Page images

I. To give a sketch of the faith and effects of primitive Christianity;

II. To examine whether our system harmonizes with this primitive model; and then,

III. If this is the case, to apply the apostolical canon, "Walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing.





1. The first and apostolic promulgation of the Gospel was evidently designed to produce an experimental faith ; and any system that is in harmony with this design must lead to similar results.

The world “ without Godis involved in this dismal state, not on the ground of a non-existent medium of light and grace, but of unbelief. Two only modes of enjoying the things of Godcan be conceived, that of open vision, as possessed by the blessed in heaven, or, by the instructions of revelation, and the ordinances of religion, received through faith. The ignorance, depravity, idolatry, and misery of the world lying in the wicked one,” is the result of its severance from God. This loss arises from the neglect and abuse of those instruments of knowledge, grace, and salvation which He has never failed to furnish ; and this of necessity leads to a spiritual night of bewildering darkness. The absence of the truth from the human mind involves, in fact, the absence of faith ; and this in its turn the absence of God in the riches of his grace, and the energy of his saving power. What must follow? The springs and fountains of depravity in the human heart are all broken up, man becomes an active agent in evil, and the world is filled with every form of sin and misery. Hence the divine economy, whether considered in its primary revelations and provisions, in its regular and continuous operations, or, in cases of its decay, in a recovery

of its

mercy, will have for its object the restoration of the alienated heart of man to God by faith.

Religion, in all its means and influence, is the re-establishment of God's kingdom amongst men ; the erection of his rectoral throne, and the promulgation of his laws; the formation of his temple on earth, and the opening of its gates for his worship; the preparation, by the administration of its grace through the priesthood of Christ, of a medium of communion with the Father of spirits ;” and, above all, it is the free and saving exhibition of his mercy and love in the pardon of sin, and the rich effusions of his Spirit in the renewal of the soul, and the joys of holiness.

The Christian, which is the last and concentrated form of all the dispensations of the divine religion, as given from the first faint dawn, to the last bright and meridian displays of God's love, had this great

power and

design. It proposed one only object, by one only means,—at least, all others were included in this one,—the restoration of God to man in the fulness of his knowledge, love, and glory; and, as the effect of this, the recovery of his wandering sheep to the fold and favour of their heavenly Shepherd.

This practical and saving purpose is observable in every provision of the Christian system. No doubt, it has its sublimities, its mysteries, its hidden agencies, its heavenly sanctuary,” and ministry ; but the end is the salvation of mankind. The incarnation of our Lord took place, that, being God with us,the Word made flesh, and dwelling amongst us, we might behold his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.If we descend from this highest to the very lowest provision of the Christian economy, we shall meet with only this one design,—the purpose of God " to dwell again with man upon the earth,and to draw, by every possible means, this creature of his love to the enjoyment of himself. The great body of revealed truth, the cross of our dying Lord, the discharge of his priestly office before the throne above, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the establishment of the church on earth, the promulgation of divine truth by preaching and otherwise, the administration of the sacraments, and the communion of saints ; all have one and the same purpose, as the “manifestation of God in the flesh;-namely, the drawing together of "all things in Christ,that the Deity may dwell, in grace, amongst his redeemed children, and that they, in their turn, may, in assurance and peace, say, Abba, Father."

2. What constituted apostolic preaching, and wherein consisted the strength and glory of primitive doctrine ?

St. Paul asserts, on this subject, The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation.(Rom. i. 16.) It follows, that the genuine Gospel comprehends, promulgates, and brings into actual operation, in power,” the means of salvation ; and, moreover, if rightly proclaimed, and believingly embraced, works, effectuallyand certainly, the illumination, repentance, justification, new birth,and holiness,—all included in the word " salvation,of all who are thus brought under its influence. This is the legitimate and scriptural test of the Gospel being effective, and of church-ordinances administered, in any place, and amongst any people, in their truth and power. Those Ministers who open” no blind eyes,who turnenslaved sinners" from Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance amongst them that are sanctified,

be their credentials, cannot possibly hold a divine commission, preach the unsearchable riches of Christ,or perform their duties through that “ power from on high,for which our Lord directed his first witnesses to tarry at Jerusalemtill they had received it.




whatever may

This being the case, the question, “What constituted apostolic preaching, and wherein consists the strength and glory of primitive doctrine ?is of great consequence.

The message itself comprehended, chiefly, the subject of redemption. The whole essence of the Gospel is contained in many plain and simple enunciations : God hath visited and redeemed his people.(Luke i. 68.) When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.' (Gal. iv. 4, 5.) God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.(2 Cor. v. 19.) He was made to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.(2 Cor. v. 21.) Jesus is "the propitiation for our sins : and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.(1 John i. 2.) This doctrine constituted the great centre-truth of the apostolic system of teaching. In respect of its primary importance, its relative value and its position in the economy of salvation, all the first Preachers of Christianity, as well as St. Paul, may be said to have “known nothing among men save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

But around this one doctrine all other truth, in the evangelical economy, is found to radiate in beautiful harmony. From this point, the divine nature, attributes, counsels, will, and providence, are all seen, in their most glorious and encouraging aspects. The Son of God is, indeed, made palpable, speaks in human language, performs divine works in the sight of men, and then suffers and dies for sin. The occasional visitations of the Angel of the Covenantto the abodes of earth, and in the form of man, exercising a punitive power or condescending mercy, became, in the person of our Lord, a permanent resident in our nature. The long line of sacrifices, whether offered in patriarchal times or in the Jewish temple, having but a dim. and obscure meaning, except to the faith of a few in different ages, now received their illustration when Jesus “ died once for all.The scattered rays of heavenly light and divine truth, which had evolved through the prophetic period and the several dispensations, were now concentrated in one great oracle, and could be announced in one sentence: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.(John iii. 16.)

From the same elevated region, the true character and destinies of man can alone be learned. The depth of his fall is best seen in the humiliation and sufferings by which he is saved; and the extent of his loss, in the number of blessings included in, as well as the price paid for, his redemption. The greatness of his pollution, the completeness of his ruin, the depth of his misery, together with his utter


helplessness, are all most clearly perceived in the fact, that he is washed, that he is sanctified, that he is justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Cor. vi. 11.) But whilst the catastrophe of man's ruin is most vividly seen in connexion with the cross, so his highest happiness and glory are exhibited from the same point. Every thing in heaven and in earth is put in requisition to save and elevate man. When we imagine that all the provisions of Christianity are contained in a singular writing denominated “ Scripture,” otherwise than in covenant ; and that all which is necessary to bring about our recovery and salvation, is mere instruction on the part of God, and on ours credence in its truth we are much mistaken. That writing removes the veil thrown over the agencies of the invisible world ; and now in its light we behold the Godhead putting forth his own infinite resources,—the Son leaving the Father's bosom,—the Holy Ghost descending,—angelic beings employed as ministering spirits,—the depths of eternity stirred, inspiration given,-a divine government established, -different dispensations unrolled from the book of God's counsels,-Prophets appearing,—symbols and sacrifices ordained, -miracles performed, mysterious and typical persons and events introduced on the stage of time. But all these point to, and terminate in, one great event, the Cross; and that had but one end, the salvation of man.

It follows, that the doctrine of Christ crucified, preached by the primitive Evangelists, though one and isolated, yet, in its associated objects and issues, does not stand alone. It is the only sacrifice accepted of God, or regarded when he listens to the prayers of the penitent, or pardons the guilty ; it is the only merit to which the troubled conscience and bleeding heart of the distressed in sin can turn for peace and rest ; it is the fountain whence flow all the streams of

grace and life found in the church ; it is the great object to which all true teaching, Liturgical services, sacramental ordinances, and hymns of devotion, should direct the attention and feelings of men; in fine, it is the foundation-stone on which the spiritual building, whether existing on earth or in heaven, is erected.

But besides the cross being the only point where God meets man, it is found in experience, that it is the only power by which he can be softened and moved, so as to lead him to salvation. The ministry of the Apostles was powerful, in consequence of its being full of Christ. The same is the case in all times, and with all Ministers, however imperfect in other respects. In truth, with respect to God, the atonement is the only medium through which he can look upon man in love, grant him access in prayer, pardon his sins, and account him righteous; and then, with respect to man himself, it is the only object of " faith towards Godin which he can trust, because the only substitutional and vicarious merit available to him.

There may,

indeed, be discovered in the Saviour's character, teaching, and sufferings, that which is calculated naturally to touch the human heart ; and it is always found that the narrative of the crucifixion and of the tragic scenes of the passion, in the hands of Christian Preachers, moves the minds of men much more than any other subjects. But the power of the cross is not in its adaptation to excite the feelings, but to assuage the conscience, and give rest to the weary and heavy ladensinner. This is man's great want.

Sin is leading him to his final doom ; to ruin, to perdition. " What must I do to be saved ? ” is the question which, in a thousand forms, presses upon

his heart. The great value of the doctrine of the atonement is found in the circumstance, that it is the answer—the only answer— to the inquiry. Here, then, we have the true and proper “faith once delivered to the saints,in its object. It may be safely affirmed, in the midst of the disputes and controversies now so rife, that the ministry which most fully sets forth the glories of the Saviour in his cross and passion, and seeks to accomplish the designs and purposes of his death, is most identical with that of the primitive teachers of Christianity ; and if so, it must be the most apostolical. Moreover, that church which most faithfully conserves this doctrine, exhibits it in its creeds, services, sermons, devotions, and active operations in the salvation of mankind, is most like the first churches, and, this being the case, must be most primitive in its foundation, spirit, and character.

3. In every aspect of the Gospel, faith only is represented as the appropriate instrument and condition of reception, whether for justification, or any other blessing.

It invites us to God, but tells us, at the same time, that “ without faith it is impossible to please him. For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.(Heb. xi. 6.) It enjoins on us the duty of prayer ; but it promises the answer only to those who believe. Our Lord, on this subject, says, “ And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.(Matt. xxi. 22.) And again :

" And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea ; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.(Mark xi. 22-24.)

The Gospel offers a present salvation to every man, including justification, adoption, and sanctification ; and all this is by faith alone. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time

« PreviousContinue »