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The continuation of a church-state and of the administration of evangelical ordinances of worship briefly vindicated.
The controversy about the continuation of a church-state and the administration of gospel ordinances of worship is not new in this age, though some pride themselves as though the invention of the error whereby they are denied were their own. In former ages, both in the Papacy and among some of them that forsook it, there were divers who, on a pretence of a peculiar spirituality and imaginary attainments in religion, wherein these things are unnecessary, rejected their observation. I suppose it necessary briefly to confirm the truth, and vindicate it from this exception; because, though it be sufficiently weak in itself, yet what it is lies against the foundation of all that we are pleading about. But to reduce things into the lesser compass, I shall first confirm the truth by those arguments or considerations which will defeat all the pleas and pretences of them by whom it is opposed, and then confirm it by positive testimonies and arguments, with all brevity possible.
First, therefore, I shall argue from the removal of all causes whereon such a cessation of churches and ordinances is pretended; for it is granted on all hands that they had a divine original and institution, and were observed by all the disciples of Christ as things by him commanded. If now, therefore, they cease as unto their force, efficacy, and use, it must be on some of these reasons:—
1. Because a limited time and season was fixed unto them, which is now expired. So was it with the church-state and ordinances of old; they Were appointed unto the “time of reformation,” Heb. ix. 10. They had a certain time prefixed unto their duration; according to 328the degrees of whose approach they waxed old, and at length utterly disappeared, Heb. viii. 13; until that time they were all punctually to be observed, Mal. iv. 4. But there were many antecedent indications of the will of God concerning their cessation and abolition; whereof the apostle disputes at large in his Epistle unto the Hebrews. And from a pretended supposition that such was the state of evangelical ordinances, — namely, that they had a time prefixed unto their duration, — did the first opposition against them arise; for Montanus, with his followers, imagined that the appointments of Christ and his apostles in the gospel were to continue in force only unto the coming of the Paraclete, or the Comforter, promised by him. And adding a new frenzy hereunto, that that Paraclete was then first come in Montanus, they rejected the institutions of the gospel, and made new laws and rules for themselves. And this continues to be the principal pretence of them by whom the use of gospel ordinances is at present rejected, as that which is of no force or efficacy. Either they have received or do speedily look for such a dispensation of the Spirit or his gifts as wherein they are to cease and disappear. But nothing can be more vain than this pretence:—
(1.) It is so as unto the limitation of any time as unto their duration and continuance; for, — [1.] There is no intimation given of any such thing, either in the divine word, promise, declaration about them, or the nature of the institutions themselves. But whereas those of the Old Testament were in time to be removed, that the church might not be offended thereby, seeing originally they were all of immediate divine institution, God did by all manner of ways, as by promises, express declarations, and by the nature of the institutions themselves, fore-signify their removal; as the apostle proves at large in his Epistle to the Hebrews. But nothing of this nature can be pretended concerning the gospel church-state or worship. [2.] There is no prediction or intimation of any other way of worship, or serving God in this world, that should be introduced in the room of that established at first; so that upon a cessation thereof the church must be left unto all uncertainties and utter ruin. [3.] The principal reason why a church-state was erected of old, and ordinances of worship appointed therein, that were all to be removed and taken away, was that the Son, the Lord over his own house, might have the pre-eminence in all things. His glory it was to put an end unto the law, as given by the disposition of angels and the ministry of Moses, by the institution of a church-state and ordinances of his own appointment. And if his revelation of the will of God therein be not complete, perfect, ultimate, unalterable, if it be to expire, it must be that honour may be given above him unto one greater than he.
(2.) It is so as unto their decay, or the loss of their primitive 329force and efficacy; for their efficacy unto their proper ends depends on, — [1.] The institution of Christ. This is the foundation of all spiritual efficacy unto edification in the church, or whatever belongs thereunto. And, therefore, whatever church-state may be framed, or duties, ways, or means of worship appointed by men that have not his institution, how specious soever they may appear to be, have no spiritual force or efficacy as unto the edification of the church. But whilst this institution of Christ continues irrevocable, and is not abrogated by a greater power than what it was enacted by, whatever defect there may be as unto faith and obedience in men, rendering them useless and ineffectual unto themselves, however they may be corrupted by additions unto them or detractions from them, changing their nature and use, in themselves they continue to be of the same use and efficacy as they were at the beginning. [2.] On the promise of Christ that he will be present with his disciples, in the observation of his commands, unto the consummation of all things, Matt. xxviii. 20. To deny the continued accomplishment of this promise, and that on any pretence whatever, is the venom of infidelity. If, therefore, they have an irrevocable divine institution, if Christ be present in their administrations, as he was of old, Rev. ii. 1, there can be no abatement of their efficacy unto their proper ends, in the nature of instrumental causes. [3.] On the covenant of God, which gives an infallible, inseparable conjunction between the word, or the church and its institution by the word, and the Spirit, Isa. lix. 21. God’s covenant with his people is the foundation of every church-state, of all offices, powers, privileges, and duties there unto belonging. They have no other end, they are of no other use, but to communicate, express, declare, and exemplify, on the one hand, the grace of God in his covenant unto his people, and, on the other, the duties of his people according unto the tenor of the same covenant unto him. They are the way, means, and instruments appointed of God for this end, and other end they have none; and hereon it follows, that if it be not in the power of men to appoint any thing that shall be a means of communication between God and his people, as unto the grace of the covenant on the one hand, or the duties of obedience which it requires on the other, they have no power to erect any new church-state, or enact any thing in divine worship not of his institution This being the state of churches and their ordinances, they cannot be altered, they cannot be liable unto any decay, unless the covenant whereunto they are annexed be altered or decayed; and therefore the apostle, to put finally and absolutely his argument unto an issue to prove that the Mosaical church-state and ordinances were changed, because useless and ineffectual, doth it on this ground, that the covenant whereunto they 330were annexed was changed and become useless. This, I suppose, at present, will not be said concerning the new covenant, whereunto all ordinances of divine worship are inseparably annexed.
Men might at a cheaper rate, as unto the eternal interest of their own souls, provide another covering for their sloth, negligence, unbelief, and indulgence unto proud, foolish imaginations, whereby they render the churches and ordinances of the gospel useless and ineffectual unto themselves; thereby charging them with a decay and uselessness, and so reflecting on the honour and faithfulness of Christ himself.
2. They do not cease because there is at present, or at least there is shortly to be expected, such an effusion of the gifts and graces of the Spirit as to render all these external institutions needless, and consequently useless. This, also, is falsely pretended. For, — (1.) The greatest and most plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit in his gifts and graces was in the days of the apostles, and of the first churches planted by them; nor is any thing beyond it, or indeed equal unto it, any more to be expected in this world; — but yet then was the gospel church-state erected, and the use of all its ordinances of worship enjoined. (2.) The ministry of the gospel, which compriseth all the ordinances of church-worship as its object and end, is the ministration of the Spirit; and therefore no supplies or communication of him can render it useless. (3.) One of the principal ends for which the communication of the Spirit is promised unto the church is to make and render all the institutions of Christ effectual unto its edification. (4.) 1 John ii. 20, 27, is usually pleaded as giving countenance into this fond pretence. But, — [1.] The unction mentioned by the apostle was then upon all believers. Yet, — [2.] It is known that then they all walked in church-order, and in the sacred observation of all the institutions of Christ. [3.] If it takes away any thing, it is the preaching of the word, or all manner of teaching and instruction; which is to overthrow the whole Scripture, and to reduce religion into barbarism. [4.] Nothing is intended in these words but the different way of teaching and degrees of success between that under the law and that now established in the gospel, by the plentiful effusion of the Spirit; as hath been evidenced at large elsewhere. Nor, —
3. Do they cease in their administration for want either of authority or ability to dispense them, which is pleaded unto the same end? But neither is this pretence of any force; it only begs the thing in question. (1.) The authority of office for the administration of all other ordinances is an institution; and to say that all institutions cease because none have authority to administer them is to say they must all cease because they are ceased. (2.) The office of the ministry, 331for the continuation of the church-state, and administration of all ordinances of worship, unto the end of the world, is sufficiently secured, — [1.] By the law, constitution, and appointment of our Lord Jesus Christ erecting that office, and giving warranty for its continuance to the consummation of all things, Matt. xxviii. 20; Eph. iv. 13. [2.] By his continuance, according unto his promise, to communicate spiritual gifts unto men, for the ministerial edification of the church. That this he doth so continue to do that it is the principal external evidence of his abiding in the discharge of his mediatory office, and of what nature these gifts are, I have declared at large in a peculiar discourse on that subject. [3.] On the duty of believers or of the church, which is to choose, call, and solemnly set apart unto the office of the ministry such as the Lord Christ by his Spirit hath made meet for it, according unto the rule of his word.
If all these, or any of them, do fail, I acknowledge that all ministerial authority and ability for the dispensation of gospel ordinances must fail also, and consequently the state of the church. And those who plead for the continuation of a successive ministry without respect unto these things, without resolving both the authority and office of it into them, do but erect a dead image, or embrace a dead carcase, instead of the living and life-giving institutions of Christ. They take away the living creature, and set up a skin stuffed with straw. But if these things do unalterably continue; if the law of Christ can neither be changed, abrogated, nor disannulled; if his dispensation of spiritual gifts according unto his promise cannot be impeded; if believers, through his grace, will continue in obedience unto his commands, — it is not possible there should be an utter failure in this office and office-power of this ministry. It may fail in this or that place, in this or that church, when the Lord Christ will remove his candlestick; but it hath a living root, whence it will spring again in other places and churches, whilst this world doth endure. Neither, —
4. Do they cease because they have been all of them corrupted, abused, and defiled, in the apostasy which fell out among all the churches in the latter ages, as it was fully foretold in the Scripture. For, — (1.) This supposition would make the whole kingdom of Christ in the world to depend on the corrupt lusts and wills of men, which have got by any means the outward possession of the administration of his laws and ordinances. This is all one as if we should say, that if a pack of wicked judges should for a season pervert justice, righteousness, and judgment, the being of the kingdom is so overthrown thereby as that it can never be restored. (2.) It would make all the duties and all the privileges of all true believers to depend on the wills of wicked apostates; for if they may not make use of what they 332have abused, they can never yield obedience to the commands of Christ, nor enjoy the privileges which he hath annexed unto his church and worship. (3.) On this supposition all reformation of an apostatized church is utterly impossible. But it is our duty to heal even Babylon itself, by a reduction of all things unto their first institution, if it would be healed, Jer. li. 9; and if not, we are to forsake her and reform ourselves, Rev. xviii. 4.
There is nothing, therefore, in all these pretences, that should in the least impeach the infallible continuation of the evangelical churches and worship, as to their right, unto the end of the world. And the heads of those arguments whereby the truth is invincibly confirmed may be briefly touched on:—
1. There are express testimonies of the will of Christ, and his promise for its accomplishment, that the church and all its ordinances of worship should be continued always, unto the end of the world. So as to the church itself, Matt. xvi. 18, Rev. xxi. 3; the ministry, Matt. xxviii. 20, Eph. iv. 13; baptism, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20; the Lord’s supper, 1 Cor. xi. 26. As for other institutions, public prayer, preaching the word, the Lord’s day, singing of God’s praises, the exercise of discipline, with what belongs thereunto, they have their foundation in the law and fight of nature, being only directed and applied unto the gospel church-state and worship by rules of especial institution; and they can no more cease than the original obligation of that law can so do.
If it be said, that notwithstanding what may be thus pleaded, yet, “de facto,” the true state of gospel churches and their whole worship, as unto its original institution, did fail under the papal apostasy, and therefore may do so again, I answer, — (1.) We do not plead that this state of things must be always visible and conspicuous; wherein all protestant writers do agree. It is acknowledged, that as unto public view, observation, and notoriety, all these things were lost under the Papacy, and may be so again under a renewed apostasy. (2.) I do not plead it to be necessary, “de facto,” that there should be really at all times a true visible church, as the seat of all ordinances and, administrations in the world; but all such churches may fail, not only as unto visibility, but as unto their existence. But this supposition of a failure of all instituted churches and worship I grant only with these limitations:— [1.] That it is of necessity, from innumerable divine promises and the nature of Christ’s kingly office, that there be always in the world a number, greater or lesser, of sincere believers, that openly profess subjection and obedience unto him; [2.] That in these persons there resides an indefeasible right always to gather themselves into a church-state, and to administer all gospel ordinances, which all the world cannot deprive them of: 333which is the whole of what I now plead for. And let it be observed, that all the ensuing arguments depend on this right, and not on any matter of fact. [3.] I do not know how far God may accept of churches in a very corrupt state, and of worship much depraved, until they have new means for their reformation; nor will I make any judgment of persons, as unto their eternal condition, who walk in churches so corrupted, and in the performance of worship so de-prayed: but as unto them who know them to be so corrupted and depraved, it is a damnable sin to join with them or not to separate from them, Rev. xviii. 4.
2. The nature and use of the gospel church-state require and prove the uninterrupted continuance of the right of its existence, and the observance of all ordinances of divine worship therein, with a power in them in whom that right doth indefeasibly reside, — that is, all true believers, — to bring it forth into exercise and practice, notwithstanding the external impediments which in some places at some times may interrupt its exercise. In the observation of Christ’s institutions and celebration of the ordinances of divine worship doth the church-state of the gospel, as professing, consist. It doth so in opposition, — (1.) Unto the world and the kingdom of Satan; for hereby do men call Jesus “Lord,” as 1 Cor. xii. 3, and avow their subjection Unto his kingly power. (2.) Unto the church-state of the Old Testament, as the apostle disputes at large in his Epistle unto the Hebrews. And this state of the professing church in this world is unalterable, because it is the best state that the believing church is capable of; for so the apostle plainly proves, that hereby the believing church is brought εἰς τελείωσιν, which it was not under the law, — that is, unto its consummation, in the most complete perfection that God hath designed unto it on this side glory, Heb. vii. 11, 19. For Christ in all his offices is the immediate head of it; its constitution, and the revelation of the ways of its worship, are an effect of his wisdom; and from thence is it eminently suited unto all the ends of the covenant, both on the part of God and man, and is therefore liable to no intercision or alteration.
3. The visible administration of the kingdom of Christ in this world consists in this church-state, with the administration of his institutions and laws therein. A kingdom the Lord Jesus Christ hath in this world; and though it be not of the world, yet in the world it must be until the world shall be no more. The truth of all God’s promises in the Scripture depends on this one assertion. We need not here concern ourselves what notions some men have about the exercise of this kingdom in the world, with respect unto the outward affairs and concerns of it; but this is certain, that this kingdom of Christ in the world, so far as it is external and visible, consists in 334the laws he hath given, the institutions he hath appointed, the rule or polity he hath prescribed, with the due observance of them. Now, all these things do make, constitute, and are the church-state and worship inquired after. Wherefore, as Christ always hath, and ever will have, an invisible kingdom in this world, in the souls of elect believers, led, guided, ruled by his Spirit, so he will have a visible kingdom also, consisting in a professed, avowed subjection unto the laws of his word, Rom. x. 10. And although this kingdom, or his kingdom in this sense, may, as unto the essence of it, be preserved in the external profession of individual persons, and it may be so exist in the world for a season, yet the honour of it and its complete establishment consist in the visible profession of churches; which he will therefore maintain unto the end. But by visible in this discourse, I understand not that which is conspicuous and eminent unto all, through the church hath been so, and shall yet be so again; nor yet that which is actually seen or known by others; but only that which may be so, or is capable of being so known. Nor do I assert a necessity hereof, as unto a constant preservation of purity and regularity in order and ordinances, according to the original institution of them a in any place; but only of an unalterable right and power in believers to render them visible: which it becomes their indispensable duty to do when outward impediments are not absolutely insuperable. But of these things thus far, ὡς ἐν παρόδῳ.
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