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If then, my brethren, you would grow in knowledge, use diligently the means of knowledge; read daily, and read with becoming attention, reverence, and docility, the word of God. It will render you “ wiser than all your teachers." Read, if you have opportunity, other books, such as are calculated to assist you in understanding the scriptures, or to impart useful knowledge on other subjects; pray earnestly for that divine teaching, which is indispensable to render even religious knowledge operative and sanctifying; and be careful to turn your christian knowledge to a good account by living under its influence, and never acting in opposition to its dictates,
V. When a church is spiritually prosperous, it will be distinguished by purity. Under this term I include more especially those two things :- It will consist chiefly, though not, perhaps, exclusively, of true saints, of faithful or believing men; and its members will be peculiarly careful to keep themselves pure from the pollutions and defilements of the world.
In scripture, the church and the world are invariably represented as societies or kingdoms, perfectly distinct, and widely dissimilar; as aiming at different objects, as actuated by different spirits, and as regulated by different maxims and laws. “Ye are not of the world,” said the Saviour of his disciples, “ even as I am not of the world.” Not only are the followers of Christ represented as a peculiar people—a people gathered out of the world,-as separated from it; but the world is represented as a foe, and a foe of a most formidable character, with which the christian has to maintain an incessant struggle. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.”
Such being the distinction between the church and the world, it is obvious that a christian society, to be prosperous, must be comparatively pure. To suppose the contrary is to suppose what amounts to a contradiction—it is to suppose that a society may prosper, though a large proportion of its members are persons secretly, or avowedly, disaffected to its laws and interests and objects. The union of genuine saints and abandoned sinners in the same society, is like the union of a living person to a dead carcass.
A church absolutely pure, consisting only of genuine saints, is scarcely to be expected on earth. The college of the apostles, though it contained only twelve persons, contained one who was a traitor and a devil. But if absolute purity is not to be expected, comparative purity is not unattainable ; and in nothing, perhaps, are the churches of our times more defective than in this. In consequence of the subjection of our established churches to secular power and influence, or froin other causes, discipline is systematically, and almost avowedly, disregarded,--all who apply being readily admitted to the most sacred privileges; and even in some other religious communities, where the gospel is preached with simplicity and fidelity, the ordinance of discipline is but little attended to; for even the grossly ignorant, if not the grossly immoral, are not always excluded. “Surely these things ought not so to be.” If it is wished that a christian society should be spiritually prosperous, care should be taken to admit those, and those only, who give some credible evidence of saintship, who appear not only to know, but to believe and love the truth, and to have experienced its regenerating and transforming power.
As the church and the world are distinct societies, it is to be expected, that when a church is prosperous, in the proper sense of the term, its members will con
sist chiefly of true believers ; and it is to be expected, farther, that the vast majority of them will carefully preserve themselves from the pollutions and defilements of the world, and that the line of demarcation between the church and the world will thus be marked and conspicuous. They will recollect habitually, that it is an essential part of “ pure and undefiled religion” to keep themselves pure from the pollutions of the world; and “the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, will teach them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world.” Indeed, if the members of the church are not careful to keep themselves from the vices and sins of the world, “ to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit," and to 6 perfect holiness in the fear of God,” they fail to answer the end of their calling and election, and they frustrate the object of the interposition and death of the Son of God; “ for he gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." We insist, therefore, most confidently, that if a church be prosperous, it will be pure. It will consist chiefly of genuine saints, and its members will be eminent for personal purity. They will bear much fruit, and thus glorify their heavenly Father. They will abound in the fruits of righteousness, and thus prove themselves “ trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that he may be glorified.”
It is the opinion of many that it is the province exclusively, or almost exclusively, of the office-bearers of the church to guard its purity,—to protect it against the intrusion of the irreligious and the ungodly. From what has now been said, it is evident that this opinion is to a certain extent a mistaken one. The purity of a church implies not only that it consists chiefly of genuine saints, but that its members are conspicuous for personal purity, sobriety, and righteousness. The first of these objects may depend chiefly on the office-bearers; the last, it is obvious, depends chiefly on the ordinary members themselves. Let the members be eminent for personal purity, and the whole society will be eminently pure. Not only so, but the unholy and the worldly will either not apply for admission into the society, or will quickly leave it. It is a remarkable expression in Acts, “ Of the rest durst no man join himself to them : but the people magnified them," How instructive, as well as laudatory, is the expression employed respecting the church of Ephesus in the book of Revelation : “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil,” Now, brethren, if a christian society were what it ought to be, it would be unable to bear them which are evil; nay, it would be pervaded by a tone of sanctity so decided and elevated and fervent, that they who are evil would be unable to bear it; they would feel themselves in an atmosphere in which they could not breathe with comfort or freedom; and they would, therefore, flee from it, and seek elsewhere for congenial associates,
VI. When a church is spiritually prosperous, it will be pervaded by a spirit of christian love. This particular is intimately connected with the preceding ; for christian love differs in some important respects from general benevolence or universal charity. The latter is good will to men indiscriminately, because they are our fellow creatures, partakers of the same nature. The former is love to christians, and love to them because they belong to Christ, because they have accepted his salvation, and submitted to his authority, because they love him and reflect his image. The exercise of this love, then, must depend on the evidence which they give of their relation to him, and on the degree of resemblance which they bear to him. In the nature of things that love cannot be extended to those who are evidently his enemies; and therefore if a church contain members who are not saints, or who fail to give satisfactory evidence of saintship, it cannot be pervaded and actuated by christian affection.
Perhaps, my friends, there is no one feature of the christian temper more characteristic, or to which greater importance is attached, than the affection or sentiment of which we now speak. “ The end of the commandment is charity” or love. Charity is greater than miraculous gifts, &c. “Now abideth faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity.” Love must be essential to the prosperity and almost to the existence of a church; for the absence of it is a thing as unnatural as the want of sympathy among the members of the human body. It is as if the head should say to the feet, I have no need of you.
I had formerly occasion to remark, that the world has probably never witnessed a race of christians equal to those of the primitive age—that never was the church in a condition so flourishing as then. Now, you must all be aware that the primitive christians were eminently distinguished by mutual love; so eminently, that even their enemies were constrained to exclaim, “ Behold how these christians love one another.” It has been remarked, accordingly, and the remark is perhaps as just as it is striking, that so great was the enjoyment which they derived from their reciprocal affection, that they found in it a sufficient compensation for all the sufferings to which their religion subjected them; so that if there never was any set of men so harassed and persecuted, never was any so happy.
That christian love of which we are speaking is not