|« Prev||SECTION VII. The epistles prove it.||Next »|
The epistles of the apostles to the churches, prove what has been asserted.
It is apparent by the epistles of the apostles to the primitive christian churches, their manner of addressing and treating them throughout all those epistles, and what they say to them and of them, that all those churches were constituted of members so qualified as has been represented, having such a visibility of godliness as has been insisted on. Those who were reputed to be real saints, were taken into the church under a notion of their being truly pious persons, made that profession, and had this hope of themselves; and that natural and graceless men were not admitted designedly, but unawares, and beside the aim of the primitive churches and ministers; and that such as remained in good standing, and free from an offensive behaviour, continued to have the reputation and esteem of real saints, with the apostles, and one another.
There were numbers indeed in these churches, who after their admission fell into an offensive behaviour; of some of whom the apostles in their epistles speak doubtfully; others that had behaved themselves very scandalously, they speak of in language that seems to suppose them to be wicked men.—The apostle Paul, in his epistles to the Corinthians, oftentimes speaks of some among them that had embraced heretical opinions, and had behaved themselves in a very disorderly and schismatical manner, whom he represents as exposed to censure, and to whom he threatens excommunication. On occasion of so many offences of this kind appearing among them that for a while had been thought well of, he puts them all upon examining themselves, whether they were indeed in the faith, and whether Christ was truly in them, as they and others had supposed, 2 Cor. xiii..—And the same apostle speaks of great numbers among the Galatians, who had made a high profession, and were such as he had thought well of when they were first admitted into the church, but since had given him cause to doubt of their state, by giving heed to seducers, that denied the great gospel-doctrine of justification by faith alone: yet notwithstanding, the apostle speaks of them in such language as shows surprise and disappointment, and implies that he had looked upon them as true Christians, and hoped that his labours among them had had a saving effect upon them. . “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel.” Gal. iv. 11. “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” And verse 20. “I desire to be present with you now, and change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.” As much as to say, “I have heretofore addressed you with the voice of love and charity, as supposing you the dear children of God; but now I begin to think of speaking to you in other language.” In the same chapter, to show them what little reason he had to expect that they would come to this, he puts them in mind of the great profession they had made, and the extraordinary appearances there had formerly been in them of fervent piety.— Verse 15. “Where is the blessedness you spake of? For I bear you record, that if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them unto me.” The apostle James, in his epistle, speaks of scandalous persons among the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad; some that were men of unbridled tongues; some that seem to have been a kind of antinomians in their principles, and of a very bitter and violent spirit, that reproached, condemned, and cursed their brethren, and raised wars and fightings among professing Christians, and were also very unclean in their practice, adulterers and adulteresses, Jam. iv. 4.. And in the fifth chapter of his epistle, he seems to speak to the unbelieving Jews, who persecuted the Christians, verse 6..—And the apostles also often speak of some who had once been admitted into the church, crept in unawares, but who apostatized from Christianity, and finally proved notoriously wicked men.—But otherwise, and as to such members of the visible church as continued in the same good standing and visibility of Christianity, wherein they were admitted, it is evident by the epistles of the apostles, they were all in the eye of a christian judgment truly pious or gracious persons. And here I desire the following things may be particularly observed.
The apostles continually, in their epistles, speak to them and of them, as supposing and judging them to be gracious persons. Thus the apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, chapter i. 7.. speaks of the members of that church as beloved of God. In chapter vi. 17, 18., &c. he “thanks God, that they had obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which had been delivered them,—were made free from sin, and become the servants of righteousness,” &c. The apostle in giving thanks to God for this, must not only have a kind of negative charity for them, as not knowing but that they were gracious persons, and so charitably hoping (as we say) that it was so; but he seems to have formed a positive judgment that they were such. His thanksgiving must at least be founded on rational probability; since it would be but a mocking of God, to give thanks for bestowing a mercy which at the same time he did not see reason positively to believe was bestowed. In Rom. vii. 4-6.. the apostle speaks of them as those that once were in the flesh, and were under the law, but now delivered from the law, and dead to it. In Rom. viii. 15., and following verses, he tells them, they had received the Spirit of adoption, and speaks of them as having the witness of the Spirit that they were the children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. And the whole of his discourse, to the end of the chapter, implies, that he esteemed them truly gracious persons. In Rom. ix. 23, 24.. he speaks of the christian Romans, together with all other Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, as vessels of mercy. In Rom. xiv. 6, 7, 8.. speaking of the difference that then was among professing Christians, in point of regard to the ceremonial institutions of the law, he speaks of both parties as acting from a gracious principle, and as those that lived to the Lord, and should die unto the Lord; “He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, &c. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man [i e. none of us] dieth to himself. For whether we life, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s.” In Rom. xv. 14. he says, “I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye are full of goodness.” His being thus persuaded implies a positive judgment of charity.
And the same apostle in his first epistle to the Corinthians, directs it “to the church at Corinth, that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus;” i. e. to all visible Christians through the world, or all the members of Christ’s visible church every where. And continuing his speech, 1 Cor. i. 8.. he speaks of them as those “that God would confirm to the end, that they may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ:” plainly speaking of them all as persons, in christian esteem, 454 savingly converted. In the next verse, he speaks of the faithfulness of God as engaged thus to preserve them to salvation, having called them to the fellowship of his Son. And in the 30th verse., he speaks of them as having a saving interest in Christ; “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus; who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” In 1 Cor. iii. 21-23.. he says to the members of the church of Corinth, “All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours, and ye are Christ’s.” In 1 Cor. iv. 15.. he tells them, he had begotten them through the gospel. In 1 Cor. vi. 1-3.. he speaks of them as “those who shall judge the world, and shall judge angels.” And in verse 11. he says to them, “Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God.” And in 1 Cor. xv. 49., to the end, he speaks of them as having an interest, with him and other Christians, in the happiness and glory of the resurrection of the just. And in his second epistle, 2 Cor. i. 7. he says to them, “Our hope of you is stedfast; knowing that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” This stedfast hope implies a positive judgment. We must here understand the apostle to speak of such members of the church of Corinth, as had not visibly backslidden. Again, in the 14th and 15th verses., he speaks of a confidence which he had, that they should be his rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus. In all reason we must conclude, there was a visibility of grace, carrying with it an apparent probability in the eyes of the apostle, which was the ground of this his confidence. Such an apparent probability, and his confidence as built upon it, are both expressed in 2 Cor. iii. 3, 4. “Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us; written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart; and such trust have we through Christ to God-ward.” And in verse 18.. the apostle speaks of them, with himself and other Christians, as all with open face beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and being changed into the same image, from glory to glory.
And in the epistle to the churches of Galatia. Gal. iv. 26.. the apostle speaks of visible Christians, as visibly belonging to heaven, the Jerusalem which is above. And, verse 28, 29.. represents them to be the children of the promise, as Isaac was; and born after the Spirit. In the 6th verse. of the same chapter, he says to the christian Galatians, “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” And Gal. vi. 1.. he speaks of those of them that had not fallen into scandal, as spiritual persons.
In his epistle to that great church at Ephesus, he blesses God on behalf of its members, as being, together with himself and all the faithful in Christ Jesus, “Chosen in him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blame before him in love, being predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein God had made them accepted in the beloved: in whom they had redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” In Eph. i. 13, 14.. he thus writes to them, “In whom ye also trusted—In whom after ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession.”
And in Eph. ii. at the beginning; “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” With much more, showing that they were, in a charitable esteem, regenerated persons, and heirs of salvation.
So in the epistle to the church at Philippi, the apostle tells them, that he “thanks God upon every remembrance of them, for their fellowship in the gospel; being confident of this very thing, that he which had begun a good work in them, would perform it until the day of Christ: even (says he) as it is meet for me to think this of you all.” If it was meet for him to think this of them, and to be confident of it, he had at least some appearing rational probability to found his judgment and confidence upon; for surely it is not meet for reasonable creatures to think at random, and be confident without reason. In Phil. i. 25, 26. he speaks of his “confidence that he should come to them for their furtherance and joy of faith, that their rejoicing might be more abundant in Christ Jesus.” Which words certainly suppose that they were persons who had already received Christ, and comfort in him; had already obtained faith and joy in Christ, and only needed to have it increased.
In the epistle to the members of the church at Colosse, the apostle saluting them in the beginning of the epistle, “gives thanks for their faith in Christ Jesus, and love to all saints, and the hope laid up for them in heaven;” and speaks of “the gospel bringing forth fruit in them, since the day they knew the grace of God in truth;” i. e. since the day of their saving conversion. In Col. i. 8. he speaks of “their love in the Spirit;” and verse 12-14. as “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; as being delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son; as having redemption through Christ’s blood, and the forgiveness of sins.” In Col. iii. at the beginning, he speaks of them as “risen with Christ; as being dead; [i. e. to the law, to sin, and the world;] as having their life hid with Christ in God;” and being such as, “when Christ their life should appear, should appear with him in glory.” In verse 7. he speaks of them as “having once walked and lived in lusts, but as having now put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him.”
In the first epistle to the members of the church at Thessalonica, in words annexed to his salutation, chapter i. he declares what kind of visibility there was of their election of God, in the appearance there had been of true and saving conversion, and their consequent holy life, verse 3-7.. And in the beginning of the second epistle., he speaks of their faith and love greatly increasing; and in verse 7.. expresses his confidence of meeting them in eternal rest, when the Lord Jesus Christ should be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. And in 2 Thes. ii. 13.. he gives thanks to God, that from the beginning he had chosen them to salvation.
In the epistle to the christian Hebrews, though the apostle speaks of some that once belonged to their churches, but had apostatized and proved themselves hypocrites; yet concerning the rest that remained in good standing, he says, Heb. vi. 9. “I am persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.” Where we may again note, his being thus persuaded evidently implies a positive judgment. And in Heb. xii. 22., &c. he speaks of them as visibly belonging to the glorious society of heaven. And in Heb. xiii. 5, 6.. he speaks of them as those who may boldly say, The Lord is my helper.
The apostle James, writing to the Christians of the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad, speaks of them as regenerated persons, meaning, as I observed before, those which were in good standing. Jam. i. 18. “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” The apostle Peter writing to the Jewish Christians, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (large countries, and therefore they must in the whole be supposed to be a great multitude of people,) to all these, gives the title of elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. And in the verses next following, speaks of them as regenerated, “or begotten again to a lively hope, to an inheritance incorruptible,” &c. And as “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” And says to them in verse 8, 9. “Whom (namely, Christ) having not seen, ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” And in verse 18., to the end, the apostle speaks of them as “redeemed from their vain conversation, by the precious blood of Christ.—And as having purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.—Being born again of incorruptible seed,” &c. And in the former part of chapter ii.. he speaks of them as “living stones, coming to Christ, and on him built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.—And as those that believe, to whom 455 Christ is precious.—As a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, called out of darkness into marvellous light.” The church at Babylon, occasionally mentioned in 1 Pet. v. 13.. is said to be elected together with them. And in his second epistle (which appears by 2 Pet. iii. 1.. to be written to the same persons) the inscription is, To them which have obtained like precious faith with us, i. e. with the apostles and servants of Christ. And in the third chapter, he tells them, both his epistles were designed to stir up theirpure minds.
In the first epistle of John, written (for ought appears) to professing Christians in general, 1 John. ii. 12, &c the apostle tells them, “He writes to them because their sins were forgiven, because they had known him that was from the beginning.—Because they had overcome the wicked one,” &c. In verse 20, 21.. he tells them, they have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things; and that he did not write to them because they had not known the truth, but because they had known it, &c. And in verse 27. he says, “The anointing which ye have received of him, abideth in you, and ye need not that any man should teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is true, and is no lie; and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” And in the beginning of chapter iii.. he addresses them as those “who were the sons of God, who when he should appear should be like him, because they should see him as he is.” In 1 John iv. 4. he says, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome,” &c.
The apostle Jude, in his general epistle, speaks much of apostates and their wickedness; but to other professing Christians, that had not fallen away, he says, verse 20, 21. “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life:” plainly supposing, that they had professed faith with love to God our Saviour, and were by the apostle considered as his friends and lovers.—Many other passages to the like purpose might be observed in the epistles, but these may suffice.
Now how unaccountable would these things be, if the members of the primitive christian churches were not admitted into them under any such notion as their being really godly persons and heirs of eternal life, nor with any respect to such a character appearing on them; and that they themselves joined to these churches without any such pretence, as having no such opinion of themselves!
But it is particularly evident that they had such an opinion of themselves, as well as the apostles of them, by many things the apostles say in their epistles. Thus, in Rom. viii. 15, 16.. the apostle speaks of them as “having received the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of God bearing witness with their spirits, that they were the children of God.”—And Rom. v. 2. of “their rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”—In 1 Cor. i. 7. he speaks of them as “waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus.” In 1 Cor. xv. 17. the apostle says to the members of the church at Corinth, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins:” plainly supposing, that they hoped their sins were forgiven.—In Philip. i. 25, 26. the apostle speaks of his coming to Philippi, to “increase their joy of faith, and that their rejoicing in Christ might be more abundant:” implying, (as was observed before,) that they had received comfort already, in some degree, as supposing themselves to have a saving interest in Christ.—In 1 Thess. i. 10. he speaks of the members of the church at Thessalonica as “waiting for Christ from heaven, as one who had delivered them from the wrath to come.”—In Heb. vi. 9, 10. he speaks of the christian Hebrews as having that “hope which was an anchor of their souls.”—The apostle Peter, 1 Pet. i. 3-9. speaks of the visible Christians he wrote to, as being “begotten to a lively hope, of an inheritance incorruptible, &c.—Wherein they greatly rejoiced,” &c.—And even the members of the church of Laodicea, the very worst of all the seven churches of Asia, yet looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and made that profession; they “said they were rich, and increased in goods, and knew not that they were wretched and miserable,” &c. Rev. iii. 17..
It is also evident, that the members of these primitive churches had this judgment one of another, and of the members of the visible church of Christ in general. In 1 Thess. iv. 13, &c. the apostle exhorts the christian Thessalonians, in mourning for their deceased friends who were visible Christians, not to sorrow as the hopeless heathen were wont to do for their departed friends; upon this consideration, that they had reason to expect to meet them again in glorious circumstances at the day of judgment, never to part more. The ground of comfort concerning their dead friends, is evidently something more than such a hope as we ought to have of all that profess christian doctrines, and are not scandalous in life, whom we must forbear to censure, because we do not know but they are true saints.—The members of the church of Sardis, next to Laodicea, the worst of the seven churches of Asia, yet had a name that they lived; though Christ, who speaks to these seven churches from heaven, in the character of the Searcher of hearts, (see Rev. ii. 23..) explicitly tells them, that they were dead; perhaps all in a dead frame, and the most in a dead state.
These things evidently show, how all the christian churches through the world were constituted in those days; and what sort of holiness or saintship it was, that all visible Christians in good standing had a visibility and profession of, in that apostolic age; and also what sort of visibility of this they had, viz. not only that which gave them right to a kind of negative charity, or freedom from censure, but that which might justly induce a positive judgment in their favour. The churches to whom these epistles were written, were all the principal churches in the world; some of them very large, as the churches at Corinth and Ephesus. Some of the epistles were directed to all the churches through large countries where the gospel had great success, as the epistle to the Galatians. The epistle to the Hebrews was written to all the Jewish Christians in the land of Canaan, in distinction from the Jews that lived in other countries, who were called Hellenists or Grecians, because they generally spake the Greek tongue. The epistles of Peter were written to all the christian Jews through many countries, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; containing great numbers of Jews, beyond any other Gentile countries. The epistle of James was directed to all christian Jews, scattered abroad through the whole world. The epistles of John and Jude, for ought appears in those epistles, were directed to all visible Christians through the whole world. And the apostle Paul directs the first epistle to the Corinthians, not only to the members of that church, but to all professing Christians on the face of the earth: 1 Cor. i. 2; xiv. 33.. calling them all churches of the saints. And by what Christ says to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea in the Apocalypse, of whom more evil is said than of any christian churches spoken of in the New Testament, it appears that even the members of those churches looked on themselves as in a state of salvation, and had such a name with others.
Here possible some may object, and say, It will not follow from the apostles speaking to and of the members of the primitive church after the manner which has been observed, as though they supposed them to be gracious persons, that therefore a profession and appearance of this was looked upon in those days as a requisite qualification for admission into the visible church; because another reason may be given for it, viz. Such was the extraordinary state of things at that day, that the greater part of those converted from heathenism and Judaism to Christianity, were hopefully gracious persons, by reason of its being a day of such large communications of divine grace, and such great and unavoidable sufferings of professors, &c.—And the apostles knowing those facts, might properly speak to and of the churches, as if they were societies of truly gracious persons, because there was just ground on such accounts, to think the greater part of them to be so; although no profession or visibility of this was requisite in their members by the constitution of those churches, and the door of admission was as open for others as for such.
But this cannot be a satisfactory nor a true account of the matter, if we consider the following things.
(1.) The apostles in the very superscription or direction of their letters to these churches, and in their salutation at the beginning of their epistles speak of them as gracious persons. For instance, the apostle Peter, in the direction 456 of his first letter to all professing Jewish Christians through many countries, says thus, “To the strangers scattered through Pontus, &c. elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” And in his directing his second epistle to the same persons, he says, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us,” &c. And the apostle Paul directs his epistle to the Romans thus, “To them that be at Rome, beloved of God.” So he directs his first epistle to the Corinthians thus, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In what sense he means sanctified, his following words show, verse 4-9.. The same was before observed of words annexed to the apostle’s salutations, in the beginning of several of the epistles. This shows, that the apostles extend this character as far as they do the epistles themselves. Which surely would be very improper, and not agreeable to truth, if the apostles at the same time knew very well that such a character did not belong to members of churches, as such, and that they were not received into those churches with any regard to such a character, or upon the account of any right they had to be esteemed such persons. In the superscription of letters to societies of men, we are wont to give them that title or denomination which properly belongs to them as members of such a body. Thus, if one should write to the Royal Society in London, or the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, it would be proper and natural to give them the title of Learned; for whether every one of the members truly deserve the epithet, or not, yet the title is agreeable to their profession, and what is known to be aimed at, and is professedly insisted on, in the admission of members. But if one should write to the House of Commons, or to the East India Company, and in his superscription give them the title of Learned, this would be very improper, and ill-judged; because that character does not belong to their profession as members of that body, and learning is not a qualification insisted on in their admission of members. Nor would it excuse the impropriety, though the writer might, from his special acquaintance, know it to be fact, that the greater part of them were men of learning. To inscribe a letter to them, would be something strange; but more strange, if it should appear, by various instances, to be a custom so to direct letters to such societies; as it seems to be the manner of the apostles, in their epistles to christian churches, to address them under titles which imply a profession and visibility of true holiness.
(2.) The apostle John, in his general epistle, very plainly manifests, that all to whom he wrote were supposed to have true grace, inasmuch as he declares this to be the qualification he respects in writing to them; and lets them know, he writes to them for that reason, because they are supposed to be persons of the character of such as have known God, overcome the wicked one, and have had their sins forgiven them. 1 John ii. 12-14, 21..
(3.) The apostles, when speaking of visible Christians, as a society, and what belongs to such a kind of society, speak of it as visibly (i. e. in profession and reputation) a society of gracious persons. So the apostle Peter speaks of them as a spiritual house, an holy and royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, a chosen or elect generation, called out of darkness into marvellous light, 1 Pet. ii. 9..—The apostle Paul also speaks of them as the family of God, Eph. ii. 19.. And in the next chapter he explains himself to mean that family a part of which is in heaven; i. e. they were by profession a part of that divine family.
(4.) The apostle Paul speaks often and expressly of the members of the churches to whom he wrote, as all of them in esteem and visibility truly gracious persons. Philip. i. 6. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all” (that is, all singly taken, not collectively, according to the distinction before observed). So Gal. iv. 26. “Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all.”Rom. vi. 3. “As many of us as have been baptized into Christ, have been baptized into his death.” Here he speaks of all that have been baptized; and in the continuation of the discourse, explaining what is here said, he speaks of their “being dead to sin, no longer under the law, but under grace; having obeyed the form of doctrine from the heart, being made free from sin, and become the servants of righteousness,” &c. Rom. xiv. 7, 8. “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself;” (taken together with the context;) 2 Cor. iii. 18. “We all with open face beholding as in a glass,” &c.; and “Ye are all the children of God by faith.”
(5.) It is evident, that even in those churches where the greater part of the members were not true saints, as in those degenerate churches of Sardis and Laodicea, which we may suppose were become very lax in their admissions and discipline; yet they looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and had with others the reputation of such.
(6.) If we should suppose, that, by reason of the extraordinary state of things in that day, the apostles had reason to think the greater part of the members of churches to be true Christians, yet unless profession and appearance of true Christianity was their proper qualification and the ground of their admission—and unless it was supposed that all of them esteemed themselves true Christians—it is altogether unaccountable that the apostles in their epistles to them never make any express particular distinction between those different sorts of members. If the churches were made up of persons who looked on themselves in so different a state—some the children of God, and others the children of the devil, some the high favourites of heaven and heirs of eternal glory, others the children of wrath, being under condemnation to eternal death, and every moment in danger of dropping into hell—why do the apostles make no distinction in their manner of addressing them, and in the counsels, reproofs, and warnings they gave them? Why do they never direct their speech to the unconverted members of churches, in particular, in a manner tending to awaken them, and make them sensible of the miserable condition they were in, and press them to seek the converting grace of God? It is to be considered, that the apostle Paul was very particularly acquainted with the circumstances of most of those churches to whom he wrote; for he had been among them, was their spiritual father, had been the instrument of gathering and founding those churches, and they had received all their instructions and directions relating to Christianity and their soul—concerns from him; nor can it be questioned but that many of them had opened the case of their souls to him. And if he was sensible, that there was a number among them who made no pretensions to a regenerate state, and that none had reason to judge them to be in such a state, he knew that the sin of such—who lived in the rejection of a Saviour, even in the very house of God, in the midst of gospel-light, and in violation of the most sacred vows—was peculiarly aggravated, and their guilt and state peculiarly dreadful. Why should he therefore never particularly and distinctly point his addresses to such, applying himself to them in much compassion to their souls, and putting them in mind of their awful circumstances? But instead of this, we observe him continually lumping all together, and indifferently addressing the whole body, as if they were all in happy circumstances, expressing his charity for them all, and congratulating them all in their glorious and eternal privilege. Instead of speaking to them in such a manner as should have a tendency to alarm them with a sense of danger, we see him, on the contrary, calling on all without distinction to rejoice. Philip. iii. 1. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” So, 2 Cor. xiii. 11. “Finally, brethren, be of good comfort.” Philip. iv. 4.. “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice.” The matter is insisted upon, as though rejoicing were a duty especially proper for them, and what they had the highest reason for. The apostle not only did not preach terror to those to whom he wrote, but is careful to guard them against fears of God’s wrath. In 1 Thess. v. at the beginning, the apostle observes, how that Christ will come on ungodly men “as a thief in the night; and when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come upon them, as travail on a woman with child, and they shall not escape: “then immediately he uses caution, that the members of the church at Thessalonica should not 457 take this to themselves, and be terrified, as though they were in danger; and says, in the next words, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief; ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day.” Verse 9-11. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ; who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another; even as also ye do.” And verse 16. “Rejoice evermore.” How diverse is this way of treating churches, from the method in which faithful ministers are wont to deal with their congregations, wherein are many that make no pretence to true piety, and from the way in which Mr. Stoddard was wont to deal with his congregation. And how would he have undoubtedly judged such a way of treating them the most direct course in the world eternally to undo them! And shall we determine that the apostle Paul was one of those prophets, who daubed with untempered mortar, and sewed pillows under all arm-holes, and healed the hurt of immortal souls slightly, crying, Peace, peace, when there was no peace.—These things make it most evident, that the primitive churches were not constituted as those modern churches, where persons knowing and owning themselves unregenerate, are admitted, on principle.
If it be here objected, that the apostle sometimes exhorts those to whom he writes, to put off the old man, and put on the new man, and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds, &c. as exhorting them to seek conversion: I answer, that the meaning is manifestly this, That they should mortify the remains of corruption, or the old man, and turn more and more from sin to God. Thus he exhorts the Ephesians to be renewed, &c. Eph. iv. 22, 23.. whom yet he had before in the same epistle abundantly represented as savingly renewed already; as has been before observed. And the like might be shown of other instances.
(7.) It is clear, not only that the greater part of the members of the primitive churches were to appearance true Christians; but that they were taken in under that notion, and because there appeared in them grounds of such an estimation of them. When any happened to be admitted that were otherwise, it was beside their aim; inasmuch as when others were admitted, they are represented as brought or crept in unawares. Thus the matter is represented by the apostles. Jude, verse 4. “There are certain men crept in unawares—ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” Gal. ii. 4. “False brethren, unawares brought in.” If it be said, these here spoken of were openly scandalous persons and heretics: I answer, they were not openly scandalous when they were brought in; nor is there any reason to think they were heretics when admitted, though afterwards they turned apostates. Mr. Stoddard says, It does not follow that all hypocrites crept in unawares because some did. (Appeal, p. 17.) To which I would humbly say, It must be certainly true with respect to all hypocrites who were admitted, either that the church which admitted them was aware they were such, or else was not. If there were some of whom the church was aware that they were hypocrites, at the time when they were taken in, then the church, in admitting them, did not follow the rule that Mr. Stoddard often declares himself to suppose ought to be followed in admitting members, viz. to admit none but what in a judgment of rational charity are true Christians. (Appeal, p. 2, 3, 10, 28, 33, 67, 73, 93, 94.) But that not only heretics and designing dissemblers crept in unawares, but that all false brethren, all church-members not truly gracious, did so, appears by such being represented as bastards in a family, who are false children and false heirs, brought into it unawares, and imposed upon the disposers of those privileges by stealth.—Heb. xii. 8. “If ye are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”
Thus it is abundantly manifest, from the apostolical writings, how the visible church of Christ, through the whole world, was at first constituted, under the direction of the apostles themselves, who regulated it according to the infallible guidance of the Spirit of their great Lord and Master.—And doubtless, as the christian church was constituted then, so it ought to be constituted now. What better rule have we for our ecclesiastical regulations in other respects, than what was done in the primitive churches, under the apostles’ own direction; as particularly the standing officers of the church, presbyters and deacons, the method of introducing ministers in their ordination, &c.? In this matter that I have insisted on, I think the Scripture is abundantly more full, than in those other things.
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