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Being some collections for the information of those that are not de
quainted with the principles and practices of the first and most emia
nent leaders in the churches of CHRIST in New England. THE platform of church discipline was agreed on and consented unto by many great, learned and pious persons, from the four famous colonies in New-England, assembled in the Synod at Cambridge, 1648. Something of which may be read in a late print, entitled, " A testimony to the order of the gospel in the churches of NewEngland.”
The deservedly famous and reverend Mr. John Wilson, pastor, and Fohn Gotton, teacher of the first church of Christ in Boston, were two of those worthies that composed the platform of church discipline.
The reverend Mr. John Norton, teacher of the said church ia Boston, in his election sermon, May 22, 1661, page 12, gives this advice, " take care that the order of the gospel may have a free passage in the churches ; I mean that our practice may effectually answer our doctrine, in that book entitled, the platform of church discipline."
And in his last sermon, preached on his weekly lecture, April 2, 1663, a little before his death, page 37. “ Remember that we have the pattern in the mount, I mean we have the scripture as a rule, and you have the platform of church discipline given to you in way of counsel, as the confession of our faith to this way of church govern. ment : you know in what manner it was that which, for the sub. stance of it, owns the cause congregational: If any are departed from it let them look to it."
The reverend Mr. John Davenport, in his catechism printed anno 1669, for the use of the first church in Boston, of wnich he was then pastor, shows his concurrence with the platform of church discipline in matters relating to church government.
The reverend Mr. John Oxenbridge, pastor of said church by his practice, manifested his consent to the way of church government, as it is stated in the platform of church discipline : and in his election sermon, in May, 1671, declared his agreement with the principles of purity and power of the churches.
The reverend Mr. James Allen, teacher of said church, in his election sermon, May 28, 167.9, page 10, 11, having taken notice of the platform of church discipline, as manifesting the judgment of the ministers of New-England, asserting the authoritative rule of the elders, with the liberty of brethren, expresseth himself thus, s though the judgment of the best should not be looked upon as scripture canons, nor bind any further than it is found agreeing with the word of God, by whichi t ought to be tried ; yet I think I may safely say that is a clearer judgment of the mind of God in the
scripture, in that matter, than can be expected in this next genera. tion. It is true, in improvements of natural light, that may be increased by industry, and those that stand upon others’ shoulders may see further than they did upon whose shoulders they stand, but it is not so in spiritual things. the further knowledge of which depends upon revelation, Epk. i. 17. Psal xxv. 9.
The reverend and learned Mr. Urian Oakes, president of Har vard College and pastor of the church of Christ in Cambridge, in his election sermon May 7, 16:3, p. 48, declared himself as follows, “I beg that we may keep the king's highway, the way that CHRIST himself hath cast up for us, and that our worthy predecessors have travelled in before us, the way that hath been stated, not in the pri. vate models of some fanciful and conceited men, but in the Platform of Church Discipline ; the truest understanding of these things is from the Platform. deduced out of the word of God.”
At a SYNOD at Boston, New-England, September 10, 1679, IT
was put to vote, whether the assembly did approve of The Platform of Church Discipline ? And both elders and brethren did unanimously lift up their hands in the affirmative, not one appearing when the vote was propounded, in the negative, but it jointly passed in these words, “A synod of the churches in the province of the Massachusetts, being called by the honored General Court to con. vene at Boston, the 10th of September, 1679, having read and considered The Platform of Church Discipline, agreed upon by the Synod assembled at Cambridge, 1648, do unanimously approve of the said Platform, for the substance of it, desiring that the churches may continue stedfast in the order of the gospel, according to what is therein declared from the word of God. In a print, entitled, The necessity of reformation, &c.".
At a general meeting of ministers in Boston, New-England, May 27, 1697. SUNDRY reverend and worthy ministers signed an instrument, where they declared their full purpose, by the help of the Lord, to maintain in their several places the purity, and fellowship, and lib. erties of the churches, &c. In a print, entitled, Thirty important questions resolved, &c.
Col. ii 6 As je have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.
Eph. iv. Part of the 14th verse. Be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.
Gal. v. 1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
To the order of the gospel, in the churches of New-England :
loft in the hands of the churches, by the two most aged ministers of the gospel yet surviving in the country.
ABOVE seventy years have passed away, since one of us and above sixty, since the other of us came into New-England, and having obtained help from God we continue to this day.
We are therefore capable to make some comparison, between the condition of the churches, when they were first erected in this country, and the condition into which they are now fallen, and more falling every day.
But we wish, that in making this comparison, we had not cause to take the place and the part of those old men, that saw the young mnen shouting aloud for joy, at the new temple, Ezra iii. 12. Ancient men that had seen the first house ; when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice.
2. We are under a daily expectation of our call to appear before our Lord Jesus Christ ; and we have reason to be above all things concerned, that we may give up our account with joy unto him. That we may be the better able to do so, we judge it necessary for us to leave in the hands of the churches a brief testimony to the cause of God and his people in this land. And this the rather, because we are sensible that there is risen and rising among us, a number who not only forsake the right ways of the Lord, wherein these holy churches have walked, but also labour to carry away as many others with them as they can.
We are also informed that many younger men of great worth, and and hearty friends unto the church-state of the country, scarce know what interpretation to put upon it; but find it a sensible disadvantage unto them that the elder men are so silent and remišs upon the manifest occasions, that call aloud for us to open our mouth in the cause of churches that we should be loth to see lead unto de. Struction.
3. We that saw the persons who from four famous colonies, as. sembled in the synot that agreed on our Platform of Church Disciplino cannot forget their excellent character. They were men of great renown in the nation, from whence the Laudian Persecution exiled them ; their learning, their holiness, their gravity struck all men that knew them with admiration, They were Timothies in their houses, Chrysostomes in their pulpits, Augustines in their disputa. tions. The prayers, the studies, the humble enquiries with which they sought after the mind of God were as likely to prosper as any men's upon earth. And the sufferings wherein they were confessors for the name and the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, add unto the arguments which would persuade us that our gracious Lord would reward and honour them, with communicating much of his truth un.
to them, The famous Brightman had foretold, Clariorem lucem adhac Solitudo dabit, &gc. God would yet reveal more of the true church-state unto some of his faithful servants, whom he would send into a wilderness that he might there have communion with them And it was eminently accomplished in what was done for and by the men of God, that first erected churches for him in this American wilderness.
We do therefore in the first place earnestly testify that if any who are given to change do rise up to unhinge the well established churches in this land, it will be the duty and interest of the churches to examine whether the men of this trespass are more prayerful, more watchful, more zealous, more patient, more heavenly, more universally conscientious, and harder students, and better scholars, and more willing to be informed and advised than those great and good men who left unto the churches what they now enjoy : if they be not so it will be wisdom for the children to forbear pulling down with their own hands the houses of God, which were built by their wiser fathers, until they have better satisfaction.
It is not yet forgot by some surviving ear-witnesses of it, that when the Synod had finished the Platform of Church Discipline, they did with an extraordinary elevation of soul and voice then sing to. gether the song of Moses the servant of God, and the
song of the Lamb, in the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation : God forbid, that in the loss of that holy discipline, there should be hereafter occasion to sing about breaking down the carved work of the houses of God with axes and hammers; or take up the eightieth psalm for our lamentations.
4. It was a joy unto us to see and read a book which the reve. rend president of our college lately published, under the title of " The order of the gospel, professed and practised by the churches of Christ in New England :" a book most highly needful, and useful and seasonable, a most elaborate and well composed work, and well suited unto those two-worthy designs ; 1st, the maintain. ing the congregational church discipline ; and 2dly, the maintain. ing tbe sweet spirit of charity and communion towards the reform. ing presbyterians, who are our united brethren. But we must here withal testify, that in that worthy book there is nothing obtruded upon the churches but what they who were here capable of observing what was done sixty years ago, do know to have been professed and practised in the churches of New-England; (except in one or two) then and ever since until of late, some who were not then born have suggested otherwise. Yea, 'tis well known, that the churches then publickly maintained those principles in several judi. cious discourses, which were never confuted by any men whatever unto this present time. And we do therefore most heartily com. mend that book of the order of the gospel, unto he perusal and acceptance of the churches of the Lord.
5. It was one of the songs (as the Jewish masters tell us) in the feast of tabernacles, Blessed be our youth, which have not made our old men ashamed. But alas, we that are old men must confess ourselves ashamed when we see after what wanner some of our
youth, have expressed and behaved themselves, and with what scoffs they have assaulted the order of the gospel in some things lately published and scattered about the country ; which have been so far from answering the arguments brought for our church order, that they have been by the wonderful providence of Christ made useful to establish the minds of serious christians in those very points which they see so weakly and so rudely opposed. We have taught our children in the catechism, called Milk for Babes, that there is to be a covenant of God in the churches, wherein they give up themselves, first unto the Lord to be his people, and then to the elders and brethren of the churches to set forward the worship of God and mu. tual edification. And it cannot but be grievous unto us, as well as unto all serious christians, for my children of New-England scorn. fully to vomit up their milk with scoffs upon that and other sacred actions in our churches too horrible to be repeated,
If they take away from is one of the songs among the Jews, they would however leave us room for one of the sighs uttered by a rabbi among them; the worst fruit which we eat in our youth excelled the best we now eat in our old age, for in our days the world is changed.
6 Concerning all sinful attempts to overturn the order of the gos. pel bitherto upheld in the churches of New England, and to spoil that glorious work of God, which we liave seen him doing, with a series of remarkable providences, in erecting such congregational churches in these ends of the earth; we would now therefore bear our testimony that they are doubtless displeasing to our Lord Je. sus Christ, who walks in the midst of these golden candlesticks, and they will prove bitterness in the latter end.
And this we declare with the more concern upon our minds be. cause of an observation, so plain, that he that runs may read it.
It is too observable that the power of godliness.is exceedingly decaying and expiring in the country ; and one great point in the decay of the power of godliness, is men's growing weary of the congregational church discipline which is evidently calculated to maintain it.
If that church discipline were more thoroughly and vigorously kept alive, even by those that make profession of it, it might be hoped, that the Lord would sanctify it, for the revival of ali goda liness in the land.
But if this church discipline come to be given up, we think it our duty to leave this warning with the churches that probably the apostacy will not stop there; for the same spirit that will dispose the next generation to change their way in one point, will dispose them to more and more changes (even in doctrine and worship as well as in manners) until it may be feared, the candlestick will quickly be removed out of its place.
7. We do therefore humbly propose it, unto all the churches, as a great expedient for the preservation of our church state, that more prayer, even whole days of prayer set apart for that end, with other appointed means, may be used in the churches to obtain from the Lord the out.pourings of the spirit of grace on the rising generation. If so rich a blessing were obtained, (and our beavenly