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The state of the first churches after the apostles, to the end of the second century.
In confirmation of the foregoing argument, we urge the precedent and example of the primitive churches that succeeded unto those which were planted by the apostles themselves, and so may well be judged to have walked in the same way and order with them. And that which we allege is, —
That in no approved writers for the space of two hundred years after Christ is there any mention made of any other organical, visibly-professing church, but that only which is parochial or congregational.
A church of any other form, state, or order, — papal or œcumenical, 278patriarchal, metropolitical, diocesan, or classical, — they knew not, neither name nor thing, nor any of them appear in any of their writings.
Before I proceed unto the confirmation of this assertion by particular testimonies, I shall premise some things which are needful unto the right understanding of what it is that I intend to prove by them; as, —
1. All the churches at first planted by the apostles, whether in the greatest cities, as Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, etc., or those in the meanest villages of Judea, Galilee, or Samaria, were, as unto their church-state, in order, power, privilege, and duty, every way equal, — not superior or inferior, not ruling over or subject unto one another. No institution of any inequality between them, no instance of any practice supposing it, no direction for any compliance with it, no one word of intimation of it, can be produced from the Scripture; nor is it consistent with the nature of the gospel church-state.
2. In and among all these churches there was “one and the same Spirit, one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism;” whence they were all obliged mutually to seek and endeavour the good and edification of each other, to be helpful to one another in all things, according unto that which any of them had received in the Lord. This they did by prayer, by advice and counsel, by messenger sent with salutations, exhortations, consolations, supplies for the poor, and on all the like occasions. By these means, and by the exercise of that mutual love and care which they were obliged unto, they kept and preserved unity and communion among themselves, and gave a common testimony against any thing that in doctrine or practice deviated from the rule and discipline of Christ. This order, with peace and love thereon, continued among them until pride, ambition, desire of rule and pre-eminence, in Diotrephes, and a multitude of the same spirit with him, began to open a door unto the entrance of “the mystery of iniquity,” under pretence of a better order than this, which was of the appointment of Christ.
3. It must be acknowledged, that notwithstanding this equality among all churches, as unto their state and power, there were great differences between them, some real and some in reputation; which, not being rightly managed, proved an occasion of evil in and unto them all. For instance:—
(1.) Some were more eminent in spiritual gifts than others. As this was a privilege that might have been greatly improved unto the honour of Christ and the gospel, yet we know how it was abused in the church of Corinth, and what disorders followed thereon. So weak and frail are the best of men, so liable unto temptation, that all pre-eminence is dangerous for them, and often abused by them; which, I confess, makes me not a little admire to see men so earnestly 279pleading for it, so fearlessly assuming it unto themselves, so fiercely contending that all power and rule in the church belongs unto them alone. But, —
(2.) Reputation was given unto some by the long abode of some of the apostles in them. Of this advantage we find nothing in the Scripture; but certain it is it was much pleaded and contended about among the primitive churches, yea, so far, until by degrees disputes arose about the places where this or that apostle fixed his seat; which was looked on as a pre-eminence for the present and a security for the future. But yet we know how soon some of them degenerated from the church order and discipline wherein they were instructed by the apostles. See Rev. ii., iii.
(3.) The greatness, power, fame, or civil authority of the place or city where any church was planted, gave it an advantage and privilege in reputation above others; and the churches planted in such cities were quickly more numerous in their members than others were. Unless men strictly kept themselves unto the force of primitive institutions, it was very hard for them to think and judge that a church, it may be in a small village or town in Galilee, should be equal with that at Jerusalem or at Antioch, or afterward at Rome itself. The generality of men easily suffered themselves to be persuaded that those churches were advanced in state and order far above the other obscure, poor congregations. That there should be a church at Rome, the head city of the world, was a matter of great joy and triumph unto many; and the advancement of it in reputation they thought belonged unto the honour of our religion. Howbeit there is not in the Scripture the least regard expressed unto any of these things, of place, number, or possibility of outward splendour, either in the promises of the presence of Christ in and with his churches, or in the communication of power and privileges unto them. Yet such an improvement did this foolish imagination find, that after those who presided in the churches called in the principal cities had tasted of the sweetness of the bait which lay in the ascription of a pre-eminence unto them, they began openly to claim it unto themselves, and to usurp authority over other churches, confirming their own usurpations by canons and rules, until a few of them in the council of Nice began to divide the Christian world among themselves, as if it had been conquered by them. Hence proceeded those shameful contests that were among the greater prelates about their pre-eminency: and hence arose that pretence of the bishops of Rome unto no less a right of rule and dominion over all Christian churches than the city had over all the nations and cities of the empire; which being carried on by all sorts of evil artifices, as by downright forgeries, shameless intrusions of themselves, impudent laying hold of all advantages unto their own 280exaltation, prevailed at length unto the utter ruin of all church order and worship. There is no sober history of the rise and growth by several degrees of any city, commonwealth, or empire, that is filled with so many instances of ambitious seeking of pre-eminence as our church stories are.
By this imagination were the generality of the prelates in those days induced to introduce and settle a government in and among the churches of Christ answering unto the civil government of the Roman empire. As the civil government was cast into national, or diocesan, or provincial, in less or greater divisions, each of which had its capital city, the place of the residence of the chief civil governor; so they designed to frame an image of it in the church, ascribing an alike dignity and power unto the prelates of those cities, and a jurisdiction extending itself unto nations, dioceses, and provinces. Hereby the lesser congregations, or parochial churches, being weakened in process of time in their gifts and interest, were swallowed up in the power of the others, and became only inconsiderable appendices unto them, to be ruled at their pleasure. But these things fell out long after the times which we inquire into; only, their occasion began to present itself unto men of corrupt minds from the beginning. But we have before at large discoursed of them.
(4.) Some churches had a great advantage, in that the gospel, as the apostle speaks, “went forth from them” unto others. They in their ministry were the means, first, of the conversion of others unto the faith, and then of their gathering into a church-state, affording them assistance in all things they stood in need of. Hence these newly-formed churches, in lesser towns and villages, had always a great reverence for the church by whose means they were converted unto God and stated in church-order; and it was meet that so they should have. But in process of time, as these lesser churches decreased in spiritual gifts, and fell under a scarcity of able guides, this reverence was turned into obedience and dependence; and they thought it well enough to be under the rule of others, being unable well to rule themselves.
On these and the like accounts there was quickly introduced an inequality among churches; which, by virtue of their first institution, were equal as unto state and power.
4. Churches may admit of many variations as unto their outward form and order, which yet change not their state, nor cause them to cease from being congregational; as, —
(1.) Supposing that any of them might have many elders or presbyters in them, as it is apparent that most of them had, yea, all that are mentioned in the Scripture had so, Acts xi. 30, xiv. 23, xv. 6, 22, 23, xvi. 4, xx. 17, 18, 28, xxi. 18; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. v. 17; Tit. i. 5, 281— they might, and some of them did, choose out some one endued with especial gifts, that might in some sort preside amongst them, and who had quickly the name of bishop appropriated unto him. This practice is thought to have had its original at Alexandria, and began generally to be received in the third century. But this changed not the state of the church, though it had no divine warrant to authorize it; for this order may be agreed unto among the elders of a particular congregation, and sundry things may fall out inclining unto the reception of it. But from a distinct mention (if any such there be), in the writings of the second century, of bishops and presbyters, to fancy metropolitical and diocesan churches is but a pleasant dream.
(2.) The members of those churches that were great and numerous, being under the care and inspection of their elders in common, might, for the ordinary duty of divine worship, meet in parts or several actual assemblies; and they did so, especially in time of persecution. Nothing occurs more frequently in ecclesiastical story than the meetings of Christians in secret places, in private houses, yea, in caves and dens of the earth, when in some places it was impossible that the whole body of the church should so assemble together. How this disposition of the members of the church into several parts, in each of which some elder or elders of it did officiate, gave occasion unto the distinction of greater churches into particular titles or parishes, is not here to be declared; it may be so elsewhere. But neither yet did this alter the state of the churches from their original institution; for, —
(3.) Upon all extraordinary occasions, all such as concerned the whole church, — as the choice of elders or the deposition of them, the admission or exclusion of members, and the like, — the whole church continued to meet together; which practice was plainly continued in the days of Cyprian, as we shall see afterward. Neither doth it appear but that, during the first two hundred years of the church, the whole body of the church did ordinarily meet together in one place for the solemn administration of the holy ordinances of worship, and the exercise of discipline.
Wherefore, notwithstanding these and other the like variations from the original institution of churches, which came in partly by inadvertency unto the rule, and partly were received from the advantages and accommodations which they pretended unto, the state of the churches continued congregational only for two hundred years, so far as can be gathered from the remaining monuments of those times. Only, we must yet add, that we are no way concerned in testimonies or sayings taken from the writings of those in following ages, as unto the state, way, and manner of the churches in this season, but do appeal unto their own writings only. This is the great 282artifice whereby Baronius, in his Annals, would impose upon the credulity of men an apprehension of the antiquity of any of their Roman inventions; — he affixeth them unto some of the first ages, and giving some countenance unto them, it may be from some spurious writings, lays the weight of confirmation on testimonies and sayings of writers many years, yea, for the most part, ages afterward; for it was and is of the latter ages of the church, wherein use and custom have wrested ecclesiastical words to other significations than at first they were applied unto, to impose the present state of things among them on those who went before, who knew nothing of them.
I shall, therefore, briefly inquire into what representation is made of the state of the churches by the writers themselves who lived in the season inquired after, or in the age next unto it, which was acquainted with their practice.
That which first offereth itself unto us, and which is an invaluable testimony of the state of the first churches immediately after the decease of the apostles, is the epistle of Clemens Romanus unto the brethren of the church of Corinth. This epistle, according to the title of it, Irenæus ascribes unto the whole church at Rome, and calls it “potentissimas literas:” — “Sub hoc Clemente dissensione non modica inter eos qui Corinthi erant fratres facta, scripsit quæ est Romæ ecclesia, potentissimas literas,” lib. iii. cap. 3. By Eusebius it is termed μεγάλη καὶ θαυμασία, — “great and admirable;” who also affirms that it was publicly read in some churches, Eccles. Hist., lib. iii. cap. 16. And again he calls it ἱκανωτάτην γραφήν, — a “most powerful writing,” lib. v. cap. 7.
There is no doubt but some things in the writing of it did befall him “humanitus,” that the work of such a companion of some of the apostles as he was might not be received as of divine institution, — such was the credit which he gives unto the vulgar fable of the phœnix; — but for the substance of it, it is such as every way becomes a person of an apostolical spirit, consonant unto the style and writings of the apostles themselves, a precious jewel and just representation of the state and order of the church in those days. And sundry things we may observe from it:—
1. There is nothing in it that gives the least intimation of any other church-state but that which was congregational, although there were the highest causes and reasons for him so to do had there been any such churches then in being. The case he had in hand was that of ecclesiastical sedition or schism in the church of Corinth, the church or body of the brethren having unjustly deposed their elders, as it should seem, all of them. Giving advice herein unto the whole church, using all sorts of arguments to convince them of their sin, directing all probable means for their cure, he never once sends 283them to the bishop or church of Rome, as the head of unity unto all churches; makes no mention of any metropolitical or diocesan church and its rule, or of any single bishop and his authority. No one of any such order doth he either commend, or condemn, or once address himself unto, with either admonitions, exhortations, encouragements, or directions. He only handles the cause by the rule of the Scripture, as it was stated between the church itself and its elders. I take it for granted that if there were any church at Corinth consisting of many congregations, in the city and about it, or comprehensive, as some say, of the whole region of Achaia, that there was a single officer or bishop over that whole church; but none such is here mentioned. If there were any such, he was either deposed by the people or he was not. If he were deposed, he was only one of the presbyters; for they were only presbyters that were deposed. If he were not, why is he not once called on to discharge his duty in curing of that schism, or blamed for his neglect? Certainly there was never greater prevarication used by any man in any cause than is by Clemens in this, if the state of the church, its rule and order, were such as some now pretend; for he neither lets the people know wherein their sin and schism did lie, — namely, in a separation from their bishop, — nor doth once mention the only proper cure and remedy of all their evils. But he knew their state and order too well to insist on things that were not then “in rerum natura,” and wherein they were not concerned.
2. This epistle is written, as unto the whole church at Corinth, so in the name of the whole church of Rome: Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ παροικοῦσα Ῥώμην τῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ Θεοῦ παροικούσῃ Κόρινθον· — “The church of God which dwelleth” (or sojourneth, as a stranger) “at Rome” (in the city of Rome) “to the church of God that dwelleth” (or sojourneth) “at Corinth.” For although that church was then in disorder, under no certain rule, having cast off all their elders, etc., yet the church of Rome not only allows it to be a sister church, but salutes the brethren of it in the following words: Κλητοῖς ἡγιασμένοις ἐν θελήματι Θεοῦ διὰ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ· — “Called and sanctified through the will of God by our Lord Jesus Christ.” The churches of Christ were not so ready in those days to condemn the persons, nor to judge the church-state and condition of others, on every miscarriage, real or supposed, as some have been and are in these latter ages.
3. This address being from the body of the church at Rome unto that at Corinth, without the least mention of the officers of them in particular, it is evident that the churches themselves, — that is, the whole entire community of them, — had communion with one another, as they were sister churches, and that they had themselves the transaction 284of all affairs wherein they were concerned, as they had in the days of the apostles, Acts xv. 1–3. It was the brethren of the church at Antioch who determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others, should go up to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders: see also chap. xxi. 22. This they did not, nor ought to do, without the presence, guidance, conduct, and consent of their elders or rulers, when they had any; but this they were now excluded from. And that church, the whole body or fraternity whereof doth advise and consult in those things wherein they are concerned, on the account of their communion with other churches, is a congregational church, and no other. It was the church who sent this epistle unto the Corinthians. Claudius Ephebus, Valerius, Bito, Fortunatus, are named55 Page 73. as their messengers: Τοὺς ἀπεσταλμένους ἀφ’ ἡμῶν, — “That are sent by us,” our messengers, our apostles in these matters; such as the churches made use of on all such occasions in the apostles’ days, 2 Cor. viii. 23. And the persons whom they sent were only members of the church, and not officers; nor do we anywhere hear of them under that character. Now, they could not be sent in the name of the church but by its consent; nor could the church consent without its assembling together.
This was the state and order of the first churches. In that communion which was amongst them, according to the mind of Christ, they had a singular concern in the welfare and prosperity of each other, and were solicitous about them in their trials. Hence, those who were planted at a greater distance than would allow frequent personal converse with their respective members, did on all occasions send messengers unto one another; sometimes merely to visit them in love, and sometimes to give or take advice. But these things, as indeed almost all others that belong unto the communion of churches, either in themselves or with one another, are either utterly lost and buried, or kept above ground in a pretence of episcopal authority, churches themselves being wholly excluded from any concernment in them. But as the advice of the church of Rome was desired in this case by the whole church of Corinth (περὶ τῶν ἐπιζητουμένων παρ’ ὑμῖν πραγμάτων), so it was given by the body of the church itself, and sent by messengers of their own.66 Page 1.
4. The description given of the state, ways, and walking of the church of Corinth,77 Pages 2–4. — that is, that whole fraternity of the church, which fell afterward into that disorder which is reproved, — before their fall, is such as that it bespeaks their walking together in one and the same society, and is sufficient to make any good man desire that he might see churches yet in the world unto whom, or the generality of whose members, that description might be honestly and justly accommodated. 285One character which is given of them I shall mention only: Πλήρης πνεύματος ἁγίου ἔκχυσις ἐπὶ πάντας ἐγίνετο· μεστοίτε ὁσίας βουλῆς, ἐν ἀγαθῇ προθυμίᾳ μετ’ εὐσεβοῦς πεποιθήσεως ἐξετείνατε τὰς χεῖρας ὑμῶν πρὸς τὸν παντοκράτορα Θεὸν, ἱκετεύοντες αὐτὸν ἵλεως γενέσθαι, εἴτι ἄκοντες ἡμάρτετε. Ἀγὼν ἧν ὑμῖν ἡμέρας τε καὶ νυκτὸς ὑπὲρ πασῆς τῆς ἀδελφότητος εἰς τὸ σώζεσθαι μετ’ ἐλέους καὶ συνειδήσεως τὸν ἀριθμὸν τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν αὐτοῦ — “There was a full” (or plentiful) “effusion of the Holy Ghost upon you all; so that, being full” (or filled) “with a holy will” (holiness of will) “and a good readiness of mind, with a pious devout confidence, you stretched out your hands in prayers to almighty God, supplicating his clemency” (or mercy) “for the pardon of your involuntary sins” (sins fallen into by infirmity, or the surprisals of temptations not consented to, nor delighted or continued in). “Your labour” (or contention of spirit, — Ἀγὼν ἦν ὑμῖν, as the apostle speaks, ἡλίκον ἀγῶνα ἔχω, Col. ii. 1) “was night and day” (in your prayers) “for the whole brotherhood” (that is, especially of their own church itself), “that the number of God’s elect might be saved in mercy, through a good conscience towards him.”
This was their state, this was their liturgy, this their practice:— (1.) There was on all the members of the church a plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit in his gifts and graces; wherein, it may be, respect is had unto what was affirmed by the apostle before of the same church, 1 Cor. i. 4–7, the same grace being yet continued unto them. (2.) By virtue of this effusion of the Spirit on all of them, their wills and affections being sanctified, their minds were enabled to pour forth fervent prayers unto God. (3.) They were not such as lived in any open sin, or any secret sin, known to be so, but were only subject unto involuntary surprisals, whose pardon they continually prayed for. (4.) Their love and sense of duty stirred them up to labour mightily in their prayers, with fervency and constancy, for the salvation of the whole fraternity of elect believers, whether throughout the world, or more especially those in and of their own church.
He that should ascribe these things unto any of those churches which now in the world claim to be so only, would quickly find himself at a loss for the proof of what he asserts. Did we all sedulously endeavour to reduce and restore churches unto their primitive state and frame, it would bring more glory to God than all our contentions about role and domination.
4. It is certain that the church of Corinth was fallen into a sinful excess, in the deposition and rejection of their elders,88 Pages 57, 58, 62. whom the church at Rome judged to have presided among them laudably and unblamably, as unto their whole walk and work amongst them. And this they did by the suggestion of two or three envious, discontented 286persons, and, as is probable from some digressions in the epistle, tainted with those, errors which had formerly infested that church, as the denial of the resurrection of the flesh; which is therefore here reflected on. But in the whole epistle, the church is nowhere reproved for assuming an authority unto themselves which did not belong unto them. It seems what Cyprian afterward affirmed was then acknowledged, — namely, that the right of choosing the worthy, and of rejecting the unworthy, was in the body of the people. But they are severely reproved for the abuse of their liberty and power; for they had exercised them on ill grounds, by ill means, for ill ends, and in a most unjust cause. He therefore exhorts the body of the church to return unto their duty, in the restoration of their elders; and then prescribes unto them who were the first occasion of schism that every one would subject themselves unto the restored presbyters, and say, Ποιῶ τὰ προστασσόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ πλήθους·99 Page 69. — “I will do the things appointed or commanded by the multitude,” the church in the generality of its members. The “plebs,” the multitude, the body of the fraternity in the church, — τὸ πλῆθος, as they are often called in the Scripture, Acts iv. 32, vi. 2, 5, xv. 12, 30, — had then right and power to appoint things that were to be done in the church, for order and peace. I do not say they had it without, or in distinction from, their officers, rulers, and guides, but in a concurrence with them, and subordination to them; whence the acts concluded on may be esteemed, and are, the acts of the whole church. This order can be observed, or this can fall out, only in a congregational church, all whose members do meet together for the discharge of their duties and exercise of their discipline. And if no more may be considered in it but the miscarriage of the people, without any respect to their right and power, yet such churches as wherein it is impossible that that should fall out in them as did so fall out in that church, are not of the same kind or order with it.
But, for the sake of them who may endeavour to reduce any church-state into its primitive constitution, that they may be cautioned against that great evil which this church, in the exercise of their supposed liberty, fell into, I cannot but transcribe a few of those excellent words which are used plentifully with cogent reasons in this epistle1010 Page 62. against it: Ἀισχρὰ ἀγαπητοὶ, καὶ λίαν αἰσχρὰ, καὶ ἀνάξια τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ ἀγωγῆς ἀκούεται τὴν βεβαιοτάτην καὶ ἀρχαίαν Κορινθίων ἐκκλησίαν, δι’ ἓν ἢ δύο πρόσωπα στασιάζειν πρὸς τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους· — “It is shameful, beloved, exceeding shameful, which is reported of you, that the most firm and ancient church of the Corinthians should, for the sake of one or two persons, seditiously tumultuate against their elders.” And hereon he proceeds to declare the dreadful scandal 287that ensued thereon, both among believers and infidels The instruction, also, which he adds hereunto is worthy the remembrance of all church-members: Ἤτω τὶς πιστὸς ἤτω δυνατὸς γνῶσιν ἐξειπεῖν ἤτω σοφὸς ἐν δικαία κρίσει λόγων ἤτω ἀγνὸς ἐν ἔργοις· τοσύτῳ μᾶλλον ταπεινοφρεῖν ὀφείλει, ὅσῳ δοκεῖ μᾶλλον μείζων εἶναι. It is blessed advice for all church-members that he gives: “Let a man be faithful; let him be powerful in knowledge” (or the declaration of it); “let him be wise to judge the words or doctrines; let him be chaste or pure in his works: the greater he seems to be, the more humble he ought to be, that so the church may have no trouble by him nor his gifts.” But to return.
5. Having occasion to mention the officers of the church, he nameth only the two ranks of bishops and deacons,1111 Pages 54, 55. as the apostle also doth, Phil. i. 1. Speaking of the apostles he says, Κατὰ χώρας καὶ πόλεις κηρύσσοντες, καθίστανον τὰς ἀπαρχὰς αὐτῶν, δοκιμάσαντες τῷ πνεύματι εἰς ἐπισκόπους καὶ διακόνους τῶν μελλόντων πιστεύειν· — “Preaching the word through regions and cities, they appointed the first-fruits” — as the house of Stephanas was the “first-fruits of Achaia,” who therefore “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,” 1 Cor. xvi. 15, — (or the first converts to the faith), “after a spiritual trial of them” (as unto their fitness for their work), “to be bishops and deacons of them that should afterward believe.” Where there were as yet but a few converted, the apostles gathered them into church-order; and so soon as they found any fit among them, appointed and ordained them to be bishops and deacons; so that provision might be made for the guidance and conduct of them that should be converted and added unto them after they were left by the apostles. These bishops he affirms to be, and to have been, the presbyters or elders of the church,1212 Pages 57, 58. even the same with those deposed by the Corinthians, in the same manner as the apostle doth, Acts xx. 28: Ἁμαρτία γὰρ οὐ μικρὰ ἡμῖν ἔσται, ἐὰν τοὺς ἀμέμπτως καὶ ὁσίως προσενέγκοντας τὰ δῶρα τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς ἀποβαλωμεν· μακάριοι δὲ προοδοιπορήσαντες πρεσβύτεροι, etc.; — “It is no small sin in us to reject or cast off them who have offered the gifts” (or discharged the duties) “of episcopacy holily and without blame. Blessed are the elders who went before!” — namely, as he expresseth it, because they are freed from that amotion from their office which those elders now amongst them had undergone, after they had duly discharged the office of episcopacy. Other distinction and difference of ordinary officers, besides that of bishops or elders and deacons, the church at Rome in those days knew not. Such ought to be in every particular church. Of any one single person to preside over many churches, which is necessary unto the constitution of a church-state distinct from that which is congregational, 288Clemens knew nothing in his days, but gives us such a description of the church and its order as is inconsistent with such a pretence.
6. I shall add no more from this excellent epistle, but only the account given in it of the first constitution of officers in the churches: Καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι ἡμῶν ἔγνωσαν διὰ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ὅτι ἔρις ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ ὀνόματος τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς διὰ ταύτην οὖν τὴν αἰτίαν πρόγνωσιν εἰληφότες τελείαν κατέστησαν τοὺς προειρημένους καὶ μεταξὺ ἐπινομὴν δεδώκασιν ὅπως ἐὰν κοιμηθῶσιν διαδέξωνται ἕτεροι δεδοκιμασμένοι ἄνδρες, τὴν λειτουργίαν αὐτῶν, τοὺς οὖν κατασταθέντας ὑπ’ ἐκείνων ἢ μεταξὺ ὑφ’ ἑτέρων ἐλλογίμων ἀνδρῶν, συνευδοκησάσης τῆς ἐκκλησίας πάσης, κ. τ. λ. — “Our apostles, therefore, knowing by our Lord Jesus Christ that there would contention arise about the name of episcopacy” (that is, episcopacy itself); “for this cause, being endued with a perfect foresight of things, they appointed those forementioned” (their first converts, unto the office of the ministry), “for the future describing or giving order about the course of the ministry, that other approved men might succeed them in their ministry. These” (elders), “therefore, who were so appointed by them, and afterward by other famous men, with the consent of the whole church,” etc.
Sundry things we may observe in this discourse:— 1. The apostles foresaw there would be strife and contention about the name of episcopacy; that is, the office itself, and those who should possess it. This episcopacy was that office which the deposed elders had well discharged in the church of Corinth. This they might foresee from the nature of the thing itself, the inclination of men unto pre-eminence, and the instance they had seen in their own days, in such as Diotrephes, with the former division that had been in this very church about their teachers, 1 Cor. i. 12. But, moreover, they were instructed in the knowledge of it by our Lord Jesus Christ, through his divine Spirit abiding with them and teaching them all things. This, therefore, they sought by all means to prevent, and that two ways:— (1.) In that, for the first time, themselves appointed approved persons unto the office of the ministry; not that they did it of themselves, without the consent and choice of the church whereunto any of them were appointed (for this was directly contrary unto their practice, Acts i. 15–26, vi. 1–6, xiv. 23), but that the peace and edification of the churches might be provided for, they themselves spiritually tried and approved of fit persons, so to lead the church in their choice. Wherefore, that which is added afterward, of “the consent of the whole church,” is to be referred unto those who were ordained by the apostles themselves. (2.) They gave rules and orders, namely, in their writings, concerning the offices and officers that were to be in the church, with the way whereby they should be substituted in the place and room of them that were deceased, 289as we know they have done in their writings. (3.) After this was done by the apostles, other excellent persons, as the evangelists, did the same. These assisted the churches in the ordination and choice of their officers, according unto the rules prescribed by the apostles. And I know not but that the eminent pastors of other churches, who usually gave their assistance in the setting apart and ordination of others unto the ministry, be intended.
I have insisted long on this testimony, being led on by the excellency of the writing itself. Nothing remains written so near the times of the apostles, nor doth any that is extant which was written afterward give such an evidence of apostolical wisdom, gravity, and humility. Neither is there in all antiquity, after the writings of the apostles, such a representation of the state, order, and rule of the first evangelical churches. And it is no small prejudice unto the pretensions of future ages that this apostolical person, handling a most weighty ecclesiastical cause, makes not the least mention of such offices, power, and proceedings, as wherein some would have all church rule and order to consist.
The epistle of Polycarpus, and the elders of the church of Smyrna with him, unto the church of the Philippians, is the next on the roll of antiquity. Nothing appears in the whole to intimate any other church-state or order than that described by Clemens. The epistle is directed unto the whole church at Philippi, not unto any particular bishop: Πολύκαρπος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ πρεσβύτεροι τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῇ παροικούσῃ Φιλίππους. This was the usual style of those days. So was it used, as we have seen, by Clemens: Ἐκκλησία ἡ παροικοῦσα Ῥώμην. So it was used presently after the death of Polycarpus by the church at Smyrna, in the account they gave unto other churches of his death and martyrdom: Ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ παροικοῦσα Σμύρναν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ παροικούσῃ ἐν Φιλομελίω. And the same was the inscription of the epistle of the churches at Vienne and Lyons in France, unto the churches in Phrygia, as we shall see immediately. And these are plain testimonies of that communion among the churches in those days which was held in and by the body of each church, or the community of the brotherhood; which is a clear demonstration of their state and order. And those whom the apostle, writing to the Philippians, calls their bishops and deacons, Polycarpus calls their presbyters and deacons. “It behoves you,” saith he unto the church there, “to abstain from these things,” ὑποτασσομένοις τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις καὶ διακόνοις, — “being subject unto the elders and deacons.” Nor doth he mention any other bishop among the Philippians. And it may be observed, that in all these primitive writings there is still a distinction made, after the example of Scripture, between the church and the guides, rulers, bishops, or elders of 290it; and the name of the church is constantly assigned unto the body of the people as distinct from the elders, nowhere to the bishops or elders as distinct from the people, though the church, in its complete state, comprehendeth both sorts.
Unto this time, — that is, about the year 107 or 108, — do belong the epistles ascribed unto Ignatius, if so be they were written by him; for Polycarpus wrote his epistle to the Philippians after Ignatius was carried to Rome, having wrote his epistle before in Asia. Many are the contests of learned men about those epistles which remain, whether they are genuine, or the same that were written by him; for that he did write epistles unto sundry churches is acknowledged by all. And whereas there have in this age been two copies found and published of those epistles, wherein very many things that were obnoxious unto just exception in those before published do not at all appear, yet men are not agreed which of them ought to be preferred; and many yet deny that any of them were those written by Ignatius. I shall not interpose in this contest; only, I must say, that if any of his genuine writings do yet remain, yet the corruption and interpolation of them for many ages must needs much impair the authority of what is represented in them as his; nor am I delivered from these thoughts by the late either more sound or more maimed editions of them. And the truth is, the corruption and fiction of epistolical writings in the first ages was so intolerable, as that very little in that kind is preserved sincere and unquestionable. Hence Dionysius, the bishop of Corinth, complained that in his own time his own epistles were so corrupted, by additions and detractions, as that it seems he would have them no more esteemed as his, Eusebius Ecclesiast. Hist., lib. iv. cap. 23.
But yet, because these epistles are so earnestly contended for by many learned men as the genuine writings of Ignatius, I shall not pass by the consideration of them as unto the argument in hand. I do therefore affirm, that in these epistles (in any edition of them) there is no mention made or description given of any church or church-state but only of that which is congregational; that is, such a church as all the members whereof did meet, and were obliged to meet, for divine worship and discipline in the same place. What was the distinction they observed among their officers, of what sort they were, and what number, belongs not unto our present inquiry. Our concernment is only this, that they did preside in the same particular church, and were none of them bishops of more churches than one, or of any church that should consist of a collection or association of such particular churches as had no bishops, properly so called, of their own.
All these epistles, — that is, the seven most esteemed, — were written, 291as that of Clemens, unto the bodies or whole fraternity of the churches, unto whom they are directed, in distinction from their bishops, elders, and deacons, excepting that only unto Polycarpus, which is unto a single person. Under that consideration, — namely, of the entire fraternity in distinction from their officers, — doth he address unto them, and therein doth he ascribe and assign such duties unto them as could not be attended unto nor performed but in the assembly of them all. Such is the direction he gives unto the church of the Philadelphians, how and in what manner they should receive penitents returning unto the church, that they might be encouraged unto that duty by their benignity and patience; and many things of the like nature doth he deal with them about. And this assembling together in the same place, — namely, of the whole church, — he doth frequently intimate and express. Some instances hereof we may repeat:—
Πάντες ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ἐν τῇ προσευχῇ ἅμα συνέρχεσθε· μία δέησις ἔστω κοινή· — “Meet all of you together in the same place; let there be one prayer in common of all,” Epist. ad Magnes. [cap. 7] This direction can be given unto no other but a particular church. And again to the Philadelphians [cap. 2]: Ὅπου ὁ ποιμήν ἐστιν, ἐκεῖ ὡς πρόβατα ἀκολουθεῖτε· — “Where your pastor is, there follow you as sheep.” And how they may do so is declared immediately afterward [cap.4]: Θαῤῥῶν γράφω τῂ ἀξιοθέῳ ἀγάπῃ ὑμῶν, παρακαλῶν ὑμᾶς μιᾷ πίστει, καὶ ἑνὶ κηρύγματι καὶ μιᾷ εὐχαριστίᾳ χρῆσθαι· μία γάρ ἐστιν ἡ σὰρξ τοῦ Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ, καὶ ἓν αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐκχυθέν, εἷς καὶ ἄρτος τοῖς πᾶσιν ἐθρύφθη καὶ ἒν ποτήριον τοῖς ὅλοις διενεμήθη ἒν θυσιαστήριον πάσῃ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ εἷς ἐπίσκοπος ἅμα τῷ πρεσβυτερίῳ καὶ τοῖς διακόνοις τοῖς συνδούλοις μου· — “I write with confidence unto your godly love, and persuade you to use one faith” (or the confession of it), “one preaching of the word, and one eucharist” (or administration of the holy sacrament). “For the flesh of Christ is one, and the blood of Christ that was shed for us is one: one bread is broken to all, and one cup distributed among all; there is one altar to the whole church, and one bishop, with the presbytery, and the deacons my fellow-servants.” Nothing can be more evident than that it is a particular church, in its order and assembly for worship in one place, that he describes; nor can these things be accommodated unto a church of any other form. And towards the end of the epistle, treating about the churches sending their bishops or others on their occasions, he tells them in particular [cap. 10]: Πρέπον ἐστὶν ὑμῖν ὡς ἐκκλησίᾳ Θεοῦ χειροτονῆσαι ἐπίσκοπον, εἰς τὸ πρεσβεῦσαι ἐκεῖ Θεοῦ πρεσβείαν εἰς τὸ συγχωρηθῆναι αὐτοῖς ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ γενομένοις, καὶ δοξάσαι τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Θεοῦ· — “It becometh you as a church of God to choose or appoint a bishop, who may perform the embassy of God, that it may be granted unto them to glorify the 292name of God, being gathered together in one place.” It is somewhat difficult [to conceive] how the church of Philadelphia should choose or ordain a bishop at this time, for they had one of their own, whom Ignatius greatly extols in the beginning of the epistle. Nor was it in their power or duty to choose or ordain a bishop for the church of Antioch, which was their own right and duty alone; nor had the church of Antioch any the least dependence on that at Philadelphia. It may be he intends only their assistance therein, as immediately before he ascribes the peace and tranquillity of the Antiochians unto the prayers of the Philadelphians. For my part, I judge he intends not the proper bishop of either place, but some elder, which they were to choose as a messenger to send to Antioch, to assist them in their present condition; for in those days there were persons chosen by the churches to be sent abroad to assist other churches on the like occasions. These were called ἀπόστολοι ἐκκλησιῶν, 2 Cor. viii. 23, — the especial “apostles of the churches;” as verse 19, it is said of Luke that he was χειροτονηθεὶς ὑπὸ τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν, — “chosen” and appointed “by the churches” for the service there mentioned. Such was this bishop, who was sent on God’s errand to assist the church by his advice and counsel as unto the continuance of their assemblies, unto the glory of God, though at present their bishop was taken from them. In that epistle unto the Ephesians, he lets them know that he rejoiced at their πολυπλήθεια, their “numerous multitude;” whom he persuades and urgeth unto a common concurrence in prayer with their bishop [cap. 5]: Εἰ γὰρ ἑνὸς καὶ δευτέρου προσευχὴ τοσαύτην ἰσχὺν ἔχει ὥστε τὸν Χριστὸν ἐν αὐτοῖς ἑστάναι, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ἥ τε τοῦ ἐπισκόπου καὶ πάσης τῆς ἐκκλησίας προσευχὴ σύμφωνος; — “And if the prayers of one or two be so effectual that they bring Christ among them, how much more will the consenting prayer of the bishop and the whole church together?” So he again explains his mind towards the end of the epistle [cap. 13]: Σπουδάζετε οὗν πυκνότερον συνέρχεσθαι· ὅταν γὰρ συνεχῶς ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ γένησθε καθαιροῦνται αἱ δυνάμεις τοῦ Σατανᾶ· “Do your diligence to meet together frequently; for when you frequently meet together in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed.” And many other expressions of the like nature occur in those epistles. We are no way, at present, concerned in the controversy about that distinction of bishops and presbyters which the writer of those epistles doth assert; this only I say, that he doth in none of them take the least notice, or give the least intimation, of any church-state but such alone wherein the members of the whole church did constantly meet together in the same place, for the worship of God and communion among themselves. And not only so, but he everywhere, in all his epistles to them, ascribes such duties and rights unto the churches as cannot be observed and preserved but in particular churches only. 293Nor doth he leave any room for any other church-state whatever. Although, therefore, there might have been, and probably there were, some alterations in the order of the churches from what was of primitive institution, yet was there as yet no such change in their state as to make way for those greater alterations which not long after ensued; for they were not introduced until, through a defect in the multiplication of churches in an equality of power and order, — which ought to have been done, — they were increased into that multitude for number of members, and were so diffused as unto their habitations, as made an appearance of a necessity of another constitution of churches and another kind of rule than what was of original appointment.
Justin Martyr wrote his Second Apology for the Christians unto the Roman emperors about the year 150. It is marvellous to consider how ignorant not only the common sort of the Pagans, but the philosophers also, and governors of the nations, were of the nature of Christian churches, and of the worship celebrated in them. But who are so blind as those who will not see? Even unto this day not a few are willingly, or rather wilfully, ignorant of the nature of such assemblies, or what is performed in them, as were among the primitive Christians, that they may be at liberty to speak all manner of evil of them falsely. Hence were all the reports and stories among the heathen concerning what was done in the Christian conventicles; which they would have to be the most abominable villanies that were ever acted by mankind. Even those who made the most candid inquiry into what they were and did, attained unto very little knowledge or certainty concerning them and their mysteries; as is evident in the epistles of Trajan and Pliny, with the rescript of Adrian unto Minutius Fundanus about them.
In this state of things, this our great and learned philosopher, who afterward suffered martyrdom about the year 160, undertook to give an account unto Antoninus Pius and Lucius, who then ruled the Roman empire, of the nature, order, and worship of the Christian churches; and that in such an excellent manner, as that I know nothing material that can be added unto it, were an account of the same things to be given unto alike persons at this day. We may touch a little upon some heads of it:—
1. He declares the conversion of men unto the faith as the foundation of all their church order and worship: Ὅσοι ἂν πεισθῶσι καὶ πιστεύωσιν ἀληθῆ ταῦτα τὰ ὑφ’ ἡμῶν διδασκόμενα καὶ λεγόμενα εἶναι, καὶ βιοῦν οὕτως δύνασθαι ὑπισχνῶνται, ἔυχεσθαί τε καὶ αἰτεῖν νηστέυοντας παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῶν προημαρτημένων ἄφεσιν διδάσκονται ἡμῶν συνευχομένων καὶ συννηστευόντων αὐτοῖς· — “As many as are persuaded and do believe the things to be true which are taught and spoken by us, and take upon themselves 294that they are able to live according to that doctrine, they are taught to seek of God, by fasting and prayer, the pardon of their foregoing sins; and we also do join together with them in fasting and prayer for that end.” And herein, — (1.) The only means of conversion which he insists upon is the preaching of the word, or truth of the gospel, wherein they especially insisted on the doctrine of the person and offices of Christ, as appears throughout his whole Apology. (2.) This preaching of the word, or declaration of the truth of the gospel, unto the conversion of the hearers, he doth not confine unto any especial sort of persons, as he doth afterward the administration of the holy things in the church; but speaks of it in general as the work of all Christians that were able for it, as doth the apostle, 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25. (3.) Those who were converted did two things:— [1.] They professed their faith or assent unto the truth of the doctrine of the gospel; [2.] They took it on themselves to live according to the rule of it, — to do and observe the things commanded by Jesus Christ, as he appointed they should, Matt. xxviii. 18–20. (4.) To lay a sure and comfortable foundation of their future profession, they were taught to confess their former sins, and by earnest prayer, with fastings, to seek of God the pardon and forgiveness of them. And, — (5.) Herein (such was their love and zeal) those who had been the means of their conversion joined with them, for their comfort and edification. It is well known how this whole process is lost, and on what account it is discontinued; but whether it be done so unto the advantage of Christian religion, and the good of the souls of men, is well worth a strict inquiry.
2. In the next place he declares how those who were so converted were conducted unto baptism, and how they were initiated into the mysteries of the gospel thereby.
3. When any was so baptized, they brought him unto the church which he was to be joined unto: Ἡμεῖς δὲ μετὰ τὸ οὕτως λοῦσαι τὸν πεπεισμένον καὶ συγκατατεθειμένον ἐπὶ τοῦς λεγομένους ἀδελφοὺς ἄγομεν, ἔνθα συνηγμένοι εἰσί κοινὰς εὐχὰς ποιησόμενοι ὑπέρ τε ἑαυτῶν καὶ τοῦ φωτισθέντος καὶ ἄλλων πανταχοῦ πάντων εὐτόνως, κ. τ. λ. — “Him who is thus baptized, who believeth, and is received” (by consent) “among us” (or to be of our number), “we bring him unto those called the brethren, when they are met” (or gathered together) “for joint prayers and supplications for themselves, and for him who is now illuminated, and all others, with intension of mind,” etc. We have here another illustrious instance of the care and diligence of the primitive church about the instating professed believers in the communion of the church. That hereon those who were to be admitted made their public confession we shall afterward declare. And the brethren here mentioned are the whole fraternity of the church, who were concerned in these 295things. And Justin is not ashamed to declare by what name they called one another among themselves, even to the heathen, though it be now a scorn and reproach among them that are called Christians.
4. He proceeds to declare the nature of their church meetings or assemblies, with the duties and worship of them. And he tells us, first, that they had frequent meetings among themselves: “They that have any wealth,” saith he, “do help the poor,” καὶ συνεσμὲν ἀλλήλοις αἰεί “and we are continually together;” that is, in the lesser occasional assemblies of the brethren, for so, in the next place, he adds immediately, Τῇ τοῦ ἡλίου λεγομένῃ ἡμέρᾳ πάντων κατὰ πόλεις καὶ ἀγροὺς μενόντων ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ συνέλευσις γίνεται· — “On the day called Sunday there is a meeting of all that dwell in the towns and fields or villages about.” This was the state, the order, the proceeding of the church in the days of Justin; whence it is undeniably evident that he knew no other church-state or order but that of a particular congregation, whose members, living in any town or city, or fields adjacent, did constantly, all of them, meet together in one place on the first day of the week, for the celebration of divine worship.
5. In this church he mentions only two sorts of officers, προεστῶτες and διάκονοι, “presidents and deacons.” Of the first sort, in the duty of one of their assemblies, he mentions but one, ὁ προεστώς, “the president,” the ruler, the bishop; to whom belonged the administration of all the holy mysteries. And that we may not think that he is called the προεστώς with respect unto any pre-eminence over other ministers or elders, like a diocesan bishop, he terms him προεστώς τῶν ἀδελφῶν, he that “presided over the brethren” of that church. Now, certainly that church wherein one president, elder, presbyter, or bishop, did administer the holy ordinances in one place unto all the members of it, was a particular congregation.
6. The things that he ascribeth unto this leader, to be done at this general meeting of the church every Lord’s day, were, — (1.) That he prayed; (2.) That after the reading of the Scripture he preached; (3.) That he consecrated the eucharist, the elements of the bread and wine being distributed by the deacons unto the congregation; (4.) That he closed the whole worship of the day in prayer.
7. In the consecration of the sacramental elements, he observes that the president prayed at large, giving thanks to God: Εὐχαριστίαν ἐπὶ πολὺ ποιεῖται. So vain is the pretence of some, that in the primitive times they consecrated the elements by the repetition of the Lord’s prayer only. After the participation of the eucharist there was a collection made for the poor, as he describeth it at large; what was so gathered being committed to the pastor, who took care for 296the distribution of it unto all sorts of poor belonging unto the church. Hereunto was added, as Tertullian observes, the exercise of discipline in their assemblies; whereof we shall speak afterward. The close of the administration of the sacrament Justin gives us in these words: Καὶ ὁ προεστὼς εὐχὰς ὁμοίως καὶ εὐχαριστίας ὅση δύναμυις αὐτῶ ἀναπέμπει· — “The pastor again, according to his ability” (or power), “poureth forth” (or sends up) “prayers, the people all joyfully crying, Amen,” etc. Ὅση δύναμις, — that is, as Origen expounds the phrase often used by himself, Κατὰ τὴν παροῦσαν καὶ δοθεῖσαν δύναμιν, lib. viii. ad Cels.; — “According unto the present ability given unto him.”
This was the state, the order, and the worship of the church, with its method, in the days of Justin Martyr. This and no other is that which we plead for.
Unto these times belongs the most excellent epistle of the churches of Vienne and Lyons in France, unto the brethren in Asia and Phrygia, recorded at large by Eusebius, Hist., lib. v. cap. 1. Their design in it is to give an account of the holy martyrs who suffered in the persecution under Marcus Antoninus. I am no way concerned in what state Irenæus was in the church at Lyons, whereon, after the writing of this epistle, he was sent to Eleutherius, the bishop of Rome, which he gives an account of, cap. 4. He is, indeed, in that epistle called a presbyter of the church, although, as some suppose, it was sundry years after the death of Pothinus, whom they call bishop of Lyons, into whose room he immediately succeeded; and Eusebius himself, cap. 8, affirming that he would give an account of the writings of the ancient ecclesiastical presbyters, in the first place produceth those of Irenæus. But these things belong not unto our present contest. The epistle we intend was written by the brethren of those churches, and it was written to the brethren of the churches in Asia and Phrygia, after the manner of the Scripture; wherein the fraternity or body of the church was designed or intended in all such epistles. From them was this epistle, and unto those of the same sort was it written, — not from one bishop unto another. And as this manifests the concern of the brotherhood in all ecclesiastical affairs, so, with all other circumstances, it evidenceth that those churches were particular or congregational only. Nor is there any thing in the whole epistle that should give the least intimation of any other church-state known unto them. This epistle, as recorded by Eusebius, gives us a noble representation of the spirit and communion that was then among the churches of Christ; being written with apostolical simplicity and gravity, and remote from those titles of honour and affected swelling words, which the feigned writings of that age, and some that are genuine in those that followed, are stuffed withal.
297Tertullian, who lived about the end of the second century, gives us the same account of the state, order, and worship of the churches, as was given before by Justin Martyr, Apol. ad Gen. cap. xxxix. The description of a church he first lays down in these words: “Corpus sumus de conscientia religionis, et disciplinæ unitate, et spei fœdere;” — “We are a body” (united) “in the conscience of religion” (or a conscientious observation of the duties of religion), “by an agreement in discipline” (whereby it was usual with the ancients to express universal obedience unto the doctrine and commands of Christ), “and in a covenant of hope.” For whereas such a body or religious society could not be united but by a covenant, he calls it “a covenant of hope,” because the principal respect was had therein unto the things hoped for. They covenanted together so to live and walk in the discipline of Christ, or obedience unto his commands, as that they might come together unto the enjoyment of eternal blessedness.
This religious body or society, thus united by covenant, did meet together in the same assembly or congregation: “Corpus sumus, coimus in cœtum et congregationem, ut ad Deum quasi manu factâ precationibus ambiamus orantes;” and, “Cogimur ad divinarum literarum commemorationem,” etc. Designing to declare, as he doth in particular, “Negotia Christianæ factionis,” as he calls them, or the duties of Christian religion, which in their churches they did attend unto, he lays the foundation in their meetings in the same assembly or congregation.
In these assemblies there presided the elders, that, upon a testimony of their meetness unto that office, were chosen thereunto: “President probati quique seniores, honorem istum non pretio sed testimonio adepti.” And in the church thus met together in the same place, assembly, or congregation, under the rule and conduct of their elders, among other things they exercised discipline; that is, in the presence and by the consent of the whole: “Ibidem etiam, exhortationes, castigationes, et censura divina. Nam et judicatur magno cum pondere, ut apud certos de Dei conspectu; summumque futuri judicii præjudicium est, si quis ita deliquerit, ut a communicatione orationis et conventus, et omnis sancti commercii relegetur.” The loss of this discipline and the manner of its administration hath been one of the principal means of the apostasy of churches from their primitive institution.
To the same purpose doth Origen give us an account of the way of the gathering and establishing churches under elders of their own choosing, in the close of his last book against Celsus. And although in the days of Cyprian, in the third century, the distinction between the bishop in any church, eminently so called, and those who are 298only presbyters, with their imparity, and not only the precedency but superiority of one over others, began generally to be admitted, yet it is sufficiently manifest from his epistles that the church wherein he did preside was so far a particular church as that the whole body or fraternity of it was admitted unto all advice in things of common concernment unto the whole church, and allowed the exercise of their power and liberty in choosing or refusing the officers that were to be set over them.
Some few things we may observe from the testimonies insisted on; as, —
1. There is in them a true and full representation of the state, order, rule, and discipline of the churches in the first ages. It is a sufficient demonstration that all those things wherein at the present the state and order of the church are supposed to consist are indeed later inventions; not merely because they are not mentioned by them, but because they axe not so when they avowedly profess to give an account of that state and order of the church which was then in use and practice. Had there been then among Christians metropolitan archbishops, or bishops diocesan, churches national or provincial, an enclosure of church power or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, in and for the whole rule of the church, unto bishops and officers utterly foreign unto any pretence of apostolical institution or countenance; had many churches, or many hundreds of churches, been without rule in or among themselves, subject to the rule of any one man standing in no especial relation unto any of them; with other things of the like nature been then invented, known, and in use, — how could they possibly be excused in passing them over without the least taking notice of them, or giving them the honour of being once mentioned by them? How easy had it been for their pagan rulers, unto whom they presented their accounts (some of them) of the state of their churches, to have replied that they knew well enough there were other dignities, orders, and practices than what they did acknowledge, which they were either afraid or ashamed to own! But besides this silence, on the other hand, they assert such things of the officers appointed in the church, — of the way of their appointment, of the duty of officers in the church, of the power and liberty of the people, of the nature and exercise of discipline, — as are utterly inconsistent with that state of these things which is by some pleaded for. Yea, as we have showed, whatever they write or speak about churches or their order can have no being or exercise in any other form of churches but of particular congregations.
2. That account which they give, that representation which they make, of the kind, state, and order of the churches among them, doth absolutely agree with and answer unto what we are taught in the 299divine writings about the same things. There were, indeed, before the end of the second century, some practices in and about some lesser things (such as sending the consecrated elements from the assembly unto such as were sick) that they had no warrant for from any thing written or done by the apostles; but as unto the substance of what concerns the state, order, rule, discipline, and worship of evangelical churches, there is not any instance to be given wherein they departed from the apostolical traditions or institution, either by adding any thing of their own unto them, or omitting any thing that was by them ordained.
3. From this state the churches did by degrees and insensibly degenerate, so as that another form and order of them did appear towards the end of the third century; for some in the first churches not applying their minds unto the apostolical rule and practice, who “ordained elders in every church,” and that not only in cities and towns, but, as Clemens affirms, κατὰ χώρας, in the country villages, many disorders ensued with respect unto such collections of Christians and congregations as were gathered at some distance from the first or city church. Until the time of Origen, the example of the apostles in this case was followed, and their directions observed; for so he writes: Ἡμεῖς ἐν ἑκάστῃ πόλει ἄλλο σύστημα πατρίδος κτισθὲν λόγῳ Θεοῦ ἐπιστάμενοι τοὺς δυνατοὺς λογῳ καὶ βίῳ ὑγιεῖ χρωμένους ἄρχειν ἐπὶ τὸ ἄρχειν ἐκκλησιῶν παρακαλοῦμεν. — Καὶ εἰ ἄρχουσιν οἱ καλῶς ἄρχοντες ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, ὑπὸ τῆς κατὰ θεὸν πατρίδος, λέγω δὲ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, ἐκλεγόμενοι· ἄρχουσι κατὰ τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ προτεταγμένα· — “And we, knowing that there are other congregations gathered in the towns up and down, by the preaching of the word of God” (or, that there is another heavenly city in any town, built by the word of God), “we persuade some that are sound in doctrine and of good conversation, and meet for their rule, to take on them the conduct or rule of those churches; and these, whilst they rule within the churches those societies of divine institution by whom they are chosen, they govern them according to the prescriptions” (or commands) “and rules given by God himself,” Adver. Cels., lib. viii.
Those of whom he speaks, ἡμεῖς, were the pastors or principal members of the churches that were established. When they understood that, in any place distant from them, a number of believers were called and gathered into church-order by the preaching of the word, they presently, according unto their duty, took care of them, — inquired into their state and condition, assisting them, in particular, in finding out, trying, and recommending unto them persons meet to be their officers and rulers. These he acknowledgeth to be churches and cities of God, upon their collection by the preaching of the word, antecedently unto the constitution of any officers among them; as 300the apostles also did, Acts xiv. 22, 23. Wherefore, the church is essentially before its ordinary officers, and cannot, as unto its continuance, depend on any succession of theirs; which they have none but what it gives unto them. These officers thus recommended were chosen, as he tells us, by the churches wherein they were to preside, and thereon did govern them by the rule of God’s word alone.
Hereby was the original constitution and state of the first churches for a good season preserved. Nor was there the least abridgment of the power either of these churches or of their officers, because, it may be, they were some of them planted in poor country villages; for as no man in the world can hinder but that every true church hath “de jure” all the rights and powers that any other church in the world hath or ought to have, or that every true officer, bishop, elder, or pastor hath all the power that Christ hath annexed unto that office (be they at Rome or Eugubium,1313 A small town about eighty miles from Rome. The expression is borrowed from Jerome ad Evang.: “Ubicunque fuerit episcopus, sive Romæ, sive Eugubii, etc.” — Ed.) so there was no abridgment of this power in the meanest of them as yet attempted.
But this course and duty in many places, not long after, became to be much omitted. Whether out of ignorance, or negligence, or unwillingness of men to undertake the pastoral charge in poor country churches, I know not, but so it was, that believers in the regions round about any city, ἐν χώραις, were looked on as those which belonged unto the city churches, and were not settled in particular congregations for their edification, which they ought to have been; and the councils that afterward ensued made laws and canons that they should be under the government of the bishops of those city churches. But when the number of such believers was greatly increased, so as that it was needful to have some always attending the ministry among them, they came, I know not how, to have “chorepiscopi” among them and over them. The first mention of them is in the synod of Ancyra in Galatia, about the year 314, can. 13; and mention is again made of them in a synod of Antioch, an. 341, and somewhat before at the council of Neocæsarea, can. 13, and frequently afterward, as any one may see in the late collections of the ancient canons. I verily believe, nor can the contrary be proved, but that these “chorepiscopi” at first were as absolute and complete in the office of episcopacy as any of the bishops of the greater cities, having their name or denomination from the places of their residence (ἐπίσκοποι κατὰ χώρας), and not for an intimation of any inferiority in them unto other city bishops; but so it came to pass, that through their poverty and want of interest, their ministry being confined unto a small country parish, and perhaps through a comparative meanness of their gifts or abilities, the city bishop claimed a superiority over them, and made canons about their power, the bounding 301and exercising of it, in dependence on themselves. For a while they were esteemed a degree above mere presbyters, who accompanied or attended the bishop of the city church in his administrations, and a degree beneath the bishop himself, — in a posture never designed by Christ nor his apostles. Wherefore, in process of time, the name and thing were utterly lost, and all the country churches were brought into an absolute subjection unto the city churches, something being allowed unto them for worship, nothing for rule and discipline; whereby the first state of churches in their original institution, sacredly preserved in the first centuries, was utterly lost and demolished.
I shall add but one argument more to evince the true state and nature of evangelical churches herein, — namely, that they were only particular congregations; and that is taken from the duties and powers ascribed in the Scripture unto churches, and the members or entire brotherhood of them. It was observed before that the epistles of the apostles were written all of them unto the body of the churches, in contradistinction unto their elders, bishops, or pastors, unless it were those that were written unto particular persons by name. And as this is plain in all the epistles of Paul, wherein sometimes distinct mention is made of the officers of the church, sometimes none at all, so the apostle John affirms that he wrote unto the church, but that Diotrephes (who seems to have been their bishop) received him not, at once rejecting the authority of the apostle and overthrowing the liberty of the church; which example was diligently followed in the succeeding ages, 3 John 9. And the apostle Peter, writing unto the churches on an especial occasion, speaks distinctly of the elders, 1 Pet. v. 1, 2. See also Heb. xiii. 24, the body of the epistle being directed to the body of the churches. Wherefore, all the instructions, directions, and injunctions given in those epistles as unto the exercise of power or the performance of duty, they are given unto the churches themselves. Now, these are such, many of them, as cannot be acted or performed in any church by the body of the people, but that which is congregational only. It were too long here to insist on particulars, — it shall be done elsewhere; and it will thence appear that this argument alone is sufficient to bear the weight of this whole cause. The reader may, if he please, consider what representation hereof is made in these places compared together, Matt. xviii. 15–18; Acts i. 12, 23, ii. 1, 42, 44, 46, v. 11–13, xi. 21, 22, 25, 26, 28–30, xii. 5, 12, xiv. 26, 27, xv. 1–4, 6, 12, 13, 22, 23, 27, 28, 30, xx. 28; Rom. xv. 5, 6, 14, 25, 26, xvi. 1, 17, 18; 1 Cor. i. 4, 5, chap. v. throughout; xii. 4, 7–9, 11, 15, 18, 28–31, chap. xiv. throughout, xvi. 10, 11; 2 Cor. iii. 1–3, vii. 14, 15, viii. 22–24, ii. 6–11, viii. 5; Eph. ii. 19–22, v. 11, 12; Gal. vi. 1; Phil. ii. 25–28; Col. i. 1, 2, ii. 2, iii. 16, iv. 9, 12, 16, 17; 1 Thess. v. 11–14; 2 Thess. iii. 6, 7, 14, 15; 302Heb. x. 24, 25, xii. 15, 16. In these, I say, and other places innumerable, there are those things affirmed of and ascribed unto the apostolical churches, as unto their state, order, assemblies, duties, powers, and privileges, as evince them to have been only particular congregations.
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