Page images
PDF
EPUB

vidual members of the church in the wilderness, fed by the word and Spirit of God, without the outward ordinances, (which as dispensed in the visible church were defiled), learned that intimate dependence upon, and converse with the Deity, in which the life and spirit of religion confift. This is a most important lesson ; for we shall find, that the decline and ruin of real religion, among the generality of mankind in every period, arose from their taking the body for the spirit. The religion which Noah communicated pure to his pofteri. ty, was some time after lost among the nations. Their zeal in forming and worshipping images, as representations of the Deity, withdrew their attention and affection from the Dei. ty himself. The Jewish church was constituted pure, and received clearer views of the truth than Noah; but even after they were weaned from image worship, a zealous attachment to those outward ordinances which God had enjoined, together with ceremonies of their own invention, made them lose sight of the spirit of their religion. Hence God reproves them : “ To what purpose is the multitude of your fa. “ crifices unto me, faith the Lord,” Ifa. i.

The Christian church was formed not only a pure but a spiritual society, set free from those types and shadows which veiled the truth

II.

in the Jewish church, expressly told, « That “ God is a Spirit, and they that worship him “ must worship him in fpirit and in truth." Yet notwithstanding these advantages, the spirit of religion began to decline, from an idolatrous veneration for the outward ordinances, which were only the vehicles of it.

In process of time, these were multiplied by ceremonies of human invention, till at length they formed that mass of impieties, puerilities, and absurdities which constitutes the Popish worship ; a mass which may be fitly compared to an overgrown body, dressed out with ornaments of human invention, without one spark of the vital spirit. Seeing then how prone mankind have been in every age to mistake the body for the spirit of religion, withdrawing the body or the ordinances of religion for a season, must appear a mean worthy of divine wisdom to counteract the diforder. Another advantage resulting from the state of the church in the wilderness is, that“ The " is safe from the face of the serpent.” The grand adversary represented by the ferpent, first directed his fury against the progress of the gospel, left Christianity should be spread in the world, and exerted for this end the force of the civil and military government, by his deputies the Pagan Roman Emperors. But in process of time, a regenerate son of the church, Conftantine, was advanced to the throne of the Roman empire, Satan and his votaries were deprived of all power, civil and ecclesiastical, and Christiani. ty became the established religion of the empire, (Rev. xii. 1.-5 and 7.-9.) Satan baffled in his first attempt, directed his violence, in a more hidden manner, against the church as a community, endeavoured to corrupt her in her government, doctrine and ordinances, that these might prove destructive to the spirit of her seed, even when they multiplied in appearance. For this purpose, he excited church-ntembers to divisions and heresies, and filled the governors of the church with a worldly spirit, intent on selfgratification. He proved successful by this artifice' against the great body of professed Chriftians, for he raised within the visible church that huge Coloffus of despotism, the Roman hierarchy, standing upon the legs of ambition and avarice. To preserve the true church of Christ in this imminent danger, God withdrew her into the wilderness, that is, diffolved her external ties, that she should not be visible as a community; while at the same time he preserves the individuals of her offspring, by his word and Spirit In this situation, “ she is safe “from the face of the serpent.”

This prophetic representation serves to elucidate several circumstances respecting the church

in our times, which viewed without this light furnish a handle to the enemies, and stagger the faith of the friends of real religion.

Our adversaries account the vigibility of their church as a community from the apostles days, a demonstration of its being the true church; while they ask us with triumph, where was your church before Luther?

The prophecy furnishes a direct answer. The true church of Christ ought to be invisible as a community for a period of 1260 years, and during all that time, a harlot, pretending to be the spouse of Jesus Chrift, ought to propagate her idolatries successfully and extensively throughout the world.

The divisions among protestants have been urged by their adversaries as an argument against them; and the ineffectual efforts of learned and pious men to unite them into one community, have proved stumbling blocks to the faith of some of their friends. But by the prophetic representation, matters ought to be as they are. Had Protestants united together into one fo. ciecy, the church of Christ would be visible as a community, which, during the currency of the 1260 years, would flatly contradict the prophecy; but the several Protestant churches having no connection with each other, in government and ordinances, like the ancient church, they constitute only individual members of the

universal univerfal church, which, as a body politic, is invisible now, as it was in the tenth century.

While the prophetic representacion should reconcile us to a certain degree of separation among protestants, during the currency of the 1260 years it ought to remove wholly the violence of party {pirit, and every degree of bitterness and ran. cour which protestants have too frequently shew, ed to each other. A violent party spirit is founded on this principle, that those who possess it are the true church of Christ. Hence they argue, that those who feparate from them are schismatics or heretics, and therefore ought to be treated as “heathens and publicans.” But the ground of this reasoning, according to the prophecy, is false ; no particular church or party now on earth may claim the exclusive privileges of the universal church; whoever does, acts the part of a daughter, usurping the place of the mother, and requiring that subjection of her fisters which the law of God does not require.

That the several Proteftant churches have con. siderably declined from their original purity, is a truth which will be readily acknowledged by those who are acquainted with real religion ; yet it is a circumstance which we might have expected, from the prophecy. God has promised to preserve his elect uncorrupted as indi. viduals, but that promise extends not to com

munities

« PreviousContinue »