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ever God may deal with Heathens, to whom his word has never come, if we put it far from us, we judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life.
When men ask, Whether few shall be saved? The answer formerly given is pertinent still, “ strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be
II. The Apostle goes on to instrurt us, that the purpose of God, in making known to us the mystery of his will
, is, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth.
There are several things here worthy of distinct notice. 1. The gospel is called the dispensation of the ful
. ness of times. So it is said elsewhere, “ In due time Christ died for us." “ When the fulness of the times was come, God sent forth his Son.”
The Jews divided the duration of the world into three periods.; one before the law, one under the law, and the other under the Messiah. In regard to this distinction, the gospel age is the fulness, or completion of the times.
This is the last dispensation of religion, that will ever be made ; a kingdom which will never be mov. ed; never be set aside to make room for a better. The gospel day is therefore called the last times--the latter days—the end of the world, or of the ages.
The gospel was introduced at the time exactly ordained in the purpose, and expressly predicted in the word of God; and in this sense, it may be called the dispensation of the fulness of times. The prophesies of the Old Testament so accurately stated in the time of the Messiah's appearance, that, as the prophet says: he was the desire, or expectation of all nations. At the time of his coming, many among the Gentiles, as well as Jews, were earnestly looking for some extraor.
dinary person, who should take into his hands, the government of the nations.
This was also the fittest time for the introduction of the gospel dispensation. All things were ready for the appearance of the great Redeemer to set up his kingdom in the world. God, for many ages, had been making preparations for this grand event. He foretold it to our first parents after their lapse--to many godly men before the flood-and again to the patriarchs
after it. From among the nations of the earth, he chose the posterity of Abraham to be his peculiar people. To them he committed his oracles, gave his ordinances, and sent his prophets to notify them of this dispensation, and of the time when, and the manner in which it should be introduced. As the time drew nearer, the prophecies became more plain and explicit. The frequent captivities of the Jews were the means of spread. ing among other nations the knowledge of these proph. ecies and of the great events which they foretold. The Jews were at this time so corrupt, that they needed, more than ever before, the ministrations of a teacher from heaven.--To them the gospel was first preached; but by their obstinate impenitence and unbelief, they put it from them; and by their fall salvation came to the Gentiles. Captivated by their enemies, and scattered over the face of the earth, they became the providential instruments of diffusing the knowledge of the Saviour. The improvement of learning awakened the attention of mankind to this new revelation, and to the heralds who proclaimed it. The extensive power of the Romans, their intercourse with all nations and the universal peace which now reigned in the world, opened a way for the more easy and speedy propagation of the gospel. The spirit of iniquity, which prevailed among the learned, led them strictly to examine the nature and evidences of this new religion; so that there could be no ground to allege, that it obtained credit through the ignorance and credulity of mankind.
All circumstances concurred to make the time of Christ's appearance the most suitable for the establishment and diffusion of his religion ; and therefore it miy, with great propriety, be called the fulness of the times.
Let us adore the wisdom of God, who orders all events in the most perfect manner, and accomplishes all his purposes in the most convenient time. Let us rejoice that the world, and all things in it, are under the government of an all perfect being. The wisdom which appears in this dispensation of the fulness of times, encourages us to commit all our ways to him, to trust all our concerns in his hands, to acquiesce in all the disposals of his Providence, and to do his will without murmuring and disputing.
2. The Apostle teaches us, that one end of this dispensation was, that God might gather together in one, all things in Christ : Or, as the Apostle expresses it, in the next chapter, that he might make both Jew and Gentile to be one, might break down the middle wall of partition between them, might abolish the enmity, reconcile both to himself in one body, or one church, and make of the iwain one new man.
Though God first admitted the Jews to the peculiar privileges of his church, yet he promised, that, when the Saviour should come, all nations in him should be blessed. Jesus confined his personal ministry, and he first sent his Apostles to the Jews ; for to them the word of God was first to be spoken. But after his res. urrection he commanded them to go and preach the gospel to all nations, and to gather into one church all. men in Christ, of whatever nation they were.
We see then, and it is worthy to be remembered, that one great design of the Christian dispensation is, to form one body in Christ-to collect one church, one great kingdom under him. The convenience of worship requires Christians to erect particular church. es; but all these are members of one body; for Christ
is not divided. The body which is one hath many members ; but all these are one body in Christ. Therefore, as our Apostle says, there should be no schism, no rent or division, in the body. We should regard, as members of Christ's church, all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. All particular churches ought to own one another as members of the same great body, and have fellowship together as such. Though they meet in different places, entertain different sentiments in the less important things of religion, and adopt some different usages in the forms of discipline and worship, yet, as long as they hold the head and call on the name of the same Lord, they are to treat one another as sister churches, and to cooperate in building up the same grand cause which all profess to regard.
Hence then it appears, that they who break and disunite the church of Christ, and create schisms and divisions in it-they who separate from, and renounce communion with Christian societies without cause, or for small and trivial differences—they who, instead of laboring to reform what they see irregular in churches, endeavor to pull them down, and on the ruins to build up a party of their own; these act in direct opposition to the will of Christ and to the design of his gospel. They serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own passions and lusts. They counteract the Apostolie plan, which was to collect into one all things in Christ.
3. The Apostle farther teaches us, that the gospel is intended to unite in Christ all things, both which are in headen, and which are in earth.
The church of Christ consists of the whole family in heaven and earth. The saints in heaven were saved in the same way, in which we also must be saved. They are worshipping the same God and the same Redeemer, whom we profess to worship. They are subject to the same Lord, to whom we are subject: Yea, all the angels adore and obey him. They are minis
tering spirits to the church below. They are the ser. vants of the same Lord Jesus, and own themselves to be but fellow servants with the saints on earth. The religion of the saints above and of those below is in substance the same; a religion of piety and benevolence. The chief difference lies in the degrees of perfection. The church in heaven and the church on earth are, in some respects, one church united. Be . lievers are fellow citizens with the saints in glory, and of the household of God. The design of the gospel is to form the members of Christ's church on earth to a nearer resemblance of saints and angels in heaven, and to bring them to the general assembly and church of holy beings, to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and thus finally to gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth.
Here, my brethren, is a powerful argument for Christian love. In heaven charity never fails. If we all profess to be seeking the same heaven, and hope to be gathered in one church there, let us exercise that love to one another, which is necessary to prepare us for heaven, and without which heaven would cease to be itself.
Here is also an argument for Christian candor. If the saints, yea, the angels in heaven, who are so exalted in dignity-so improved in knowledge---so perfect in holiness, still own the church on earth, minister to the heirs of salvation, have intercourse with them as one family, and rejoice in the expectation of receiving them to their company above ; surely we ought to condescend to our weaker brethren, bear their infirmities, minister to their wants and receive them to our fellowship. If, because we imagine ourselves more pure, more wise, or more sound in faith, than our brethren, we exclude them from our charity, bid them stand by theinselves, and warn them not to come near us in acts of holy communion, our temper is utterly