Of the Distinction between the World and the Church,
with the Nature and Character of Both Societies.
TWO things of a contrary nature are best understood when they are placed near to one another, or compared together in the mind. The summer is better understood, and more to be valued, when we compare it with the winter; a season in which so many comforts are wanting, which the summer affords us. The blessings of government are more acceptable, when compared with the miseries of anarchy. We have the like advantage, when we compare together the church and the world, those two societies of which we are members: of the world by our natural birth; of the church by our spiritual birth in baptism. When we are admitted into the Christian covenant, we renounce this world as a wicked world, and become members of the church, which is called the holy church. Both these societies are influential on those who belong to them; the one corrupts, the other sanctifies: therefore it is of the last importance to mankind to consider and understand the difference between them.
If we ask, why the world is called wicked, we shall find it to be such from the nature and manners of its inhabitants: for the world, as it means the system of the visible creation, can have no harm in it. There can be no wickedness, where there is no moral agency nor freedom of action.
From the sin of Adam, and the effects of his fall, the state of man by nature is a state of sin. The scripture is so express in this, that it is not necessary to insist upon it. A disposition to evil comes into the world with every man, and is as a seed, which brings forth its fruit throughout the course of his life. Many evil passions disturb and agitate his mind; and from the ignorance or darkness which prevails in him, he knows not that he is to resist them in order to his peace and happiness, nor hath he ability so to do, if he did know it. The worst and the most violent of all his passions is pride, which affects superiority, and delights in vain shew and pompous distinction; whether it be that of wealth, or honour, or wisdom. Covetousness disposes him to take all he can to himself, and pay no regard to the wants of others; whence the state of nature is a state of war, in which men plunder and destroy one another; not knowing the way of peace which consists only with restraint, and must be taught them from above; the way offence have they not known, saith the scripture.
Man knows all things by education, but nothing by nature, except, as the Apostle saith, what he knoweth naturally as a brute beast. The world, as we see it now, is under the restraint of laws, which in some countries are better in themselves and better executed than in others: but if there were no laws and no governments to execute them, then we should see what a scene of destruction and misery this world would be, through the sinfulness of man's nature. Fraud, rapine, and cruelty, those three dreadful monsters, make strange havock amongst us, notwithstanding the laws and regulations of society: what then would this world be without them?
With respect to God, the state of man is a state of rebellion, alienation, and condemnation, His ways are so opposite to the will of God, that he is said to be at enmity with him. He has no alliance with his Maker, either as a child, a subject, or a servant; but being under a general law of disobedience, can inherit nothing from God but wrath and punishment.
You will see this account verified by the plainest declarations of the scripture.--First, as to the enmity of the world against God. If the world hate you, saith our Lord when he came to save it, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. Secondly, as to their alienation or departure from all alliance with him--you that were some time alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works, saith St. Paul, Col. i. 21: and again, speaking of the natural state of the Ephesians before their conversion, he describes them as aliens and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. In which passage, there is something farther than appears from the sound of the words; for when we read, without God in the world, the words, in the world, are emphatical, and denote this wicked world, such as we have been describing it, of which they that are members must of course be without God, and without hope: they belong to a society which knows him not.
Then, thirdly, that the world is under condemnation; we are chastened of the Lord, saith St. Paul, that we should not be condemned with the world: whence it is evident, that the world, as such, is under condemnation, and can expect nothing of God, but punishment for sin.
We are now prepared to take a review of this society called the world. It is composed of men lost by the fall; disposed to all manner of evil; ignorant of the way of peace; at enmity with God, and with one another; delighting themselves in the pride of appearance, and the vanity of distinction. In a word, the whole world lieth in wickedness, and they that are condemned for sin will be condemned with the world, whose condemnation, therefore, is a thing of course. What human philosophy may say of this description of the world, we are not to regard: if it is the description which stands in the Holy Scripture, we ate not to consider what men may say of it. A proud world will never be pleased to see an humiliating description of itself.
Such then is the world, and such are we all, so far as we are members of it. God therefore of his infinite mercy takes us out of this wicked society, and translates us into another. He delivers us from the power of darkness, and translates us into the kingdom of his dear son; and without this translation we are inevitably lost. You are here to observe, that the kingdom of Christ is one of the names of his church, and they that are in it, as it is distinguished from the world, are called children of the kingdom. Its nature is totally different from the kingdoms of this world (of which we shall see more hereafter) for as the world is called wicked, so the church is called holy, and all the holiness that can be in man, must be derived from thence. If we enquire how, and in what respects, the. church is holy, we find it must be so from its relation to God. It is called the church of God, and he being holy, every thing that belongs to him must be so of course. And further, it is a society, or body, of which the Holy Spirit is the life; and this life being communicated to those who arc taken into the church, they are thereby made partakers of an holy, life, which is elsewhere called the life of God; from which life they are alienated who are out of this society. It is holy in its sacraments; our baptism is an holy baptism, from the Holy Spirit of God; the Lord's Supper is an holy sacrifice: the ordinance of absolution is for the forgiveness of past sin, that the members of the church may be recovered from sin to a state of holiness, and peace with God. The church is holy in its priesthood; all the offices of which are for the sanctification of the people.
The contrary nature of the two societies I have been speaking of, will now be better understood, when they are compared together. In the one, men are in a lost condition; in the other, they are in a state of salvation: for as the world is alienated from God, the church is in alliance and covenant with him, and partaker of his promises. As the world is under condemnation, the church is under grace and pardon of sin: its baptism washes away original sin, and gives a new birth to purity and righteousness; its other sacrament of the Lord's supper maintains that spiritual life which is begun at baptism, as meat and drink support the life we receive at our natural birth. As the world is without hope, the Christian hath hope in death, through the Resurrection of Christ, and is assured, that he who is united to the life of God can never die: for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. While the wicked are to perish with the world which they inhabit, the children of God are heirs with Christ of an eternal kingdom.
The Church is also holy, when by the word Church, we understand the building or place in which the people assemble to accomplish the service of God. As the world, on the other hand, hath always had its unholy places of assembly, its theatre, its idol temples, &c. which unsanctify and pollute those who frequent them. Under the Jewish State of the Church, the temple is called the holy temple, or holy place; (Heb.) and a part of it was called the most holy place. Our Saviour allows that the temple sanctified the gold, which was. offered in it, and consequently all other offerings and sacrifices there made. Now, if that temple was holy, whose glory was to be done away, certainly the place of Christian worship, called the Church, must be holy also. For why was the Temple at Jerusalem holy, but because the presence of God attended it? And has he not promised to be in the midst of us? And must not our churches therefore be holy upon the same account? And are they not guilty of a great sin, who treat any church with irreverence? Much more if they despise or defile it? For it is said, he that defileth the temple of God, him shall God destroy.
But nothing will shew us the difference between the world and the church so effectually, as when we consider who is at the head of each society. Christ is the head of the church, and the Devil is the prince of this world, who is also called the God of this world. They who are in the church, are in the kingdom of Christ; which, though not of this world, as not deriving its power from thence, is yet in the world. They who are of this world, are in the kingdom of Satan, and under his power: as the heathens are said to have been before they were redeemed from it, and brought over to the kingdom of God: which translation was signified by the redemption of the Hebrews, from under the power of Pharaoh.
If we enquire into the respective characters of the head of the church, and the prince of this world, as they are described under a variety of names, the opposition is wonderful; and it will be found very instructive, because there is the same opposition betwixt the children of each.
The head of the church is called Jesus the Saviour; the head of this world is a destroyer; in Hebrew, Abaddon: in Greek, Apollyon.
The one is the true light, that is, a spiritual light to the soul of man; the other is the prince of darkness.
The one is a shepherd, gathering the lambs with his arm, and feeding his flock; the other is a lion who goeth to and fro in the earth, seeking whom he may devour.
The one is a lamb; meek, innocent, and spotless: the other is a serpent; deceitful, subtile, and with poison under his lips.
The one is the physician of souls, who went about healing the sick, and raising the dead: the other is the inflicter of diseases, bowing men down with infirmities; binding them with the bonds of affliction;, and Was a murderer from the beginning; for he brought death into the world, by the temptation of man in Paradise. Men murder individuals; but Satan murders a whole world at once: and is the prince of murderers.
The one delivers men who are under temptation to sin, the other is the tempter, who leads them into it. And as the one is the advocate of sinners, interceding for them as their priest and mediator; the other is the grand accuser, who is therefore called the Devil, which signifies an accuser.
And lastly (for I think we need go no farther at present) the one is the truth; the other is a liar, and the father of lies.
The like difference is found in the children of this world, and the children of the kingdom of God; that is, between the wicked world, who are under the power of Satan, and the Holy Church, which is the flock of Christ, and takes him for its pattern. It cannot be otherwise; the spirit of the head must be diffused through the members: and you will see it to be true: first, with respect to the Holy Church of Christ; whose disciples are taught to relieve one another in their wants, and save one another in their distress; rejoicing and suffering together, as the members of the same body; and doing good unto all men. His ministers are shepherds; his followers, from the first ages of Christianity, were accounted and treated as sheep for the slaughter, and were patient and unresisting. They exhort and encourage one another to good works, and being united together under a bond of peace, their charity covereth a multitude of sins; that is, it hideth and concealeth the many failings of their brethren for the love of Christ, instead of aggravating their offences, and judging them unmercifully. They are children of light, who derive the light of wisdom from the word of God; and walk openly and honestly, as in the day. In their conversation, they arc true and faithful, and give you a direct answer, without disguise or subterfuge.
Such ought to be the members of the holy Church of Christ; this is the character intended for them, though many fall short of it, and some totally depart from it. But the visible church membership of men, does not depend upon their manners and opinions; nor indeed upon any thing they can do for themselves; because it is the gift of God, by his ministers; so that a man in a holy church may be an unholy man: for the kingdom of heaven, or church of Christ, is like a net cast into the sea, which gathers of every kind both bad and good; and an effectual separation is never made between them, till the angels drag this net to the shore, to gather the good into vessels, and cast the bad away. If we bear this case in mind, it will deliver us from a great deal of perplexity. It is truly a sorrowful fact, that the children of God, in too many instances, depart from their proper character: but the character proper to the world is, in all respects, like that of Satan, wicked and miserable.
As the Devil is the prince of this world, his children set their affections upon it and it is the main purpose of their lives to obtain and enjoy it at any rate. For this they sell their souls, and if they get the world in exchange, they think they are gainers by the bargain.
As he is the prince of darkness, so do they fall into ignorance, and blindness of heart, and love darkness rather than light, that their deeds may not be reproved. They hate the word of God, as owls and bats hate the day-light; and dispute fiercely for their errors, lest information and conviction should bring them to repentance.
As the Devil is a destroyer, so do the children of this world destroy one another. Their wise politics produce war and desolation; their error and delusion of mind stir them up to the persecution of the servants of God: and wherever we see oppression, and cruelty, and persecution, there we see the spirit of the Devil, the father of persecution, who, by violence, will terrify and compel, where he cannot persuade.
As he is a serpent, so his children are a generation of vipers, double-tongued, and deceitful; smooth and flattering on some occasions, but waiting to give a deadly bite when they are offended and provoked. Their way is crooked and uncertain, like the path of a serpent. An honest man, whose path is direct and plain, can never tell what to make of them, because they pretend to be going one way, while they are going another; and they often gain their end by it; as the twistings of the serpent carry him to the point he aims at. As Lucifer fell from Heaven for rebellion all his children are impatient under authority' and in this capacity they are called sons of Belial; which means, that they can bear no superior. Patiencey and obedience, and submission, are essential to the Christian character. Christ himself is our pattern, who allowed that the power of Pilate, so unjustly exercised, was given him from above, and submitted to his sentence, when he could have struck him dead upon his bench. But resistance is the Devil's doctrine, and the world's practice. The Gospel teaches us, that the things which are highly esteemed among men are an abomination in the sight of God, and here we see it verified; nothing is more detestable to the God of peace, than the sin of rebellion; and nothing is more magnified and applauded by the children of this world; who have set what they call the power of the people, above the power of God Almighty. He ordains government, and kings are his ministers; but the people are told, that they have power to overthrow his ordinance, and judge his vice-gerents.
As the Devil is a tempter, his children act under him in that capacity: most wicked men have a strange desire to make all others as wicked as themselves. The world is full of seducers, who tempt men to false principles, and immorality of life. Some get their livelihood by the corruption of other people; and most infidels and heretics are so diligent in spreading their opinions, that if the friends of truth were equally zealous, the world would not be able to stand against them.
As the Devil is the grand accuser, so doth the world delight itself in evil-speaking. Railing and slandering is their great amusement. Evil words are not pointed against evil things. The world delights to asperse those, who are unlike to themselves. There never was a good man, nor ever will be, who was not evil spoken of, and depreciated in the judgment of the public; and the rule is so universal, that our Saviour saith to all Christians, Woe be unto you, when all men speak well of you. False prophets were well spoken of by the people; and there must be something false and spurious, some evil with the appearance of good in every popular character that pleases the world. As the Devil is the father of lies, so all they that are of the Devil are liars, who will never make a scruple of a lie to hurt others, or serve themselves. The whole Heathen religion was one great lie, in opposition to the truth of the Divine law. Much evil is threatened to those who put evil for good, and good for evil; who make the heart of the righteous sad, by predicting evil to them, and by promising happiness and prosperity to the wicked. Thus did they speak of old, who were called false Prophets, and it would be happy for us if there were none of them amongst us: but, where-ever they are found, they are the ministers of Satan: and how fair and fine they may speak on some occasions, it is no proof of their goodness; for Satan is sometimes, as it serves his purpose, transformed into an angel of light, and affects an holy and heavenly character; and then he is most a Devil, because he can most deceive.