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Of the formal cause of a particular church.
The way or means whereby such persons as are described in the foregoing chapter may become a church, or enter into a church-state, is by mutual confederation or solemn agreement for the performance of all the duties which the Lord Christ hath prescribed unto his disciples in such churches, and in order to the exercise of the power wherewith they are intrusted according unto the rule of the word.
For the most part, the churches that are in the world at present know not how they came so to be, continuing only in that state which they have received by tradition from their fathers, Few there are who think that any act or duty of their own is required to instate them in church order and relation. And it is acknowledged that there is a difference between the continuation of a church and its first erection; yet that that continuation may be regular, it is required that its first congregating (for the church is a congregation) was so, as also that the force and efficacy of it be still continued. Wherefore the causes of that first gathering must be inquired into.
The churches mentioned in the New Testament, planted or gathered by the apostles, were particular churches, as hath been proved. These churches did consist each of them of many members; who were so members of one of them as that they were not members of another. The saints of the church of Corinth were not members of the church at Philippi. And the inquiry is, how those believers in one place and the other became to be a church, and that distinct from all others? The Scripture affirms in general that they gave up themselves unto the Lord and unto the apostles, who guided them in these affairs, by the will of God, 2 Cor. viii. 5; and that other believers were added unto the church, Acts ii. 47.
That it is the will and command of our Lord Jesus Christ that all his disciples should be joined in such societies, for the duties and ends of them prescribed and limited by himself, hath been proved sufficiently before. All that are discipled by the word are to be taught to do and observe all his commands, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20.
26This could originally be no otherwise done but by their own actual, express, voluntary consent. There are sundry things which concur as remote causes, or pre-requisite conditions, unto this conjunction of believers in a particular church, and without which it cannot be; such are baptism, profession of the Christian faith, convenient cohabitation, resorting to the preaching of the word in the same place: but neither any of these distinctly or separately, nor all of them in conjunction, are or can be the constitutive form of a particular church; for it is evident that they may all be, and yet no such church-state ensue. They cannot all together engage unto those duties nor communicate those powers which appertain unto this state.
Were there no other order in particular churches, no other discipline to be exercised in them, nor rule over them, no other duties, no other ends assigned unto them, but what are generally owned and practised in parochial assemblies, the preaching of the word within such a precinct of cohabitation, determined by civil authority, might constitute a church. But if a church be such a society as is intrusted in itself with sundry powers and privileges depending on sundry duties prescribed unto it; if it constitute new relations between persons that neither naturally nor morally were before so related, as marriage doth between husband and wife; if it require new mutual duties and give new mutual rights among themselves, not required of them either as unto their matter or as unto their manner before, — it is vain to imagine that this state can arise from or have any other formal cause but the joint consent and virtual confederation of those concerned unto these ends: for there is none of them can have any other foundation; they are all of them resolved into the wills of men, bringing themselves under an obligation unto them by their voluntary consent. I say, unto the wills of men, as their formal cause; the supreme efficient cause of them all being the will, law, and constitution of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus it is in all societies, in all relations that are not merely natural (such as between parents and children, wherein the necessity of powers and mutual duties is predetermined by a superior law, even that of nature), wherein powers, privileges, and mutual duties, are established, as belonging unto that society. Nor, after its first institution, can any one be incorporated into it, but by his own consent and engagement to observe the laws of it: nor, if the nature and duties of churches were acknowledged, could there be any couldst in this matter; for the things ensuing are clear and evident:—
1. The Lord Christ, by his authority, hath appointed and instituted this church-state, as that there should be such churches; as we have proved before.
2. That, by his word or law, he hath granted powers and privileges 27unto this church, and prescribed duties unto all belonging unto it; wherein they can have no concernment who are not incorporated into such a church.
3. That therefore he doth require and command all his disciples to join themselves in such church-relations as we have proved, warranting them so to do by his word and command. Wherefore, —
4. This joining of themselves, whereon depend all their interest in church powers and privileges, all their obligation unto church duties, is a voluntary act of the obedience of faith unto the authority of Christ; nor can it be any thing else.
5. Herein do they give themselves unto the Lord and to one another, by their officers, in a peculiar manner, according to the will of God, 2 Cor. viii. 5.
6. To “give ourselves unto the Lord,” — that is, unto the Lord Jesus Christ, — is expressly to engage to do and observe all that he hath appointed and commanded in the church, as that phrase everywhere signifieth in the Scripture; as also “joining ourselves unto God,” which is the same.
7. This resignation of ourselves unto the will, power, and authority of Christ, with an express engagement made unto him of doing and observing all his commands, hath the nature of a covenant on our part; and it hath so on his, by virtue of the promise of his especial presence annexed unto this engagement on our part, Matt. xxviii. 18–20.
8. For whereas there are three things required unto a covenant between God and man, — (1.) That it be of God’s appointment and institution; (2.) That upon a prescription of duties there be a solemn engagement unto their performance on the part of men; (3.) That there be especial promises of God annexed thereunto, in which consists the matter of confederation, whereof mutual express restipulation is the form, — they all concur herein.
9. This covenant which we intend is not the covenant of grace absolutely considered; nor are all the duties belonging unto that covenant prescribed in it, but the principal of them, as faith, repentance, and the like, are presupposed unto it; nor hath it annexed unto it all the promises and privileges of the new covenant absolutely considered: but it is that which is prescribed as a gospel duty in the covenant of grace, whereunto do belong all the duties of evangelical worship, all the powers and privileges of the church, by virtue of the especial promise of the peculiar presence of Christ in such a church.
10. Whereas, therefore, in the constitution of a church, believers do give up themselves unto the Lord, and are bound solemnly to engage themselves to do and observe all the things which Christ hath commanded to be done and observed in that state, whereon he hath promised to be present with them and among them in an especial 28manner, — which presence of his doth interest them in all the rights, powers, and privileges of the church, — their so doing hath the nature of a divine covenant included in it; which is the formal cause of their church-state and being.
11. Besides, as we have proved before, there are many mutual duties required of all which join in church-societies, and powers to be exercised and submitted unto, whereunto none can be obliged without their own consent. They must give up themselves unto one another, by the will of God; that is, they must agree, consent, and engage among themselves, to observe all those mutual duties, to use all those privileges, and to exercise all those powers, which the Lord Christ hath prescribed and granted unto his church. See Jer. l. 4, 5.
12. This completes the confederation intended, which is the formal cause of the church, and without which, either expressly or virtually performed, there can be no church-state.
13. Indeed, herein most men deceive themselves, and think they do not that, and that it ought to be done, and dispute against it as unlawful or unnecessary, which for the substance of it they do themselves, and would condemn themselves in their own consciences if they did it not. For unto what end do they join themselves unto parochial churches and assemblies? to what end do they require all professors of the protestant religion so to do, declaring it to be their duty by penalties annexed unto its neglect? Is it not that they might yield obedience unto Christ in their so doing? is it not to profess that they will do and observe all whatsoever he commands them? is it not to do it in that society, in those assemblies, whereunto they do belong? is there not therein virtually a mutual agreement and engagement among them unto all those ends? It must be so with them who do not in all things in religion fight uncertainly, as men beating the air.
14. Now, whereas these things are, in themselves and for the substance of them, known gospel duties, which all believers are indispensably obliged unto, the more express our engagement is concerning them, the more do we glorify Christ in our profession, and the greater sense of our duty will abide on our consciences, and the greater encouragement be given unto the performance of mutual duties, as also the more evident will the warranty be for the exercise of church-power. Yet do I not deny the being of churches unto those societies wherein these things are virtually only observed, especially in churches of some continuance, wherein there is at least an implicit consent unto the first covenant constitution.
15. The Lord Christ having instituted and appointed officers, rulers, or leaders, in his church (as we shall see in the next place), to look unto the discharge of all church-duties among the members 29of it, to administer and dispense all its privileges, and to exercise all its authority, the consent and engagement insisted on is expressly required unto the constitution of this order and the preservation of it; for without this no believer can be brought into that relation unto another as his pastor, guide, overseer, ruler, unto the ends mentioned, wherein he must be subject unto him, [and] partake of all ordinances of divine worship administered by him with authority, in obedience unto the will of Christ. “They gave their own selves to us,” saith the apostle, “by the will of God.”
16. Wherefore the formal cause of a church consisteth in an obediential act of believers, in such numbers as may be useful unto the ends of church-edification, jointly giving up themselves unto the Lord Jesus Christ, to do and observe all his commands, resting on the promise of his especial presence thereon, giving and communicating, by his law, all the rights, powers, and privileges of his church unto them; and in a mutual agreement among themselves jointly to perform all the duties required of them in that state, with an especial subjection unto the spiritual authority of rules and rulers appointed by Christ in that state.
17. There is nothing herein which any man who hath a conscientious sense of his duty, in a professed subjection unto the gospel, can question, for the substance of it, whether it be according to the mind of Christ or no; and whereas the nature and essential properties of a divine covenant are contained in it, as such it is a foundation of any church-state.
18. Thus under the old testament, when God would take the posterity of Abraham into a new, peculiar church-state, he did it by a solemn covenant. Herein, as he prescribed all the duties of his worship to them, and made them many blessed promises of his presence, with powers and privileges innumerable, so the people solemnly covenanted and engaged with him that they would do and observe all that he had commanded them; whereby they coalesced into that church-state which abode unto the time of reformation. This covenant is at large declared, Exod. xxiv.: for the covenant which God made there with the people, and they with him, was not the covenant of grace under a legal dispensation, for that was established unto the seed of Abraham four hundred years before, in the promise with the seal of circumcision; nor was it the covenant of works under a gospel dispensation, for God never renewed that covenant under any consideration whatever; but it was a peculiar covenant which God then made with them, and had not made with their fathers, Deut. v. 2, 3, whereby they were raised and erected into a church-state, wherein they were intrusted with all the privileges and enjoined all the duties which God had annexed thereunto. This covenant was the sole formal cause of their church-30state, which they are charged so often to have broken, and which they so often solemnly renewed unto God.
19. This was that covenant which was to be abolished, whereon the church-state that was built thereon was utterly taken away; for hereon the Hebrews ceased to be the peculiar church of God, because the covenant whereby they were made so was abolished and taken away, as the apostle disputes at large, Heb. vii. to ix. The covenant of grace in the promise will still continue unto the true seed of Abraham, Acts ii. 38, 39; but the church-covenant was utterly taken away.
20. Upon the removal, therefore, of this covenant, and the church-state founded thereon, all duties of worship and church-privileges were also taken away (the things substituted in their room being totally of another kind). But the covenant of grace, as made with Abraham, being continued and transferred unto the gospel worshippers, the sign or token of it given unto him is changed, and another substituted in the room thereof. But whereas the privileges of this church-covenant were in themselves carnal only, and no way spiritual but as they were typical, and the duties prescribed in it were burdensome, yea, a yoke intolerable, the apostle declares in the same place that the new church-state, whereinto we are called by the gospel, hath no duties belonging unto it but such as are spiritual and easy, but withal hath such holy and eminent privileges as the church could no way enjoy by virtue of the first church-covenant, nor could believers be made partakers of them before that covenant was abolished. Wherefore, —
21. The same way for the erection of a church-state for the participation of the more excellent privileges of the gospel, and performance of the duties of it, for the substance of it, must still be continued; for the constitution of such a society as a church is, intrusted with powers and privileges by a covenant or mutual consent, with an engagement unto the performance of the duties belonging unto it, hath its foundation in the light of nature, so far as it hath any thing in common with other voluntary relations and societies, was instituted by God himself as the way and means of erecting the church-state of the old testament, and consisteth in the performance of such duties as are expressly required of all believers.
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