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sent, and was accomplished in the christian church; that society which Christ erected by his own immediate act and authority, and into which all his followers were incorporated. If we would learn how to respect this church, we must look to the example Christ himself hath set us in the respect he paid to the other. At twelve years of age, he departed from the company of his parents, to associate with such as he found in the temple; which certainly was neither of the best nor the wisest. He expressed great zeal for the honour and decency of the place, when he drove out those people with a scourge, who there carried on a worldly traffick; and he forbid any common use to be made of ita.
He frequented the temple, as the proper theatre of his doctrines and his mighty works: he sat daily teaching in the temple, and thither the blind and the lame resorted to him, to be healed of their infirmities. They who desired to hear him, or to be healed by him, found him in the temple: whence the inference is obvious, that they who would find him now, must seek him in his church. His example becomes more forcible under this application of it; be
a Mark xi. 16.
cause the christian church is as much more worthy of our reverence, in some respects, than the Jewish temple, as the blood of Christ is more precious than that of brute sacrifices. But in respect to unity, charity, and obedience to the ordinances of God, the members of the church, in both its states, have been under like obligations.
While we remain with the church, we are entitled to its privileges; and while we think ourselves happy in the place and office there assigned us (though our place be only at the feet of Jesus Christ, and our office no better than that of a door-keeper) we have our share in the promises of God, and may hope to be saved even as others. But as the restraints of law are hateful to all libertines; so ecclesiastical rules of salvation are never patiently endured by an aspiring temper. When the Devil finds a proper subject to work upon, he takes him up aloft, and places him in an aerial situation above the church; from whence he will look down upon others, till his head becomes giddy: and when his pride hath weakened his judgment (an effect it never fails to produce) he resolves to forsake the church of God, and leap off into the air ;
presuming on the enthusiastic notion, that the promises of God do not belong to him as a member of the church to which the promises were made, but to him as an individual; and that he may apply them to himself, when he is become a church to himself ; with an assurance, that the ministers of grace will be as much engaged to wait upon him, when he is falling through the region of heresy and schism, as when he is conforming himself to the doctrines and ordinances of God in the spirit of a christian.
XXIII. The scripture is always perverted by those who fall into this crime of spiritual wickedness; and they accomplish their purposes in these three different ways. Sometimes, they take a text independently, so as to make it militate against the tenour of the divine law: as that text concerning the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; which if it be applicable to the religion of some who have it often in their mouths, must mean an exemption from the authority of his own gospel. Whereas, if the text is taken with its natural dependence, it freeth us from nothing but the bondage of the Jewish law.
* Gal. v, 12
At other times they allegorize and explain away the literal part of a scriptural precept, ordinance, or doctrine, so as to render both parts ineffectual: or give a jejune and literal sense to words which are to be spiritually, or at least figuratively, understood. This latter was the practice of Satan on the present occasion. He separated the word stone from its metaphorical meaning, to change the true sense of the promise, and promote his own malicious intention. They are guilty of a like error, who wilfully separate the edifice of the church from its spiritual relation to God, and consider it merely as a pile of stone and mortar, that they might lightly regard all that belongs to it.
XXIV. We cannot secure ourselves more effectually against this sin, than by meditating on the text in which Christ replied to the Devil—Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God-If we seek the protection and salvation of God, we must make no vain experiments, to turn his truth or his power out of their proper channel: if we hope to receive the benefit of his promises, we must be content to receive that benefit in his own way; by the ordinary means of grace, his word and sacraments; and in the church, that visible
society, wherein alone those means are administered. To invent any other method of salvation, however it may seem to be favoured by perverted texts of scripture, is to tempt God; having first flattered ourselves, that because he hath promised to be with us while we are with his church, he must therefore send his angels to bear us up when we have quitted our station, and have ventured upon a flight through the air.
XXV. This was the prevailing sin of the last century; when a great part of this unhappy nation was intoxicated with spiritual pride. It was no unusual thing for the preachers and devotees of that time to reason with God Almighty with all the familiarity of Moses himself, but with none of his discretion and charity. Schism and sacrilege, treason, rebellion and murder, were promoted with an air of sanctity; and the promoters themselves were the agents of heaven, appointed to purge the church of superstition, and bring in a purer sort of religion by the methods aforesaid, copiously justified and recommended by impertinent applications of the scripture, which it would be endless to recount.