PREACHED IN THE
City of New-York on Monday, April 19, 1824,
DISPENSATION OF THE SACRAMENT
THE LORD’S SUPPER.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
"The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."—Isaiah
PRINTED BY J. SEYMOUR, JOHN-STREET.
THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH.
Upon all the glory there shall be a defence.
When Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse—the Bethlehemite, presented himself before Samuel the prophet, "Surely," said Samuel, "the Lord’s anointed is before him." The stature of the young man, his countenance, and outward aspect, were no doubt commanding, and such as might be thought well befitting royalty. "But the Lord said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or the height of his stature; because I have refused him; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." The value of sensible objects is often rightly estimated by outward appearance, and the senses are judge; moral worth and dignity are not to be judged by sense, but by a nobler faculty. The personal figure of David’s first-born was no doubt finer and more stately than that of David; but the Lord, who inspects the heart, and judgeth by the intellectual and moral dignity of the inner man, knew that David was much better qualified to sway a sceptre, handle the sword of the captain, and wear a diadem, than Eliab. Had the excellency of Emmanuel been adjudged by his outward appearance, how mean, how unjust, would have been his estimation! In this way, indeed, the great body of the Jews did decide upon his claims; and, as there was no beauty nor comeliness wherefore he was to be admired, they prized him as a worm, and no man.
As this standard of judgment is fallacious, when applied to individuals, so is it when used to settle the worth of social bodies. When we would appreciate the church of the living God, of which the prophet Isaiah speaks in our text, we must not look on the outward appearance. We must open the book of the understanding, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and examine by faith her order, beauty, stability, and destiny, guided by the lamp of truth held before us in the Holy Scriptures, and survey her glory in the light of heaven, under the guidance of the unerring Spirit. Were she to be judged by her outward splendour, and estimated by her worldly influence, wealth, refinement, and power, there would be no beauty wherefore she should be admired; we should account her, instead of "the perfection of beauty, out of which the Lord hath shined," as carnal men have thought of her, composed of "the offscouring of all things." "But the Lord seeth not as man seeth." We should not, in this business, see as man seeth.
Let us go round about her, examine her bulwarks and tell her towers, and be guided by Jehovah’s rule of judging: and we shall soon learn that she is beautiful and glorious; "for the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory there shall be a defence." The text presents two topics—the glory of the church, and her safety, in the possession of this glory. Let us meditate together on each of these, for the purpose of practical improvement.
I. The glory of the church. The name by which the prophet in this chapter designates this society, is Mount Zion. On the north side of this mountain, the city of Jerusalem was built, and above the city near the highest part of it, on mount Moriah, one of its tops, the temple of Solomon was erected. From the ground around the temple, there was a fine prospect of the city on the north, with its walls, palaces, streets, and magnificent public works; of Milo on the west, and of the city of David on the south and west. The mountains around Mount Zion, rise in the form of an amphitheatre, all of which were in view of the temple: Calvary on the west, and Olivet on the east. The whole scenery was highly picturesque and beautifully diversified. In the temple of Solomon the priests of the Lord had their dwelling: there costly sacrifices were offered up, there the sacred fire continually burnt before the Lord, there the incense smoked on the golden altar, there the Shekinah dwelt between the cherubim, above the mercy-seat of God, over the ark of the covenant; and thither, three times in the year, the tribes of God went up to worship in their solemn assemblies. It was the ecclesiastical capital of the Israelitish church, and hence by a beautiful and very expressive figure, the whole church of God is called by the name Mount Zion. There was, indeed, an outward glory displayed on and around ancient Zion hill, in its natural scenery, in the city of the great king, in the temple—its appendages and costly worship; but these constituted not the real, and permanent excellency of the church, which is of an incomparably higher order.
The Lord of hosts is her God. "The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory." All the nations have their gods; but the gods of the nations are wood and stone, the work of men’s hands. By their base gods they are debased.
In paying their adorations to degraded objects, they acknowledge that they are themselves still more degraded; for the God should be greater, and much more exalted than his worshipper. It is in the church alone, that the worshipper is honoured by the object of his devotions. No other society has ever worshipped the God by whom the heavens were created; none other could ever say of him: "Lo, this is our God." But God is the inheritance of the church. The apostle Paul, addressing the members or the church, under the character of children, calls them "heirs of God." How glorious an inheritance is this. The Lord God Almighty, the everlasting God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is the portion of the church! See his glory expatiated on the stupendous fabric of the material universe. His power sustains this ponderous globe, and all that it contains. Its oceans teem with wondrous productions; its continents are replenished with minerals, vegetables, and animals, all arranged in stable order, displaying every where their harmonies, and pouring forth from their several kingdoms a profusion of riches. "Earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea." The sun pours upon the earth his copious light by day, and the moon and stars dispense their feebler rays by night. The atmosphere of the earth is the great field, where storms rage, where the clouds array their moving squadrons, where the forked lightnings stream, and heavy thunders utter the dread voice of the Lord. In the atmosphere, meteors blaze along the dark vault of the night, and demonstrate the presence of the Lord. This vast world, with all these mighty appendages, the finger of the Almighty guides in its wide orbit, with a force and velocity inconceivable. But great as this world is, thus contemplated apart from the universe, it dwindles into a speck, when regarded as a portion of the vast map of nature. When we enlarge our field of vision, so as to take in the solar system, it diminishes into a dark and little sphere, seen among the mightier orbs that roll above and below. Extend we still farther our conceptions, for vision fails, to the countless systems of worlds that people the unmeasured regions of space, our little earth appears like an atom dancing in the sun-beams. "The heavens are the work of thy hands." How great the glory of the Creator. "The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever." Lo! this is our God. This God is the inheritance of the church; "for our God is the Lord, by whom the heavens and the earth were created." How glorious to have such a God. "Thy God shall be thy glory."
But are we to rest here in illustrating the glory of the church’s Lord! In the riches of the earth, and glory of the heavens, there is much to awaken our admiration, and call forth our praise, to him who is our glory; and yet all this is but the hiding of his glory. The human body, fearfully and wonderfully made, is his work, and he breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul. The human mind endowed with faculties so noble, and powers so exalted, even amidst the ruin of the fall, even though "the gold has become dim, and the most fine gold changed," is a greater work than the creation of the earth. "Let us make man in our own image, and let him have dominion." Man’s understanding, and reasoning powers, by which he manages long trains of ratiocination, and arrives at remote conclusions respecting matter, abstract relations, and mind; his fancy and imagination which travel backwards and forwards, from the creation of the world, to the consummation of all things, by which he ascends to heaven, and descends into the depths beneath, by which he breaks away beyond the flaming bounds of the universe, what power and wisdom of their author do they display! "He that formed the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall himself not know?" But the glory of Jehovah is not revealed in the formation of one man only; thousands of generations, and unknown millions are his work, with all their associations into families, nations and empires, where their intellectual powers are displayed, and their energies roused into action. It is "he that forms their hearts alike," overrules and governs all their enterprises. He puts down one and sets another up, giving the kingdom to whomsoever he will. At his command, empires rise, and become great, decay and are abolished. The glory of the Lord is seen upon them all; for, seated upon the throne of his holiness, he rules the nations. Lo! this is our God: "Thy God," O Zion! "shall be thy glory."
How shall I speak of the thrones, principalities, and powers of the heavenly kingdom, where there are made still more eminent displays of the glory of the God of Israel? "He maketh his angels spirits; and his ministers a flaming fire." "Man, though crowned at first with dignity, and honour, was yet made a little fewer than the angels." Their exalted natures, their pure intelligence, their great power, their spotless holiness, their ranks in the celestial hierarchy, their elevated employments, and perfect felicity, it is not for man to know, it is not lawful for man to utter. But we do know, that in wisdom God has made them—that he is their Lord, that his glory is displayed by all their glory, and that even in his glorious image, seen in them, is the hiding of his power. "Lo! this is our God." This "thy God," O Zion! "shall be thy glory."
There is yet one other revelation of the church’s God, which transcends all these. Angels, who saw the corner-stone of creation laid, and shouted for joy, who stood by his right hand, when Jehovah set his compass upon the deep, settled the site of suns, marked out the tracks of comets, delineated the paths of worlds, put into motion the mighty machinery, and spread the mantle of his glory over the universe, for its garniture,—angels, who have seen for thousands of years the harmonious movements of the whole system, who have witnessed and scanned the complicated events of God’s mysterious providence, who have seen the displays of his power in banishing from heaven the hosts of rebel angels, and the dread array of his justice, in the sufferings endured by these fallen millions, in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, who have contemplated with rapturous delight, the image of their Maker, in their own seraphic nature and hierarchy, and who have ministered before the throne of his unveiled glory; do yet seek to pry into that mysterious exhibition of the divine attributes, to which your attention is now called. This they do, that they may learn the manifold wisdom of God. You know I refer to the mystery of redemption—the chief of the ways of God, in which he makes a richer display of his glory than in all his works beside, and to subserve which all other creatures were made. The formation of a new and everlasting kingdom, out of the two branches of the providential kingdom—the angelic and the human, under Christ Jesus the head, whose subjects should be angels, confirmed in holiness and felicity, and men redeemed, is indeed a mystery angels might pry into with the most intense admiration. If the object to be attained were great and most glorious, the means for its accomplishment, bore a due proportion to the end. God sets his love upon a chosen number of fallen men, he appoints his eternal and well-beloved Son to be their Redeemer, and their redemption is to be effected by his substitution in their room, to obey as their surety and representative the law of God, which they could not obey, and to suffer in their stead, the penalty of its violation, which would have subjected them to endless torments. In order to accomplish this he must assume their nature, though lower than that of angels: the God of glory must partake of flesh and blood, and suffer for their sins Imputed to him as their head. "O! the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!" In this most mysterious working while God illustrates the perfections of his nature, he at the same time becomes the God of the church, in and by which the illustration is made. From the very jaws of death, and from the very bosom of hell, he delivers the captives, and raises them by means which created wisdom never could have devised, to glory, honour, immortality and eternal life. He breaks down the barriers which sin had raised between heaven and earth, removes the wall of partition which sin had erected between angels and men, he dispels the darkness of death, which envelopes the world, and causes the light of heaven to shine upon the habitations of men. The vile and degraded sinner, condemned already, and the wrath of God abiding on him, is raised to the throne, and re-established in the fellowship of God and of angels. All this is the work of the Lord God of Israel, "Lo! this is our God." "Thy God," O Zion! " shall be thy glory."
2. The church is glorious in the Lord Jesus Christ, her head and king. It is in him that the Lord, the everlasting God, becomes the glory of the commonwealth of Israel, and by him his glory is revealed upon her. In the twenty-fourth psalm, he is called "the mighty Lord, the king of glory." Christ imparts his glory to believers, who through him are the heirs of salvation. This he does from the intimate connexion that subsists between him and them. They were chosen in him before the foundation of the world; for their sakes he was made of the seed of Abraham, they are members of a body, of which he is the head, they are branches in him the vine, they are built upon him, the foundation, and they are joint heirs with him in the glorious inheritance which he hath obtained, as the first born.
When Simeon stood in the temple of the Lord, with the holy child Jesus in his arms, he styled him, "the glory of the Lord’s people Israel." This same Jesus is the eternal Son of God, and as such is "the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image (χαρακτηρ) of his person." Whatever glory of God is displayed in the works of creation, on which we have been meditating, is the glory of the Son; for, "all things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." "He, also, upholdeth all things by the word of his power." "He is in the form of God, and thinks it no robbery to be equal with God." All these, with many other texts, bear unequivocal testimony to his divinity. The work of creation is ascribed to God: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth:" and it is the work of the Son. The glory of God the Father is his glory, and his person is the express image of the infinitely exalted person of the Father. The sustentation and government of the universe are the work of almighty power, of infinite wisdom, and divine goodness—and they are his work. His form, or essence, is divine, and his power and glory equal with God the Father. He adorns the earth, and garnishes the heavens. In him, incarnate, "we behold the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Can there be a higher glory conferred on any society of created beings, than that of the most intimate alliance with this most glorious personage? With him the church is thus allied; and for this reason his mediatorial glory is always displayed in connexion with her, to her, or for her interest.
Of this glory, the cherubim with the flaming sword, placed at the entrance of Paradise, to guard the tree of life, was an exhibition; for it was the antediluvian Shekinah. Moses saw it in the burning bush at Mount Sinai. It inhabited the pillar of the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, that guided and protected the children of Israel in their journeying through the wilderness. It was the glory of the church’s head that appeared in grandeur so terrific on Mount Sinai at the giving of the law. "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high." Stephen, of Christ as a prophet, says: "This is he that spake unto our fathers at Mount Sinai." How much more glorious the awful emblems of his majesty—the thunder, lightning, sounding trumpet, and thick darkness, with the voice of words, displayed before the whole congregation on the mountain’s dreadful summit, than the emblem of the same glory exhibited at the same mountain to Moses alone, in the burning bush? Still differently, and more gloriously, did he appear to Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, on one of the tops of Sinai. "And they saw the glory of the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness: also they saw God." Here was the appearance of a very glorious and most august personage—the appearance of a man; for he stood on a paved work of jewelry, resembling in colour and splendour the azure vault of heaven, when illuminated by the orb of day. But while he has the appearance of a man, he is God. It was the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth: a glorious, heavenly majesty. The glory of the burning bush; the glory of the tempest, lightning, and thunder of Sinai; the glory of the personage: standing on the sapphire pavement—is the glory of the God of Israel. He appeared there as the glory of his people Israel. O how ravishing, yet awful: how lovely, yet how full of majesty, the visions which Moses and other saints had there of the glory of the Lord our God, the God of Israel!
Joshua saw him on the bank of Jordan, as the captain of the Lord’s host. The ark of the covenant, and the Shekinah, were peculiarly emblematical pledges of his present glory. "The glory is departed, for the ark was taken." His glory was shadowed forth in the office of the high-priest; in his sacerdotal robes, made for glory and for beauty; and in the costly magnificence of the temple. Isaiah saw him, high and lifted up, his train filling the temple, receiving the homage of the cherubim. Ezekiel saw him over the wheels of living creatures, and above the firmament of terrible crystal. In the days of his humiliation, the glory of the Father was seen by his disciples through the vail of his humanity. The earth quaked, the rocks, were rent, the sun was darkened, the vail of the temple was rent, at his crucifixion, to testify that the Lord of glory was suffering.
From Mount Olivet he ascended up most gloriously, leading captivity captive, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, made head over all things to his body the church. There John in Patmos saw him, "like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." He saw him, too, the Lamb, on Mount Zion; and with him great multitudes which no man could number; as the Lamb in the midst of the throne, dispensing the light and glory of the God on all the hosts of heaven, who cast down their crowns before him, and worship him for ever and ever. This is the mighty Lord, the king of glory, the glory of his people Israel. Nations boast of their kings, thought to be great and good. Israel regarded with delight the memory of Moses, of Joshua, of David, of Solomon, and of Hezekiah. Even yet Greece boasts of her Alexander and Leonidas. France is proud of her Henry and Napoleon. Russia of her Peter and Alexander. England of her Alfred and her Edward. And our own country of her Washington. If nations estimate their national glory in some measure by the greatness of their kings and captains, even often when those are great only as the scourges of the earth; surely with infinitely better reason may Zion boast herself in the Lord Jesus, her king. He teaches senators wisdom, and kings knowledge. "By him kings reign, and princes decree justice. By him princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth." Their wisdom is folly compared with his; their strength is weakness compared with his; and their diadems fade compared with his. Their authority is confined to a small territory; his is bounded only by the limits of the universe. Their dominion lasts but for a day, an hour, or a year; his is an everlasting dominion. It is the glory of a city to be the seat of empire, and adorned by the palace and the throne of the king: Jesus, our king, the glory of his people Israel, and crowned by his Father, Lord of all, has erected his throne in Zion, and made it the place of his royal palace. While he sheds the glory of his reign on all parts of his dominions, it is in Zion that his glory Shines, and out of her it beams forth on remoter quarters of his empire. Let the church rejoice in Messiah her king; for he is the glory of his people Israel.
Is it the glory of a people to he governed by a wise king? "In Israel’s glorious king are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." "He dwells with prudence, and finds out knowledge of witty inventions," "Counsel is his, and sound wisdom: he is understanding." He knows the whole constitution of man; for all things are naked and bare before his eyes; seeing at one glance all the secret and hidden things of his great empire. No device formed against the interests of his government can elude his observation; for omniscience surveys heaven and earth, and penetrates into the darkness of hell. The church’s head is her glory, in his wisdom.
Is the power of a people’s king their glory? "He has an arm that’s full of power." "Who can thunder like him?" "The armies of heaven follow after him," and "he tramples under his feet the hosts of hell." "He turns the hearts of kings, like the rivers of waters, whithersoever he will." He crushes rebels under the weight of his iron sceptre, with which he dashes to pieces the nations, like the shred of a potter’s vessel. By the power of his grace, he subdues corruption in the hearts of his people, making them willing in the day of his power. The church’s Head is her glory in his power.
Is the justice of a people’s king their glory? His sceptre is a sceptre of righteousness. The summa jus of his laws have not the summa injuria. His administration dispenses perfect right to all—injury to none. By the eternal and unalterable rule of perfect righteousness, he rules over all, distributing justice with undeviating exactness to all, high and low. Not the least deviation from right, in all the wide extent of his dominions, or in, the eternal duration of his throne, will ever occur in his royal doings. The church’s Head is her glory in his justice.
Is the gentleness, mercy, and condescension of a people’s king their glory?" "Tell the daughter of Zion, behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." He came meek and lowly; in him compassions flow; he carrieth the little ones, the lambs, in his arms; he condescends to dwell with him that is of an humble and contrite heart; he guides the meek and lowly in judgment; he teacheth the meek, the poor, and afflicted his way; while he rides prosperously because of truth and righteousness, so does he because of meekness. The meekness and gentleness of Israel’s king is the church’s glory.
Is munificence a royal attribute, imparting glory to a kingdom? "All the paths of Zion’s king drop down fatness." "He cometh down like rain upon the mown grass; as showers that water the earth." He filleth the souls of his people as with marrow and fatness, while here and at death he enriches them with durable riches and righteousness. Where should we end, in the enumeration of his royal bounty? Thou, O Lord Jesus, art the glory of thy people Israel, for ever and ever! This glorious theme is inexhaustible. Have we, citizens of Zion, dwelt upon it too long? Let us pass on to other, but not more interesting, topics, in illustration of the glory of the church of God.
3. She is glorious in her institutions. Wise and wholesome laws, the diffusion of learning among all ranks, and the regular administration of all the departments, cover any people with renown. All these sources of greatness, furnish ample themes in the discussion of the church’s glory.
Her laws—They emanate immediately from the fountain of all wisdom in the bosom of God. "He sheweth his word; unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the Lord." Is not this the fountain, whence, by revelation, as by tradition, all the wholesome laws of all nations have been deceived? Are not all deviations from them corruptions, fraught with evils, whenever they have been introduced? How definite, how general, how perspicuous, how simple, how salutary are the laws, are the statutes deposited in the archives of the church! They apply and appeal to the innerman of the heart; they reach the conscience, discern the thoughts and intents of the heart; they comprise a perfect system of morals, for the regulation of the conduct of individuals; they furnish a complete system of economics for the government of families; and delineate the politics by which nations should be governed in their whole jurisprudence, penal codes and international relations. We cannot stay to specify. The attentive reader of the Bible cannot fail to recur to the specifications. To the church belongs the law; for she is the great depository of the Holy Scriptures.
Consider how great has been its influence over the nations, notwithstanding all their hostility to Zion’s holy Lawgiver! Egypt, Assyria, Phenicia, Greece, and Pome, laboured for ages in the business of legislation; and guided by the feeble lights of tradition, their sages toiled in the fabrications of codes of law, that might do themselves and their nations honour. But how wretched systems were they all! Here and there, but rare and far between, a wise statute, shone like a feeble star in the firmament of heathen law, amidst the gloom of surrounding darkness. "As for God’s righteous judgments, they did not know them." As the world by wisdom know not God, it could not know his holy laws. The systems of law left behind by these wisest of the gentile nations, are little better than monuments of human folly, or human wickedness. But weak or wicked as they were, they had interwoven themselves with every fibre of civil society, and embodied themselves in the habits of thought, feeling, and action of the least depraved citizens of heathen commonwealths. Their growth had been nurtured for ages, and they had struck their roots, deep, and spread them wide in the soil of human life. How should they, how could they be eradicated? The laws of Zion’s king recorded in the Bible, and deposited in the church, were destined to accomplish this work, and they in part effected it, when the Roman empire became Christian. The little which was found in the heathen systems, and which was essential to the very existence of human society, was retained, while the great mass was abolished very speedily after the abolition of Paganism from the firmament of the empire. The civil and penal laws recorded in the Old Testament, form the basis of the Justinian code, so much, and so deservedly applauded by those who are learned in the science of law. On that code is based the superstructure of the jurisprudence of all modern civilized nations. Defects there are in the code of the emperor Justinian, and great, even capital defects, which, unhappily for the world and for the church, are perpetuated in the systems of our own times. These too are destined to be removed ere long, with the demolition of the antichristian, tyrannical, or infidel thrones, before the commencement of the millennium.
That the laws of Zion’s king should have already effected so much in the reformation of monstrous evils, so inveterate, illustrates their great, their superlative excellence, and demonstrates the glory of the church, in whose hands they are deposited.
3. The system of truth, in the knowledge of which, the sons and daughters of Zion are educated, bespeaks her glory. By it believers "are nourished up with words of faith and good doctrine." Her doctrines drop as the rain and distil as the dew, as the small rain on the tender grass, and the showers upon the herbs. In it there are no oppositions of science, falsely so called; nothing that ministers to strife, rather than to godly edifying; all is grave, sublime, lovely, and practical truth, of heavenly origin, and impressed with the image of God its author. The doctrines taught in the church is according to godliness; they are from God their source, are of a divine nature, and promote the holiness of those who in faith receive them. There is a knowledge that puffeth up. The science that embraces human knowledge when learned by minds that are unsanctified, cherishes pride and vanity, and the holy truths of the Christian system, when studied to gratify a carnal curiosity, and as a business of mere speculation, produce the same effect, and so become "the savour of death unto death in them that perish." But they are then perverted, as other precious gifts of heaven are, by men of depraved minds. The believing disciple of Jesus "sees in them as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and is changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord." In the contemplation of truth for practical purposes, believers are nourished, grow up to the stature of perfect man in Christ Jesus, are prepared for the employments of the redeemed in the heavenly sanctuary. The knowledge of this celestial doctrine is taught in the church, the school of Christ, through the word and other ordinances under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, that the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty may be prepared for the glory of heaven: and the nature of the instructions corresponds with the exalted objects at which the pupil aims, and the elevated station for which he is destined.
Men educate their sons with a view to fit them for the performance of the duties required in those walks of life, in which they expect them to move; and the higher the dignity to which it is expected they will be advanced, the more noble the pursuits to which their attention is directed in the course of their education. The son who is heir to a throne, must be educated in the principles of civil government, and learn the history, policy, and condition, of the nations. God has destined his sons to the occupancy of glorious thrones in the heavens, high seats amidst the principalities and dominions of the heavenly world; and he has provided in the church the means of instructing them in those truths, which are adapted to the glory of that state that shall be revealed hereafter. As the glory of the people of God shall incomparably transcend all earthly glory, it would be an impeachment of the divine wisdom, to suppose that the excellency of the truths in the church does not transcend that of all the science of human schools. The nations pride themselves in the progress which they make in literature, in the excellency of their schools, and in the diffusion of learning among the citizens; how much greater the glory of the church, in possessing a sublime system of truth, taught by the Lord Jesus Christ, the great teacher sent from heaven, to enlighten the darkness of our fallen world! Of this truth the Holy Scriptures are the great depository, in which we search for knowledge as for hidden treasures. There the nature and the attributes of God, the history of creation and providence, the origin of the plan of redemption, its fulfilment in the appearance of the Son of God in the flesh, in its application by the Holy Spirit in the church from age to age, and its consummation in heaven, are detailed with great perspicuity. These scriptures are committed to the church, for preservation, exposition, and application; and hence she is called "the pillar and ground of truth."
In the exposition and application of these truths, great and good men in the church have laboured in every age, and thus have drawn out in detail the general principles, and exhibited the symmetry of the system in its beautiful proportions. Confessions of faith, commentaries, sermons, systems of divinity, practical tracts, and powerful arguments, in defence of truth and refutation of error, have accumulated, enriching the heritage of God.
The ministers of the gospel have laboured in the same field, while as living teachers they have instructed the citizens of Zion, guiding them by the law of truth in the paths of righteousness, and preparing them for a better country. Thus the church is strengthened and adorned by the girdle of truth. In maintaining and exemplifying it, she is like a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots, and terrible as an army with banners. How great is the glory which she derives from this glorious system of heavenly doctrine! The doctrines of the heathen schools, priests, and people, relating to their gods, their devotions, their duties, their destiny, are all folly, and worse than folly. They walk in darkness, and there is no light in them. Their doctrines are the shadow of death, which overspreads their lands; for they are the doctrines of devils, proceeding from the father of lies. It is the light of revealed truth, shining forth gloriously from Zion hill, that disperses the darkness of the heathen, and converts the habitation of dragons, where each lie, into fruitful fields, excellent as Carmel, and beautiful as Sharon.
5. The church is glorious in her members. To this the prophet alludes in the verses preceding our text. "And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem. When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning." The Holy Ghost works faith in the hearts of the true sons and daughters of Zion, unites them to the Lord Jesus, and thus applies his atoning blood to them for their purification. "Faith worketh by love and purifieth the heart," rendering the believer "inwardly all glorious, like the king’s daughter;" while they are at the same time arrayed in the righteousness of the Redeemer, imputed unto them for justification—"a garment wrought with needlework, and embroidered with gold."
It is not to be denied, indeed, that even after the sinner is regenerated, justified, and brought among the righteous nation, that keepeth the truth through the gates into the city, he is still imperfect, and by his imperfections mars the beauty, and obscures the glory, of the house of God. Many, too, who are no better than whited sepulchers, within full of rottenness and dead men’s bones, are found in the church, disturb her order, let in the enemy, awaken strife, and for a time are spots and blemishes, until they are cut off by excommunication, or go out from the church, because they are not really of Israel. Such traitors open the mouths of adversaries, and give the enemy occasion to blaspheme. Hence it happens, that though the church is fair as the moon, and clear as the Sun, yet there are dark places in the moon’s disk, and spots on the sun’s face; and these luminaries of heaven sometimes suffer an eclipse.
While all this is admitted, may we not fairly, challenge all other associations of men to a comparison with the church? May we not compare the church with the world? May we not ask all men whether there is not more purity of life among the members of the church, than among the men of the world? Where do we find the greatest ignorance of God? Where are the great mass of idolaters, profane swearers, Sabbath breakers, despisers of parental authority, tyrants, traitors, murderers, whore-mongers, dishonest knaves, liars, covetous, proud, ambitious, gamblers, and profligates? Do we look for them in the church or in the world? From the church, when we ask these questions, we exclude Roman Catholics and those bands of heretics who have assumed the name Christian, as a mantle to cover their deformities. In the church, our enemies themselves being judges, do we not find sounder moral principles, more clear and just conceptions of the nature, attributes, law, truth, and government of God, than among others? Is it not in the church, exclusively, that we find an outward, social, and reverend homage paid to the God of heaven? Is it not here alone, that we find children trained up in the habits of duty to God, and in the knowledge of his ways? Is it not here alone that we find men earnestly and habitually engaged in seeking salvation, through the glorious Redeemer, and in preparing for the enjoyment of everlasting blessedness after death? Is it not here that we find the noblest examples of benevolence? Do we not discover in tracing the line of the church, from the days of Adam, to the present time, the most enlightened, the most active, the most virtuous, orderly, and religious of the human family, in the tract of her history? Has she not been the center of civilization? As she has extended her territories westward, savage and ferocious nations have been converted into civilized, enlightened, and regularly organized communities. In all this, we appeal to those who estimate human worth, by what men call virtue, learning, and refinement; and not by gospel holiness which makes man like God, and fits him for the fellowship of the Father, and of his son Christ Jesus, and the fellowship of the holy angels. It is to this latter that we refer chiefly when we speak of the glory of the church, derived from the character of her members. It was this beauty, and glory, which the Most High disclosed to the vision of the son of Beor. "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!" "As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as trees of lign aloes, which the Lord hath planted, as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the waters out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted." Her members are like the plants in the beds of spices, flowers, and fruits, as lign aloe and cedar trees; they grow up and shoot their branches on high, in moral greatness and beauty, far above the glory and excellency of the nations.
It is this beauty of holiness, which the Lord Jesus admires, where he says to the spouse: "Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely." Isaiah beholds it with admiration, when he exclaimed of the church: "Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God." Jehovah holds her in his hand, and while supporting her, contemplates her glory, and displays her to others as an object worthy to be admired. Every member is a gem in the crown, which shall for ever flourish on the head of Emmanuel.
The apostle Peter, when enforcing the practice of holiness in the fear of the Lord addresses the members of God’s family in the following emphatic language. "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.—Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." The church is here compared to a stately edifice, perhaps to the temple of Solomon, built of very costly materials, precious stones, like those in the foundation of the New Jerusalem; such are the members of the church, for preciousness and beauty, in the eyes of the Lord, comparable to the sardius, the topaz, the carbuncle, the jasper, and the diamond, garnishing the great temple of mercy, which the Lord buildeth to last through all ages, as his royal palace. They are also a holy and royal priesthood, consecrated to Jehovah, for spiritual services, that they may minister for ever in his temple, where they are both kings and priests. The sacerdotal vestments of Aaron and his sons, were made for glory and beauty; and the saints are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, fine linen white and clean—a spotless robe, of which the splendid garments of Aaron, were but a feeble emblem. United to the Lord Jesus, who is king of kings and lord of lords, they are made noble princes. They are a chosen generation, chosen in Christ Jesus before the world began, as the object of electing love. To be loved and admired by the great, especially by great kings, and selected to be near their persons, as peculiar favourites, are esteemed the highest honours among men. The church’s members from of old, from eternity, were the objects of the love of the glorious and mighty Lord, and chosen to be placed near his person, in his palace, at his table, and to minister in his kingdom. They are "a peculiar people." Set apart in sovereign electing love, they are purchased as a peculiar treasure by the precious blood of God’s eternal Son, and consecrated by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, for the glorious purpose of showing forth the praises of God. The universe is God’s, angels are his, he loves and honours them; but the members of the church are peculiarly dear to him. O how glorious is the society, whose members are thus, among the ranks of creation, in this great universe, the peculiar treasure of Jehovah! They that are with Christ Jesus, when he overcomes all those who make war upon him "are chosen and faithful." They are "the hundred and forty four thousand, on the Mount Zion with the Lamb, who have their Fathers name written on their foreheads, who are not defiled with women, for they are virgins, following the lamb, whithersoever he goeth, and in their mouth is found no guile;" for they are, as clothed in the righteousness of Christ, "without fault before the throne of God."
All the glory they derive from Christ their head, as enjoyed in him. He is their strength, and the horn of their salvation.
6. Glorious things are spoken of the church in her millennial state. "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God."
God in all ages has delighted in the church as his own most glorious work; angels have regarded her with wonder and admiration, and the people of God have set her above their chief joy: not so the nations, which instead of admiring her beauty, have made her the subject of their scorn, derision, and oppression. But she shall yet become the perfection of beauty in the eyes of the nations; for "the gentiles shall come to her light, and kings to the brightness of her rising; the sons of strangers shall build the walls of Jerusalem, and their kings shall minister unto her; the nation and kingdom that will not serve her, shall utterly perish; when the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto her, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the Lord's sanctuary, and to make the place of his feet glorious; a little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation." "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ." In the accomplishment of these and many other similar promises, a work of very great magnitude must be wrought, in the abolition of the kingdom of Antichrist, the subversion of the Mahometan power, the restoration of the Jews, and the overthrow of all the pagan dynasties and systems of idolatry and superstition, embracing more than seven out of eight parts of the whole population of the world; and a powerful reformation of the Protestant churches, to enlighten and purify them. That all this shall certainly be effected, and within a period not far distant, is realized by faith and not by sense. The nations, indeed are shaking, the Bible is translating and diffusing among people of all languages under heaven, mighty agencies are called into action, and a great excitement in Christendom moves the public mind. By the common consent of all, both Christian and Infidel, some stupendous change is expected in the state of the nations. This seems to be the beginnings of the spirit of God’s moving upon the waters, to make them bring forth abundantly. But little should we hope that all this would eventuate in the mountain of the Lord’s house, being established in the mountains and exalted above the hills; had not the sure word of prophecy taught us that such is the destiny of the church. By this we learn "that the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever, and that the kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High."
The law shall go forth from Mount Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, to convert the nations to the obedience of faith, and to overthrow the temples of Pagan and Antichristian superstition, the mosques of the impostor of Mecca, and the sceptres of tyranny, which are swayed for the support of bad systems. The noise which Ezekiel heard, and the shaking which he saw among the dry bones in the valley of vision, shall be heard and seen by the Lord’s people, putting all nations into commotion; the wind, to which he prophesied, shall blow from the four quarters of the heavens, and breathe upon the slain that they may live, stand up on their feet, and become an exceeding army.
The nations consider the extension of their conquests, and the enlargement of their boundaries, as amplifying their glory, and to this object the ambition of kings, emperors, and republics have in all ages been directed, and out of it has arisen a great part of the wars that have wasted the kingdoms of the world. Already the church of God possesses an ampler territory than any kingdom under heaven. How great will be her glory, when she shall lengthen her cords, strengthen her stakes, and stretch out the curtains of her habitation, until she shall encircle the whole earth, and be the means of filling it with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters fill the seas! The nations think they add to their grandeur by the increase of their population. Already, the church numbers a population equal to that of the greatest empire. How great will be her glory, when her sons shall be brought from afar, and her daughters nursed at her side; when converts shall be numerous as the drops of dew from the womb of the morning, when they shall spring up as among the grass, and when all flesh shall see the glory of our God as it is revealed in Zion? Kings add to their renown when they extend the influence of their laws, customs, and manners to many and remote people. How great shall be the glory of the church when all nations shall learn the laws of the God of heaven, as they are taught in the church, and shall attend upon the ordinances of the Lord, as they are dispensed in the church! "Many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem." Kings add to the splendor of their thrones and kingdoms by having many other kings subjected to their dominion, and tributary to their revenues. How great shall be the glory of the church, when all the mighty kings on earth shall do service to the king of Zion; when the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into the church; when the kings of Sheba and Seba, yea all the kings of the nations, shall bring gifts and offerings to him who reigns in Mount Zion. Wise kings consult well for the happiness and dignity of their subjects, when they can secure them long in the enjoyment of the blessings of peace. How great will be the glory of the church when through the benign influence of her religion, she shall have reduced all the nations, subjected to her Lord, to a state of peace which shall last undisturbed for a thousand years? "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." For they shall be all taught of God, and shall say, "O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord." Kings, princes, and nobles all shall rule for the glory of God and the good of the church, and the welfare of their own and of other subjects. The nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of the city of God. Truth shall be embraced by all people gathered into one church, and the Lord shall be honoured by a pure worship, and holy songs of praise, sung to him by redeemed men in all the earth. O Lord hasten it in thy time. Zion is the perfection of beauty.
II. The church is perfectly secure in all this glory.
Perhaps it is a general impression among a large majority both of those who are within, and those who are without the church, in christian countries, that she shall continue to exist as long as the world stands. Some have indeed been mad enough to say, "Come and let us blot out the name of the church from under heaven, that there may be no more mention of the name of Israel." But the greater part of those who have had an opportunity of knowing her history, and observing her character, however hostile they may be to her interests, do not even hope for such a consummation. To destroy utterly a society which is known to have existed under every diversity of outward condition, and amidst the most powerful opposition, for nearly six thousand years, is, by the bulk of men, considered a hopeless business. This very impression is one means of the church’s security. That she will so exist, real Christians do not doubt, and mere nominal Christians profess to believe. It might then seem superfluous to reason for the purpose of confirming what nearly all among us believe to be true. And yet after all, the best friends of the city of the living God, are sometimes harassed with fears, and perplexed with doubts for her safety, or at least for her prosperity. In her are all their well-springs, and their security is identified with her safety: destroy her, and all their hopes are gone. It is not merely the perpetuity of the church that we would establish, but rather her security to all the endowment, privileges, and honours, which constitute her permanent glory. In placing this before you, we illustrate also the grounds on which the hopes of the salvation of every individual believer are rested.
1. She, with all the glory which adorns her, is built a foundation, which never can be moved.
"Upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Therefore thus saith the Lord God, "behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a precious corner-stone, a tried stone, a sure foundation." A great part of the safety of an edifice is in the foundation; if it be laid in the sand, it is in danger of falling when the floods beat upon it, and the winds blow; but if it is founded on a rock, the winds and floods spend their fury upon it in vain; it stands immovable. The strength of the foundation, too, should bear a due proportion to the magnitude of the superstructure which it is to support. To all this, the Lord who hath founded Zion of old, has had respect. When the wisdom of Jehovah from eternity planned the building of mercy, he laid a sure foundation for the magnificent edifice which his mercy was about to erect, to the praise of his grace. This foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ, his own Son. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Here is a precious, a tried, a sure foundation stone. Jesus Christ, who is God, equal with the Father, who upholdeth all things by the word of his power, is the foundation on which the church of God with all her glory, is sustained. To this Christ alludes in his declaration to Peter. He was commissioning his disciples to go out into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and committing to their hand the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The authority imparted was very extensive, and involved the highest responsibilities ever imposed upon men. The structure of outward ordinances was to be remodelled; the whole Jewish ritual abolished; and a more spiritual worship substituted in its stead. Men were to be taught and gathered into the New Testament church from among the Jews and the Pagans. In effecting this great work, prejudices the most deeply rooted were to be eradicated, and the most tremendous and inveterate opposition roused into action. At the proclamation of the gospel, the powers of earth and hell would combine their energies to retard or to destroy the work of building the temple of the Lord. To sustain them in this conflict, the Lord Jesus directs their faith to himself, as the eternal Son of God, whom they knew, and had just acknowledged as the Messiah. On this rock, the rock of my own divinity, my eternal power and Godhead, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Christ did not found his church on Peter, who was (πετρος), a stone, that might be moved: but upon himself, the rock, (πετρα), like the solid and immoveable strata on which the everlasting hills are founded, which implies,
(1.) That as the building is identified with the foundation, which constitutes a part of it, so Christ and his church are one: he represented it in the covenant between himself and his Father, and took upon himself all the sins of the elect, whom, from age to age, he would gather into it, and make secure of the profession of everlasting glory. Thus all those who should be built as lively stones on him, the Foundation, should be one with him. To prevail against the church, in which he affords to them the means of salvation, the gates of hell must prevail against him; but against the eternal Son of God, they should never be able to prevail.
(2.) That as the rock supports the vast weight of the mountain piled upon it; so Christ by his omnipotent power sustains the church. He has an arm that’s full of power, and his everlasting arms are underneath the church to sustain her, and defend all her glory.
(3.) That he is always with his people, in his wisdom guiding them, by his bounty replenishing them with all grace, and at last making them partakers of glory. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and all this as their glorious Head. The enemy should never succeed in robbing the church of her riches and glory, unless they could break open and destroy the great treasury of the new covenant, which is the eternal Son of God himself.
(4.) The immutability of the decree establishing Zion; The decree to elect the church, and set up the Lord Jesus as her king, is eternal, and as immutable as the eternal Sonship of Christ, though the latter is necessary, and essential in the subsistence of the persons in the Godhead, and the former dependent on the will of God. "I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree. The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." Here the going forth of the decree of the Father to build Jerusalem, is connected with the goings forth of the Son, in his eternal generation. There appears to be a certain fitness, that, when God decreed by a voluntary and immutable determination, to build a glorious edifice of mercy, he should appoint to this work him, whom, by a necessary generation, he had begotten from eternity, and that his only begotten Son should be made, as Mediator, higher than the kings of the earth, and have the heathen given him for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. While by all this God instructs us in the doctrine of the relation of the persons in the Godhead, he assures our faith in the stability of Zion, and the permanency of her glory, in Christ her king. Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the people of the Jews, may confederate together; all the kings of the earth may set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his anointed; the principalities and powers of the nether world may sit in council in the gates of hell, plotting the destruction of the church, hat they shall not prevail against her; for the Lord, by an unchangeable decree, hath founded her on a rock—on Christ, who is his eternal Son, the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person, and in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. In this Redeemer the church is safe; "she dwelleth on high, and the place of her defence is the munitions of rocks."
2. She is secured by the charter of the new covenant. In Christ her head, "God hath made with her an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." God says: "I have made a covenant with my chosen. My covenant shall stand fast with him. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips." The apostle Paul, speaking of this covenant made with Abraham, demonstrates its stability: "Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto. And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Whatever be the import of the covenant referred to in these solemn declarations, we are sure it never can be abolished; whatever its stipulations are, they shall all be fulfilled; whatever the blessings are which it contains, they are secure; and whatever its promises are, they shall all be accomplished. It is a covenant between the Father and the Son, graciously entered into for the salvation of elect sinners; it is ordered, sure, and everlasting. God will not, and man call not, disannul it. When men confirm a covenant, it cannot be broken without transgression in one or both of the, parties; and he who breaks his covenant is infamous. Even the laws of commonwealths do not interfere to break covenant transactions between private individuals, unless they contravene the public weal. The parties engaging in this transaction are two glorious persons of the Godhead. It is confirmed in Christ, who represents all his elect. The Father confirmed it by an oath, and Christ has ratified it by his blood, which is called the blood of the covenant. It establishes the connexion between the church and Christ her Head; through it he dispenses his laws, his truth, his promises, and his salvation, to her members. His reward, in being made head over all things, is bestowed on him according to its tenor; for the promise is: "I will make him, my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth." All the glory, then, which we have found in our first topic of discussion to belong to the church, is covenanted glory; it proceeds from the bosom of this covenant, which is well ordered in all things, and sure. The mountains may be removed, and the hills depart, but the covenant of God’s peace shall not fail; he will not make false his promise.
Joshua appealed to the experience of the children of lsrael, to confirm their faith in the truth of God’s promises. "And ye know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof." How very great were the difficulties to be encountered in fulfilling the promises made to Abraham! How improbable, judging by sense, human reason, and outward appearance, that all the good promised should be done! How should a company of unarmed slaves, with their wives and their little ones, free themselves from the bondage of a great and powerful monarch, such as Pharaoh, king of Egypt? How should they be provided with drink, food, and raiment, for forty years in the wilderness! How should they be protected against the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Philistines? How should they pass over Jordan, and vanquish the seven Canaanitish nations, whose cities were walled up to heaven, and defended by the Anakims, a people of great stature, fierce aspect, and mighty in battle? Yet all this had been accomplished; and Joshua, when about to go the way of all the earth, leaves them a great and flourishing people, in possession of the land of their enemies, and the terror of the surrounding nations. Not one thing failed. And not one thing will fail of all that God, as the God of the covenant, hath promised to Zion. He will accomplish all.
In God’s estimation, he that offends against his law in one point, is guilty of all; and could one point settled in the new covenant fail, then might be inferred a failure in the whole of its provisions. Such is the order of the covenant, that all, even those parts which might be esteemed the smaller parts, are essential to the symmetry and beauty of the whole; and were there the slightest failure, the system would be deranged, and the proportions marred. What infinite wisdom, goodness, and mercy, planned, infinite power will execute; "for the counsel of God shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure."
The great and precious promises display to the church the ample treasures of the new covenant; and by faith in them, the people of the covenant are enriched for eternity. The covenant is the grand charter and bill of rights with which the bounty of heaven has endowed this immortal corporation. The charter was issued at the giving of the first promise; it was amplified in the Abrahamic covenant; its provision’s explained in the benedictions of Jacob and Moses, to the twelve tribes of Israel; and disclosed with more ample illustration by Christ and his apostles. God will not revoke the charter. It is only the last acts of tyrants, who violate all faith, and wantonly trample under foot their subjects, to revoke those charters which are confirmed by the royal seal. They are always held to be among the most sacred deeds of the empire. The formation of the covenant charter of the church of the living God, and its issuing under the sanction of the great seal of heaven, is the most solemn and important transaction in Jehovah’s empire. It is a glorious display of his gracious condescension to sinners, bringing with him a great salvation—a ray of light from his throne, dispensing consolation to our miserable world. Who can conceive, absit blasphemia, that our eternal and merciful king would undo so glorious a work, and in the administration of his government recall his charter, when few kings will dare to adventure upon the revocation of theirs. "If men, being evil, know how to give good gifts, how much more our heavenly Father?" The glory and dignity of the church reposes in perpetual security within the pavilion of the covenant, spread upon the rock of ages. This is real safety. The beams of our house are cedar, and the rafters of fir. "The place of our defence is the munitions of rocks;—for upon all the glory there shall be a defence."
This covenant is "a tabernacle for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from the storm and from rain." When the heat of persecution rages, the covenant of grace secures the church against destruction by its violence; and when the storms of adversity beat upon Zion, it shelters all the inhabitants in safety.
III. By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in every genuine member of the church, rendering the word and other ordinances effectual, the glory of the church is rendered perpetual. The Lord, by his word and Spirit, creates upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night. In this imagery there is an allusion to the pillar of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, that conducted and protected the children of Israel in all their journeyings from the house of bondage to the land of promise. Had this heavenly guide been withdrawn from the congregation of the Lord, while in a great and howling wilderness, what dismay would have seized upon Moses, Aaron, the elders, and all lhe people? While it imparted indescribable glory to the Lord’s hosts, as the tribes advanced under their respective banners, or reposed in their tents, it secured them in the right way, protected from the heat by day, amidst the burning sands of the wilderness, and from the inroads of savage beasts by night.
While the word of the Lord is given to the church, as a light to her feet and a lamp to her path, the Holy Spirit is promised and given to abide in her for ever. What is it that secures the tribes or animated nature in perpetual succession, and in the order and harmony of their ranks? It is the energy of The Holy Spirit, that moved upon the great deep, and caused it to bring forth abundantly, and who perpetuates through their successive generations the life which he at first infused. "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, and they are created." What is it that secures, from age to age, the existence of the vegetable kingdom, in its classes, orders, genera, and species? It is the energy of the Holy Spirit,—"Thou renewest the face of the earth." Who could imagine, had he never witnessed it, and had confidence in the order of nature, that the fields and woods covered with snow, bound in frost, and disrobed of all their beauty, would shoot forth, and be clothed in all the rich luxuriance of vegetation. God, by his Spirit, renews the face of the earth. What is it that sustains the order and splendour of the heavens, exhibited in the sun, moon, and stars; performing their tours for thousands of years without deviation? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. "By his Spirit he hath garnished the heavens."
It is the same Spirit that dwells in the church, as the perpetual Advocate and Comforter. Who knows but the object of imparting to us instructions respecting the operations of the Holy Spirit in the various departments of nature, may be intended to strengthen our faith in the promises which pledge the everlasting exercise of his omnipotent energies in sustaining the existence and the glory of the church? It is he who prepares believers, as lively stones, and fits them into the great building of the temple of mercy; for "we are all made to drink into one Spirit." "By him all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together, for an habitation of God through the Spirit." He who maintains the fairness and harmony of the natural world, so that they wax not old, are not impaired, and never run into confusion, will not exercise his power with less effect or constancy in the new and more glorious creation in the church, which is bought with the precious blood of Christ. The old creation subserves the new, and when this subserviency ceases, the Holy Spirit shall be withdrawn, and it shall then wax old, as doth a garment. Not so the new creation, in which, throughout eternal ages, the glory of the Godhead shall be displayed, with perpetually increasing splendour and beauty. This work, in which the third person of the Godhead is employed, and which was foreordained to a destiny so exalted, can never be forsaken by him who animates and adorns it. God dwells in the church by his Spirit; but he is no where said to dwell in the vegetable or animal kingdom, or in the starry heavens, by which we learn how much more secure the glory of the church is, than that of the material creation.
The bonds of affection which bind the members of the church one to another, are not easily broken—they are, indeed, absolutely indissoluble. This brotherly love is one of the graces of the Holy Ghost; engaging brother to love brother, and to love God, his truth, his law; and his church. This invisible tie imparts a strength to the church of which worldly men can form no adequate conception.
Is it necessary to defend the church’s patrimony in behalf of truth and godliness! The (παρακλητος), the Advocate, who is the Holy Ghost, puts into the hands of his people his own sword, which is "the word of God," and teaches them to wield it both in defensive and offensive spiritual warfare. By him the hands of his people are taught to war, and their fingers to fight. "When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifteth up a standard against him."
Is it necessary to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ Jesus? The same Spirit endows the Christian warrior with patience. "Tribulation worketh patience." Hence the patience of the confessors and martyrs of Jesus in all ages—a patience which has filled even their most bitter enemies with utter astonishment. In the Lord Jehovah, through the Spirit, the church has everlasting strength. "If the Lord gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall return unto his dust." As the church is strong through the energies of the Spirit, the enemy is weak, for God withdraws from them his Spirit, and their wisdom is turned into folly, their wealth to poverty, their renown to infamy, their boldness into cowardice, their strength into weakness, and even their life into death. The Spirit of the Lord is a wall of fire around the church to consume her enemies; and the glory in the midst of her, to enlighten and make her glad. He imparteth strength to his people, who have no might in themselves; taketh the wise among their crimes in their own craftiness. Through the Spirit of the Lord, that animates the church, there is a defence upon all her glory.
IV. The glory of the church is effectually defended by the providential protection of Christ her king, who restrains the evil passions of her members within, guides all her officers, and sons and daughters in the way of duty, and who restrains the malignity of hostile men and devils, and employs his holy angels to guard her.
He restrains the evil passions of church members, and even overrules them for good. The commonwealth of Israel is composed of members called out of all kindreds, tongues, nations, and languages; out of all ranks of society, and out from among men of every shade of character—some learned, others ignorant; some refined with every worldly polish, others rude; some wealthy, others in the depths of poverty; some as amiable as the young man whom Christ loved, others naturally of fierce passions and rough tempers; some active, others indolent; some intellectual, others sentimental; some bold and firm, others timid and wavering; and some high minded and ambitious, others tame and pusillanimous. Who shall harmonize all these adverse elements, when brought together into close contact in ecclesiastical fellowship? As far as indwelling sin continues, and it does continue in all, every one has some remains of the natural temperaments as habits of education, and even in the exercise of the graces of the Holy Ghost, each has peculiar shades of character. There are two diversities of gifts by the same spirit. The office-bearers of the church find some of their sorest trials on these quarrels, and all have reason to say, who is sufficient for these things? What prudence, patience, forbearance, firmness and gentleness are necessary to the beneficent government of a society composed of such materials! No human wisdom, or integrity, or influence, is equal to this very great work. But all is safe under the regimen of Christ our king. He infinitely excels all other kings, in that his eyes are as a flame of fire, he penetrates the secrets of all hearts, and has the most perfect knowledge of the peculiar temperament of every one’s constitution, and the hearts of all are in his hand to turn them whithersoever he will. He can effectually restrain by a display of suitable terrors, he can move the conscience, guide the understanding, and direct the affections; and all this he actually does. He draws with cords of love as with the bonds of a man. He appoints unto all the times and the places, and the circumstances of their habitation. He puts down one and sets another up. He has omniscience and infinite power, and the sceptre of his kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness, by which he subdues the people under him. Endowed with all these qualifications, be wise, certainly exercise them in the preservation of the glorious honours and privileges of that church, which he has purchased with his own precious blood.
He restrains the nations, for "he is made head over all things to his body the church," and will reign until be overcomes every enemy. Were we to judge by sense of the safety of the church, estimating the numbers of the enemy, their wealth, their learning, their armies, their wisdom in their generation, their craft, and their leagues, as human politicians estimate their means; and were we to compare all these with the church's little company, her worldly poverty, her lack of worldly wisdom, her simplicity; we should utterly despair of even being able to maintain the conflict on terms and with resources so unequal. It is in this way that the enemy have reasoned. They have said, "We will go up to the land of unwalled villages; we will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take a spoil and to take a prey." Then they assemble great armies, and come up as a cloud to cover the land, against the people of Israel. But—the Lord Jesus appears in the exercise of his kingly power, for the defence of his people, and the destruction of her foes. "He rains upon the enemy, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone." What Zion’s king will execute signally upon Gog and Magog at the last judgment, he is preparing to do by the whole course of that providential government, which he administers over the nations.
What he promises he performs, and his promise is: "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall utterly perish; yea, those nations shall utterly perish." He has set them already on a slippery place, and will suddenly bring them down to destruction. They may muster their armies, replenish their coffers, and enter into their leagues; it will be all in vain; they shall utterly perish. He who destroyed the old world by a deluge, who rained fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah, who destroyed the hosts of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, who dispossessed the seven nations of Canaan, who laid waste the city of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, who made Babylon a perpetual desolation, who desolated the plains of southern Europe, by the sword of the northern barbarians, and who made Antichrist quake on his throne, at the Reformation, will accomplish it in his time. The nations are angry. He will utter his voice from his holy habitation, and the earth shall melt for fear. Messiah cannot be taken by surprise, in any invasion of his peculiar kingdom! for his eyes see and his eyelids try all the sons of men. He brings to nought their most skilfill devices, and imparts energy to his own plans for the preservation of his inheritance.
Hence, there may be faint-hearted men, and traitors within, and a powerful and imposing array of hostile forces without, and yet Zion is secure in possession of her glory, resting under the shade of the wings of her King, who is almighty. She says; "The mighty Lord is on my side, I shall not be afraid."
The Lord Jesus, our King, has committed to him dominion over the things that are under the earth, and sways over all the hosts of hell the iron sceptre of Jehovah’s wrath. The Scriptures certainly do represent a large part of the tribulations of the people of God, as the effect of the malevolence of the prince of darkness. Do errors (ἁιρεσεις) disturb the repose, or mar the beauty of the heritage of God—the prince of darkness is the father of these lies? do the governments of the world make war upon the woman and her seed? the seven heads and ten horns of the beast are actuated by the dragon; do thorns in the flesh trouble their comfort? they are messengers of Satan; are they led captive for a time to sin? it is in the snares of the devil, who walketh about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. But even this enemy, with his hosts, is made subject, though involuntarily, to Messiah, "who destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." He has already triumphed over principalities and powers, and made a shew of them openly in his death. He bruises Satan under their feet. At the commencement of the thousand years of the church’s universal prosperity, he lays hold of this enemy and binds him, and all his religions in chains of darkness. "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the. devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled." Who is this great angel? It is he who has the key of the bottomless pit—Christ Jesus who "has the keys of hell and death." Even now Christ Jesus holds him in chains; for he "is reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, until the judgment of the great day." Powerful, malignant, and crafty as the devil is, and numerous as are his hosts, the Great Angel of the covenant is infinitely more mighty than he. Messiah, our King, knows and will counteract all the devices of this adversary; for no devise formed against Zion will prosper.
But even among the created powers of the invisible world, they who are with the church are more numerous and more mighty than those who are against her. All things in heaven are subjected to the government of the Mediator. Christ says: "All power is given unto me in heaven." Angels are employed by him "to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation." These holy guardians in flaming array, stand as armed sentinels continually around the church, which is the bed in which the royal bridegroom of the church reposes. "Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s: threescore valiant men are about it; of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh, because of fear in the night." The extent to which the war rages around the walls of Zion, between the powers of heaven and the powers of hell, no one can tell or conceive. We know, however, that the angels of Michael, and the angels of the dragon do fight. The angels of Michael are flaming spirits of great power; one of them in one night, destroyed one hundred and eighty five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. What an idea of power does this convey! When many legions of those mighty spirits are engaged in conflict with the armies of hell, the fury of the battle must incomparably transcend our highest conceptions of military strife, derived from the onset of earthly armies. When the king of Zion marshals the powers of heaven, as captain of the Lord’s hosts; there is no room to doubt which side will be victorious. "And there was war in heaven," (the heaven of the church;) "Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought, and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; and he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
Little has yet been told of the strength of the walls and bulwarks of the church of the living God, yet we are warranted in concluding this topic in the emphatic and consolatory words of the text. "On all the glory there shall be a defence." We shall now bring this discussion to a close, by making some practical observations, suggested by the subject.
1. The church is worthy of our most sincere love. Every true Christian perceiving the glory of Zion, will say with David: "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth." "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!" "A day in thy courts is better than a thousand." "I had rather be a door keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." "One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of my Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." These are the devout breathings of the ardent attachment of a saint of God to the church, and her ordinances, in ancient times, when she looked forth, fair as the moon, and when she was very far from having attained the perfection of that glory, which is now unfolded. The gospel day had not broken upon the church, by the incarnation of Messiah, nor had the shadows of ceremonial observances fled away, by the actual appearance of Christ, the substance. Yet the real believer could appeal to God for the sincerity and ardour of his love, to the habitation of his house, the tabernacles of God’s grace, were very amiable in his estimation; because there the honour and glory of Jehovah had their dwelling; there he beheld with admiration, the beauty of the Lord; there he realized the presence of God, graciously dispensing pardon, honour, peace and protection, on account of the promised seed; and there he had strength imparted to him to go on his way heavenward, rejoicing.
Now, the light of the moon has become as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun as the light of seven days, sevenfold, "The light of Zion has come, and the glory of God has risen upon her." The pillar of the cloud by day has been so greatly enlarged, and has ascended so far on high; and the pillar of fire, shining with increased splendour, casts its beams so far and wide, that people of every kindred may be enlightened, guided, and protected to the heavenly inheritance. They who love the Lord for all these gracious and wondrous doings; they who love the light of heavenly truth, they who love the Redeemer that reveals the truth; they who love godliness; and they who love the salvation of their own souls, will love the church, and seek her prosperity. Every one should say with the captives in Babylon: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
2. Those who enjoy the privilege of membership in the church, ought to entertain a grateful sense of the high honour which her exalted head has bestowed on them. Most men value highly the distinction of belonging to an honourable family connexion; they who are within the church, are members of the visible family of the sons of God. "Behold what manner of love the father hath, that we should be; called the sons of God!" This is an ancient title of the professors of religion. "The sons of God saw the daughters of men." If we are what we profess to be, then are we "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." Men boast of inheriting by their birth, ample fortunes. The children of God are born to "an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them." All earthly riches, glory, and grandeur fade away; but the rich inheritance with which God through Christ Jesus endows his sons and daughters in the church, endures for ever. "Blessed are they who dwell in the house of the Lord." The freedom of the city of Rome was attained by great sums of silver and gold. The honour and protection which that privilege afforded, were soon brought to a termination by the death of the citizens; and the glory of Rome itself is departed to return no more. Citizenship in the city of the living God is purchased by the precious blood of God’s own son; the blessedness, the glory, and protection which it secures, can never terminate; and the sun of this city’s glory can never set. If ever there were blessings conferred which call for sincere and lively gratitude, these are the blessings.
How happy at this moment is our condition, compared with that of the disciple of Mahomet, who adores the impostor; with that of the Hindoo, who pays divine honour to the Ganges; with that of the Persian, who does homage to his god the sun; with that of the millions of other heathen nations, who pay their devotions to the shrines of devils, in temples erected to creeping things, and to stocks and stones, the workmanship of their own hands; or with that of the countless multitudes who, in lands called Christian, spend their time in abominable revelry, whose god is their belly, and whose end is destruction! We are assembled in the house of the living God, within the gates of Zion, to worship him by whom the heavens and the earth were made; who upholdeth all things by the word of his power; who brings redemption to his people by the blood of the covenant, and who endows them with the hope of a glorious immortality. All this is the doing of the Lord, let it be wondrous in our eyes, and for it let us praise his name for ever and ever!
3. Walk worthy of the connexion which you sustain with the most honourable society among men. Abstaining from all worldly lusts, which debase human beings and drown them in perdition, let the citizen of Zion cultivate knowledge, virtue, and especially meekness and gentleness. Without meekness, almost all other virtues and graces have their lustre tarnished. In maintaining the interests of the church, and in contending for that truth and purity which are her brightest ornaments, some appear to imagine that the rough and fierce passions, coarsely expressed, are the only tokens of real fidelity to the cause of God and his church. All should remember, "that the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," that when we give a reason of the hope that is in us, it ought to be done with meekness—and that "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Indeed, the greatness and dignity of truth demand this temperate course. Godliness is grave, sober, and reasonable; and never flourisheth in an uncultivated soil, or amidst the fierce tempests of passion. The exalted character of the church, and of her glorious Head, renders deliberation, firmness of purpose, and sobriety of temper, well befitting him who is their friend and advocate. The opposite of these deforms the character of the Christian, disturbs the order of the church, and mars her divine beauty. The passions which we condemn, as unfriendly to the life of godliness and the interests of real religion, are not the fruits of the Spirit. These are "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance." Let us consider for a moment the sober, grave, and stately operations of the same Spirit, in the vast economy of nature; in the growth of plants and of animals, and in the serene majesty and silent movements of the heavenly constellations. Witness the operation of the same Spirit, in the economy of grace, as imparting an unction to Christ, our redeeming Head, "who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." The greatness of his zeal has no parallel; and yet, "when he was afflicted, he opened not his mouth; when he was led as a lamb to the slaugther, he opened not his mouth; when he was reviled, he reviled not again." "He did not cry, nor lift up nor cause his voice to be heard in the street." "The bruised reed he breaks not, and the smoking flax he quenches not." He says: "learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." It is from this same Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, that believers derive all their strength to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour. In the cultivation of godliness, the assistance which we derive from the Holy Spirit will enable us to attemper our zeal with meekness, and thus ornament our high and holy vocation.
4. Never despair of the church. It was a maxim in the Roman commonwealth, never to despair of the Republic. With how much more propriety and force is this applicable to the church of God! The Roman depended upon the arm of flesh; the Christian depends upon the arm of the Lord God omnipotent. God exercises his power in the sustentation of his church; but he does it in answer to the faith of his people. Is a passage to be opened through the Red Sea, that the people may pass over in safety? Israel must believe in the word of God, and trust in his strength for the salvation to be wrought. "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land." Are the walls of Jericho to fall down? Faith in the divine power must be exercised in order to their demolition.—"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down." Does Christ heal the sick, he first asks: "Hast thou faith to be healed" and then says, "Go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole." To the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven to be committed to the apostles, the church to be built upon the rock Christ, and secured against the gates of hell—the apostles must profess their faith in Jesus, as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Are the seven vials, full of the last plagues, to be poured out for the destruction of the kingdom of Antichrist? They must be put into the angels hands by one of the four living creatures; It must be done in answer to the prayer of faith.
We see from these examples that faith in the promises of God, which pledges the exercise of the divine power for the preservation of the church, and for the advancement of her glory, is intimately connected with her prosperity. We know, also, that despairing of success, paralyses exertion, and doubting weakens effort in any undertaking, It is so in our labours and sacrifices for carrying forward the glorious designs of Providence in relation to the church. Were we influenced by carnal reason, in our hopes and expectations, there is much to make us doubt, and even despair, of the full and final prevalence of the gospel among the nations. We do, indeed, calculate too much on the influence of human power and policy for the success of our dearest wishes in relation to the welfare of Zion. It is partly owing to this cause that we are alarmed at the excision of unholy members who may possess some wealth, some influence, some literature, or some reputation, however undeserved, for piety. There is indeed no reason to fear. The husbandman is not alarmed for the health or safety of the fruit tree, when he finds it expedient to lop off even large decaying branches. He wisely calculates, that though the boughs may be thinned by large and judicious pruning, yet fresh vigour and increased fruitfulness will be imparted to the tree.
From the opposition of the nations; from the numbers and zeal of the enemy; from the divisions of the church; from the ignorance, error, or immorality, of church members; the friends of Zion ought not to be discouraged. They are afflictive, indeed, and very painful; but what are they all, when weighed in the balance against the promises of God, which assure our faith and comfort our hearts! To them all, collectively, faith will say: "Who art thou, O great mountain! before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain." Though Jacob be but a worm, yet "he shall thresh the mountains with his new sharp threshing instrument, and beat them small, and make the hills as chaff. He shall fan them, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and he shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall glory in the Holy One of Israel." "For upon all the glory shall be a defence." Amen.
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