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new and independent; bor, by internal reformation-by restoring the same church to its pristine state--to the perfection of the apostolical model, without destroying the unity and identity of the body. of In this enquiry the writings of the apostles will afford us some salutary direction, to which it is the duty of every Christian to attend with seriousness and respect. :3ii 1. In the days of St. Paul, the church of Corinth; though it had not departed from the pure faith of the Gospel, had yet grievously offended in several material instances of practice; and many of its members had notoriously transgressed the laws of decency and good order. But the apostle does not regard this church as virtually dissolved, as having ceased to exist, in consequence of such abuses. He does not proceed to lay this structure level with the ground, and to erect out of its ruins a new church, or several independent churches, better accommodated to the various tempers and views of his Corinthian converts. On the contrary, he insists upon the continuance of a perfect union in the same constituted society, representing the church
of Christ, which still included: these res prehensible members, as one individual body, in which there must be neither separation nor schism. initi
Similar to this was the case of the churches of Galatia. They had not renounced the great articles of the Christian faith ; but they had superadded to this faith some notions which were highly reprehensible, and even dangerous, insomuch that the apostle acs knowledges that he stands in doubt of thém. Particularly, they maintained the necessity of submitting to the rite of circumcision, and of observing the ceremonial law of Moses—things which were now. wholly superseded by the dispensation of the Gospel: and thus they were relinquishing their Christian liberty, and bringing the church into bondage
St. Paul severely rebukes them for their errors; but still he addresses the Galatians as brethren-as members of the true apos tolical church ; and labours to reform abuses, without destroying the unity of the body.
In the Revelation of St. John, we have also some direction eminently pertinent to this subject. The churches in Asia Minor are here represented under the figure of seven golden candlesticks. Most of these churches had either offended in point of practice, and had fallen into some disorder ; or else had admitted opinions detrimental to the purity of the faith once delivered to the saints. Notwithstanding this, the golden candlesticks, as yet, remained in their places, and the Son of man was still among them.
In this case, what is the direction of the Spirit? Are these reprehensible churches to be removed ? Is their ecclesiastical constitution to be broken up, in order to restore the members of which they consist to the simple faith and purity of the Gospel? By no means. Through their several angels, or apostolical ministers, they are commanded to repent and reform, not by discontinuing 'the unity of the church, but for the express purpose that the unity and identity of tủe body might be preserved.
To the authorised minister of the first of them (the church of Ephesus) the divine charge is this which I have chosen for my text--- Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first: works ; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
This charge is given to the angel or superintending minister, who is duly invested with authority, for the government of the church, and to whom the church, according to the constitution of the Gospel, owes submission and respect. It is not said to the members at large---Appoint unto yourselves a new order of ministers, and set up a new church in the room of the present degenerate body: the reformation, on the contrary, is to be effected in the same constituted body, and through the agency of the lawful presiding minister to whom the charge is addressed : Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works-continue in the exercise of thy stewardship, only restore thy church to its primitive state in which it was at first es« tablished; otherwise thy candlestick shall be taken away—the society over which thoư presidest shall cease from being a church at all,
From all this we learn, that the reformation enjoined by the New Testament, when
necessary, is not to be effected by removing the foundation which the apostles have laid -by framing a new church upon optional principles, and setting up a new order of ministry, disjoined from the apostolical succession. . For such bold proceeding there is not a line of authority throughout the Christian Scriptures, nor a single sentence that can fairly be interpreted into a permission of any such thing.
On the contrary, we are uniformly taught that the great work of reformation is to take place in the same constituted body. The same angels, or duly-appointed and authorised ministers, who had presided in the corrupted, are also to preside in the regenerate church.; and this church, notwithstanding its return from a state of depravity to its original purity and splendour, retains its identity; otherwise the golden symbol is removed out of its place, and though it may still subsist as a synagogue of Satan, it ceases to be acknowledged as a church of Christ.
That the identity of the local church may be preserved in the progress of such an internal reform, will
, be readily, admitted,