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For the wisest and most important purposes, the Lord separated from the rest of the world the family from which Christ was to spring. He sent them down to Egypt, where they increased to a nation, were brought into bondage, and delivered in a manner calculated to excite in them the most lively gratitude to the God of their fathers, as well as to illustrate the redemption of the true Israel. He established his covenant with them, avouching them to be his peculiar people ; He delivered to them laws, statutes, judgements, and commandments, which they were to observe till the appearance of One who should rule as a son over his own house, and explain the parables which the faithful servant had employed to shadow forth the nature of his spiritual and everlasting kingdom.
At length this glorious Personage made his appearance, and having sat down on the throne of his glory, issued those laws by which his subjects should be governed. During his abode upon earth, He dwelt among his brethren after the flesh; He sojoured in that family which had been separated from all others, manifesting himself as the Saviour of sinners ; and before He left the world, commanded the Gospel to be preached to every creature. But the mind of Israel was blinded, and because His kingdom was not of this world, because He required his subjects to deny themselves, to take up their cross and follow him,-because his Apostles declared tbat all national distinctions were at an end, and that there was now neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, but that the same Lord over all is rich to all that call upon him,—they refused to have Him to reign over them, affirming that they had no king but Cesar. Their city was, in consequence, burnt up, and themselves scattered among the nations, with whom, however, they are not permitted to mingle, but remain to this day—a pillar of
salt-a distinct people, whose present circumstances, ---50 minutely described by Moses and the prophets,-form a conclusive proof of the truth of the Gospel, which they still so obstinately reject.
False brethren, both Jews and Gentiles, unawares crept into the churches in the days of the Apostles. The former, like Lot's wife, fondly looked back to the system which, having answered its purpose, was virtually at an end. Like their forefathers, who remembered with regret the luxuries they had enjoyed in Egypt, they reflected on the imposing splendour of the temple worship, with the feasts and ceremonies enjoined by the law of Moses. Their carnal minds loathed those spiritual and heavenly blessings, which constituted the only inducement to be followers of Christ. They easily persuaded many of the Gentiles to unite with them in mixing up Judaism and Christianity. Hence it is written, “ The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” The Apostles, under the influence of the spirit of prophecy, foresaw, in the attempt to blend the doctrine of Moses with that of Christ, the embryo of the man of sin, and warned the disciples against the snare which the subtilty of Satan was spreading for them.
When the Apostles had finished their course, grievous wolves entered into the churches, and many of the disciples, while retaining the name of Christians, turned back to the beggarly elements of Judaism, which were more congenial to their carnal apprehension than the spiritual doctrine of Christ. In process of time, this mongrel system attracted multitudes, and at length the number of nominal believers became so great, that the Roman Emperor, whether from policy or conviction, declared Christianity to be the religion of the empire, became the head of what was termed the Church, and regulated it by his authority.
Long and severe was the struggle between the civil and ecclesiastical powers to obtain the government of the Church. At length the latter prevailed, the beast with seven heads and ten horns was revealed, " and all the world wondered after the beast.” At the Reformation, he appeared to have received a deadly wound. The Scriptures, which had long been taken out of the hands of the people, and altogether neglected by those who assumed the name of the clergy,* were now widely diffused, and many of the abominations of popcry were abandoned by various nations in Europe. But still they retained the very essence of antichrist,--the connexion of church and state, and Protestant nations deemed themselves authorised by the example of the kingdom of Israel, which they took as their model, to enforce thé observance of the religion of Jesus, retaining various Jewish practices which had been adopted by the papacy.
In some countries of Europe, especially in our own, religious toleration is enjoyed, but the attention of believers is turned away from the rules delivered in the New Testament for the management of the churches of Christ in every age, by the unfounded assertion, that, in consequence of the difference of our circumstances, these rules are insufficient for our guidance.
Before we admit the validity of this principle, we must inquire, in what the difference of our circumstances consists? The reply must be, that the primitive churches consisted of those whom it was meet for the Apostles to view as partakers of the grace of Christ, who had come out and separated themselves from the world that lieth in the wicked one, that they might observe the ordinances of Christ, and mutually
* Derived from the word signifying heritage, 1 Pet. v. 3. which the Apostle applies to the disciples, but which churchmen have must un. warrantably appropriated to themselves.
1 Phil. i. 7.
watch over each other in love. For the government of such an association, the few, and simple rules laid down in the New Testament are amply sufficient, but modern churches embrace whole nations, and their complex machinery requires many regulations which were totally inapplicable to the primitive churches.
We may further inquire, by what authority this change has been made? Is it sanctioned by the Word of God ? Certainly not, for there we read that the kingdom of Christ cannot be moved. We are cautioned against being carried about with divers and strange doctrines, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.' We are warned against introducing any thing into the churches which is not sanctioned by apostolic practice ;' but while the name of churches, is retained, the nature of the institution has been completely altered, and then we are gravely told that the instructions contained in the New Testament are insufficient for our direction. The obvious inference is, that we are in a great measure left to our own discretion, or rather, that power is committed to the clergy or the civil magistrate to regulate those matters according to circumstances, -a principle which of necessity divides the disciples of Jesus into sects and parties. We may form evangelical alliances, we may cherish love to believers who differ from us and such, no doubt, is our duty ; but there can be no real union among believers, which is not based upon truth. However we may “ agree to differ," and however well this amiable principle may appear for a time to work, offences will come, irritation will be gendered, and then the hollowness of our union will become apparent.
This deviation from the rule of Scripture will not always continue, and the signs of the times clearly intimate that great changes are in rapid progress. The issue will, no doubt, be auspicious, but there will, in all probability, be great misery in the transition. Let those who understand the Lord's declaration, “My kingdom is not of this world," and who have been taught that the apostolic precepts and the example of the churches recorded in the New Testament, are amply sufficient for the formation and guidance of Christian churches, -endeavour to convince believers who are otherwise minded, that recurring to the example of the first three centuries, or to their own notions of expediency, result from inattention to the Scriptures, and not discerning the simplicity of the nature and object of a church of Christ. Men form a false idea of what is implied in the name, and then delude themselves with the notion, that the rules laid down by the Apostles are insufficient.
These observations are naturally suggested by the consideration of the Epistle to the Galatians, in which the Apostle at once points out the harmony and discrepancy of the law and the Gospel. The former is the shadow, the latter the substance ;-the one is the scaffolding, the other the building ;-the first is the preparation, the second the completion. The Mosaic system, which was introductory to the kingdom of God, answered the most important purposes, not only as it afforded a demonstration of the truth, but as it exhibited the great doctrines of the Gospel in a palpable form. But after all, it only occupied the place of the handmaid ; and as when Hagar forgot her situation, and attempted to assume equality with, or even superiority over her mistress,—when her son presumed to mock and ridicule the heir,—they were cast out of the family ; so the Jewish