« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
of the form of church government; and that it is one, immutable, and
prescribed in the word. 1. ECCLESIASTICAL polity, or church government or discipline, is nothing else but that form and order that is to be observed in the church of Christ upon earth, both for the constitution of it, and all the administrations that therein are to be performed. Ezek. xliii. 11. Col. ii. 5. 1 Tim. iii. 15.
2. Church government is considered in a double respect, either in regard of the parts of government themselves, or necessary circumstances thereof. The parts of government are prescribed in the word, because the Lord Jesus Christ, the king and lawgiver of his church, is no less faithful in the house of God than was Moses, who from the Lord delivered a form and pattern of government to the children of Israel in the Old Testament: and the holy Scriptures are now also so perfect, as they are able to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly furnished unto every good work; and therefore doubtless to the well ordering of the house of God. Heb. iii. 5, 6. Exod. xxv. 40. 2 Tim. iii. 16.
3. The parts of church government are all of them exactly described in the word of God, being parts or means of instituted worship, according to the second commandment, and therefore to continue one and the same unto the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, as a kingdom that cannot be shaken, until he shall deliver it up unto God, even the Father. So that it is not left in the power of men, officers, churches, or any state in the world to add, or diminish, or alter any thing in the least measure therein.
1 Tim. ïïi. 15. 1 Chron. xv. 13. Ex. xx. 4. I Tim. vi. 13, 16. Heb. xii. 27, 28. 1 Cor. xv. 24. Deut. xii. 32. Ezek. xliii. 8. 1 Kings, xii. 31-33.
4. The necessary circumstances, as time and place, &c., belonging unto order and decency, are not so left unto men, as that under pretence of them they may thrust their own inventions upon the churches, being circumscribed in the word with many general limitations, where they are determined in respect of the matter, to be neither worship itself, nor circumstances separable from worship. In respect of their end, they must be done unto edification. In respect of the manner, decently and in order, according to the nature of the things themselves, and civil and church custom. Doth not even nature itself teach you? Yea, they are in some sort determined particularly, namely, that they be done in such a manner, as, all circumstances considered, is most expedient for edification : so, as if there be no error of man concerning their determination, the determining of them is to be accounted as if it were divine.
2 Kings, xii. Ex xx. 19. Isa. xxviii. 13. Col. i. 22, 23. Acts, xv. 28. Matt. xv. 9. I Cor. xi. 23, and viii. 34. 1 Cor. xiv. 26, and xiv. 40, and xi. 14, 16, and xiv. 12, 19. Acts, xv. 28.
Of the nature of the catholic church in general, and in special of a particular
visible church. 1. The catholic church is the whole company of those that are elected, redeemed, and in time effectually called from the state of sin and death, unto a state of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. Eph. i. 22, 23, and v. 25, 26, 30. Heb. xii. 23.
2. This church is either triumphant, or militant. Triumphant, the number of them who are glorified in
heaven: militant, the number of them who are conflicting with their enemies upon earth. Rom. viii. 17. 2 Tim. ii. 12, and iv. 8. Eph. vi. 12, 13.
3. This militant church is to be considered as invisible, and visible. Invisible, in respect of their relation wherein they stand to Christ, as a body unto the head, being united unto him by the Spirit of God, and faith in their hearts. Visible, in respect of the profession of their faith, in their persons, and in particular churches. And so there may be acknowledged an universal visible church.
2 Tim. ii. 19. Rev. ï. 17. I Cor. vi. 17. Eph. iii. 17. Rom. i. 8. 1 Thess. i. 8. Isa. ii. 2. 1 Tim. vi. 12.
4. The members of the militant visible church, considered either as not yet in church-order, or as walking according to the church-order of the gospel. In order, and so besides the spiritual union and communion common to all believers, they enjoy moreover an union and communion ecclesiastical-political. So we deny an universal visible church. Acts, xix. 1. Col. ii. 5. Matt. xviii. 17. 1 Cor. v. 12.
5. The state of the members of the militant visible church walking in order, was either before the law, economical, that is in families; or under the law, national; or since the coming of Christ, only congregational : (The term independent we approve not.) Therefore neither national, provincial nor classical. Gen. xviii. 19. Exod. xix. 6.
6. A Congregational church is by the institution of Christ a part of the militant visible church, consisting of a company of saints by calling, united into one body by a holy covenant, for the public worship of God, and the mutual edification one of another, in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus.
1 Cor. xiv. 23, 36, and i. 2, and xii. 27. Exod. xix. 5, 6. Deut. xxix. 1, and 9 to 15. Acts, ii. 42. I Cor. xiv. 26.
Of the matter of the visible church, both in respect of quality and quantity.
1. The matter of a visible church are saints by calling. 1 Cor. i. 2. Eph. i. 1.
2. By saints, we understand, 1. Such as have not only attained the knowledge of the principles of religion, and are free from gross and open scandals, but also do to gether with the profession of their faith and repentance, walk in blameless obedience to the word, so as that in charitable discretion they may be accounted saints by calling, though perhaps some or more of them be unsound, and hypocrites inwardly, because the members of such particular churches are commonly by the Holy Ghost called saints and faithful brethren in Christ; and sundry churches have been reproved for receiving, and suffering such persons to continue in fellowship amongst them, as have been offensive and scandalous; the name of God also by this means is blasphemed, and the holy things of God defiled and profaned, the hearts of the godly grieved, and the wicked themselves hardened, and helped forward to damnation. The example of such doth endanger the sanctity of others : a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. 2. The children of such, who are also holy.
Heb. vi. 1. Cor. i. 5. Rom. xv. 14. Ps. 1. 16, 17. Acts, viii. 37. Matt. iii. 6. Rom. vi. 17. I Cor. i. 2. Phil. i. 2. Col. i. 2. Eph. i. 1. 1 Cor. v. 12, 13. Rev. ii. 14, 15, 20. Ezek. xliv. 7, 9, and xxiii. 38, 39. Num. xix. 20. Hag. ii. 13, 14.' i Cor. xi. 27, 29. Psal. xxxvii. 21. 1 Cor. v. 6. 1 Cor. vii. 14.
3. The members of churches, though orderly constituted, may in time degenerate, and grow corrupt and scandalous, which though they ought not to be tolerated in the church, yet their continuance therein, through the defect of the execution of discipline and just censures, doth not immediately dissolve the being of the church, as appears in the church of Israel, and the churches of Galatia and Corinth, Pergamus and Thyatira.
Jer. ii. 21. I Cor. v. 12. Jer. ii. 4. Gal. v. 4. 2 Cor. xii. 21. Rev. ii. 14, 15, and xxi. 21.
4. The matter of the church in respect of its quantity, ought not to be of greater number than may ordinarily meet together conveniently in one place; nor ordinarily fewer, than may conveniently carry on church-work. Hence when the holy Scripture makes mention of the saints combined into a church-estate, in a town or city where was but one congregation, it usually calleth those saints The Church, in the singular number; as, The church of the Thessalonians, The church of Smyrna, Philadelphia, and the like; but when it speaketh of the saints in a nation or province, wherein there were sundry congregations, it frequently and usually calleth them by the name of Churches, in the plural number, as the churches of Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, and the like; which is further confirmed by what is written of sundry of those churches in particular, how they were assembled and met together, the whole church in one place, as the church at Jerusalem, the church at Antioch, the church at Corinth, and Cenchrea, though it were more near to Corinth, it being the port thereof, and answerable to a village, yet being a distinct congregation from Corinth, it had a church of its own, as well as Corinth had.
I Cor. xiv. 21. Matt. xviii. 17. Rom. xvi 1. 1 Thess. i. I. Rev. ii. 8, and iii. 7. I Cor. xvi. I, 19. Gal. i. 2. 2 Cor. viii. 1. 1 Thess. ii. 14. Acts, ii, 46, and v. 12, and vi. 2, and xiv. 27, and xv. 38. I Cor. v. 4, and xiv. 23. Rom. xvi. 1.
5. Nor can it with reason be thought but that every church appointed and ordained by Christ, had a ministry ordained and appointed for the same; and yet plain it is, that there were no ordinary officers appointed by Christ for any other than congregational churches; elders being appointed to feed, not all flocks, but that particular flock of God over which.the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, and that flock they must attend, even the whole flock; and one congregation being as much as any ordinary elders can attend, therefore there is no greater church than a congregation, which may ordinarily meet in one place.
Acts, xx. 28.