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We must particularly attend to the more important parts of religion. He who is scrupulous in trifes, and licentious in matters of real obligation he who is severe to condemn other people's errors, and yet admits palpable vice in his own practice, shews himself to be a hypocrite in heart, while, with his mouth, he pretends much zeal.
The beauty of religion much depends on our maintaining the more amiable and engaging virtues; such as charity, peaceableness, humility and meek
However serious, devout and godly we may seem, if we are selfish, dishonest, contentious, haughty, rigid and censorious, our religion makes but an unsightly and forbidding appearance.
A meek and quiet spirit is an ornament of great price in the sight of God, and of peculiar beauty in the sight of men.
Christian prudence is also very necessary, that we may enjoy the comfort and display the beauty of our religion. We are required to be wise, as well as harmless-to walk in wisdom, and shew our works with meekness of wisdom. The pious christian, acting under the direction of prudence, does every duty in its proper time, and attends to various parts of religion in their place, and according to their importance, so that all coincide and u. nite in a beautiful order and symmetry. While he is constant and exact in things of real obligation ; in matters of indifference he is easy and condescend. ing. And while he acts with a liberality of sentiment, which will be fettered by no human systems, and enslaved to no human customs, he avoids, in his discourse and actions, those incautious freedoms, which, however innocent in themselves, might grieve the tender minds of his brethren, or embolden sinners to transgress.
4. Our subject teaches us our obligation to labour for the increase of Christ's church-not only to en.
ter into it ourselves, but also to encourage others to come and join themselves to it.
The spirit of the gospel is represented by the symbol of the dove. This species of birds, loves to mingle in flocks. Hence the increase of the church is expressed by the flying of doves to their windows.
Christ came into the world to receive to himself à kingdom. He has purchased a church with his own blood. He sends forth his servants, to invite all, as many as they find, both bad and good, to come into it, that it may be filled. When, in the increase of subjects, he sees the travail of his soul, he is satisfied.
They who come into his church, should bring with them a dovelike temper. They should come sensible of our guilt and weakness, trusting in his grace
for their security. They should come with pure and upright intentions, with humble thoughts of themselves, with meekness and love to mankind, and with a fixed purpose to maintain their fidelity to Christ, and to one another.
That they may strengthen their faith and charity, and confirm their pious resolutions, they must attend on the ordinances of Christ's house; and that they may promote his cause and bring honour to his name, they must invite and encourage the attendance of others. They must throw no impedi. ments in the way of his little ones; but rather prepare the way, gather out the stones, and take up the stumbling blocks.
There are many things, which hinder the growth of Christ's church. These we should be solicitous to remove,
The careless and irregular lives of christian professors are a stumbling block to many.
However unjust it may be, there are many who will reproach the whole church for the faults of par
ticular members. . And such reproaches often operate as hinderances to serious people, who would gladly enjoy the privileges of religious communion. If a church countenances, or tolerates known im. moralities in any of her members, she becomes a partaker of their guilt. But there may be irregu. larities, which are known only to a few, and for which the church collectively is not responsible. And there are many unguarded liberties taken by professors, which, though really dishonourable to religion, cannot easily be made inatters of publick discipline.
Now, as we would prevent, or remove such stumbling blocks, we must walk inoffensively ourselves; and, when there is occasion, reprove and exhort one another in the spirit of meekness. The way to promote the purity of the church is prescribed by the apostle. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the Spirit.”
Controversies among christians often have an una happy influence on the young and tender.
When they see the professors of the same relig. . ion withdrawing from each other's fellowship for dif. ferences in doctrine or discipline, they are thrown into doubts, what denomination to choose, and e. ventually perhaps they think contemptuously of all, and join with none.
To remove this stumbling block, we must be have toward each other with the dovelike spirit of meekness, condescension and love-never contend about little things, nor renounce communion with a church for trivial errors. To reject a church, which God has received, is to exalt ourselves a. bove him. And, concerning every church, we are to hope, that God has received her till she appears to have admitted essential corruptions; and to ratain them, after means of reformation baye becn used. Vol. II.
Some cast stumbling blocks in the way of others, by demanding in a church greater purity, than any means, which Christ has put into our hands, are competent to effect.
No church on earth, however good are her aims, and however vigilant her discipline, can prevent all impurity. Even the churches planted by the apostles had some corrupt and ungodly members. “ The kingdom of God is like a net cast into the sea, which gathers of every kind; and when they have brought it on shore, they gather the good into vessels, and cast the bad away. So shall it be in the end of the world. Then the wicked shall be severed from among the just.”:
Now if we reprobate in the gross those churches, which have in their communion some unregenerate persons, we lay stumbling blocks before the weak; for, Where shall a church be found, to which they inay venture to join ?
Some lay hinderances in the way of others, by scandalizing the churches of Christ, as if they proJessedly received, and knowingly tolerated wicked and ungodly persons.
This, I suppose, is a groundless reproach. How. ever negligent some churches may be in the discipline of offenders, yet I know of none which acts on so lax a principle. The churches require of their members a professed belief of, and subjection to the gospel of Christ ; but they pretend not to be judges of the sincerity of the heart. They may probably admit, and retain some, who give not all that evidence of their real godliness, which might be wished : But then it should be considered, that they are vested with no other authority than what Christ has given them in his word; and that this is given for edification, not for destruction. They have from him no war rant to exclude men from the priv. ileges of his house, but in a way of discipline, They
may not cut them off arbitrarily, but only by a manifestation of their wickedness.
Some embarrass the way to Christ's church by dreadful representations of the peculiar guilt incurred by approaching it in unregeneracy. They state the
case in such a manner, that many will conclude, it · is safest to forbear, until they have full and indubitable evidence of their conversion.
But this is stating the case incautiously. Christ commands all to come into his church, and to come in the sincerity of repentance and faith. He allows no man to turn away from it ; and no man to enter into it for vile and wicked ends. A person's doubts concerning the goodness of his state, are not a reason why he should neglect this, or any other duty ; but a reason, why he should examine himself, repent of his sins, and amend his ways. Noman should be deterred from entering into the church, by an apprehension, that this, if he is unconverted, will be a greater sin than to absent himself. For he is not to delib . erate how he may sin most safely, but to be watchful that he may not sin at all. The wicked man is no where safe, neither in the church, nor out of it. He who came to the marriage, and continued there without a wedding garment, and they who refused to come at all, were punished with equal severity. No man ought to attend on divine ordinances, in a formal and hypocritical manner ; and no serious person ought to neglect them, from doubts concerning his habitual state. Let every one examine his present views and aims. He who is conscious that he acts under a sense of his obligation to God, and with a desire and intention to do his will, may be encouraged from hence to draw near to him ; nor should he indulge the apprehension, that there is for him greater safety without, than within the church; or real safety any where, but in the path of duty, and in a state of favour with God.