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CHRIST THE UNIVERSAL BISHOP AND HEAD OF
REV. i. 19, 20. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which
are, and the things which shall be hereafter; the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest, are the seven churches.
PART II.-His Seven EPISTLES.
(Rev. i. ii. iii.) The vision of Christ, the High Priest of our profession, and the Great Shepherd of the sheep, which occupied our thoughts in the former lecture, is only the personification or portraiture of the writer of those seven epistles, to which our attention is now to be directed; and is not intended to be contemplated alone, but to be studied in connexion with what follows in the second and third chapters ; being, as hath been already said, like the vignette with which the chapters of picturesque writings are wont to be introduced; or like the allegorical paintings with which legendary tales were wont to be emblazoned. I remember, when a youth, to have visited the cathedral church of St. Mary's, in the city of Carlisle, and to have seen painted upon the walls of the porch the history of the temptations and triumph of some saint, I forget which,—perhaps St. Anthony : and in each compartment of the piece, besides the significant personages in their appropriate attitudes and actions, there were words proceeding forth from their mouths for the fuller exposition of the subject. Such a succession of allegorical paintings is the revelation of Jesus Christ, given in this book. The first in order, is that which we have explained; the second is contained in the iv th and v th chapters ; the third,
at the beginning of the viii th chapter ; the fourth, at the beginning of the xth chapter; and so on, unto the end. In the porch or chapel of St. Mary's, it was left to your own ingenuity, or the ingenuity of your guide, to give lan. guage and narrative to the succession of St. Anthony's trials; but in this book of the Revelation of the King of saints, the office of interpreting and applying the several parts of the allegorical representations is fulfilled by the same unerring wisdom which delineated them. And these explanations do constitute the chief parts of the prophecy. Yet are these explanations themselves generally allegorical, having a dependency upon, and subservience to that particular manifestation of Jesus Christ under which they were written. Such an application of the points of these allegorical representations have we now to consider. But, first, it will be necessary to make a remark or two upon verses 19 and 20, which form the link of connexion between the vision and the application of the vision.
When, by the comfortable words of the Son of Man, the seer had been awakened from his death-like entrancement of fear, he received this commandment from his Lord and Master, • Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” In these words the whole subject matter of the writing of this book is divided into three parts, whereof the first is entitled, “What things thou sawest ;' and we have, in the next verse, the things intended by the words, “What thou sawest.” “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest, are the seven churches." The first integrant division of the book, therefore, denominated by these words, What thou sawest is, the mystery of the seven stars, and the seven golden candlesticks. That this symbol of the ministers of the church, and the churches, should have been raised into the importance of an integrant division of the book, doth better demonstrate than any thing else the great consequence which the Lord assigneth to it, and doth well justify the large consideration which we gave to it in the former lectures ; which, when I review in my thoughts, I feel to be utterly inadequate to the dignity of the subject. And I am constrained here, where an opportunity is given,
to shew additional reason why this mystery of the stars. and candlesticks should be so exalted into a distinct divi. sion, and that, the first division of this book. The stars are, as is interpreted, the angels of the churches ; which doth signify that person in each church unto whom is committed the ministry of the word, the preaching of the everlasting Gospel: of which personage the dignity is so great, and the office so essential, as to stand foremost in this revelation of Jesus Christ. And well is it entitled to that preeminence, for without the ordinance of preaching, there would be no church ; and without a church, there would be no Christian kingdom; and without a Christian church and Christian kingdom, there would be no apostasy, no beast, no false prophet: so that the whole substance of this book, the whole drama of God's providence therein laid out towards Christendom, doth derive itself out of the office of the preacher of the word, the angel, the sentone of Christ. If, again, we look at the dignity of this office, not so much in relation to the things contained in this book, as to its own intrinsic excellence and high prerogatives, we shall see it still the more to be admired. For what are the three supreme indefeasible and unchal. lengable rights of Christ? These three : First, to be the word of God, through whom the invisible God must be communicated withal ; Secondly, to baptize with the Holy Ghost; unto which dignity the Baptist, than whom none born of a woman was greater, having respect did say, “I am not worthy to stoop down and to loose the latchet of his shoes ;” in which prerogative of Christ standeth the quickening of everlasting life, in the mortal substance of every creature whom the Father hath chosen thereto: and the third of Christ's Divine dignities is, to feed the flock of the Father's elected and regenerated ones, with his flesh and his blood: from his seat on high to administer unto the church that measure of the Holy Ghost which, in the days of his flesh, did avail to sanctify the body which he took. These are the three prerogatives of Christ,--to be the Word, the Baptist, and the Pastor, between God and his creatures. Who is the man on earth that doth, under Christ, administer these offices to the church? A king? no. A judge ? no. Who then? The ordained minister of a church; to whom is committed the word of
preaching, constituting us anibassadors for Christ; to whom is committed baptism, which is not by water only, but by water and the Spirit : for that man is a sacrilegious spoiler of God's ordinance, who doth separate the inward act of regeneration, from the outward act of washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to all who receive it by faith : to whom is committed the administration of the Lord's Supper, whereof the worthy receiver is inade partaker of the body and blood of Christ, to his spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. If, then, it be the right of the Christian minister, or angel of the church, to represent, by his office, these three highest dignities of Christ: then bis place and station upon the earth is the most noble, and the most responsible; the most holy, and the most comprehensive; and is, therefore, well entitled to the precedency which it hath in this book.
Next, if this office be considered in relation to the churches, then what less is it, than that out of which the very being of a church ariseih? For the preaching of the word is the only ordinance for the conveyance of faith from the Father: and without believers, there can be no church and when there are believers drawn out by the preaching of the word, baptism is the only ordinance for the regeneration of a believer by the Lord Jesus Christ, whereby he becomes a son of God : and the Lord's Supper is the only ordinance and means for the nourishment and edification of the faithful. From the office, therefore, and through the office of the minister of the word and sacraments, doth the very being of a church proceed ; in whom accord. ingly we shall find the church always regarded by Christ as represented. High, therefore, very high, and
very holy is his office, in every respect. Holding from Christ, we hear Christ without any intercession of a middle party ; and we speak what we hear to the church committed to our charge. Such is the dignity of the ministerial calling, which church government, in its several courts of presby, tery, synod, and general assembly, or bishop, archbishop, and king in convocation, are not intended in the least to infringe; or if they do, they usurp it upon Christ, who hath a right to speak to the ministers who speak to his mem. bers without any intervention of a third party. These
authorities of the church are the collected authority of the several ministers gathered together into them; and not another power, above and besides that of the minister. And this is the great danger of Episcopal superintendence, that it may give rise to the idea, that in a person above the minister of word and sacraments, there is reposed by Christ an authority and power of a higher order ; which, be it lodged in king, pope, archbishop, or general assembly, is nothing else than an invasion of, and assumption upon Christ's proper and peculiar dignity as the only Head of the church. When the ministry, already in possession of the gift, and in the daily exercise of it, and therefore able to recognize it in another, have sought for and recognized it in another, they signify the same by setting him over a flock by the laying on of hands. Where placed, he enters upon that dignity for which Christ, not they, did qualify him. They do not give the qualification ; but they seek for. one into whom Christ hath divided it by the Spirit : nor do they make the office, nor doth he hold it under them, but under Christ, for the ends set forth in his holy word. The less occasion they have to interfere with him, the better; and it is only in case of his venting any thing to destroy the unity of the truth, or the unity of the body of Christ, or walking contrary to the canons of the church, that they step in with the exercise of that discipline and government which is reposed in them. This dignity and prerogative have ministers of the word, not for their own sakes, but for promoting the great ends of God, in calling out from the world his own chosen people, and constituting them into a church. And when churches have, by the faithful preaching of the word, been constituted, the purpose of God, in respect to the present visible condition of the church, is accomplished ; and they are expected to hold on, until the coming of the Lord. The seven stars, therefore, and the seven golden candlesticks, signifying all the ministers and all the churches, until Christ shall come again, is the symbol of a complete purpose of God; namely, his purpose by the church ; and as this purpose is the highest of all God's purposes, next to, or rather an integrant part of, the Christ, it occupies deservedly the first place in this scheme or revelation of the purposes of God.
But the whole church, both Christ the Head and all his members, are but as it were one great candlestick, for holding