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The continuation of a church-state and of churches unto the end of the world — what are the causes of it, and whereon it depends.
That there was a peculiar church-state instituted and appointed by Christ, and his apostles acting in his name and authority, with the infallible guidance of his Spirit, hath been declared; but it may be yet farther inquired, whether this church-state be still continued 248by divine authority, or whether it ceased not together with the apostles by whom it was erected.
There was a church-state under the Old Testament solemnly erected by God himself; and although it was not to be absolutely perpetual or everlasting, but was to continue only unto the time of reformation, yet unto that time its continuation was secured in the causes and means of it.
1. The causes of the continuation of this church-state unto its appointed period were two:— (1.) The promise of God unto Abraham that he would keep and preserve his seed in covenant with him, until he should be the heir of the world and the father of many nations in the coming of Christ, whereunto this church-state was subservient (2.) The law of God itself, and the institutions thereof, which God appointed to be observed in all their generations, calling the covenant, the statutes and laws of it, “perpetual” and “everlasting;” that is, never to cease, to be abrogated or disannulled, until by his own sovereign authority he would utterly change and take away that whole church-state, with all that belonged unto its constitution and preservation.
2. The means of its continuance were three:— (1.) Carnal generation, and that on a twofold account; for there were two constituent parts of that church, the priests and the people. The continuation of each of them depended on the privilege of carnal generation; for the priests were to be all of the family of Aaron, and the people of the seed of Abraham by the other heads of tribes, which gave them both their foundation in and right unto this church-state. And hereunto were annexed all the laws concerning the integrity, purity, and legitimacy of the priests, with the certainty of their pedigree. (2.) Circumcision, the want whereof was a bar against any advantage by the former privilege of generation from those two springs; and hereby others also might be added unto the church, though never with a capacity of the priesthood. (3.) The separation of the people from the rest of the world, by innumerable divine ordinances, making their coalition with them impossible.
From these causes and by these means it was that the church-state under the Old Testament was preserved unto its appointed season. Neither the outward calamities that befell the nation, nor the sins of the generality of the people, could destroy this church-state; but it continued its right and exercise unto the time of reformation. And if it be not so, if there be not causes and means of the infallible continuance of the gospel church-state unto the consummation of all things, the time expressly allotted unto their continuance, then was the work of Moses more honourable, more powerful and effectual, in the constitution of the church-state under 249the Old Testament, than that of Christ in the constitution of the New; for that work and those institutions which had an efficacy in them for their own infallible continuation, and of the church thereby, throughout all generations, must be more noble and honourable than those which cannot secure their own continuance, nor the being and state of the church thereon depending. Nothing can be more derogatory unto the glory of the wisdom and power of Christ, nor of his truth and faithfulness, than such an imagination. We shall, therefore, inquire into the causes and means of the continuation of this church-state, and therein show the certainty of it; as also disprove that which by some is pretended as the only means thereof, when, indeed, it is the principal argument against their perpetual continuation that can be made use of.
The essence and nature of the church instituted by the authority of Jesus Christ was always the same from the beginning that it continues still to be. But as unto its outward form and order it had a double state; and it was necessary that so it should have, from the nature of the thing itself. For, — 1. The church may be considered in its relation unto those extraordinary officers or rulers whose office and power was antecedent unto the church, as that by virtue whereof it was to be called and erected. 2. With respect unto ordinary officers, unto whose office and power the church essentially considered was antecedent; for their whole work and duty, as such, is conversant about the church, and the object is antecedent unto all acts about it.
The first state has ceased, nor can it be continued; for these officers were constituted, — 1. By an immediate call from Christ, as was Paul, Gal. i. 1, which none now are, nor have been since the decease of them who were so called at first; 2. By extraordinary gifts and power, which Christ doth not continue to communicate; 3. By divine inspiration and infallible guidance, both in preaching the word and appointing things necessary in the churches, which none now pretend unto; 4. By extensive commission, giving them power towards all the world for their conversion, and over all churches for their edification. Of these officers, in their distinction into apostles and evangelists, with their call, gifts, power, and work, I have treated at large in my “Discourse of Spiritual Gifts.”33 These words are printed in the original edition as if they were the title of a particular treatise by our author. His treatise under that title will be found in vol. iv. of his doctrinal works; but it seems to have been published in 1693, twelve years after the present work appeared. Such a discourse is promised in his preface to his treatise on “the Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer,” which was published in 1682, a year after the publication of the present work. There is some discussion on the subject of spiritual gifts in the first chapter of his great work on the Holy Spirit; but a special and separate treatise seems alluded to in the text above. To the “Discourse of Spiritual Gifts,” as published in 1693, there is a preface by Nathaniel Mather; from which the reader is led to infer that it was then published for the first time. Perhaps the difficulty may be obviated by the supposition that Owen intended to publish it immediately, and refers to it in this work by anticipation. — Ed. The state and condition of the church with respect unto them has utterly ceased; and nothing can be more vain than to pretend any succession unto them, in the whole or any part of their office, unless men 250can justify their claim unto it by any or all of those things which concurred unto it in the apostles, which they cannot do.
But it doth not hence follow that the church-state instituted by Christ did fail thereon, or doth now so fail, because it is impossible that these apostles should have any successors in their office or the discharge of it; for by the authority of the Lord Christ, the church was to be continued under ordinary officers, without the call, gifts, or power of the others that were to cease. Under these the church-state was no less divine than under the former; for there were two things in it:— 1. That the offices themselves were of the appointment of Christ; and if they were not so, we confess the divine right of the church-state would have ceased. The office of the apostles and evangelists was to cease, as hath been declared; and it did cease actually, in that Christ after them did call no more unto that orifice, nor provided any way or means whereby any one should be made partaker of it. And for any to pretend a succession in office, or any part of their office, without any of those things which did constitute it, is extreme presumption. It is therefore granted, that if there were not other offices appointed by the authority of Christ, it had not been in the power of man to make or appoint any unto that purpose, and the church-state itself must have ceased. But this he hath done, Eph. iv. 11, 12; 1 Cor. xii. 28. 2. That persons were to be interested in these offices according unto the way and means by him prescribed; which were not such as depended on his own immediate extraordinary actings, as it was with the former sort, but such as consisted in the church’s acting according to his law and in obedience unto his commands.
This church-state was appointed by the authority of Christ. The direction which he gave in his own person for addresses unto the church in case of scandal, which is an obliging institution for all ages, Matt. xviii. 17–20, proves that he had appointed a church-state that should abide through them all. And when there was a church planted at Jerusalem, there were not only apostles in it, according to its first state, but elders also, which respected its second state that was approaching, Acts xv. 23; the apostles being in office before that church-state, the elders [being] ordained in it: so chap. xi. 30. And the apostles “ordained them elders in every church,” Acts xiv. 23, Tit. i. 5, 1 Tim. v. 17; whom they affirmed to be made so by the Holy Ghost, Acts xx. 28. The churches to whom the apostle Paul wrote his epistles were such, all of them under the rule of ordinary officers, 251Phil. i. 1. Rules and laws are given for their ordination in all ages, Tit. i.; 1 Tim. iii.; and the Lord Christ treateth from heaven with his churches in this state and order, Rev. i., ii., iii. He hath promised his presence with them unto the consummation of all things, Matt. xviii. 20, xxviii. 20, and assigned them their duty until his second coming, 1 Cor. xi. 26; with other evidences of the same truth innumerable.
Our inquiry, therefore, is, whereon the continuation of this church-state unto the end of the world doth depend; what are the causes, what are the means of it; whence it becomes infallible and necessary. I must only premise that our present consideration is not so much “de facto,” as unto what hath fallen out in the world unto our knowledge and observation, but “de jure,” or of a right unto this continuation; and this is such as makes it not only lawful for such a church-state to be, but requires also from all the disciples of Christ, in a way of duty, that it be always in actual existence. Hereby there is a warrant given unto all believers, at all times, to gather themselves into such a church-state, and a duty imposed on them so to do.
The reasons and causes appointing and securing this continuation are of various sorts, the principal whereof are these that follow:—
1. The supreme cause hereof is, the Father’s grant of a perpetual kingdom in this world unto Jesus Christ, the mediator and head of the church, Ps. lxxii. 5, 7, 15–17; Isa. ix. 7; Zech. vi. 13. This grant of the Father our Lord Jesus Christ pleaded as his warranty for the foundation and continuation of the church, Matt. xxviii. 18–20. This everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ, given him by the irrevocable grant of the Father, may be considered three ways:—
(1.) As unto the real subjects of it, — true believers; which are the object of the internal spiritual power and rule of Christ. Of these it is necessary, by virtue of this grant and divine constitution of the kingdom of Christ, that in every age there should be some in the world, and those perhaps no small multitude, but such as the internal rule over them may be rightly and honourably termed a kingdom. For as that which formally makes them such subjects of Christ gives them no outward appearance or visibility, so if, in a time of the universal prevalency of idolatry, there were seven thousand of these in the small kingdom of Israel, undiscerned and invisible unto the most eagle-eyed prophet who lived in their days, what number may we justly suppose to have been within the limits of Christ’s dominions, which is the whole world, in the worst, darkest, most profligate, and idolatrous times, that have passed over the earth since the first erection of this kingdom? This, therefore, is a fundamental article of our faith, — that by virtue of this grant of the Father, Christ ever had, hath, and will have, in all ages, some, yea, a multitude, that are the true, real, spiritual subjects of his kingdom. Neither the power of 252Satan, nor the rage or fury of the world, nor the accursed apostasy of many or of all visible churches from the purity and holiness of his laws, can hinder but that the church of Christ in this sense must have a perpetual continuation in this world, Matt. xvi. 18.
(2.) It may be considered with respect unto the outward visible profession of subjection and obedience unto him, and the observation of his laws. This also belongs unto the kingdom granted him of his Father. He was to have a kingdom in this world, though it be not of this world. He was to have it not only as unto its being, but as unto its glory. The world and the worst of men therein were to see and know that he hath still a kingdom and multitude of subjects depending on his rule. See the constitution of it, Dan. vii. 13, 14. Wherefore it is from hence indispensably and absolutely necessary that there should, at all times and in all ages, be ever an innumerable multitude of them who openly profess faith in Christ Jesus, and subjection of conscience unto his laws and commands. So it hath always been, so it is, and shall for ever be in this world. And those who would, on the one hand, confine the church of Christ, in this notion of it, unto any one church falling under a particular denomination, as the church of Rome, which may utterly fail; or are ready, on the other hand, upon the supposed or real errors or miscarriages of them or any of them who make this profession, to cast them out of their thoughts and affections, as those that belong not unto the kingdom or the church of Christ, are not only injurious unto them, but enemies unto the glory and honour of Christ.
(3.) This grant of the Father may be considered with respect unto particular churches or congregations; and the end of these churches may be twofold:— [1.] That believers, as they are internal, spiritual, real subjects of Christ’s kingdom, may together act that faith and those graces whereby they are so, unto his glory. I say, it is that true believers may together and in society act all those graces of the Spirit of Christ wherein, both as unto faculty and exercise, their internal spiritual subjection unto Christ doth consist. And as this is that whereby the glory of Christ in this world doth most eminently consist, — namely, in the joint exercise of the faith and love of true believers, — so it is a principal means of the increase and augmentation of those graces in themselves, or their spiritual edification. And from this especial end of these churches it follows, that those who are members of them, or belong to them, ought to be saints by calling, or such as are endued with those spiritual principles and graces in whose exercise Christ is to be glorified; and where they are not so, the principal end of their constitution is lost. So are those churches to be made up, fundamentally and materially, of those who in their single capacity are members of the church catholic invisible. [2.] Their second end is, that those who belong unto the church and kingdom 253of Christ under the second consideration, as visibly professing subjection unto the rule of Christ and faith in him, may express that subjection in acts and duties of his worship, in the observance of his laws and commands, according unto his mind and will; for this alone can be done in particular churches, be they of what sort they will; whereof we shall speak afterward. Hence it follows, that it belongs unto the foundation of these particular churches that those who join in them do it on a public profession of faith in Christ and obedience unto him; without which this end of them also is lost. Those, I say, who make a visible profession of the name of Christ and their subjection unto him, have no way to express it regularly and according to his mind but in these particular churches wherein alone those commandments of his, in whose observance our profession consisteth, do take place, being such societies as wherein the solemn duties of his worship are performed, and his rule or discipline is exercised.
Wherefore, this state of the church also, without which both the others are imperfect, belongs unto the grant of the Father, whereby a perpetual continuation of it is secured. Nor is it of any weight to object that such hath been the alterations of the state of all churches in the world, such the visible apostasy of many of them unto false worship and idolatry, and of others into a worldly, carnal conversation, with vain traditions innumerable, that it cannot be apprehended where there were any true churches of this kind preserved and continued, but that there were an actual intercision of them all; for I answer, — First, No individual man, nay, no company of men that come together, can give a certain account of what is done in all the world, and every place of it where the name of Christ is professed; so as that what is affirmed of the state of all churches universally is mere conjecture and surmise. Secondly, There is so great a readiness in most to judge the church-state of others, because in some things they agree not in judgment or practice with what they conceive to belong thereunto, as obstructs a right judgment herein; and it hath risen of late unto such a degree of frenzy, that some deny peremptorily the church-state, and consequently the salvation, of all that have not diocesan bishops. Alas! that poor men, who are known to others, whether they are unto themselves or no, what is their office, and what is their discharge of it, should once think that the being and salvation of all churches should depend on them and such as they are; yea, some of the men of this persuasion, that Christians cannot be saved unless they comply with diocesan bishops, do yet grant that heathens may be saved without the knowledge of Christ! Thirdly, Whatever defect there hath been “de facto” in the constitution of these churches and the celebration of divine worship, in any places or ages whatever, it will not prove that there was a total failure of them, 254much less a discontinuation of the fight of believers to reform and erect them according unto the mind of Christ.
It is hence evident that the perpetual continuation of the church-state instituted by Christ under the gospel depends originally on the grant of the kingdom unto him by his Father, with his faithfulness in that grant, and his almighty power to make it good. And they do but deceive themselves and trouble others who think of suspending this continuation on mean and low conditions of their own framing.
2. The continuation of this church-state depends on the promise of Christ himself to preserve and continue it He hath assured us that he will so build his church on the rock, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Matt. xvi. 18. Under what consideration soever the church is here firstly intended, the whole state of it, as before described, is included in the promise. If the gates of hell do prevail either against the faith of sincere believers, or the catholic profession of that faith, or the expression of that profession in the duties and ordinances to be observed in particular churches, the promise fails and is of no effect.
3. It depends on the word or law of Christ, which gives right and title unto all believers to congregate themselves in such a church-state, with rules and commands for their so doing. Suppose, — (1.) That there are a number of believers, or the disciples of Christ, in any such place as wherein they can assemble and unite themselves or join together in a society for the worship of God; (2.) That they are as yet in no church-state, nor do know or own any power of men that can put them into that state; — I say, the institution of this church-state by the authority of Christ, his commands unto his disciples to observe therein whatever he hath commanded, and the rules he hath given whereby such a church-state is to be erected, what officers are to preside therein, and what other duties belong thereunto, are warranty sufficient for them to join themselves in such a state. Who shall make it unlawful for the disciples of Christ to obey the commands of their Lord and Master? Who shall make it lawful for them to neglect what he requires at any time? Where-ever, therefore, men have the word of the Scripture to teach them their duty, it is lawful for them to comply with all the commands of Christ contained therein. And whereas there are many privileges and powers accompanying this church-state, and those who are interested therein are, as such, the especial object of many divine promises, this word and law of Christ doth make a conveyance of them all unto those who, in obedience unto his institutions and commands, do enter into that state by the way and means that he hath appointed. Whilst we hear him, according to the reiterated direction given us from heaven, whilst we do and observe all that he hath commanded us, we need not fear that promised presence of his with 255us, which brings along with it all church power and privileges also. Wherefore, this state can have no intercision but on a supposition that there are none in the world who are willing to obey the commands of Christ; which utterly overthrows the very being of the church catholic.
4. It depends on the communication of spiritual gifts for the work of the ministry in this church-state, as is expressly declared, Eph. iv. 8, 11–15. The continuation of the church, as unto the essence of it, depends on the communication of saving grace. If Christ should no more give of his grace and Spirit unto men, there would be no more a church in the world, as unto its internal form and essence. But the continuation of the church as it is organical, — that is, a society incorporated according unto the mind of Christ, with rulers and officers for the authoritative administration of all its concerns, especially for the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments, — depends on the communication of spiritual gifts and abilities; and if the Lord Jesus Christ should withhold the communication of spiritual gifts, this church-state must cease. An image of it may be erected, but the true church-state will fail; for that will hold no longer, but whilst the “whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love,” Eph. iv. 16; whilst it “holds the Head,” etc., Col. ii. 19. Such dead, lifeless images are many churches in the world. But this communication of spiritual gifts unto the use of his disciples, to the end of the world, the Lord Christ hath taken the charge of on himself, as he is faithful in the administration of his kingly power, Eph. iv. 8, 11–15.
Whereas, therefore, the Lord Christ, in the exercise of his right and power, on the grant of the Father of a perpetual visible kingdom in this world, and the discharge of his own promise, hath, — (1.) Appointed the ordinary offices, which he will have continue in his church by an unalterable institution; (2.) Ordained that persons shall be called and set apart unto those offices, and for the discharge of that work and those duties which he hath declared to belong thereunto; (3.) Furnished them with gifts and abilities for this work, and declared what their spiritual qualifications and moral endowments ought to be; (4.) Made it the duty of believers to observe all his institutions and commands, whereof those which concern the erection and continuance of this church-state are the principal; and, (5.) Hath, in their so doing, or their observance of all his commands, promised his presence with them, by which, as by a charter of right, he hath conveyed unto them an interest in all the power, privileges, and promises that belong unto this state; — it is evident that its perpetual 256continuation depends hereon and is secured hereby. He hath not left this great concernment of his glory unto the wills of men, or any order they shall think meet to appoint.
Lastly: As a means of it, it depends on three things in believers themselves:— (1.) A due sense of their duty, to be found in obedience unto all the commands of Christ. Hereby they find themselves indispensably obliged unto all those things which are necessary unto the continuation of this state; and that all believers should absolutely at any time live in a total neglect of their duty, though they may greatly mistake in the manner of its performance, is not to be supposed. (2.) The instinct of the new creature and those in whom it is to associate themselves in holy communion, for the joint and mutual exercise of those graces of the Spirit, which are the same, as unto the essence of them, in them all. The laws of Christ in and unto his church, as unto all outward obedience, are suited unto those inward principles and inclinations which, by his Spirit and grace, he hath implanted in the hearts of them that believe. Hence his yoke is easy, and his commandments are not grievous. And therefore none of his true disciples, since he had a church upon the earth, did or could satisfy themselves in their own faith and obedience, singularly and personally; but would venture their lives and all that was dear unto them for communion with others, and the associating themselves with them of the same spirit and way, for the observance of the commands of Christ. The martyrs of the primitive churches of old lost more of their blood and lives for their meetings and assemblies than for personal profession of the faith; and so also have others done under the Roman apostasy. It is a usual plea among them who engage in the persecution or punishment of such as differ from them, that if they please they may keep their opinions, their consciences, and faith unto themselves, without meetings for communion or public worship; and herein they suppose they deal friendly and gently With them. And this is our present case. It is true, indeed, as Tertullian observed of old, that men in these things have no power over us but what they have from our own wills: we willingly choose to be, and to continue, what they take advantage to give us trouble for. And it is naturally in our power to free ourselves from them and their laws every day. But we like it not; we cannot purchase outward peace and quietness at any such rate. But, as was said, the inward instinct of believers, from the same principles of faith, love, and all the graces of the Spirit in them all, doth efficaciously lead and incline them unto their joint exercise in societies, unto the glory of Christ, and their own edification, or increase of the same graces in them. When this appears to be under the guidance of the commands of Christ, as unto the ways of communion led unto, and to consist in a compliance therewithal, they find themselves under 257an indispensable obligation unto it. Nor hath the Lord Christ left them liberty to make a composition for their outward peace, and to purchase quietness with foregoing any part of their duty herein.
This, therefore, I say, is a means and cause on the part of believers themselves of the continuation of this church-state: for this instinct of believers, leading them unto communion, which is an article of our faith, in conjunction with the law and commands of Christ giving direction how and in what ways it is to be attained and exercised, binds and obliges them unto the continuation of this state; and the decay of this inward principle in them that profess Christian religion hath been the great and almost only ground of its neglect. (3.) The open evidence there is that sundry duties required of us in the gospel can never be performed in a due manner but where believers are brought into this state; which that they should enter into is, therefore, in the first place required of them. What these duties are will afterward appear.
On these sure grounds is founded the continuation of the gospel church-state, under ordinary officers, after the decease of the apostles; and so far secured as that nothing needs be added unto them for that end. Do but suppose that the Lord Christ yet liveth in heaven in the discharge of his mediatory office; that he hath given his word for a perpetual law unto all his disciples, and a charter to convey spiritual privileges unto them; that he abides to communicate gifts for the ministry unto men; and that there are any believers in the world who know it to be their duty to yield obedience unto all the commands of Christ, and have any internal principle inclining them to that which they profess to believe as a fundamental article of their faith, namely, the communion of saints; — and no man is desired to prove the certainty and necessity of the continuance of this state.
But there are some who maintain that the continuation and preservation of this church-state depends solely on a successive ordination of church-officers from the apostles, and so down throughout all ages unto the end of the world; for this, they say, is the only means of conveying church-power from one time to another, so as that if it fail, all church-state, order, and power must fail, never in this world to be recovered. There is, they say, a flux of power through the hands of the ordainers unto the ordained, by virtue of their outward ordination, whereon the being of the church doth depend. Howbeit those who use this plea are not at all agreed about those things which are essential in and unto this successive ordination. Some think that the Lord Christ committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven unto Peter only, and he to the bishop of Rome alone; from whose person, therefore, all their ordination must be derived. Some 258think, and those on various grounds, that it is committed unto all and only diocesan bishops; whose being and beginning are very uncertain. Others require no more unto it but that presbyters be ordained by presbyters, who are rejected in their plea by both the former sorts. And other differences almost innumerable among them who are thus minded might be reckoned up.
But whereas this whole argument about personal successive ordination hath been fully handled, and the pretences of it disproved, by the chiefest protestant writers against the Papists, and because I design not an opposition unto what others think and do, but the declaration and confirmation of the truth in what we have proposed to insist upon, I shall very briefly discover the falseness of this pretence, and pass on unto what is principally intended in this discourse.
1. The church is before all its ordinary officers; and therefore its continuation cannot depend on their successive ordination. It is so as essentially considered, though its being organical is simultaneous with their ordination. Extraordinary officers were before the church, for their work was to call, gather, and erect it out of the world; but no ordinary officers can be or ever were ordained, but to a church in being. Some say they are ordained unto the universal visible church of professors, some unto the particular church wherein their work doth lie; but all grant that the church-state whereunto they are ordained is antecedent unto their ordination. The Lord Christ could and did ordain apostles and evangelists when there was yet no gospel church; for they were to be the instruments of its calling and erection. But the apostles neither did nor could ordain any ordinary officers until there was a church or churches, with respect whereunto they should be ordained. It is, therefore, highly absurd to ascribe the continuation of the church unto the successive ordination of officers, if any such thing there were, seeing this successive ordination of officers depends solely on the continuation of the church. If that were not secured on other foundations, this successive ordination would quickly tumble into dust. (Yea, this successive ordination, were there any such thing appointed, must be an act of the church itself, and so cannot be the means of communicating church-power unto others. A successive ordination in some sense may be granted, — namely, that when those who were ordained officers in any church do die, others be ordained in their steads; but this is by an act of power in the church itself, as we shall manifest afterward.)
2. Not to treat of papal succession, the limiting of this successive ordination, as the only way and means of communicating church-power, and so of the preservation of the church-state, unto diocesan prelates or bishops, is built on so many inevident presumptions and 259false principles as will leave it altogether uncertain whether there he any church-state in the world or no; as, — (1.) That such bishops were ordained by the apostles; which can never be proved. (2.) That they received power from the apostles to ordain others, and communicate their whole power unto them, by an authority inherent in themselves alone, yet still reserving their whole power unto themselves also, giving all and retaining all at the same time; which hath no more of truth than the former, and may be easily disproved. (3.) That they never did nor could, any of them, forfeit this power by any crime or error, so as to render their ordination invalid, and interrupt the succession pretended. (4.) That they all ordained others in such manner and way as to render their ordination valid, whereas multitudes were never agreed what is required thereunto. (5.) That whatever heresy, idolatry, flagitiousness of life, persecution of the true churches of Christ, these prelatical ordainers might fall into; by whatever arts, simoniacal practices, or false pretences unto what was not, they came themselves into their offices; yet nothing could deprive them of their right of communicating all church-power unto others by ordination. (6.) That persons so ordained, whether they have any call from the church or no; whether they have any of the qualifications required by the law of Christ in the Scripture to make them capable of any office in the church, or have received any spiritual gifts from Christ for the exercise of their office and discharge of their duty; whether they have any design or no to pursue the ends of that office which they take upon them; — yet all is one, being any way prelatically-ordained bishops, they may ordain others, and so the successive ordination is preserved. And what is this but to take the rule of the church out of the hand of Christ, to give law unto him, to follow with his approbation the actings of men besides and contrary to his law and institution, and to make application of his promises unto the vilest of men, whether he will or no? (7.) That it is not lawful for believers, or the disciples of Christ, to yield obedience unto his commands without this episcopal ordination; which many churches cannot have, and more will not, as judging it against the mind and will of Christ. (8.) That one worldly, ignorant, proud, sensual beast, such as some of the heads of this successive ordination, as the popes of Rome, have been, should have more power and authority from Christ to preserve and continue a church state by ordination, than any the most holy church in the world that is or can be gathered according to his mind; with other unwarrantable presumptions innumerable.
3. The pernicious consequences that may ensue on this principle do manifest its inconsistency with what our Lord Jesus Christ hath ordained unto this end, of the continuation of his church. I need 260not reckon them up on the surest probabilities. There is no room left for fears of what may follow hereon, by what hath already done so. If we consider whither this successive ordination hath already led a great part of the church, we may easily judge what it is meet for. It hath, I say, led men, for instance in the church of Rome, into a presumption of a good church-state, in the loss of holiness and truth, in the practice of false worship and idolatry, in the persecution and slaughter of the faithful servants of Christ, — unto a state plainly antichristian. To think there should be a flux and communication of heavenly and spiritual power from Jesus Christ and his apostles, in and by the hands and actings of persons ignorant, simoniacal, adulterous, incestuous, proud, ambitious, sensual, presiding in a church-state never appointed by him, immersed in false and idolatrous worship, persecuting the true church of Christ, wherein was the true succession of apostolical doctrine and holiness, is an imagination for men who embrace the shadows and appearances of things, never once seriously thinking of the true nature of them. In brief, it is in vain to derive a succession, whereon the being of the church should depend, through the presence of Christ with the bishops of Rome, who for a hundred years together, from the year 900 to 1000, were monsters for ignorance, lust, pride, and luxury, as Baronius acknowledgeth, a.d. 912. 5, 8; or by the church of Antioch, by Samosatenus, Eudoxius, Gnapheus, Severus, and the like heretics; or in Constantinople, by Macedonius, Eusebius, Demophilus, Anthorinus, and their companions; or at Alexandria, by Lucius, Dioscorus, Ælurus, Sergius, and the rest of the same sort.
4. The principal argument whereby this conceit is fully discarded must be spoken unto afterward. And this is the due consideration of the proper subject of all church-power, unto whom it is originally, formally, and radically given and granted by Jesus Christ; for none can communicate this power unto others but those who have received it themselves from Christ, by virtue of his law and institution. Now, this is the whole church, and not any person in it or prelate over it. Look, whatever constitutes it a church, that gives it all the power and privilege of a church; for a church is nothing but a society of professed believers, enjoying all church-power and privileges, by virtue of the law of Christ. Unto this church, which is his spouse, doth the Lord Christ commit the keys of his house; by whom they are delivered into the hands of his stewards, so far as their office requires that trust, Now, this (which we shall afterward more fully confirm) is utterly inconsistent with the committing of all church-power unto one person by virtue of his ordination by another.
Nothing that hath been spoken doth at all hinder or deny but that, where churches are rightly constituted, they ought, in their 261offices, officers, and order, to be preserved by a successive ordination of pastors and rulers, wherein those who actually preside in them have a particular interest in the orderly communication of church-power unto them.
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