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The Scripture calls the members of the visible church by the name of disciples, scholars, or learners: and that suggests to us this notion of the visible church, that it is the school of Christ, into which persons are admitted in order to their learning of Christ, and coming to spiritual attainments, in the use of the means of teaching, discipline, and training up, established in the school. Now if this be a right notion of the visible church, then reason shows that no other qualifications are necessary in order to being members of this school, than such a faith and disposition of mind as are requisite to persons’ putting themselves under Christ as their Master and Teacher, and subjecting themselves to the orders of the school. But a common faith and moral sincerity are sufficient for this.—Therefore the Scripture leads us to suppose the visible church to be properly constituted of those who have these qualifications, though they have not saving faith and true piety.
Answer 1. I own, the Scripture calls the members of the visible church by the name of disciple; but deny, that it therefore follows that the church of which they are members, is duly and properly constituted of those who have not true piety. Because, if this consequence was good, then it would equally follow, that not only the visible, but also the invisible or mystical, church is properly constituted of those who have not unfeigned faith and true piety. For the members of the mystical church, as such, and to denote 461 the special character of such, are called disciples; Luke xiv. 26, 27, 33.. and John viii. 31; xiii. 35; xv. 8.. This shows, that in the argument I am answering, there is no connexion between the premises and the conclusion. For the force of the objection consists in this, that the members of the visible church are called disciples in Scripture: this is the sum total of the premises: and if there be any connexion between the premises and the conclusion, it must lie in the truth of this proposition; The church whose members are called by the name of disciples, as signifying their state and quality as members of that society, that church is properly and fitly constituted, not only of persons truly pious, but of others that have merely a common faith and virtue. But this proposition, we have seen, is not true; and so there is no connexion between the former and latter part of it, which are the same with the premises and conclusion of this argument.
2. Though I do not deny, that the visible church of Christ may fitly be represented as a school of Christ, where persons are trained up in the use of means, in order to some spiritual attainments: yet it will not hence necessarily follow, that this is in order to all good attainments; for it will not follow but that certain good attainments may be prerequisite, in order to a place in the school. The church of Christ is a school appointed for the training up Christ’s little children, to greater degrees of knowledge, higher privileges, and greater serviceableness in this world, and more meetness for the possession of their eternal inheritance. But there is no necessity of supposing, that it is in order to fit them to become Christ’s children, or to be introduced into his family; any more than there is a necessity of supposing, because a prince puts his children under tutors, that therefore it must be in order to their being of the royal family. If it be necessary, that there should be a church of Christ appointed as a school of instruction and discipline, to bring persons to all good attainments whatsoever, then it will follow, that there must be a visible church constituted of scandalous and profane persons and heretics, and all in common that assume the christian name, that so means may be used with them in order to bring them to moral sincerity, and an acknowledgment of the christian faith.
3. I grant, that no other qualifications are necessary in order to being members of that school of Christ which is his visible church, than such as are requisite in order to their subjecting themselves to Christ as their Master and Teacher, and subjecting themselves to the laws and orders of his school: nevertheless I deny, that a common faith and moral sincerity are sufficient for this; because none do truly subject themselves to Christ as their Master, but such as having their hearts purified by faith, are delivered from the reigning power of sin: for we cannot subject ourselves to obey two contrary masters at the same time. None submit to Christ as their Teacher, but those who truly receive him as their Prophet, to teach them by his word and Spirit; giving up themselves to his teachings, sitting with Mary at Jesus’ feet to hear his word; and hearkening more to his dictates, than those of their blind and deceitful lusts, and relying on his wisdom more than their own. The Scripture knows nothing of an ecclesiastical school constituted of enemies of the cross of Christ, and appointed to bring such to be reconciled to him and submit to him as their Master. Neither have they who are not truly pious persons, any true disposition of heart to submit to the laws and orders of Christ’s school, the rules which his word prescribes to all his scholars; such as, to love their Master supremely; to love one another as brethren; and to love their book, i. e. their Bible, more than vain trifles and amusements, yea, above gold and silver; to be faithful to the interest of the Master and of the school; to depend on his teachings; to cry to him for knowledge; above all their gettings, to get understanding, &c.
4. Whatever ways of constituting the church may to us seem fit, proper, and reasonable, the question is, not what constitution of Christ’s church seems convenient to human wisdom, but what constitution is actually established by Christ’s infinite wisdom. Doubtless, if men should set their wits to work, and proceed according to what seems good in their sight, they would greatly alter Christ’s constitution of his church, to make it more convenient and beautiful, and would adorn it with a vast variety of ingenious inventions; as the church of Rome has done. The question is, whether this school of Christ which they talk of, made up very much of those who pretend to no experiences or attainments but what consist with their being enemies of Christ in their hearts, and who in reality love the vilest lust better than him, be that church of Christ which in the New Testament is denominated his city, his temple, his family, his body, &c. by which names the visible church of Christ is there frequently called.
I acknowledge, that means of Christ’s appointment, are to be used with those who are Christ’s, and do not profess themselves any other, to change their hearts, and bring them to be Christ’s friends and disciples. Such means are to be used with all sorts of persons, with Jews, Mahometans, heathens, with nominal Christians that are heretical or vicious, the profane, the intemperate, the unclean, and all other enemies of Christ; and these means to be used constantly, and laboriously. Scandalous persons need to go to school, to learn to be Christians, as much as other men. And there are many persons that are not morally sincere, who from selfish and sinister views consent ordinarily to go to church, and so be in the way of means. And none ought to forbid them thus going to Christ’s school, that they may be taught by him, in the ministry of the gospel. But yet it will not follow, that such a school is the church of Christ. Human laws can put persons, even those who are very vicious, into the school of Christ, in that sense; they can oblige them constantly to be present at public teaching, and attend on the means of grace appointed by Christ, and dispensed in his name: but human laws cannot join men to the church of Christ, and make them members of his body.
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