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grieve that his eldest child is a cripple, or a husband that his wife is afflicted in body or mind; but the love that so deeply feels the affliction will not be ever roughly uncovering these family infirmities to the rude gaze of the common eye; nor is the child less a dear son, or the wife less a beloved partner because of them. Are we members of the family in heaven and earth, (Eph. iii. 15,) that royal family, all of whom are made kings and priests unto God? (Rev. v. 10.) Let us, then, be jealous of the family honor; not stain with contention the family dignity; and, whilst deeply lamenting family infirmities, still manifest family love, and cleave in affection to every member of the family as equally dear to their covenant Head, and for that reason, dear also to us. Take away the people of God, where are our friends, our companions, our brothers? Do we hope to spend with them an eternity of bliss? Can we not, then, bear with them a little on earth, if we hope to be for ever with them in heaven? To be always dwelling on their infirmities, is to speak a language very different from the language of Christ to his bride, and from all that the blessed Spirit has revealed of the covenant standing of the affianced spouse of Jesus. To view the church separate from Christ, is to look at a headless trunk; to view the members of his mystical body, apart from their union with each other, is to see only scattered limbs. Such unscriptural views must lead to a wrong judgment, and must necessarily make us dwell more upon what the church is in herself, sunk and fallen, than what she is in her covenant Head, all fair, without spot, or wrinkle.
In the same spirit many seem also much disposed to dwell upon the breaches of Zion, the divisions which undoubtedly exist among those who profess the same truths, and to believe in the same blessed Lord. But here, too, they appear to want the anointing eye-salve, which would show them that as there is more in the blood of Christ to save the individual believer than there is in sin to damn him, so there is more in grace to unite together the members of Christ than there is in strife to separate them.
Whatever be the divisions and dissensions that rend the visible church, which at the best is a mixed multitude, a firm, indissoluble union binds together the living members of Christ's mystical body. Small are their differences compared with their points of agreement. A stranger to the spiritual union which knits the members of Christ to him as their living Head, and to each other in him, sees only the divisions which separate; whilst he who knows the strength and sweetness of that inward life which gives him union with Christ, feels the power of that grace which gives him also union with his brethren.
Unless we believe that sin is stronger than grace, Belial than Christ, the world than faith, the works of darkness than he who was manifested to destroy them, we have no ground to believe that disunion, division, strife, contention, and discord, are stronger than love, union, affection, concord, and peace. To a common eye the ship of the church may seem tossed with every wave, driven out of her course, or pursuing no definite course at all, her sails rent, her masts and yards broken, her pilot heedless, her officers asleep, and her crew at strife. But the spiritual eye looks beyond all that meets the common gaze, and sees that there is at her helm an almighty and unerring, though invisible, Pilot, who steers her after his own will, who holds the winds in his fists, governs and directs the movements of all on board, overrules all their ways and wills to his own glory, and is bringing her through every storm to her desired haven.
Let us freely acknowledge that there is not always that love and affection, that tenderness, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, meekness, and brotherly interest manifested by the children of God to each other, which should mark Christ's disciples. Let us confess that amongst many who really fear God there is often a want of mutual consideration for each other's feelings, a lack of sympathy with each other's trials and temptations, an inability or an unwillingness to make any allowance for differences of station, education, or natural disposition, all which things are very trying to tender minds, and especially so to those who either expect too much from their brethren, or who are disposed to lean too much upon them for help and comfort. Nay, let us go a step further, and own that in many instances there is more than a want of love and affection; that there is actual strife and contention; envy and jealousy in the pulpit, sullenness and bitterness in the pew; members of the same church who will hardly speak to each other in public, and almost cut off each other in private; pride or covetousness in one, love of dress and the world in another, a censorious, quarrelsome spirit in a third, a readiness to take offence and an inability to bear the least reproof in a fourth, a cavilling, contentious disposition upon every point or no point at all in a fiftlı, a hot, fiery temper in a sixth, a self-pitying, self-bemoaning complainingness in a seventh, that always feels or fancies it is ill treated and imposed upon by every one. Allow that all these evils, which, beyond doubt, sadly impair union, exist in many churches; still, we assert and are willing to stand by our assertion, that under all these hindrances there lies a firm bond of union amongst the family of God; which, as being of grace, and, therefore, eternal and indestructible, as much surpasses in strength and duration all these temporary ills as the sun outshines the mists, or eternity stretches beyond time. The man who stands on Dover cliffs sees merely the channel that divides England from France. He looks on the wild waste of waters that is spread between, on the rolling waves that sunder them from each other. But, underneath the dividing sea, lies the electric cable, hidden indeed from view, but carrying every moment messages to and fro, and binding our island to the continent more closely than the channel keeps it asunder. Nay, the very waves themselves are but seeming barriers, for over them speed the ships laden with goodly merchandise, and bearing to each country the productions of the other. So, under all the waters of contention which seem to separate the living family of God, there lies a firm bond of spiritual union; and over the very sea of discord there pass occasional winged prayers for each other's good, and kind, affectionate feelings, not the less deeply felt because not always freely expressed, that tend more to unite than the waves to divide.
Union with Christ, our living Head, and union with his people as living members of his mystical body, stand on the same foundation with the other blessed truths of the everlasting gospel. Do we believe that the everlasting covenant stands ordered in all things and sure; that the work of Christ is a finished work; that his blood cleanseth from all sin; that his righteousness perfectly justifies; that he has fulfilled the law, conquered Satan, destroyed death, and gained a full and final victory for all that believe on his name? These are the foundations of our most holy faith, and the ground of all our hope; and if the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do? Let it, then, not be forgotten, that as sin cannot destroy grace, or the law overthrow the gospel; as Satan cannot triumph over Christ, as death cannot reign over_life, and as hell cannot defeat heaven, so all the divisions and dissensions that harass the church cannot break to pieces the bond of union that knits together the family of God.
These divisions are works of the ftesh, (1 Cor. iii. 3; Gal. v. 20;) the evil fruits that hang on the boughs of our fallen nature; the spawn and filth of that old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and all influenced and drawn out by the restless agency of Satan, acting upon our carnal mind. But as there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, as they stand complete in him, without spot or blemish or any such thing, as all the members of his inystical body must be partakers of his glory, and can no more fall out of his body than he himself can fall from his throne, we must view all these divisions as mere passing things of time, evils, it is true, much to be lamented, and as much to be avoided, but not touching the foundation, nor removing the church from her standing in Christ's person, or Christ's heart. And even admitting that divisions do subsist in the visible church, yet we believe they are very much confined to those who are out of the secret-mere professors of the truth, without divine light or life, liberty or love. Say that a church appears, and, indeed, is much divided. But before we begin to lament and bewail how a church of Christ is so rent and torn, it might be as well to examine a little more closely the actual condition of that church. Perhaps it is very large, made up of members, hastily, almost heedlessly taken in, when the pulpit was filled by an unsound minister, or an undue influence exerted by worldly deacons; perhaps, even at the present moment, more respect is paid to money and respectability than grace; a spirit of contention is fostered from the pulpit; great laxity of discipline and order prevails; evils are allowed to grow instead of being nipped in the bud; loose-living characters are tolerated; doctrine is more contended for than experience and the power of godliness; and a general deadness and stupor evidently pervade the whole. Now, if such a church be rent and torn with divisions, it will not do to point to it as a specimen of a gospel church and say, “See how the children of God are divided,” when, perhaps, not half are children of God at all, or, if children, sunk so low into carnality and death as to give little evidence of the life of God being in them. Instead of looking at the contentious spirits who fight and wrangle in the van, fix your eyes upon those who, out of the din and strife, occupy the rear. Search and look for the broken in heart, the quiet in the land, the sick and afflicted, the tried and tempted, the doubting and fearing, the simple and sincere, the slow to talk but quick to act, the tender in conscience, the exercised and distressed, the warmhearted and affectionate, the prayerful and watchful, the humble and spiritually minded. Put aside the fighting men and women, the talkers, the brawlers, the boasters, the contentious, the self conceited, and the ignorant; and see if you cannot, when you have blown away the foam, get at something more palatable and drinkable; when you have swept away the chaff, tail corn, and blind ears, if you cannot find some precious grain below. It is among the mourners in Zion, the weighted with a heavy cross, the plagued all the day long and chastened every morning; it is among the true lovers of Jesus, who have some personal experience of his love and grace; it is amongst those who know the sweetness of communion with Christ, and love the brethren with a pure heart fervently, that you must look for union.
These do tenderly and affectionately cleave to each other. Say that the heads of the church are at variance; minister and deacons jarring; the word little blest either to call or deliver; the main supporters of the cause worldly and proud, keeping the poorer members at a distance, and little disposed to words of kindness or deeds of liberality towards them; beneath all this sad state of things, in a church sunk even so low as this, there may still be a deep, close, and blessed union amongst those unknown and unnoticed sheep of the flock, whose souls are alive to God, and who are favored with his teaching and blessing.
It is then neither true nor fair to represent the real church of God, that which alone deserves the name, as torn with divisions, when these contentions and quarrels are much confined to dead churches, sunk into worldliness and error, or to those members of living churches who are either destitute of grace, or sadly departed from it. Sure we are that no one living under the influence of grace can be quarrelsome or contentious. That holy Dove, who, as a Spirit of peace and love broods over contrite hearts, never rests upon that bosom which indulges in constant war and strife, and in which allowed enmity rankles against any of the dear saints of God.
We do not believe it then to be a fact that God's real children, at least those who are daily living under the influences of the blessed Spirit, are divided, or are ever jangling and wrangling with each other. It is true that unkind, angry feelings may at times, with all other evils, work in their carnal mind, and may occasionally, to their grief and sorrow, manifest themselves in hasty words or cold looks; but these are passing clouds; for the same grace which subdues their other sins restrains also this beginning of strife, and that promise is fulfilled in them with this, as with other iniquities, “Sin shall not • have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
We have known during our pilgrimage many dear saints of God, some now before the throne, and others still in the wilderness, in different parts of England, and we would desire to leave it on record when God calls us away from this mortal scene that we have received little else but the greatest kindness and affection from them, that with those with whom we have been brought into closer connection we have lived in undeviating love and union, and that except for a few passing moments the noise of strife has not been heard in our gates. And we may add, that as a Christian, as a minister, and as an editor, the desire of our soul is to seek and pursue peace, love, and union with all who fear God and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and to avoid as much as possible contention and strife.
True it is that strife in churches as well as amongst individuals cannot always be avoided, for there are contentious spirits, who, if permitted, would set any church on fire-salamanders who live in the flame, petrels that revel in a storm. Mark and avoid all such, ye saints of God. (Rom. xvi. 17.) If in the church, treat them kindly and courteously, but bring no fuel to their fire, (Prov. xxvi. 20, 21,) nor make them bosom friends; if out of the church, do all you can that they do not get in. (Prov. xxii. 24.)
But enough, and perhaps more than enough, has been said by us on this subject. Other points, besides that of Christian union, call for some notice from us in our annual appeal to our readers' hearts and consciences.
If we are, as we profess to be, followers of the Lamb, three things, we believe, will be with us primary objects of spiritual desire. 1. The glory of God; 2. The edification of our own souls; 3. The good of our brethren. If we lack the first, our eye cannot be single, and, therefore, the light that is in us must be darkness; if we lack the second, eternal realities can rest with but little weight and power upon our conscience; if we lack the third, pure love to the brethren, cannot dwell in our breast. In opening, then, and dwelling upon these three points a little more fully, we may, perhaps, not unprofitably occupy the rest of our Address.
1. Preachers, writers, editors, if the glory of God be not their main object, cannot look for his blessing to rest upon their labors, Yet how little of this singleness of eye, this simplicity and godly sincerity, is seen in many who call themselves ministers of Christ and servants of God. And how painfully evident the contrary often is in them to such as are possessed of any measure of spiritual discernment. Pride, self conceit, and self exaltation, as they are the chief temptations, so they are the main besetments of those who occupy any public position in the church; and, therefore, where these sins are not mortified by the Spirit and subdued by his grace, instead of being, as they should be, the humblest of men, they are, with rare exceptions, the proudest. O did we but see what we really and truly are; had we a penetrating, abiding view of the depths of the fall, in which we as sinners are so fearfully sunk; did we carry about with us a daily, hourly sense of what our heart is capable of,