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observed before,) that they had received comfort already in some degree, as supposing themselves to have a saving interest in Christ. In 1 Thess. i. 10, he speaks of the members of the church at Thessalonica as “ waiting for Christ from heaven, as one who had delivered them from the wrath to come.”—In Heb. vi. 9, 10, he speaks of the Christian Hebrews as having that “ hope which was an anchor of their souls.”—The apostle Peter, 1 Epist. i. 3—9, speaks of the visible Christians he wrote to, as being “ begotten to a lively hope, of an inheritance incorruptible, &c.—Wherein they greatly rejoiced,” &c.—And even the members of the church of Laodicea, the very worst of all the seven churches of Asia, yet looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and made that profession; they " said, they were rich, and increased in goods, and knew not that they were wretched and miserable,” &c. Rev. iii. 17.
It is also evident, that the members of these primitive churches had this judgment one of another, and of the members of the visible church of Christ in general. In 1 Thess. iv. 13,&c. the apostle exhorts the Christian Thessalonians, in mourning for their deceased friends who were visible Christians, not to sorrow as the hopeless Heathen were wont to do for their de. parted friends ; upon this consideration, that they had reason to expect to meet them again in glorious circumstances at the day of judgment, never to part more. The ground of comfort concerning their dead friends, is evidently something more than such a hope as we ought to have of all that profess Christian doctrines, and are not scandalous in life, whom we must forbear to censure, because we do not know but they are true saints.—The members of the church of Sardis, next to Laodicea, the worst of the seven churches of Asia, yet had a name that they lived ; though Christ, who speaks to these seven churches from heaven, in the character of the Searcher of Hearts, (see Rev. ii. 23,) explicitly tells them, that they were dead; perhaps all in a dead frame, and the most in a dead state.
a These things evidently shew, how all the Christian churches through the world were constituted in those days; and what sort of holiness or saintship it was, that all visible Christians in good standing had a visibility and profession of, in that apostolic age; and also what sort of visibility of this they had, viz. not only that which gave them right to a kind of negative charity, or freedom from censure, but that which might justly induce a positive judgment in their favour. The churches to whom these epistles were written, were all the principal churches in the world ; some of them very large, as the churches at Corinth and Ephesus. Some of the epistles were directed to all the churches through large countries where the gospel had great success, as the epistle to the Galatians. The epistle to the Hebrews was written to
all the Jewish Christians in the land of Canaan, in distinction from the Jews that lived in other countries, who were called Hellenists or Grecians, because they generally spake the Greek tongue. The epistles of Peter were written to all the Christian Jews through many countries, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ; containing great numbers of Jews, beyond any other Gentile countries. The epistle of James was directed to all Christian Jews, scattered abroad through the whole world. The epistles of John and Jude, for ought appears in those epistles, were directed to all visible Christians through the whole world. And the apostle Paul directs the first epistle to the Corinthians, not only to the members of that church, but to all professing Christians on the face of the earth : 1 Cor. i. 2, and chap. xiv. 33, calling them all churches of the saints. And by what Christ says to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea in the Apocalypse, of whom more evil is said than of any Christian churches spoken of in the New Testament, it appears that even the members of those churches looked on themselves as in a state of salvation, and had such a name with others.
Here possibly some may object, and say, It will not follow from the apostles speaking to and of the members of the primitive church after the manner which has been observed,
as though they supposed them to be gracious persons, that therefore a profession and appearance of this was looked upon in those days as a requisite qualification for admission into the visible church ; because another reason may be given for it, viz. Such was the extraordinary state of things at that day, that the greater part of those converted from Heathenism and Judaism to Christianity, were hopefully gracious persons, by reason of its being a day of such large communications of divine grace, and such great and unavoidable sufferings of professors, &c.-And the apostles knowing those facts, might properly speak to, and of the churches, as if they were societies of truly gracious persons, because there was just ground on such accounts, to think the greater part of them to be so; although no profession or visibility of this was requisite in their members by the constitution of those churches, and the door of admission was as open for others as for such.
But this cannot be a satisfactory nor a true account of the matter, if we consider the following things.
(1.) The apostles in the very superscription or direction of their letters to these churches, and in their salutation at the beginning of their epistles, speak of them as gracious persons. For instance, the apostle Peter, in the direction of his first letter to all professing Jewish Christians through many countries, says thus, “To the strangers scattered through Pontus, &c. elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." And in directing his second epistle to the same persons, he says, “ Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us," &c. And the apostle Paul directs his epistle to the Romans thus,“ To them that be at Rome, beloved of God." So he directs his first epistle to the Corinthians thus, “ Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus." In what sense he means sanctified, his following words shew, ver. 4-9. The same was before observed of words annexed to the apostles' salutations, in the beginning of several of the epistles. This shews, that the apostles extend this character as far as they do the epistles themselves. Which surely would be very improper, and not agreeable to truth, if the apostles at the same time knew very well that such a character did not belong to members of churches, as such, and that they were not received into those churches with any regard to such a cha. racter, or upon the account of any right they had to be esteemed such persons. In the superscription of letters to societies of men, we are wont to give them that title or denomination which properly belongs to them as members of such a body. Thus, if one should write to the Royal Society in London, or the Roya! Academy of Sciences at Paris, it would be proper and natural to give them the title of learned; for whether every one of the members truly deserve the epithet, or not, yet the title is agree. able to their profession, and what is known to be aimed at, and is professedly insisted on, in the admission of members. But if one should write to the House of Commons, or to the East India Company, and in his superscription give them the title of learn. ed, this would be very improper and ill-judged; because that character does not belong to their profession as members of that body, and learning is not a qualification insisted on in their admission of members. Nor would it excuse the impropriety, though the writer might, from his special acquaintance, know it to be fact, that the greater part of them were men of learning. To inscribe a letter to them, would be something strange ; but more strange, if it should appear, by various instances, to be a custom so to direct letters to such societies; as it seems to be the manner of the apostles, in their epistles to Christian churches, to address them under titles which imply a profession and visibility of true holiness.
(2.) The apostle John, in his general epistle, very plainly manifests, that all to whom he wrote were supposed to have true grace, in as much as he declares this to be the qualification he respects in writing to them; and lets them know, he writes to them for that reason, because they are supposed to be persons of the character of such as have known God, overcome the
wicked one, and have had their sins forgiven them. 1 John ii. 12, 13, 14, 21.
(3.) The apostles when speaking of visible Christians, as a society, and what belongs to such a kind of society, speak of it as visibly (i. e. in profession and reputation) a society of gracious persons. So the apostle Peter speaks of them as a spiritual house, an holy and royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, a chosen or elect generation, called out of darkness into marvellous light, 1 Pet. ii.--The apostle Paul also speaks of them as the family of God, Eph. ii. 19. And in the next chapter he explains himself to mean that family, a part of which is in heaven ; i. e. they were by profession a part of that divine family.
(4.) The apostle Paul speaks often and expressly of the members of the churches to whom he wrote, as all of them in esteem and visibility truly gracious persons. Philip. i. 6. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ : even as it is meet for me to think this of You ALL," (that is, all singly taken, not collectively, according to the distiaction before observed.) So Gal. iv. 26. “ Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all.” Rom. vi. “ As many of us as have been baptized into Christ, have been baptized into his death.” Here he speaks of all that have been baptized ; and in the continuation of the discourse, explaining what is here said, he speaks of their being dead to sin, no longer under the law, but under grace: having obeyed the form of doctrine from the heart, being made free from sin, and become the servants of righteousness, &c. Rom. xiv. 7, 8. “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself,” (taken together with the context ;) 2 Cor. iii. 18, “ We all with open face, beholding as in a glass,” &c.; and Gal. iii. 26. “ Ye are all the children of God by faith.”
(5.) It is evident, that even in those churches where the greater part of the members were not true saints, as in those degenerate churches of Sardis and Laodicea, which we may suppose were become very lax in their admissions and discipline; yet they looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and had with others the reputation of such.
(6.) If we should suppose, that, by reason of the extraordinary state of things in that day, the apostles had reason to think the greater part of the members of churches to be true Christians; yet unless profession and appearance of true Christianity was their proper qualification and the ground of their admission and unless it was supposed that all of them esteemed themselves true Christians—it is altogether unaccountable that the apostles in their epistles to them, never make any express
particular distinction between those different sorts of members. If the churches were made up of persons who looked on them. selves in so different a state-some the children of God, and others the children of the devil, some the high favourites of heaven and heirs of eternal glory, others the children of wrath, being under condemnation to eternal death, and every moment in danger of dropping into hell—why do the apostles make no distinction in their manner of addressing them, and in the counsels, reproofs, and warnings they gave them? Why do they never direct their speech to the unconverted members of churches, in particular, in a manner tending to awaken them, and make them sensible of the miserable condition they were in, and press them to seek the converting grace of God? It is to be considered, that the apostle Paul was very particularly acquainted with the circumstances of most of those churches to whom he wrote; for he had been among them, was their spiritual father, had been the instrument of gathering and founding those churches, and they had received all their instructions and directions relating to Christianity and their soul-concerns from him; nor can it be questioned but that many of them had opened the case of their souls to him. And if he was sensible, that there was a number among them who made no pretensions to a regenerate state, and that none had reason to judge them to be in such a state, he knew that the sin of such—who lived in the rejection of a Saviour, even in the very house of God, in the midst of gospel-light, and in violation of the most sacrad vows -was peculiarly aggravated, and their guilt and state peculiarly dreadful. Why should he therefore never particularly and distinctly point his addresses to such, applying himself to them in much compassion to their souls, and putting them in mind of their awful circumstances ? But instead of this, we observe him continually lumping all together, and indifferently addressing the whole body, as if they were all in happy circumstances, ex: pressing his charity for them all, and congratulating them all in their glorious and eternal privilege. Instead of speaking to them in such a manner as should have a tendency to alarm them with a sense of danger, we see him, on the contrary, calling on all without distinction to rejoice. Philip. iii. 1. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” So 2 Cor. xiii. 11. “Finally, brethren, be of good comfort.” Philip. iv. 4. “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice." The matter is insisted upon, as though rejoicing were a duty especially proper for them, and what they had the highest reason for. The apostle not only did not preach terror to those to whom he wrote, but is careful to guard them against fears of God's wrath. In 1 Thess. v. at the beginning, the apostle observes, how that Christ will come on ungodly men " as a thief in the night; and when