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We shall all be importunate, sooner or later: but importunity will one day be unavailing! Many will then seek to enter in, and shall not be able. Yea, they will cry earnestly, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us.—We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say,—Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. O my hearers! let us agonize to enter in at the straight gate. All the zeal and earnestness which we may feel in other things, is spending our money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which satisfieth not. Incline your ear, and come unto Him; hear, and your souls shall live; and he will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
THE FUTURE PERFECTION OF THE CHURCH CONTRASTED WITH ITS PRESENT IMPERFECTIONS.
EPHESIANS v. 25-27.
Christ-loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish.
I'r is a distinguishing feature in the apostolic writings, that motives to the most ordinary duties are derived from the doctrine of the cross. Who but an apostle would have thought of enforcing affection in a husband to a wife, from the love of Christ to his church? We are, undoubtedly, hereby taught to act, in the common affairs of life, from Christian principle; and I am inclined to think, that our personal Christianity is more manifested in this way than in any other. It is not by a holiness put on, on religious occasions, as we put on our Lord's-day dress, that we shall prove ourselves to be Christians; but by that which is habitual, and which, without our so much as designing it, will spontaneously appear in our language and behaviour. If the Apostle's heart had not been full of Christ, he would have thought of other motives than this: but this, being uppermost, presented itself or all occasions. We VOL. VII.
may be thankful that it was so on this, especially: for we are hereby furnished with a most interesting and affecting view of the salvation of sinners; a salvation originating in the love of Christ, and terminating in their being presented to him, without spot, and blameless.
Three things require our attention: namely, the character of the church, when the designs of mercy shall be fulfilled upon her; the causes to which it is ascribed; and the honour for which it is intended to prepare her.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE CHURCH, WHEN THE DESIGNS OF MERCY SHALL BE FULFILLED UPON HER: a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but holy and without blemish. We are at no loss to perceive the meaning of the term church, in this connexion. It manifestly expresses the whole assembly of the saved, elsewhere called the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. It is denominated glorious, through the glory which Christ shall have put upon it; and which, it is intimated, will consist in a freedom from every imperfection, and the consummation of purity, or holy beauty.
In the description here given, the Apostle has, no doubt, an eye to the church in its different states, as fallen, as renewed, and as perfected. In the first, it is supposed to have been defiled, so as to need sanctifying and cleansing; and, even in the second, to have many things which diminish its beauty; such as spots and wrinkles: but, in the last, it shall be a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; or speaking more literally, holy, and without blemish.
Our ideas of a state of perfection are very defective. An Apostle acknowledged, We know not what we shall be. Indeed, it is, at present, but very partially revealed; and, if it were otherwise, our minds, naturally weak, and greatly enfeebled by the remains of indwelling sin, would be unable to sustain a direct view of it. We can better conceive what it is not, than what it is. The Apostle himself writes as if he could not fully conceive of the immaculate state of the church: but he could say what it would not be, or, that it would be without those spots and wrinkles which at present attended it, and greatly impaired its beauty. As this, then,
was the Apostle's manner of contemplating the future glory of the church, let it be ours.
I shall not attempt to compare the church perfected, with what it was antecedently to its being sanctified and cleansed, in virtue of Christ's having given himself for it; (for, in that view, it admits of no comparison;) but with what it is at present, notwithstanding; that is, the subject of many imperfections.
Spots suppose a loveliness of character upon the whole, though, in themselves, they are unlovely. They could not with propriety, have been attributed to the church, while she remained unsanctified; for then she was altogether polluted. The same may be said of imperfections. It is improper to attribute them to unconverted sinners. Such characters will often acknowledge themselves to have their imperfections; but, in truth, they thereby pay themselves a compliment which does not belong to them. Imperfection supposes the mind to be engaged in the pursuit of perfection, though it has not, as yet, attained it. Spots and imperfections, then, are properly attributed to the church in its present state; indicating a general loveliness of character, though they are in themselves unlovely. Whatever has tended to deface it, or to detract from its holy beauty, that is to be reckoned among its spots.
How much, then, in the first place, has the beauty of Christ's church been defaced by false doctrines, and by the strifes and divisions which have followed upon them. While we are of the Apostle's mind, determined to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified, we shall not be in danger of deviating very widely from the truth, in any of its branches: but, if we lose sight of this polestar, we shall soon fall upon the rocks of error. Paul, and his fellow-apostles, inspired as they were, could not maintain the purity of all the churches. The number of worldly men who obtrude themselves upon the church, some in the character of members, and others in that of ministers, together with the tendency to err, which is found even in believers themselves, too easily accounts for the same things in that and every succeeding age. When the gospel was addressed to the Jews, many of them believed; but, among their leaders there were men whose minds were not