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mense distance from him. Wherefore the order of instruction requires us now to treat of the Church and its government, orders, and power; secondly, of the Sacraments; and lastly, of Civil Government: and at the same time to call off the pious readers from the abuses of the Papacy, by which Satan has corrupted every thing that God had appointed to be instrumental to our salvation. I shall begin with the Church, in whose bosom it is God's will that all his children should be collected, not only to be nourished by her assistance and ministry during their infancy and childhood, but also to be governed by her maternal care, till they attain a mature age, and at length reach the end of their faith. For it is not lawful to "put asunder” those things “ which God
“ hath joined together;" (6) that the Church is the mother of all those who have him for their Father; and that not only under the law, but since the coming of Christ also, according to the testimony of the apostle, who declares the new and heavenly Jerusalem to be “the mother of us all." (c)
II. That article of the Creed, in which we profess to believe THE CHURCH, refers not only to the visible Church of which we are now speaking, but likewise to all the elect of God, including the dead as well as the living. The word believe is used, because it is often impossible to discover any difference between the children of God and the ungodly; between his peculiar flock and wild beasts. The particle in, interpolated by many, is not supported by any probable reason. I confess that it is generally adopted at present, and is not destitute of the suffrage of antiquity; being found in the Nicene Creed, as it is transmitted to us in ecclesiastical history. Yet it is evident from the writings of the Fathers, that it was anciently admitted without controversy to say, “ I believe the Church,” not“ in the Church.” For not only is this word not used by Augustine and the ancient writer of the work “On the Exposition of the Creed,” which passes under the name of Cyprian, but they particularly remark that there would be an impropriety in the expression, if this preposition were inserted; and they confirm their opinion hy no trivial reason
For we declare that we believe in God, because our mind depends upon him as true, and our confidence rests in him. But this would not be applicable to the Church, any more than to "the remission of sins," or the “ resurrection of the body." Therefore, though I am averse to contentions about words, yet I would rather adopt a proper phraseology adapted to express the subject, than affect forms of expression by which the subject would be unnecessarily involved in obscurity. The design of this clause is to teach us, that though the devil moves every engine to destroy the grace of Christ, and all the enemies of God exert the most furious violence in the same attempt, yet his grace cannot possibly be extinguished, nor can his blood be rendered barren, so as not to produce some fruit. Here we must regard both the secret election of God, and his internal vocation; because he alone "knoweth them that are his;" and keeps them enclosed under his
seal,” to use the expression of Paul; (d) except that they bear his impression, by which they may be distinguished from the reprobate. But because a small and contemptible number is concealed among a vast multitude, and a few grains of wheat are covered with a heap of chaff, we must leave to God alone the knowledge of his Church, whose foundation is his eternal election. Nor is it sufficient to include in our thoughts and minds the whole multitude of the elect, unless we conceive of such an unity of the Church, into which we know ourselves to be truly engrafted. For unless we are united with all the other members under Christ our head, we can have no hope of the future inheritance. Therefore the Church is called CATHOLIC, or universal: because there could not be two or three churches, without Christ being divided, which is impossible. But all the elect of God are so connected with each other in Christ, that as they depend upon one head, so they grow up together as into one body, compacted together like members of the same body; being made truly one, as living by one faith, hope, and charity, through the same Divine Spirit, being called not only to the same inheritance of eternal life, but also to a
(1) 2 Tim. ü. 19
participation of one God and Christ. Therefore though the melancholy desolation which surrounds us, seems to proclaim that there is nothing left of the Church, let us remember that the death of Christ is fruitful, and that God wonderfully preserves his Church as it were in hiding places; according to what he said to Elijah: “ I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (e)
III. This article of the creed, however, relates in some measure to the external Church, that every one of us may maintain a brotherly agreement with all the children of God, may pay due deference to the authority of the Church, and in a word, may conduct himself as one of the flock. Therefore we add THE
SAINTS; a clause which though generally omitted by the ancients, ought not to be neglected, because it excellently expresses the character of the Church: as though it had been said that the saints are united in the fellowship of Christ on this condition, that whatever benefits God confers upon them, they should mutually communicate to each other. This destroys not the diversity of grace, for we know that the gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed; nor does it disturb the order of civil polity, which secures to every individual the exclusive enjoyment of his property, as it is necessary for the preservation of the peace of society that men should have peculiar and distinct possessions. But the community asserted is such as Luke describes, that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul:” (f) and Paul when he exhorts the Ephesians to be “one body, and one Spirit, even as they were called in one hope.” (s) Nor is it possible, if they are truly persuaded that God is a common Father to them all, and Christ their common head, but that being united in brotherly affection, they should mutually communicate their advantages to each other. Now it highly concerns us to know what benefit we receive from this. For we believe the Church, in order to have a certain assurance
(e) Rom. xi. 4. 1 Kings xix. 18.
(1) Acts iv. 32.
(8) Ephes. iv. 4.
that we are members of it. For thus our salvation rests on firm and solid foundations, so that it cannot fall into ruin, though the whole fabric of the world should be dissolved.. First, It is founded on the election of God, and can be liable to no variation or failure, but with the subversion of his eternal Providence. In the next place, it is united with the stability of Christ, who will no more suffer his faithful people to be severed from him, than his members to be torn in pieces. Besides, we are certain as long as we continue in the bosom of Church, that we shall remain in possession of the truth. Lastly, we understand these promises to belong to us; “In mount Zion shall be deliverance.” (1)
“ God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.” (i) Such is the effect of union with the Church, that it retains us in the fellowship of God. The very word communion likewise contains abundant consolation; for while it is certain that whạtever the Lord confers upon his members and ours belong to us, our hope is confirmed by all the benefits which they enjoy. But in order to embrace the unity of the Church in this manner, it is unnecessary as we have observed, to see the Church with our eyes, or feel it with our hands: on the contrary, from its being an object of faith we are taught that it is no less to be considered as existing, when it escapes our observation, than if it were evident to our eyes. Nor is our faith the worse, because it acknowledges the Church which we do not fully comprehend; for we are not commanded here to distinguish the reprobate from the elect, which is not our province, but that of God alone; we are only required to be assured in our minds, that all those who by the mercy of God the Father, through the efficacious influence of the Holy Spirit, have attained to the participation of Christ, are separated as the peculiar possession and portion of God; and that being numbered among them, we are partakers of such great grace.
IV. But as our present design is to treat of the visible Church, we may learn even from the title of mother, how useful and even necessary it is for us to know her; since
(h) Joel ii. 32. Obad. 17. VOL. III.
(i) Psalm xlvi. 5,
there is no other way of entrance into life, unless we are conceived by her, born of her, nourished at her breast, and continually preserved under her care and government till we are divested of this mortal flesh and become like the angels. (k) For our infirmity will not admit of our dismission from her school; we must continue under her instruction and discipline to the end of our lives. It is also to be remarked, that out of her bosom there can be no hope of remission of sins, or any salvation, according to the testimony of Joel and Isaiah (1); which is confirmed by Ezekiel, (m) when he denounces that those whom God excludes from the heavenly life, shall not be enrolled among his people. So, on the contrary, those who devote themselves to the service of God, are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason the Psalmist says, “ Remember me, O Lord, with the favour
, that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation: that I may see the good of thy chosen: that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation; that I may glory with thine inheritance.” (n) In these words the paternal favour of God, and the peculiar testimony of the spiritual life, are restricted to his flock, to teach us that it is always fatally dangerous to be separated from the Church.
V. But let us proceed to state what belongs to this subject. Paul writes, that Christ, “that he might fill all things, gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” ( ) We see that though God could easily make his people perfect in a single moment, yet it was not his will that they should grow to 'mature age, but under the education of the Church. We see the means expressed: the preaching of the heavenly doctrine is assigned to the pastors. We see that all are placed under the same
(k) Matt. xxii. 30.
(1) Isaiah xxxvii. 35. Joel č. 32.