, (the earth itself helping her in her straits ;) her weakness doing the deeds of might, deeds which omnipotence might own; gathering up trophies at every step; and returning at length from the circuit and conquest of the world with a train of willing captives which no one can number, of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people; and laden with many crowns for him whose strength had resided in her right arm, and who alone had caused her to triumph in every place.