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The subject-matter of the church.
The church may be considered either as unto its essence, constitution, and being, or as unto its power and order, when it is organized. As unto its essence and being, its constituent parts are its matter and form. These we must inquire into.
By the matter of the church, we understand the persons whereof the church doth consist, with their qualifications; and by its form, the reason, cause, and way of that kind of relation among them which gives them the being of a church, and therewithal an interest in all that belongs unto a church, either privilege or power, as such.
Our first inquiry being concerning what sort of persons our Lord Jesus Christ requireth and admitteth to be the visible subjects of his kingdom, we are to be regulated in our determination by respect unto his honour, glory, and the holiness of his rule. To reckon such persons to be subjects of Christ, members of his body, such as he requires and owns (for others are not so), who would not be tolerated, at least not approved, in a well-governed kingdom or commonwealth of the world, is highly dishonourable unto him, Ps. xv. 1–5, xxiv. 3, 4, xciii. 5; 2 Cor. viii. 23; Eph. v. 27. But it is so come to pass, that let men be never so notoriously and flagitiously wicked, until they become pests of the earth, yet are they esteemed to belong to the church of Christ; and not only so, but it is thought little less than schism to forbid them the communion of the church in all its sacred privileges. Howbeit, the Scripture doth in general represent the kingdom or church of Christ to consist of persons called saints, separated from the world, with many other things of an alike nature, as we shall see immediately. And if the honour of Christ were of such weight with us as it ought to be, — if we understood aright the nature and ends of his kingdom, and that the peculiar glory of it above all the kingdoms in the world consists in the holiness of its subjects, such a holiness as the world in its wisdom knoweth not, 12— we would duly consider whom we avow to belong thereunto. Those who know aught of these things will not profess that persons openly profane, vicious, sensual, wicked, and ignorant, are approved and owned of Christ as the subjects of his kingdom, or that it is his will that we should receive them into the communion of the church, 2 Tim. iii. 1–5. But an old opinion of the unlawfulness of separation from a church on the account of the minute of wicked men in it is made a scare-crow to frighten men from attempting the reformation of the greatest evils, and a covert for the composing churches of such members only.
Some things, therefore, are to be premised unto what shall be offered unto the right stating of this inquiry; as, —
1. That if there be no more required of any, as unto personal qualifications, in a visible, uncontrollable profession, to constitute them subjects of Christ’s kingdom and members of his church, Ezek. xxii. 26, but what is required by the most righteous and severe laws of men to constitute a good subject or citizen, the distinction between his visible kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, as unto the principal causes of it, is utterly lost. Now, all negative qualifications, as, that men are not oppressors, drunkards, revilers, swearers, adulterers, etc., are required hereunto; but yet it is so fallen out that generally more is required to constitute such a citizen as shall represent the righteous laws he liveth under than to constitute a member of the church of Christ.
2. That whereas regeneration is expressly required in the gospel to give a right and privilege unto an entrance into the church or kingdom of Christ, John iii. 3, Tit. iii. 3–5, whereby that kingdom of his is distinguished from all other kingdoms in and of the world, unto an interest wherein never any such thing was required, it must of necessity be something better, more excellent and sublime, than any thing the laws and polities of men pretend unto or prescribe. Wherefore it cannot consist in any outward rite, easy to be observed by the worst and vilest of men. Besides, the Scripture gives us a description of it in opposition unto its Consisting in any such rite, 1 Pet. iii. 21; and many things required unto good citizens are far better than the mere observation of such a rite.
3. Of this regeneration baptism is the symbol, the sign, the expression, and representation, John iii. 5; Acts ii. 38; 1 Pet. iii. 21. Wherefore, unto those who are in a due manner partakers of it, it giveth all the external rights and privileges which belong unto them that are regenerate, until they come unto such seasons wherein the personal performance of those duties whereon the continuation of the estate of visible regeneration doth depend is required of them. Herein if they fail, they lose all privilege and benefit by their baptism.
13So speaks the apostle in the case of circumcision under the law: Rom. ii. 25, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.” It is so in the case of baptism. Verily it profiteth, if a man stand unto the terms of the covenant which is tendered therein between God and his soul, for it will give him a right unto all the outward privileges of a regenerate state; but if he do not, as in the sight of God, his baptism is no baptism, as unto the real communication of grace and acceptance with him, Phil. iii. 18, 19; Tit. i. 15, 16. So, in the sight of the church, it is no baptism, as unto a participation of the external rights and privileges of a regenerate state.
4. God alone is judge concerning this regeneration, as unto its internal, real principle and state in the souls of men, Acts xv. 8, Rev. ii. 23, whereon the participation of all the spiritual advantages of the covenant of grace doth depend. The church is judge of its evidences and fruits in their external demonstration, as unto a participation of the outward privileges of a regenerate state, and no farther, Acts viii. 13. And we shall hereon briefly declare what belongs unto the forming of a right judgment herein, and who are to be esteemed fit members of any gospel church-state, or have a right so to be:—
1. Such as from whom we are obliged to withdraw or withhold communion can be no part of the matter constituent of a church, or are not meet members for the first constitution of it, 1 Cor. vi. 9–11; Phil. iii. 18, 19; 2 Thess. iii. 6; 2 Tim. iii. 5; Rom. ix. 6, 7; Tit. i. 16. But such are all habitual sinners, those who, having prevalent habits and inclinations unto sins of any kind unmortified, do walk according unto them. Such are profane swearers, drunkards, fornicators, covetous, oppressors, and the like, “who shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Cor. vi. 9–11; Phil. iii. 18, 19; 2 Thess. iii. 6; 2 Tim. iii. 5. As a man living and dying in any known sin, that is, habitually, without repentance, cannot be saved, so a man known to live in sin cannot regularly be received into any church. To compose churches of habitual sinners, and that either as unto sins of commission or sins of omission, is not to erect temples to Christ, but chapels unto the devil.
2. Such as, being in the fellowship of the church, are to be admonished of any scandalous sin, which if they repent not of they are to be cast out of the church, are not meet members for the original constitution of a church, Matt. xviii. 15–18; 1 Cor. v. 11. This is the state of them who abide obstinate in any known sin, whereby they have given offence unto others, without a professed repentance thereof, although they have not lived in it habitually.
3. They are to be such as visibly answer the description given of 14gospel churches in the Scripture, so as the titles assigned therein unto the members of such churches may on good grounds be appropriated unto them. To compose churches of such persons as do not visibly answer the character given of what they were of old, and what they were always to be by virtue of the law of Christ or gospel constitution, is not church edification but destruction. And those who look on the things spoken of all church-members of old, as that they were saints by calling, lively stones in the house of God, justified and sanctified, separated from the world, etc., as those which were in them, and did indeed belong unto them, but even deride the necessity of the same things in present church-members, or the application of them unto those who are so, are themselves no small part of that woful degeneracy which Christian religion is fallen under. Let it then be considered what is spoken of the church of the Jews in their dedication unto God, as unto their typical holiness, with the application of it unto Christian churches in real holiness, 1 Pet. ii. 5, 9, with the description given of them constantly in the Scripture, as faithful, holy, believing, as the house of God, as his temple wherein he dwells by his Spirit, as the body of Christ united and compacted by the communication of the Spirit unto them, as also what is said concerning their, ways, walkings, and duties, and it will be uncontrollably evident of what sort our church-members ought to be. Nor are those of any other sort able to discharge the duties which are incumbent on all church-members, nor to use the privileges they are intrusted withal. Wherefore, I say, to suppose churches regularly to consist of such persons, for the greater part of them, as no way answer the description given of church-members in their original institution, nor capable to discharge the duties prescribed unto them, but giving evidence of habits and actions inconsistent therewithal, is not only to disturb all church-order, but utterly to overthrow the ends and being of churches. Nor is there any thing more scandalous unto Christian religion than what Bellarmine affirms to be the judgment of the Papists, in opposition unto all others, namely, “That no internal virtue or grace is required unto the constitution of a church in its members,” De Eccles. lib. iii. cap. ii.
4. They must be such as do make an open profession of the subjection of their souls and consciences unto the authority of Christ in the gospel, and their readiness to yield obedience unto all his commands, Rom. x. 10; 2 Cor. viii. 5, ix. 13; Matt. x. 32, 33; Luke ix. 26; 2 Tim. ii. 12; Rom. xv. 9; John xii. 42, 1 John iv. 2, 3, 15. This, I suppose, will not be denied; for not only doth the Scripture make this profession necessary unto the participation of any benefit or privilege of the gospel, but the nature of the things themselves requires indispensably that so it should be: for nothing can be 15more unreasonable than that men should be taken into the privileges attending obedience unto the laws and commands of Christ, without avowing or professing that obedience. Wherefore our inquiry is only [about] what is required unto such a profession as may render men meet to be members of a church, and give them a right thereunto; for to suppose such a confession of Christian religion to be compliant with the gospel which is made by many who openly live in sin, “being disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate,” is to renounce the gospel itself. Christ is not the high priest of such a profession. I shall therefore declare briefly what is necessary unto this profession, that all may know what it is which is required unto the entrance of any into our churches, wherein our practice hath been sufficiently traduced:—
(1.) There is required unto it a competent knowledge of the doctrines and mystery of the gospel, especially concerning the person and offices of Christ. The confession hereof was the ground whereon he granted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, or all church-power, unto believers, Matt. xvi. 15–19. The first instruction which he gave unto his apostles was that they should teach men, by the preaching of the gospel, in the knowledge of the truth revealed by him. The knowledge required in the members of the Judaical church, that they might be translated into the Christian, was principally, if not solely, that of his person, and the acknowledgment of him to be the true Messiah, the Son of God; for as on their unbelief thereof their eternal ruin did depend, as he told them, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” so the confession of him was sufficient on their part unto their admission into the gospel church-state. And the reasons of it are apparent. With others, an instruction in all the mysteries of religion, especially in those that are fundamental, is necessary unto the profession we inquire after. So Justin Martyr tells us what pains they took in those primitive times to instruct those in the mysteries of religion who, upon a general conviction of its truth, were willing to adhere unto the profession of it. And what was their judgment herein is sufficiently known from the keeping a multitude in the state of catechumens before they would admit them into the fellowship of the church. They are not therefore to be blamed, they do but discharge their duty, who refuse to receive into church-communion such as are ignorant of the fundamental doctrines and mysteries of the gospel, or if they have learned any thing of them from a form of words, yet really understand nothing of them. The promiscuous driving of all sorts of persons who have been baptized in their infancy unto a participation of all church-privileges is a profanation of the holy institutions of Christ. This knowledge, therefore, belonging unto profession is itself to be professed.
16(2.) There is required unto it a professed subjection of soul and conscience unto the authority of Christ in the church, Matt. xxviii. 18–20; 2 Cor. viii. 5. This in general is performed by all that are baptized when they are adult, as being by their own actual consent baptized in the name of Christ; and it is required of all them who are baptized in their infancy, when they are able with faith and understanding to profess their consent unto and abiding in that covenant whereinto they were initiated.
(3.) An instruction in and consent unto the doctrine of self-denial and bearing of the cross, in a particular manner; for this is made indispensably necessary by our Saviour himself unto all that will be his disciples, Matt. x. 37–39; Mark viii. 34, 38; Luke ix. 23; Phil. iii. 18; Acts iv. 10, 11, 20, xxiv. 14. And it hath been a great disadvantage unto the glory of Christian religion that men have not been more and better instructed therein. It is commonly thought that whoever will may be a Christian at an easy rate, — it will cost him nothing. But the gospel gives us another account of these things; for it not only warns us that reproaches, hatred, sufferings of all sorts, ofttimes to death itself, are the common lot of all its professors who will live godly in Christ Jesus, but also requires that at our initiation into the profession of it, we consider aright the dread of them all, and engage cheerfully to undergo them. Hence, in the primitive times, whilst all sorts of miseries were continually presented unto them who embraced the Christian religion, their willing engagement to undergo them who were converted was a firm evidence of the sincerity of their faith, as it ought to be unto us also in times of difficulty and persecution. Some may suppose that the loath and confession of this doctrine of self-denial and readiness for the cross is of use only in time of persecution, and so doth not belong unto them who have continually the countenance and favour of public authority. I say, it is, at least as they judge, well for them; with others it is not so, whose outward state makes the public avowing of this duty indispensably necessary unto them. And I may add it as my own thoughts (though they are not my own alone), that notwithstanding all the countenance that is given unto any church by the public magistracy, yet whilst we are in this world, those who will faithfully discharge their duty, as ministers of the gospel especially, shall have need to be prepared for sufferings. To escape sufferings, and enjoy worldly advantages by sinful compliances, or bearing with men in their sins, is no gospel direction.
(4.) Conviction and confession of sin, with the way of deliverance by Jesus Christ, is that “answer of a good conscience” that is required in the baptism of them that are adult, 1 Pet. iii. 21.
(5.) Unto this profession is required the constant performance of all known duties of religion, both of piety in the public and private 17worship of God, as also of charity with respect unto others, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20. “Show me thy faith by thy works,” James ii. 18.
And the gospel requires that this confession be made (“with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”) against, — (1.) Fear; (2.) Shame; (3.) The course of the world; (4.) The opposition of all enemies whatever.
Hence it appears that there are none excluded from an entrance into the church-state but such as are either, — (1.) Grossly ignorant; or, (2.) Persecutors or reproachers of those that are good, or of the ways of God wherein they walk; or, (3.) Idolaters; or, (4.) Men scandalous in their lives, in the commission of sins or omission of duties, through vicious habits or inclinations; or, (5.) Such as would partake of gospel privileges and ordinances, yet openly avow that they will not submit unto the law and commands of Christ in the gospel; concerning whom and the like the Scripture rule is peremptory, “From such turn away.”
And herein we are remote from exceeding the example and care of the primitive churches; yea, there are but few, if any, that arrive unto it. Their endeavour was to preach unto all they could, and they rejoiced in the multitudes that came to hear the word; but if any did essay to join themselves unto the church, their diligence in their examination and instruction, their severe inquiries into their conversation, their disposing of them for a long time into a state of expectation for their trial, before their admittance, were remarkable; and some of the ancients complain that the promiscuous admittance of all sorts of persons that would profess the Christian religion into church-membership, which took place afterward, ruined all the beauty, order, and discipline of the church.
The things ascribed unto those who are to be esteemed the proper subject-matter of a visible church are such as, in the judgment of charity, entitle them unto all the appellations of “saints, called, sanctified,” — that is, visibly and by profession, — which are given unto the members of all the churches in the New Testament, and which must be answered in those who are admitted into that privilege, if we do not wholly neglect our only patterns. By these things, although they should any of them not be real living members of the mystical body of Christ, unto whom he is a head of spiritual and vital influence, yet are they meet members of that body of Christ unto which he is a head of rule and government, as also meet to be esteemed subjects of his kingdom; and none are excluded but such as concerning whom rules are given either to withdraw from them or to cast them out of church-society, or are expressly excluded by 18God himself from any share in the privileges of his covenant, Ps. l. 16, 17.
Divines of all sorts do dispute, from the Scripture and the testimonies of the ancients, that hypocrites and persons unregenerate may be true members of visible churches; and it is a matter very easy to he proved, nor do I know any by whom it is denied: but the only question is, that whereas, undoubtedly, profession is necessary unto all church-communion, whether, if men do profess themselves hypocrites in state and unregenerate in mind, that profession do sufficiently qualify them for church-communion; and whereas there is a double profession, one by words, the other by works, as the apostle declares, Tit. i. 16, whether the latter be not as interpretative of the mind and state of men as the former. Other contest we have with none in this matter.
Bellarmine, De Eccles. lib. iii. cap. ii., gives an account out of Augustine, and that truly, from Brevis. Collat. Col. 3, of the state of the church. “It doth,” saith he, “consist of a soul and body. The soul is the internal graces of the Spirit; the body is the profession of them, with the sacraments. All true believers making profession belong to the soul and body of the church. Some (as believing catechumens) belong to the soul, but not to the body; others are of the body, but not of the soul, — namely, such as have no internal grace or true faith, — and they are like the hair, or the nails, or evil humours in the body.” And thereunto adds, that his definition of the church compriseth this last sort only; which is all one as if we should define a man to be a thing constituted and made up of hair, nails, and ill humours: and let others take heed that they have no such churches.
There is nothing more certain in matter of fact than that evangelical churches, at their first constitution, were made up and did consist of such members as we have described, and no others; nor is there one word in the whole Scripture intimating any concession or permission of Christ to receive into his church those who are not so qualified. Others have nothing to plead for themselves but possession; which, being “malæ fidei,” ill obtained and ill continued, will afford them no real advantage when the time of trial shall come. Wherefore it is certain that such they ought to be. No man, as I suppose, is come unto that profligate sense of spiritual things as to deny that the members of the church ought to be visibly holy: for if so, they may affirm that all the promises and privileges made and granted to the church do belong unto them who visibly live and die an their sins; which is to overthrow the gospel And if they ought so to be, and were so at first, when they are not so openly and visibly, there is a declension from the original constitution of churches, and a sinful deviation in them from the rule of Christ.
19This original constitution of churches, with respect unto their members, was, for the substance of it, as we observed, preferred in the primitive times, whilst persecution from without was continued and discipline preserved within. I have in part declared before what great care and circumspection the church then used in the admission of any into their fellowship and order, and what trial they were to undergo before they were received; and it is known also with what severe discipline they watched over the faith, walking, conversation, and manners of all their members, Indeed, such was their care and diligence herein that there is scarce left, in some churches at present, the least resemblance or appearance of what was their state and manner of rule. Wherefore some think it meet to ascend no higher in the imitation of the primitive churches than the times of the Christian emperors, when all things began to rush into the fatal apostasy, which I shall here speak a little farther unto; for, —
Upon the Roman emperors’ embracing Christian religion, whereby not only outward peace and tranquillity was secured unto the church, but the profession of Christian religion was countenanced, encouraged, honoured, and rewarded, the rule, care, and diligence of the churches, about the admission of members, were in a great measure relinquished and forsaken. The rulers of the church began to think that the glory of it consisted in its numbers, finding both their own power, veneration, and revenue increased thereby. In a short time, the inhabitants of whole cities and provinces, upon a bare, outward profession, were admitted into churches. And then began the outward court, — that is, all that which belongs unto the outward worship and order of the church, — to be trampled on by the Gentiles, not kept any more to the measure of Scripture rule, which thenceforth was applied only to the temple of God and them that worshipped therein: for this corruption of the church, as to the matter of it, was the occasion and means of introducing all that corruption in doctrine, worship, order, and rule, which ensued, and ended in the great apostasy; for whatever belonged unto any of these things, especially those that consist in practice, were accommodated unto the state of the members of the churches. And such they were as stood in need of superstitious rites to be mixed with their worship, as not understanding the power and glory of that which is spiritual; such as no interest in church-order could be committed unto, seeing they were not qualified to bear any share in it; such as stood in need of a rule over them with grandeur and power, like unto that among the Gentiles, Wherefore, the accommodation of all church concerns unto the state and condition of such corrupt members as churches were filled with, and at length made up of, proved the ruin of the church in all its order and beauty.
But so it fell out, that in the protestant reformation of the church 20very little regard was had thereunto. Those great and worthy persons who were called unto that work did set themselves principally, yea, solely, for the most part, against the false doctrine and idolatrous worship of the church of Rome, as judging that if they were removed and taken away, the people, by the efficacy of truth and order of worship, would be retrieved from the evil of their ways, and primitive holiness be again reduced among them; for they thought it was the doctrine and worship of that church which had filled the people with darkness and corrupted their conversations. Nor did they absolutely judge amiss therein: for although they were themselves at first introduced in compliance with the ignorance and wickedness of the people, yet they were suited to promote them as well as to countenance them; which they did effectually. Hence it came to pass that the reformation of the church, as unto the matter of it, or the purity and holiness of its members, was not in the least attempted, until Calvin set up his discipline at Geneva; which hath filled the world with clamours against him from that day to this. In most other places, churches, in the matter of them, continued the same as they were in the Papacy, and in many places as bad in their lives as when they were Papists.
But this method was designed, in the holy, wise providence of God, for the good and advantage of the church, in a progressive reformation, as it had made a gradual progress into its decay; for had the reformers, in the first place, set themselves to remove out of the church such as were unmeet for its communion, or to have gathered out of them such as were meet members of the church, according to its original institution, it would, through the paucity of the number of those who could have complied with the design, have greatly obstructed, if not utterly defeated, their endeavour for the reformation of doctrine and worship. This was that which, in the preaching of the gospel and the profession of it, God hath since made effectual, in these nations especially, and in other places, to turn multitudes “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto himself, translating them into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Hereby way is made for a necessary addition unto the work of reformation, if not to the closing of it, which could not at first be attained unto nor well attempted, — namely, the reduction of churches, as unto their matter, or the members of them, unto the primitive institution.
The sum of what is designed in this discourse is this only:— We desire no more to constitute church-members, and we can desire no less, than what, in the judgment of charity, may comply with the union that is between Christ the head and the church, 1 Cor. xii. 27, Eph. ii. 22, 1 Cor. iii. 16, 17, 2 Cor. viii. 5, 1 Thess. i. 1, 2, etc.; than may, in the same judgment, answer the way of the beginning and increase of the church, according unto the will of God, who adds unto 21the church such as shall be saved, Acts ii. 47, the rule of our receiving of them being because he hath received them, Rom. xiv. 1–3; than may answer that profession of faith which was the foundation of the church, which was not what flesh and blood, but what God himself revealed, Matt. xvi. 16, 17, and not such as have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof, 2 Tim. iii. 5. We acknowledge that many church-members are not what they ought to be, but that many hypocrites may be among them; that the judgment which is passed on the confession and profession of them that are to be admitted into churches is charitative, proceeding on evidence of moral probability, not determining the reality of the things themselves; that there are sundry measures of light, knowledge, experience, and abilities and readiness of mind, in those that are to be admitted, all whose circumstances are duly to be considered, with indulgence unto their weakness; and if the Scripture will allow us any further latitude, we are ready to embrace it.
Our present inquiry yet remaining on these considerations is, What is our duty in point of communion with such churches as are made up or composed of members visibly unholy, or such as comply not with the qualifications that are, by the rules of the gospel, indispensably required to give unto any a regular entrance into the church, with a participation of its privileges; for it is in vain to expect that such churches will reform themselves by any act, duty, or power of their own, seeing the generality of them are justly supposed averse from and enemies unto any such work. I answer, therefore, —
1. It must be remembered that communion with particular churches is to be regulated absolutely by edification. No man is or can be obliged to abide in or confine himself unto the communion of any particular church any longer than it is for his edification. And this liberty is allowed unto all persons by the church of England; for allow a man to be born in such a parish, to be baptized in it, and there educated, yet if at any time he judge that the ministry of the parish is not useful unto his edification, he may withdraw from the communion in that parish by the removal of his habitation, it may be to the next door. Wherefore —
2. If the corruption of a church, as to the matter of it, be such as that, —
(1.) It is inconsistent with and overthroweth all that communion that ought to be among the members of the same church, in love without dissimulation (whereof we shall treat afterward);
(2.) If the scandals and offences which must of necessity abound in such churches be really obstructive of edification;
(3.) If the ways and walking of the generality of their members be dishonourable unto the gospel and the profession of it, giving no representation of the holiness of Christ or his doctrine;
22(4.) If such churches do not, can not, will not reform themselves: then, —
It is the duty of every man who takes care of his own present edification and the future salvation of his soul peaceably to withdraw from the communion of such churches, and to join in such others where all the ends of church-societies may in some measure be obtained. Men may not only do so, because all obligation unto the use of means for the attaining of such an end doth cease when the means are not suited thereunto, but obstructive of its attainment, but also because the giving of a testimony hereby against the declension from the rule of Christ in the institution of churches, and the dishonour that by this means is inflicted on the gospel, is necessary unto all that desire to acquit themselves as loyal subjects unto their Lord and King. And it cannot be questioned, by any who understand the nature, use, and end of evangelical churches, but that a relinquishment of the rule of the gospel in any of them, as unto the practice of holiness, is as just a cause of withdrawing communion from them as their forsaking the same rule in doctrine and worship.
It may be some will judge that sundry inconveniencies will ensue on this assertion, when any have a mind to practice according unto it; but when the matter of fact supposed is such as is capable of an uncontrollable evidence, no inconvenience can ensue on the practice directed unto, any way to be compared unto the mischief of obliging believers to abide always in such societies, to the ruin of their souls.
Two things may be yet inquired into, that relate unto this part of the state of evangelical churches; as, —
1. Whether a church may not, ought not, to take under its conduct, inspection, and rule, such as are not yet meet to be received into full communion, such as are the children and servants of those who are complete members of the church? Ans. No doubt the church, in its officers, may and ought so to do, and it is a great evil when it is neglected. For, — (1.) They are to take care of parents and masters as such, and as unto the discharge of their duty in their families; which without an inspection into the condition of their children and servants, they cannot do. (2.) Households were constantly reckoned unto the church when the heads of the families were entered into covenant, Luke xix. 9; Acts xvi. 15; Rom. xvi. 10, 11; 1 Cor. i. 16; 2 Tim. iv. 19. (3.) Children do belong unto and have an interest in their parents’ covenant; not only in the promise of it, which gives them right unto baptism, but in the profession of it in the church covenant, which gives them a right unto all the privileges of the church whereof they are capable, until they voluntarily relinquish their claim unto them. (4.) Baptizing the children of church members, giving them thereby an admission into the visible catholic church, puts an obligation on the officers of the church to take care, 23what in them lieth, that they may be kept and preserved meet members of it, by a due watch over them and instruction of them. (5.) Though neither the church nor its privileges be continued and preserved, as of old, by carnal generation, yet, because of the nature of the dispensation of God’s covenant, wherein he hath promised to be a God unto believers and their seed, the advantage of the means of a gracious education in such families, and of conversion and edification in the ministry of the church, ordinarily the continuation of the church is to depend on the addition of members out of the families already incorporated in it. The church is not to be like the kingdom of the Mamalukes, wherein there was no regard unto natural successors, but it was continually made up of strangers and foreigners incorporated into it; nor like the beginning of the Roman commonwealth, which, consisting of men only, was like to have been the matter of one age alone.
The duty of the church towards this sort of persons consists, — (1.) In prayer for them; (2.) Catechetical instruction of them according unto their capacities; (3.) Advice to their parents concerning them; (4.) Visiting of them in the families whereunto they do belong; (5.) Encouragement of them, or admonition, according as there is occasion; (6.) Direction [of them] for a due preparation unto the joining themselves unto the church in full communion; (7.) Exclusion of them from a claim unto the participation of the especial privileges of the church, where they render themselves visibly unmeet for them and unworthy of them.
The neglect of this duty brings inconceivable prejudice unto churches, and if continued in will prove their ruin; for they are not to be preserved, propagated, and continued, at the easy rate of a constant supply by the carnal baptized posterity of those who do at any time, justly or unjustly, belong unto them, but they are to prepare a meet supply of members by all the spiritual means whose administration they are intrusted withal And, besides, one end of churches is to preserve the covenant of God in the families once graciously taken thereinto. The neglect, therefore, herein is carefully to be watched against. And it doth arise, — (1.) From an ignorance of the duty in most that are concerned in it. (2.) From the paucity of officers in most churches, both teaching and ruling, who are to attend unto it. (3.) The want of a teacher or catechist in every church, who should attend only unto the instruction of this sort of persons. (4.) Want of a sense of their duty in parents and masters, — [1.] In not valuing aright the great privilege of having their children and servants under the inspection, care, and blessing of the church; [2.] In not instilling into them a sense of it, with the duties that are expected from them on the account of their relation unto the church; [3.] In not bringing them duly into the church assemblies; 24[4.] In not preparing and disposing them unto an actual entrance into full communion with the church; [5.] In not advising with the elders of the church about them; and, [6.] Especially by an indulgence unto that loose and careless kind of education, in conformity unto the world, which generally prevails. Hence it is that most of them, on various accounts and occasions, drop off here and there from the communion of the church and all relation thereunto, without the least respect unto them or inquiry after them, churches being supplied by such as are occasionally converted in them.
Where churches are complete in the kind and number of their officers, sufficient to attend unto all the duties and occasions of them; where whole families, in the conjunction of the heads of them unto the church, are dedicated unto God, according unto the several capacities of those whereof they do consist; where the design of the church is to provide for its own successive continuation, in the preservation of the interest of God’s covenant in the families taken thereinto; where parents esteem themselves accountable unto God and the church as unto the relation of their children thereunto, — there is provision for church-order, usefulness, and beauty, beyond what is usually to be observed.
2. The especial duty of the church in admission of members in the time of great persecution may be a little inquired into. And, — (1.) It is evident that, in the apostolical and primitive times, the churches were exceeding careful not to admit into their society such as by whom they might be betrayed unto the rage of their persecuting adversaries; yet, notwithstanding all their care, they could seldom avoid it, but that when persecution grew severe some or other would fall from them, either out of fear, with the power of temptation, or by a discovery of their latent hypocrisy and unbelief, unto their great trial and distress. However, they were not so scrupulous herein, with respect unto their own safety, as to exclude such as gave a tolerable account of their sincerity, but, in the discharge of their duty, committed themselves unto the care of Jesus Christ. And this is the rule whereby we ought to walk on such occasions. Wherefore, (2.) On supposition of the establishment of idolatry and persecution here, or in any place, as it was of old, under first the pagan, and afterward the antichristian tyranny, the church is obliged to receive into its care and communion all such as, — [1.] Flee from idols, and are ready to confirm their testimony against them with suffering; [2.] Make profession of the truth of the gospel of the doctrine of Christ, especially as unto his person and offices; are, [3.] Free from scandalous sins; and, [4.] Are willing to give up themselves unto the rule of Christ in the church, and a subjection unto all his ordinances and institutions therein: for in such a season, these things are so full an indication of sincerity as that, in the judgment 25of charity, they render men meet to be members of the visible church. And if any of this sort of persons, through the severity of the church in their non-admission of them, should be cast on a conjunction in superstitious and idolatrous worship, or be otherwise exposed unto temptations and discouragements prejudicial unto their souls, I know not how such a church can answer the refusal of them unto the great and universal Pastor of the whole flock.
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